For this months fly fishing podcast I want to discuss some of the hatches that we are seeing on our trout streams and the best tactics and flies to fish them. There are some good Green Sedge Caddis hatches on the streams now. When you spot these feeders go one on one with each trout with a Mr. Rapidan Olive Delta Wing Dry Caddis size 16. At times it can be difficult to tell if a feeding trout is taking the adult or the pupa so I use a two fly rig (which I explain in detail in this podcast) using the above fly and a Murray’s Olive Caddis Pupa size 14.
The bass rivers are at a level where many large smallmouth bass move onto the shallow tails of the pools at dusk to feed on the chub minnows and dace minnows which live here. The most productive way I’ve found to fish the tails of the pools is to wade into the upper part of the riffle below them and wade upstream to just below the lip of the pool above that I plan to fish. From here I fan my casts up and across stream at a slight angle to cover all of the water I can reach. I use a line hand strip-pause-strip retrieve that swims my Floating Minnow just slightly faster than the current is pushing it. (For more techniques listen to the second part of the podcast.)
I find it rewarding and exciting to mentally mark the hot spots of each days fishing and then take advantage of this on my future fishing trips. Knowing where that exceptionally large smallmouth bass lived on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River close to Edinburg, Virginia enabled me to catch the large smallmouth bass several times over the years. The upper section of Lemar with the big boulders below the last bridge always produce several large cutthroats. And the most productive area on the Outer Banks for sea trout was twenty four power poles North of Buxton in the Sound.
On a very large yearly calendar on my kitchen wall for the past thirty years I have recorded my daily fishing information as soon as I get back home. Information which I find useful in planning future trips, which include: water temperature, water level, water clarity, hatches, where I fished that day, general success and most effective flies. On my two week fishing trip to distant locations I record where I got the best fishing, where I got the worst fishing, hatches and any unusual information which will help me plan my next trip to that area, such as take warmer clothing.
Perusing these calendars in the off-season brings back many great memories. I also find them invaluable in planning my daily trips and long trips in season.
Part Two Blog on Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 30 Warm Fly Line
The new Scientific Anglers Sink 30 Warm is an outstanding fast sinking head line. The thirty foot head sinks at 4.0 to 8.0 ips (sinks four feet to fifteen feet) which has an intermediate running line. The 200 grain line for five to seven weight rods is great for trout and smallmouth bass. The 350 grain line is excellent for eight to ten weight rods in saltwater. I find the 350 grain line ideal for my saltwater fishing at the Outer Banks. I use my Murry’s Fluorocarbon Sinking 6 foot Leader with these lines. These lines replace the Teeny 200 and 350 grain sinking head lines.
See our next blog for more information on new Scientific Anglers Lines.
There are times when fishing streamers along the banks when floating smallmouth bass rivers can be very effective. However, some anglers on our guided float trips believe they are slow in detecting these strikes. We solve this problem by attaching a Shenandoah Blue Popper size 4 to our Bright Butt 9 foot 2X Compound Knotted Leader and attach twenty four inches of 2X tippet material to the bend of the popper hook with an improved clinch knot. I attach a Murray’s Pearl Marauder size 10 to this as a dropper. When floating the river this combination popper and dropper is cast down and across stream at a twenty degree angle so it lands close to the river bank. A slow strip-pause-strip retrieve will bring many strikes from bass along these banks. When the bass takes the popper the strike is easy to see and the bass can be quickly hooked. If he takes the streamer it will cause a quick movement of the popper which is the signal to set the hook and you hook the bass solidly.
Several years ago I stopped in a fly shop in Montana which was owned by a good friend. One of his employees was an excellent fly tyer and the gentleman, who had never fished for smallmouth bass but knowing I fished for them often, pulled out several beautiful, well tied flies he called smallmouth streamers for me to see. I complimented him on the great appearance of his smallmouth streamers, some of which he had skillfully incorporated more than twenty different body parts. When we were outside in our car I turned to my son, Jeff, and said, “Those were some of the most beautiful smallmouth streamers I have ever seen, but I do not believe they will catch many fish because with all that material on them it will be next to impossible to sink them.”
