Early Spring: Lake Run Smallmouth

Early Spring: Lake Run Smallmouth

Smallmouth bass is a staple warm water fish of the northeast. There's nothing quite like the aggressive strike, and flying jumps of these fish. Depending on your location, smallmouth go by nicknames such as smallies, bronzebacks, and small jaws. While conventional fisherman have a rich history of targeting smallies, fly fisherman are quickly realizing that these fish are an absolute riot on the fly. Regarding habitat, they love hanging out around rocks, stumps, down trees, and any ambushing areas. The best time to target smallies is in early spring when they migrate up small rivers and tributaries. If you’re looking to cash in on the action, here are a few tips to help you catch more fish.

Lake run fish: As mentioned, fishing smallmouth in the early spring is all about river action. That said, these aren’t resident fish; the smallmouth we are referring to are lake-run fish. Many rivers in the northeast connect to large ponds and lakes. As April kicks in, high river flows and water temperatures of 50 degrees fuel a small but epic migration. Fish quickly shoot up the river for food and habitat through deep pools, undercut banks, and large rocks. Upon settling in, they gorge themselves for about a month and a half. Once water temperatures reach 60-degrees, they lay eggs, spawn, and eventually send it back downriver. Keep in mind the run is short but epic!

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Tactics/timing:  Early spring smallie behavior can be strange. Initially, fish exhibit sedentary behavior due to colder water temperatures. Usually, when this occurs, they glue themselves to the river bottom for warmth. While they aren’t in a rush to move, these fish will still eat a well-presented fly fished vertically along the bottom. Our favorite flies for the job are near' nuff sculpin, woolly bugger, and the foxy clouser. These patterns are all on our website for easy access! For leader setup, use a 10-foot leader of straight 8lb fluorocarbon. As for technique, simply walk up to a deep hole or riffle and fish your fly vertically under your rod tip. Keeping a tight connection between the rod tip and fly line, follow the fly as it bounces around the bottom. If you feel any tension, set the hook! This technique is very similar to euro nymphing. Luckily, these lethargic fish get more aggressive as water temperatures warm up. By the end of April, fish will be more than willing to hammer a streamer. With the same 10 foot 8lb rig, chuck your streamer into deep pools, drop-offs, down trees, and large rocks. A few sharp strips and pauses should get the fish fired up. Our favorite streamers include the wooly bugger, clouser, and the dungeon. As for color, try an array of options such as olive, white, pink, and black. 

DIY trip: We understand that river-run smallmouth may not be accessible to everyone. If you’re ever looking for a do-it-yourself trip without the expense of a guide, the great state of Vermont is perfect for targeting river smallies. The tributaries surrounding Lake Champlain just outside Burlington hold giant fish in mid April. You’ll be ready to fish in pristine water with ample parking and walk-in access. 

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