DRIFTWOOD OUTDOORS: Equipped for anything

Smallmouth bass a fly fishing favorite

Tim Holschlag, a smallmouth bass fly fishing expert, shows off a nice river smallie he caught on a recent trip.

Tim Holschlag, a smallmouth bass fly fishing expert, shows off a nice river smallie he caught on a recent trip.

Ask an angler to close their eyes and describe their vision of an ideal fly fishing scene and chances are you are going to hear a lot about mountains and trout.

The image of an astute older gentleman dressed to the nines casting cane is romantic, but in today’s fly fishing world, it’s not very indicative of the masses. Any fish can be caught with fly fishing equipment. The smallmouth bass just happens to be my favorite.

Missouri is blessed with numerous streams teeming with smallmouth, otherwise known as “smallies” or “bronzebacks.” Often described as the pound-for-pound hardest fighting fish that swims, smallmouth are both aggressive and abundant, making them an ideal target for fly fishers.

The technical aspects of trout fishing do not apply to smallies, and I’m thankful for it. Smallmouth will often crush anything thrown their way just because they’re mean.

If you’re already a fly fisherman living in Missouri, then you probably don’t need me to tell you about the incredible abundance of opportunity we have in our state. In fact, you’re probably hoping I’ll stop right here and not clue in the masses who don’t know what is waiting at their fingertips. Sorry, but here goes. Missouri’s rivers and streams are full of smallmouth bass and you’re missing out if you’re not stalking them with fly fishing gear.

You don’t need fancy fly fishing equipment to get started fishing for smallmouth. A 5 or 6 weight rod and reel combo outfitted with a matching weight floating line and 3x leader is ideal. In fly fishing, rods are classified by weight, increasing in strength with the number. A 5 weight is a lighter weight rod than a 6 weight, and so on. Lines are developed to match the strength of the rod, as are reels. A leader is a tapered section of fishing line that connects the fly line to the fly. Leaders are a little confusing, because they’re numbered in the opposite direction. A 6x leader is lighter than a 5x leader, and so on. I usually fish between 2x and 4x leaders for smallmouth, depending mostly on water clarity. In dirtier water, you can get away with heavier line, since the fish can’t see as well.

As for flies, during the summer you can experience incredible action on the surface early and late in the day. There is nothing like laying a popper near the bank and having a smallie bust it. You know you have a good one on when it sounds like someone just dropped a bowling ball of a cliff on top of your fly. I prefer topwater action, but also carry a variety of streamers, like the Clouser Minnow, and crawfish patterns, like the Near ’Nuff.

You can easily outfit yourself with a complete fly fishing system for under $100.

Fly fishing for smallmouth in rivers and streams can be done on foot or on a float. My favorite means of finding fish is to paddle along until I reach a likely spot below a riffle or in a pool, and then get out to wade fish. If you catch one from a good looking location, keep fishing it. Good water usually holds more than one fish.

See you down the trail …

III

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at outdoors@newstribune.com.

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