Several years before this we had done extensive testing on new fly designs and found that in many cases the most sparsely tied nymphs and streamers caught the most bass and trout. I believe much of this success came from the facts that these flies sank well, were strongly suggestive of the natural nymphs and minnows I was striving to mimic and could easily be made to duplicate the swimming action of these naturals.
Some of our flies which fall into this classification are groups of flies in our Shenandoah Simple Streamer series for both bass and trout, the Mr. Rapidan Soft Hackle series for both bass and trout, many of flies (although they are drys) in my “Change of Pace” trout series, the Murray’s Marauders, the Murray’s Floating Minnows and the Murray’s Strymphs.
The outstanding book, Simple Flies by Morgan Lyle shows how to tie and fish fifty two flies for trout, bass and in saltwater. If you are considering tying some new flies for your personal use I believe using the simple approach I have used in many of my flies and those Morgan Lyle discusses in his great book will help you catch many fish.
Some of the most exciting smallmouth fly fishing takes place when they feed on natural Brown Drake mayflies. There are actually three different species that fall into the group which smallmouth anglers call Brown Drakes but since they act much alike in the stream and the fish feed the same way upon them we fish them all the same ways.
When the duns come off in the afternoon fish to the rising bass one on one with a Irresistible Dry Fly size 12 or fish beside the boulders in the riffles if there are no rising bass.
When the spinners fall at dusk use the same fly and fish these bass one on one by casting three feet ahead of a cruiser or by casting it quickly right at the riseform.
You are standing in mid-river using a 9 foot rod and you decide you would like to switch from a floating fly line to a sinking tip fly line. You can easily remove the reel spool with the floating line from the reel and insert the reel spool with the sinking tip line. Now pull fifteen feet of line with the leader attached from the reel. Take the fly rod apart at the ferrule in the middle of the rod and place the tip section of the rod under your arm. Thread the leader and line through both sections of the rod then put the tip section back on the butt section at the ferrule and you are ready to fish. This works fine with two piece and four piece rods.
There are probably more creek chub minnows in most smallmouth rivers than any other single minnows. These are readily available to the bass from March until November and they feed very heavily upon them. A very effective technique is to fish the Murray’s Magnum Creek Chub Streamer size 4 across stream below the riffles, in the deep pools and in the tails of the pools. After the stream sinks deeply, strip it six inches every twenty seconds to swim it slowly across the stream bottom.
I use a floating line for this fishing unless the river is over four feet deep or the current is very fast; in which case I use aScientific Anglers Sonar Sink Tip III Sinking Tip Fly Linewith a Murray’s Sinking 6 foot 2X Fluorocarbon Leader.
In 2016 we started a new item, Murray’s Magnum Creek Chub Fly Tying Kit. This kit contains a photo of the Murray’s Magnum Creek Chub Streamer, the complete tying instructions, and enough materials and hooks to tie 24 of these flies. This fly tying kit is $35.95.
I always mentally mark a spot where I have caught or moved some large fish…any kind fish. This was the spot on the Madison River just below the park line that always held a large brown trout. It was also the spot across from Horse Brook Run on the Beaverkill that gave me a large brown every time I fished it. The shaded pool just below the feeder spring on the mountain brook trout stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains almost always held the largest trout in the stream. The deep cut on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River just upstream of the big island below Edinburg was always my most dependable feeding station to catch a large smallmouth. On the Outer Banks the sound 26 power poles North of Buxton was one of the my most dependable area for fast action. Many of these hot spots have been very dependable feedings stations year after year and have constantly given my great fishing.
When we make a back cast to pick a popping bug up off the stream to make another cast we may cause that popper to make a loud splashing noise that will scare many close by bass, this robbing us of a chance to catch a bass on our next presentation.
A tactic that can prevent this racket on the pick up is to point the fly rod straight at the popper when you are ready to make your back cast and use your line hand to strip in several feet of line that causes the popper to slide gently across the surface of the river. Now, make your back cast and the popper will jump quietly into the air and you will catch the next bass.
