How to find more smallie waters
Personally, I mostly fly fish which conjures the image often reserved for cold spring streams and brook trout/steelhead anglers. Most people associate that image with some businessmen pampered in expensive gear and throwing tiny dry flies with excruciating detail in an effort to "match the hatch". I love fishing for trout when I get the opportunity... but the real deal in my opinion is the smallmouth bass. I can identify with it. Lives in average water, scraping the bottom at times, chasing down food and minnows in ambush, and possessing the "never say die" attitude that they've become so famous for. This bronze fish with a slightly smaller mouth than their slack water cousin the bucket mouth can sure make for some serious battles on the warm water streams. I've seen novice smallie anglers drop their jaw when they hold up a 10 inch fish in disbelief of the work they had to put in to land that nominal fish.
Like anything else in order to up the fun/success level when smallie angling you're going to have to place yourself on the best water you can, and if you're new in town or the the smallmouth game then you have some spot searching to do. The good news is there probably isn't holding water nearby. Let me see if I can narrow down some stream characteristics/tips that may shorten that quest:
Smallmouth bass love structure, even more so than largemouth bass. This means you're heading for waters that feature boulders, cobblestones, cut banks, log debris, cat-tails, aquatic plants, etc. Anywhere the fish can get a breather from the currents and hold in position while feeling safe and able to burst out and grab a snack is a place a smallmouth can be. On google maps this means I'm looking for the meandering streams, streams that wave back and forth over the landscape. This means the current is going to cut one side of the bank and give you the varied depth and "pool and run" characteristics you're looking for. I wrote up a Google maps article if you want to check it out. I find more smallie's around under stream rock ledges and boulder fields wedged in currents than probably any other structure. Log jams/ cut banks etc. are great places that I'll always work through as well. Think shadowy crevices and rock piles or even just cuts in the stream bed.
2. Size doesn't matter
In general I can't say that bigger streams are better fishing spots than smaller ones. I've hooked smallies on streams from 20 ft in width to those rivers that are hundreds of feet wide. Now there may be more fish in larger waters; yes, but the concentration of fish is what you're really after and if the habitat and food are in the system the smallmouth will be as well. Don't limit your waters by choosing the big names of the river playbook, and besides, you may find yourself on a killer small stream that most others are overlooking and under-pressuring. I think I just like "aquatic hikes" through the back woods, it's just more fulfilling to bite and claw your way into a spot way off the radar of most any other fisherman.
3. Don't get stuck on text-book clear water.
In Biological water studies we call it turbidity. It's a general measure of how "cloudy" the water is. Before moving to northwest Ohio I could travel a short distance and get on some rocky generally clear water that more resembled the text book style smallie stream. You could see maybe 5-6 feet down through the water which was aesthetically pleasing and you could watch your lure/fly bounce around in the current. In my new home water that simply isn't the case, I have slow moving water in a highly agricultural community. This makes for some pretty turbid conditions, maybe 1-2 feet as visual reference. I traveled to "better" waters and of course slammed fish on the usual tackle but as of late I decided to make my home waters work. I throw slightly bigger streamers or buggers with crazy long hackle and tandem beads to make noise and movement in the water and it payed off. I haven't landed as many fish but definately much bigger smallies in the cloudy river that's walking distance from my home. The best part is I have never seen another soul on this water, all to myself thus far and probably because everyone passes it up based on what they see.
My observation: more fish on the usual "pretty" streams, (quantity) bigger fish on the marginal waters (turbid doesn't look fishy water)
One common denominator on my stream smallmouth pursuits is definately the current factor. Currents drifting freebie meals down wandering pools and riffles are always a good sign. Also be aware of currents that aren't obviously visible on the surface, I believe the shear between upper and lower levels of the water column can also play the part. If the stream has enough current and meander to form a slow moving eddy, the smallmouth will congregate. Maybe it's the easy meals and ambush set-up, there's just something about current that pacifies the smalljaws.
5. Living Signs
Smallmouth bass will feed on a variety of prey. Common targets include everything from crawfish to caddisflies to terrestrials. If I can see minnows and crawfish I know the forage is present to keep a smallmouth population. I also look for a close neighbor to the smallmouth the rock bass (as I call them). If I can catch a rock bass I eventually find the smallmouth. They just seem to go together. I'm sure there's a good scientific explanation in terms of life history but I just know they go together like peas and carrots.
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Robbie is the creator of WF and loves to spend time in the outdoors chasing steelhead, upland birds, and the beauty of nature.
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