This summer, I haven’t even started fishing for smallmouth until after 7:00pm. There are some fish-focused reasons for this. As is common across cold and warm water ecosystems, there is an uptick in insect and baitfish activity at dusk. Diminished shadows and light provides a sense of security for aquatic creatures, including bass. Additionally, there are some logistical factors. Where I am in Virginia, rivers can be pretty busy with kayakers and tubers until around dinnertime. Plus, I have to contend with all of that work-stuff during the day.
But just because you may be forced into waiting until later doesn’t mean that you are missing out on good opportunities for chasing smallmouth bass with a fly rod. In fact, there are many reasons why waiting until later is a good idea for any kind of fly fishing you’ll be doing in the summer. And summer smallie fly fishing can very well be one of the most accessible and most rewarding ways to fish late.
Here are three things to keep in mind as you wade out into the river looking for hungry bronzebacks:
See the trees:
Trees overhanging the river are some of the best places to catch river bass of any size. There are a number of reasons for this. Smaller fish will hang out under the branches waiting for a meal. All fish appreciate the cover that limbs provide. Often, overhanging trees extend out to where there is a drop-off or bottom substrate change; both of which also attract the bass’ food sources.
Casting up under trees can be tricky and/or risky, but it is a necessary chance you should take. Use heavier leaders (I like 8-pound fluorocarbon at the lightest) that can take some abuse and jerking. Make casts that stay low, such as a sidearm cast or a tight roll cast. Don’t worry about your cast making some noise, as the fish would be okay with a small critter making a “plop” as its falling out of the tree.
Vary the retrieve:
If you’re not catching fish, frustration or boredom can lead to one of the most illogical things an angler can do: keep doing the same, unproductive thing. While even a broken clock is right twice a day, there are some ways to switch up your approach to try and discern what the fish want. Getting into a groove and stripping line in at the same cadence might make it mindless, but it might leave you fishless.
Cast over the same spot and vary your retrieve. Switch the tempo from fast to slow. Experiment with jerks and dead drifts. Add a poly leader and see if getting down deeper is necessary. Bass are wily, but they aren’t so discerning or skittish that you won’t be able to make multiple cautious presentations to the same pool or ledge.
Cover the water:
Bass will cruise. Even in quicker currents, smallmouth with move around more. Especially at night, fish of all sizes will go on the prowl. Recently I witnessed a big bass swim around a twenty-plus yard diameter space following emerging mayflies. They will move around, but that may very well be indicative of a fish that is looking to feed.
To give you the best opportunity to present your fly to fish, you need to cover the water. It can be as easy as posting up in the middle of the stream and casting all around until you’ve gone a full 180 degrees. Then move upstream and repeat. This also helps with ensuring that you’re not sitting in the same spot fishing to the same fish (or no fish) for longer than need be. Just like degrees on a protractor, you need to start at zero and rotate around to maximize your fly’s exposure.
Take the night off. Grab dinner from a fast food joint and eat it on the way over to the river. Wear those old sandals and throw a box of streamers and poppers in your shirt pocket. And bring a friend! The tug of even a foot-long smallmouth bass on a six-weight is a great way to expose someone to fly fishing.
Much more can be said about evening bass fly fishing. But if you’ve had a good day on the water, or have ever caught a modestly-sized smallie, you know that this can be some of the most thrilling, technical, rewarding, and taxing fishing out there.