Heavy rains that last less than a day but deposit two or three inches of rain definitely cause our rivers to become too muddy to fish. However, I call this “quick water” because the rivers come up quickly but then they drop back quickly. The smallmouth fishing can be outstanding when the rivers drop back to where you can see your feet when you are standing in knee deep water. Under these conditions the bass are not as wary as they are in clear water. I have often fished sections of rivers when they are still carrying some extra color and had outstanding success, where a week before in clear water the action was very slow. Good flies in this falling water are the Murray’s Black Madtom Sculpin Streamer size 4 and Murray’s Magnum Hog Sucker Streamer size 4.
Last year at my son’s encouragement, we started experimenting with the “Riffle Hitch” technique for smallmouth bass which I used many years ago and some special flies for this method. Not only is this an exciting method but it is often productive when standard techniques bring few strikes.
The “Riffle Hitch” is easy to tie by simply tying two half hitch knots behind the hook eye on the head of the fly. This knot enables us to swim the fly across the current in an erratic motion that mimics the action of a dying struggling minnow. To give us patterns that match many of our minnows we have designed the Bass Skater Shad Streamer, Bass Skater Flash Streamer and Bass Skater Gold Streamer all in size 6. A great tactic is to fish these down and across stream at a twenty degree angle stripping them six inches every ten seconds. Hot spots are the shaded banks, below the riffles and in the tails of the pools. Watch our video in order to see how to tie the Riffle Hitch, vimeo.com/115660393
The smallmouth rivers are cooling and although I am catching nice bass throughout the rivers, I am aware that some of the largest bass are moving into the deep pools. I carry both a floating line and a 200 grain fast sinking head line and use the one which helps me fish my flies deeply. Swimming them deeply and slowly is the best way to catch these large bass. Dependable flies now are the Murray’s Black Madtom Sculpin Streamer size 4, Murray’s Magnum Hog Sucker Streamer size 4 and Murray’s Magnum Creek Chub Streamer size 4. These bass often strike these streamers very gently so if you feel the slightest bump set the hook quickly with both your line hand and the rod.
I had outstanding smallmouth bass fishing on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River with a method of streamer fishing I am calling, “Escape Technique”. Many of the bass are feeding heavily now on natural minnows.
This technique is easy to master and it is extremely effective. I suspect because we make our streamer act like a minnow attempting to evade the bass. Using a fly such as Shenk’s White Streamer size 6 or Murray’s Olive Marauder size 6 cast in toward the bank. After the streamer sinks deeply, strip it out ten feet with a slow strip-pause-strip action. At this point use a slow roll cast pick up motion which brings the streamer up close to the surface of the river but do not pick it up. With the streamer within inches of the surface impart several upstream and downstream slow line mends to make it look like a minnow fleeing to escape a bass which is after it. I am doing best with this method where the current is slow to medium and the water is three to four feet deep. Deadly!
You just might catch your largest smallmouth bass of the year by fishing at night. They feed heavily in the low light levels and they are less wary than they are in the bright time of the day.
For safety and to get good fishing, I fish sections of the river at night that I know well and plan the spots I will enter and especially leave the river to avoid old fences and poison ivy. A small waterproof flashlight is a must.
Strike detection is dependent upon us feeling it so fishing down and across stream at a 45 degree angle is a great help. This angle enables us to instantly feel the strike and we can quickly hook the bass. A good ploy is to quickly recover all of the slack line and put the bass on the reel so you are in complete control of the runs of a big fish.
Good flies are the Murray’s Black Madtom Sculpin Streamer size 4, Murray’s Magnum Bluegill size 4 and Murray’s Chartreuse Chugger size 4. Impart a firm six inch stripping action to these flies every ten seconds to get the basses attention.
