Four years ago, I wrote a column about fly-fishing for smallmouth bass on the John Day River in Oregon.
I mention this because some of you may actually be able to remember something that happened before yesterday. If you are one of those fortunate people, I don’t want you saying to yourself, “Ha, I remember a past column about smallmouth bass. The chief fly-fishing liar must be recycling columns because of writer’s block.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. I merely have had another experience with smallmouth bass that I think you’ll enjoy hearing about.
My No. 1 item on last year’s Christmas list appeared in May. A bass boat showed up in my driveway. Since then, I have been spending a least one day a week in the boat, fly rod in hand, on the waters of area lakes.
The two area lakes I have found to be prolific with catchable smallmouth bass are Navajo and McPhee. So far, I have managed to catch and land everything from fingerlings to a 2½-pound smallmouth bass.
Both lakes are easy to get to, at near-record lows and are fishing similarly. While fishable waters are reachable from the banks of the lakes, a boat makes it easier. And at my age, easier is best. At least that’s what I tell my wife.
I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a word of caution about boating on these lakes. Being as low as they are, there are many boulders covered with only six inches of water. This is the first time many of these obstacles have seen the light of day. Many fishermen just aren’t aware they are there. Hitting one of these boulders going 25 mph will ruin your day. Just be on the lookout as you search for places to fish.
I have found that a 4-weight rod with a 4X leader will handle smallmouth bass with no problems. If the wind is howling or you are going to be casting really large bass poppers, a 5- or 6-weight rod would be a better choice.
My flies of choice for smallmouth bass on Navajo and McPhee are either a white, bead-head Woolly Bugger that has some flash tied in or a foam, lime-green popper. I like these flies to be either a size 14 or 16.
When casting the Woolly Bugger, I let it sink about 10 feet. At that point a very slow strip usually will result in a strike. I have found the deeper I let the fly sink, the bigger the fish are – usually. I did catch a 2½-pound smallmouth bass right at the surface with my Woolly Bugger.
Being a dedicated dry fly devotee, my first choice of flies is the lime-green popper. Why do smallmouth bass prefer lime-green over other colors? I have no idea; they just do.
I have found that smallmouth bass will pounce on the popper close to the shore. Once the popper gets in deeper water, the fish leave it alone.
Because the water levels are so low, a large number of the normally submerged tree structures are high and dry. For those of you who are not yet smallmouth bass fishermen, submerged tree structures are a great place for them to hide out.
With the trees out of play, I have found smallmouth bass hiding among the rocks and boulders close to shore. If the rocks are covered in shade, it’s even better. If the fish aren’t biting around the rocky areas, try casting your fly where runoff has churned up the water. I spent one day casting my fly into areas of dirty water with great results. Again, I have no idea why the fish were in the dirty water as opposed to clean water just a few feet away.
With cooler weather on the way, I am hopeful bigger smallmouth bass will move closer to the surface in search of lime-green, foam poppers or white Woolly Buggers. Regardless, I plan on being out there looking for them.
Reach Don Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.