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River Valley Outdoors
In my last column, I described how September’s cooler temperatures start the fall spawning season for brook trout and landlocked salmon.
The weather had been turning much cooler early in the month and got me thinking fall salmonid fishing might start early.
On September 11, the temperature approached 90 degrees so I thought I’d try a little smallmouth bass fishing with my fly rod. Smallmouth bass, or smallies, feed aggressively when the temperatures are at their hottest.
When the temperatures get in the 80’s and 90’s I get my fly rod and hit the rivers and ponds searching for smallies. If I wake up and it’s hot and humid I know the trout fishing will be poor, so I grab my nine-foot, seven-weight, NRS Loomis rod and hit the water with high expectations.
This past Wednesday turned out to be one of those hot and humid days that draw me to the water. I don’t use waders when in this kind of sweltering heat, instead opting for a pair of wader boots, a pair of neoprene wading socks, a light shirt, and shorts. It’s great because I get to cool down in the current and avoid the humid, sticky weather.
As soon as I stepped into the water I started casting to a huge, underwater boulder – a place where I had seen a big fish rise and slap the surface as I was tying on a fly.
In one violent attack, the dark green and bronze smallmouth bass slashed at the white popper as soon as it hit the surface of the river.
In a surprised reaction to the attack I reeled back on the rod and hauled in line with my left hand. I watched the popper go under water and race away from the bass – I reacted too quickly and missed the hit.
When this happens I just let the popper stay there and surface – sometimes the bass hit at the fly again when it surfaces. This time the popper didn’t get a chance to make it to the top of the water – the big fish immediately took a second stab at the popper and went airborne with the barbless hook in its lip.
It is hard to explain how hard a fish fights; in my opinion smallmouth bass rank right up there at the top for a freshwater fight. This bass kept jumping and shaking his head, then diving to the bottom to make long, line-stripping runs.
I tie my own leaders using Maxima’s Chameleon material, dropping down to a tippet with a six-pound-test rating. I like the heavier tippet so I can horse the fish in quickly without letting it tire out – this big smallie was having none of that.
I actually had to back up onto an island and land the fish on the shore. I don’t carry a net and usually just reel up enough line so that I can swing them close to me, grab their lower lip and remove my hook.
I pulled this fellow onto the shore, got a few photos, and then made a special effort of taking my time reviving him. It takes twenty years to grow a smallmouth to eighteen inches in northern climates, so I took my time and made sure he energetically bolted out of my hands, instead of just flopping him back in the water.
The tape showed him at twenty inches, so I’m estimating his weight at four pounds. Every smallmouth bass I’ve caught at that length weighed very close to four pounds.
As I held him in the current I had one hand under his belly and could feel that he had been feeding heavily. There were dark clouds on the horizon so I suspected that he was trying to fill up before the heavy rainstorm started.
When I finally released the muscular bass I looked up and noticed one, huge thunder cloud overhead. I made it to the shore well ahead of any thunder or lightening – standing in the water with a fly rod in hand is just asking for disaster.
I had an awesome encounter with a handsome specimen of a feisty smallmouth bass and I didn’t need a lightening bolt to help me realize that my day of fishing was complete – totally complete.