As the smallmouth rivers get low and clear I find that I can prevent scaring the largest bass by wading upstream and fishing upstream ahead of me. An effective technique with streamers such as the Murray’s Magnum Hog Sucker Streamer is to fan the casts across the pool ahead of you and strip it back just slightly faster than the current so you can feel the strike. With nymphs such as the Murray’s Skunk Road Kill Nymph I use a slow rod lifting bounce retrieve to swim it along the streambottom. This gives me a tight line to the nymph so I can feel the strike. The Shenandoah Chugger is a great hard head surface bug to fish upstream because you can fish it gently back downstream or strip it loudly to bring the up from the deep cuts. One of the students in my smallmouth school caught over thirty nice smallmouths in one large pool using this last tactic.
The most valuable angling skill you can master is learning how to approach the specific piece of water you plan to fish. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Actually it is; all that is required is some thought about the water before you. Simply stated, the fish select feeding stations that will give them the greatest amount of food while exerting the least amount of energy. However, as we have found in our “on the stream” trout schools and smallmouth bass schools this basic skill is often neglected. In some cases the angler first wades into the stream and then asks, “Where do I fish?”
Mastering this basic skills has given many large trout on the Yellowstone River, helped me find the easy trout on the Beaverkill, catch large browns on Big Spring Creek that many anglers overlook. This approach also helps me catch nice smallmouths on the North Fork of the Shenandoah river practically within sight of my fly shop in Edinburg, Virginia.
During the summer I do not use waders when floating or wading smallmouth rivers. However I always carry a raincoat in the back of my vest. If a heavy rain settles in all day and you become soaked for several hours you can get the chills. For example, recently five of us were floating seven miles on a smallmouth river in personal kick boats. Shortly into our float a heavy rain settled in on us. Only three of us has raincoats so for the next four hours the two who had no raincoats suffered badly. Although the rest of us offered to share ours they would not take them. After this we made sure everyone had raincoats.
Here are two simple steps that can easily double the number of successfully hooked fish on your streamer fishing. (1) Always follow the sweep of your streamer with your fly rod so the rod tip is pointed in the same upstream-downstream plan where the line leaves the river. This enables you to quickly feel the strike. (2) The instant you feel the strikes set the hook quickly with a quick line hand strike and a firm rod lifting motion.
In order to catch large bass consistently on hard surface bugs it is very important to be able to adjust the bug action to the type of water we are fishing. I have designed the Shenandoah Surface Bugs with this goal in mind. (1) For example, we often find bass feeding in water two feet deep along the shaded banks and a gentle teasing bug-action is very effective. The Shenandoah Slider with its long slim pointed nose is very productive here. (2) Four feet deep banks with fast currents produce large bass to a bug that can create a loud water-throwing action. The Shenandoah Chugger with its fat body and deeply cut face quickly brings these bass to the surface with a firm stripping action. (3) Grass beds and gentle current areas hold many bass that will take bug-action between these two extremes. The Shenandoah Popper with its long tapered body and up-sloping face will take many of these bass.
The most valuable skill a smallmouth angler can develop is learning to read the water accurately. The few minutes spent analyzing a section of a river in this way will give you more bass on the spot and a better understanding of all sections of the rivers in the future.
I see this as a three step process. First I strive to determine where the bass will be holding. The best of these areas are a combination of a feeding station and a holding area. The second step is determining where to present my fly so I can fish it effectively through the basses feeding station. The third step is positioning myself at the precise spot which will enable me to make my presentation accurately and swim my fly convincingly through the basses feeding station.
“I am new to fly fishing and need advice on rods for freshwater fishing”. This question came in as email and I believe many anglers are at this point. In order to answer this in a meaningful way I will discuss the outfits I use in various types of fly fishing and why. I will break this down into four separate blogs and post one each week:
(A) Small Mountain Streams
(B) Large Eastern Trout Streams and Western Spring Creeks
(C) Large Western Trout Streams
(D) Bass Streams and Lakes
(D) Bass Streams and Lakes
In order to answer my customers email question of, “what fly rod should a beginning angler purchase for freshwater fishing”, this is the fourth segment on what size rods I use.
For my smallmouth bass fishing I use a 9 foot rod because it gives me good drag control. I want this rod to have a strong tip and a medium action butt section that balances with a weight forward 7 weight floating bass line. This rod gives good accuracy in bug placement, excellent distance and is very pleasant to use.
