North Alabama is the southernmost extent of the native smallmouth range in the U.S. (Here is a helpful resource for finding where smallmouth live). Growing up here I have heard every misconception that’s ever been said about smallmouth. Like: they don’t live here, the water isn’t cold enough for them, and they live in ugly places.
I didn’t know much about them when I started, but what I did know is that seemingly randomly when I was fishing on the river, I’d end up catching a bass that fought way harder than the bream, and the other bass I would catch (Largemouth). It was at that point my obsession started. Trying to put rhyme or reason to that bass eating my flies became all I could think about on the rivers. I started researching the bass and even reading scientific studies (that were way out of my reading level at the time) about smallmouth bass and what made them eat.
Fast forward a few years when I was working in a fly shop. Again, I heard every misconception you could imagine about smallmouth, the most common being that you can’t target them with a fly rod. How did fly fishing culture miss bass fishing with flies? Was it because Brad Pitt hasn’t done a movie where he’s catching bass on a fly? Unlike unlocking the knowledge to catch a smallmouth, I don’t think I’ll ever figure this one out.
These misconceptions were largely our motivators for making our most recent film series, Backyard Bronze. We want to showcase that bass are a worthy adversary with a fly rod. They require everything that trout fishing does to catch a good fish. Time on the water, knowledge of rivers, matching the hatch, and presentation.
The objective for our first day on the water was to figure out where the fish were holding. It was a cool spring this year, we were fishing in the 80’s instead of the 100’s that time of year. That 20-degree difference is enough for the fish to notice and sit in a different area of the river.
Generally, we would be finding fish in faster water when feeding. The fish had not yet pushed up into the faster water but were instead sitting in the deeper pools below the runs. Once we knew where the fish were sitting, we were then able to target them in that water more effectively and knew what water to spend our time focusing on.
Our first day was a long float through one of our favorite stretches and as the sun began to set, we hit the motors and took off to the takeout. Taking what we learned from that first day, we now had a better sense of the water we needed to target for the rest of the week.
From day 1 we learned that these fish had not yet moved into their summer, shallow water, holding patterns. They were still deep in the pools. On our first day, drop-offs and tailors were the tickets for us. We wanted to try some new water so we planned a float on a nearby river that is a tributary to the Tennessee River. Picking a river close to the main/big water would give us deeper pockets to fish and better chances of finding Smallies pushing upriver. In theory, there would be more water and more fish. But as usual, our plans got ruined when we got to the takeout to leave a truck for our shuttle. The privately-owned land at the takeout had been recently closed off to public traffic.
We see this in the South East all too frequently; a landowner allows people to put in and take out at their land but revokes that privilege because some ne’er-do-wells leave trash and abuse it. So, just another example of why it’s so important to respect the land, we get to fish on and always do our part picking up trash along the river. Especially, at boat ramps. That sad realization made us call an audible. We would have to float down into the main river which added nearly 5 miles to our float.
We ran the shuttle to a boat launch for bass boats on the main river and headed back up to the launch. We had not charged the battery in the trolling motor or gassed up the outboard as we had not planned to be on any stillwater. Well, that was a mistake, and Stephen as he often is was ornery. But, we made it out and found some good fish.
Our thought process that morning was right as we found some good fish holding in deeper runs throughout the day. Our new MeeMaw fly was finding fish consistently. The dumbbell eyes allowed it to get deeper to those fish and it still has an awesome jigging action that worked well.
We got some local intel from a bait shop in the area that said they were bumping some sort of “Crawfish soft plastic thing.” A proven point that even a local bait shop may give you some good intel that you can translate to a fly.
White had been working our previous day but we tied on the Olive and Orange MeeMaw and went for it. You can work the MeeMaw like a craw or a baitfish and I think that’s a secret to its success. Heavy sinking Airflo lines were able to get our flies down to the fish and the Red Beers gave us the energy needed to strip the fly in.
It turned out to be a good day and we ended the day by doubling up on smallmouth in a big hole. It was the perfect way to wrap up the day and we were looking forward to a different stretch of water the next day.
I guess the moral of the story is to clean up trash you see lying around and charge your trolling motor battery every night whether you need it or not. Stay tuned for an inside look at our final episode of Backyard Bronze, coming soon…