One of the great things about moving back to my hometown is that it gave me the chance to spend some time with my brother. Bill is a good tournament bass fisherman, and he agreed to have me, a fly rod angler, out on his boat for some bass fishing on the Mohawk River in upstate New York.
My favorite way to fish for bass is with bugs. On this particular evening, the bass were very cooperative to the surface presentation. At one point, we were working surface lures over the river channel, which is about 12-feet deep. My yellow diver bug had just hit the water, when a heavy smallmouth hit the bug from underneath, like a rocket. This bass and several other good-sized smallmouths made for a very memorable evening of fishing.
The Right Conditions
One of the reasons that this evening of fishing was so good was that the conditions were perfect for bugging bass. There are a number of factors that go into bass getting interested in taking bugs off of the surface. Knowing when to fish is the most important factor in getting big smallmouths to attack a bug.
Bass are very sensitive to sunlight, and are usually not going to dart out into brightly-lit water to go after a bug. The fact that they detest bright light will usually change their haunts during the summer months. Smallmouths tend to move deep during July and August, and are often going to be out of reach of fly tackle. For this reason, the best fishing is during the season opener, and then again in the fall.
Water temperature is another key ingredient in getting consistent surface fishing for smallmouths. Water in the 60-degree range produce the best surface fishing in my area.
During most of the summer, bass are not very willing to go after a surface fly during much of the day. The best way to get consistent surface action is by sticking to fishing on overcast days, or going after them during the very early morning or late evening hours when the sunlight isn?t as bright on the water. Where it is legal, fishing at night is very productive for smallmouths.
Water temperature is another key ingredient in getting consistent surface fishing for smallmouths. Water temperatures in the 60-degree range produce the best surface fishing in my area. Cold water, or extremely warm water, put the fish down, and very few surface strikes are generated under these temperatures.
The Right Bug
Under good conditions, nearly any popper or hairbug is going to produce surface strikes from smallmouths, but some bugs are definitely better than others. I prefer hairbugs for most of my smallmouth fishing. The reason is that the hairbug is not hard, and the bass can crush it down with their jaws, and tend to hang on the bug for a longer period of time than they would with a hard-bodied popper. Hairbugs have their disadvantages in being harder to cast, and eventually soaking up water, but they will result in more hooked fish than a popper.
Last summer I had a couple of bass come up out of the river channel and hit a saltwater skipping bug that I was fishing with. I didn’t hook either fish, because they knocked the hard-bodied popper out of the way when they hit. When I do fish with poppers, I try and fish with smaller sizes like #6s or #8s because the fish will usually take the entire popper in their mouth.
My personal preferences on bass bugs are fairly simple. For fishing under most conditions, I prefer a hairbug that has some portion of the body in yellow. Smallmouths respond very well to yellow for some reason. I use popper shaped hairbugs in a variety of colors, Dahlburg diver shaped hairbugs, and hair frogs tied in natural colors. I tie all of my hairbugs on size #2 or #4 stinger hooks. The only hard-bodied popper that I use is a yellow or fluorescent chartreuse Sneaky Pete in size #6 or #8.
When To Set The Hook
One of the things that I’ve learned from fishing with a bass pro like my brother is to delay a little before setting the hook. When a bass hits a surface lure, setting the hook the instant that the fish hits will often end up in yanking the hook right out of the fish’s mouth, or a poor hook set where the bass gets off before the boat. My brother counts to one before he sets the hook, and it really results in more hooked fish with the fly rod as well.
When a bass hits a surface lure, setting the hook the instant that the fish hits will often end up in yanking the hook right out of the fish’s mouth. Count to one before setting the hook.
Being alert is also very important in bugging for smallmouths. When they are really on the bite, they will attack a bug the second that it hits the water. It has been my observation over years of smallmouth bugging, that they usually hit during the first half of the retrieve, and rarely hit after that. I don’t waste much time picking the line off the water for another cast, after the fly is halfway to the boat.
Bugging for smallmouths, under the proper conditions, is a lot of fun. It takes us back to the days when seeing that old red and white bobber dip down below the surface was the biggest thrill in the world. If you are not catching a lot of good-sized bass on your bugging outings, give some thought to the conditions and your fishing will surely improve.