The rods I use for my smallmouth bass fishing are the Scott Flex 9 foot 7 weight 4 piece and Scott Radian 9 foot 7 weight 5 piece.
My angler’s calendar is very large, having about two inch square spaces for each date. This allows plenty of space for me to write in where I fished that day, the water temperature, the hatches, water level, my catch and any other important information. Each January when I get a new calendar I write in the above information from previous years. This brings back wonderful memories as I record these previous trips. It also helps me plan future fishing trips as I correlate the present stream conditions and hatches with what I did on past trips under similar conditions. Great fun!
I have a good friend who injured his right shoulder badly. Since he cast with his right hand he was very disappointed that he would loose a season’s fishing while he recovered from surgery. I encouraged him to just switch over and cast with his left hand which he did and he was able to fish the whole season.
In my fly fishing schools I have always had to cast with both hands to help all of my students. If you have not tried this give it a go. You will be pleased how well you do. After all you already know the proper casting technique.
When I wrote my first book Fly Fishing Techniques for Smallmouth Bass an editor with Field and Stream Magazine was very impressed with it. In his review of it he wrote… “Harry is trout fishing for smallmouth bass.”
Actually this is a good approach to improving your smallmouth fishing. If you have fished the large trout streams in the Rockies many of these techniques are very effective for smallmouth bass. For example, the same nymphing technique Charlie Brooks taught me on the Madison is the same method I teach anglers in my smallmouth bass schools. The same streamer tactics I learned on the Yellowstone River works very well on all smallmouth rivers. The same hopper methods I use on the upper Madison River are great on the North Fork of the Shenandoah River for smallmouths.
If you fall down in a shallow stream and anyone is watching, rather than splashing around while you embarrassingly try to stand up, just stay there. Calmly pick up some stones from the stream bottom and examine them very carefully one by one as if you are making a study of the insect life on the streambottom.
Frequently the wind or an underpowered casts causes the line to form a knot around the upper part of the fly rod. When you are wading in deep water or in a canoe this can present a problem that could easily break a rod by causing excessive bending in an attempt to reach the tip of the rod to untie the knot.
Here is a method I use that is easy and safe to use. Simply take the rod apart at the middle ferrule. Pull 6 feet of fly line off the reel and place the butt section of the rod under your arm. Bring in the tip section of the rod and correct the knot and then reassemble the rod and you are ready to go.
I also use this method when I am wading a deep river and want to change reel spools in order to go from a floating line to a sinking head line.
Harry Murray discusses the best trout fishing in the Blue Ridge Parkway at this time of the year and what flies to use in the first part of this fly fishing podcast episode.
In the second part of this fly fishing podcast episode Harry covers how to catch those large bass that are feeding heavily in the back eddies on the sides of the river.
Large bass feed heavily in the shade – A normal part of summer to many of us but why? Negative phototropism is a strong factor which influences the smallmouths feeding, especially in the summer and early fall. Simply stated this means they don’t like to feed in the bright sunlight. Since I like to fish on the surface with deer hair bugs and poppers in the summer and early fall here are some tactics which help me greatly.
Whether I am wading or floating a river I like to concentrate on the heavily shaded river banks where large oak and sycamore trees provide shade well out over the river. If the water along the river bank is three feet deep or more with a cobblestone stream bottom the large bass often feed all day back in the shade of these trees. In order to fish this effectively I position myself 40 feet out in the river from the bank and cast my surface bug right against the bank at a 10 degree downstream angle. By mending the line and using a slow strip-pause-strip bug-action I fish it out 15 feet from the bank then pick it up and cast to a new spot 10 feet further down the bank. Where I find tree limbs hanging down to the surface of the river I cast my bug back against the bank in the closest limb opening upstream and let the current drift the bug back under the low limbs where I impart the bug action. By concentrating on this heavy shad you can catch many large bass on the surface.
Jeff Murray sets the hook on a large smallmouth bass that was holding in a deep pocket below a riffle he was fly fishing.
Many large bass start leaving the shallow water at this time of the year and head for the deeper parts of the river. Don’t totally stop fishing the shallow sections of the rivers yet, but be sure to devote some time to the deepest water.
This time of the year that next strike might be from the largest bass you’ll move all year and you sure don’t want to miss him. Here are four things which help me greatly and I do these regularly.
1. Mash down the hook barbs.
2. Sharpen the hook on the fly I’m using every 15 minutes.
3. Check the strength of the leader tippet I’m using every 15 minutes.
4. When I get the strike I set the hook quickly with force using both the rod and my line hand.
My son, Jeff, and I fished the North Fork of the Shenandoah River close to Edinburg, Va before the rain on Wednesday. The river was high but we caught some nice size bass, however, the largest bass were in the protected back eddies below the heavy riffles. On one back eddy, about half the size of a tennis court, we commented that we had found a real hot spot because we caught one fish after another.
As we tried to analyze this set up in order to figure why so many good fish were holding here, we carefully examined the river upstream and downstream and out in the main flow. Our final conclusion was that this was the safest area close by for them to feed without fear of getting washed away by the high water. The water temperature was 59 degrees which was warm enough to prompt them to feed but they needed to feed in protected areas well away from the full force of the river. The next time you are bass fishing and the river is higher than normal you may get excellent fishing in these protected back eddies.
Large smallmouth bass frequently do not feed heavily in the bright sunny conditions we have now. However, you can get good action by fishing the heavily shaded banks where the water is 3 to 4 feet deep over cobblestone stream bottoms during the middle of the day. At dawn and dusk you can catch many large bass in the tails of the pools and below the riffles.
I was floating the North Fork of the Shenandoah River on a beautiful evening in late May when there was a very heavy caddis hatch on the river. Fishing a Mr. Rapidan Delta Wing Olive Dry Caddis I caught many nice bass. As I drifted into a long deep pool I decided to experiment. Fishing my favorite nymphs and streamers in every part of the pool produced only a few small bass. I put my dry caddis back on and caught a bass every second or third cast.
NEW for 2011
Micro Poppers (size 10) Black, Chartreuse, Frog & Yellow $3.05
These are extremely effective for sunfish and also smallmouth bass in some situations. Some anglers like to fish the rivers with 3, 4, or 5 weight rods and these Micro Poppers are ideal for these outfits. Also late in the season when the rivers get low you can taper down to a 3X Leader and fish these upstream in the flat pools with great success.
Don’t overlook your local farm ponds. These ponds were likely stocked at some point in time, either officially or unofficially. Eric took this very nice Largemouth Bass on a #6 Damsel Popper around the fourth of July.
Use a cautious approach as you walk up to the banks and take a few minutes to watch the water. A few minutes of observation can provide volumes of education about the pond and its residents. Early morning and late evening will be most productive since the bass tend to dislike UV light.
A great Halloween day fly fishing for Smallmouth Bass on the South Fork of the Shenandoah…. a little sprinkle, a lot of fish, great water levels and an air temperature of 67 degrees! How many more of these days will we have before cold weather finally arrives?
The mountain tops look more and more like winter every minute. We are past the peak fall colors but don’t tell the fish…
Early mornings and late evenings have been quite productive in the Smallmouth Bass fly fishing department… Poppers on 3x tippet have worked great!!! There are a lot of Damselflies in the river right now and with the normal summertime flows, the bass are quite spooky.
Some smallmouth anglers love fallfish while others curse them. However, if you are catching many large fallfish in a smallmouth river you are playing the game properly because fallfish feed on the same natural foods as the bass and in the same locations. Just keep using the same tactics and same flies and you’ll catch the bass also.
Fishing Report: The local trout streams are all in great shape. Hike down from the Skyline Drive or Blue Ridge Parkway for your best water levels on the native Brook Trout streams. The local smallmouth streams are all in great shape. Fishing has been good, bring a sink tip fly line a heavy streamers since the rivers are still full. Floating is your best bet if you have access to a canoe, boat, kayak or something that will suffice.
The Fly Shop will be closed on Memorial Day…. I’m going fishing!! So give me a call Saturday to get the information on where to go and what to use.