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NO – NO’s……an Updated List…

One thing I do by habit is make notes or mental notes of things I see or notice on the water or just generally in fly fishing.  Sometimes it something I’ve done, or maybe someone I’ve observed doing something.  And anytime its something worth noting and improving upon I make a note of it and share it with my readers and clients.  Here is a an updated list covering the past several months….

(1) Lying a Rod on the Ground – big time no no.  Leave it on the ground and its sure to get stepped on.  Never never never ever never never ever never never never leave a rod on the ground.  It will get broken.  I once sold a gentleman two brand new SAGE SLT rods with Lamson Reels, two high dollar outfits, and we went on a guided trip.  Before we’d even gotten into the water, his son needed to get in the vehicle, so he took those two brand new outfits, which were standing up leaning against the vehicle, and slid them over and laid them on the ground.  Dad promptly stepped around the corner of the truck, and stepped on both, rendering them both unfishable and making immediate testing of the SAGE unconditional warranty imminent.  Fortunately I had other rods and we still fished and Sage replaced those rods per their warranty.  But that could have been avoid by not putting rods on the ground.

(2)When you have rigged a rod up, lined it through the guides, bring the rod tip down and keep it down.  If you run the line through the guides, then point the tip to the sky, all the line you just threaded falls back through the guides and you have to start over.  I prefer to line the rod, place it under an arm with the rod parallel to the ground, then rig the rest.

(3)Wading too noisily.  A big no no, and one folks who have been fly fishing for 50 years still do.  No one is immune to this.  I always say, if you can hear the sound of water sloshing when you walk then you are making too much noise.  Even from far away.  Assume nothing.  Never assume fish can’t hear you.  One rule of thumb I have found is this….Walk to where you can’t hear water sloshing and do it so slowly that you are finding it irritating for you to be taking this long to get to the spot you are fishing.  If it seems like its taking too long or its getting to you, then you are moving at the right speed.  Remember, once you spook a fish how good you are or all your great flies and gear won’t do you any good.

(4)Shadows cost fish. Always try to avoid casting a shadow over the water.  Even if its not on the fish your shadow on the bottom moving can be seen by them even if the shadow doesn’t go across them.  Consider the sun angle before you walk into the spot.

(5) Rigging up Beforehand.  I rig up stuff beforehand because often I am on the water almost everyday and I generally know the flies that will work because I am aware of what should work and I was here yesterday.  But I wouldn’t recommend this if you aren’t fishing a lot or often.  I ‘d look at the water, make some mental notes, observe the conditions, feeding activity, and so forth before tying something on.  Not doing this commits you to probably an hour or so upfront of wasted time fishing something that was not going to work right from the beginning.

(6)Too Fast, Being In a Hurry.  The one and done (one cast and done) game isn’t for me.  I am a thinker, enjoy the challenge of figuring out what will work, and enjoy methodically working an area too much to be satisfied with a give it a cast and go approach.  Think of it this way….if I make one cast or even two or three casts, then move on, I have basically assumed I just made a perfect presentation and the fish weren’t interested.  Which, in effect, puts the problem on them when it was probably me.

(8)Same Old, Same Old. Try new stuff, new flies…new techniques.  Save what you like, or what works for you, discard the rest.  Like me personally, Ive fished a lot of the methods that are being touted now as ‘new’ like Euro nymphing , French nymphing, etc., and just personal don’t like them.  Just me, we catch a ton of fish the way we do so that I don’t change much but new gear, flies, and other stuff, yeah man…I do.

(9) Leaving stuff on top of the car.  This goes with #1 above.  Leave stuff up there and you are eventually going to forget its there and drive off without it.  I once did this after guiding a trip on Virginia’s Smith River.  We had gotten into a bunch of fish, and we got off the river quickly and my clients had to get back home….and we drove separately.  I get down the road from the river and someone beside me is motioning to me by pointing a finger upward.  I stopped just in time to see a SAGE LL Rod and SAGE large arbor reel tetering on the edge of my roof rack and got it just before it fell off.  Whew…. that would have been a 750.00 mistake.

(10)Tangles….Don’t shake or jiggle the rod to try to get rid of a snafu, or try to cast your way out of a problem.  Neither of these work.  In an effort to prove my point, I once had a fly fishing class of mine rig up their stuff, and put on the leader two flies, a couple of split shot, and a strike indicator just like we were going to rig for an upcoming field trip to the mountains to fish for trout.   A handful of them got tangled up right away, and instead of telling them to STOP, which is what you should do, I said just “shake the rod back and forth really quickly to see if it will come out.”  Well, inevitably what they ended up with is an irrecoverable mess.  Cut everything off and start over kind of a thing.  I then said, everyone take note, when you first have a tangle, STOP completing and don’t make a quick move.  Set the rod down and work on the tangle with your hands.  We never had another serious mess like that the rest of the time.

Hope these help, there will be more forthcoming in a future post!


Keep At It……

“We made too many wrong mistakes…” – Yogi Berra

Been there, done that.  One thing I’ve learned that is true whether its myself or in guiding/working with people is that is that mistakes, while costly at times, do not make you or break you.  A bad cast, missed opportunity, a lost fish….do not define you.  It feels great when you make the great cast, perfect presentation, catch the impossible fish, there’s no denying that.  I have also learned not to get too discouraged when something doesn’t go as planned.

'Your fly snapped off three hours ago, young man, but you were casting so beautifully I didn't want to disturb you.'

‘Your fly snapped off three hours ago, young man, but you were casting so beautifully I didn’t want to disturb you.’

Amateurs quit, but pros keep swinging.   Pros aren’t smarter than you.  They don’t necessarily possess secrets you have no access to or can’t get.  Instead, they are just persistent.  When they whiff, they adjust, get in position, and take another swing.  Because they stay at it, they eventually see results.  Consider this…

A good hitter in baseball scarcely gets a hit 3 out of 10 times at bat.  A great or Hall of Fame performance is 4 out of 10.  A good shooter in basketball makes it less than half the time.  Repetiton and keeping at it is the key, until it becomes more automatic.

You or I have a better chance winning if we stay in the game.  So many walk off the field before the clock runs out. They haven’t lost; they are just behind.  But the future is wide open.  Anything is possible.  The key is to keep stepping up to the plate.  When you or I do this, good things happen—-not always immediately, but eventually.


There isn’t a thing in fly fishing, casting, seeing fish, rigging, knot tying, wading, you name it, that doesn’t improve if you don’t continue to put in earnest effort working at it.  The great thing about fly fishing as a creative hobby is that nothing is wasted.  Every setback becomes the raw material you need to create something better.

See the possibility in everything……think of this.  I really didn’t do that badly in the last presidential election.  Say what?  In terms of overall popular vote, Clinton got something like 47%, Trump 44.4%, Gary Johnson 5%, Jill Stein 1.3%, and Ed McMullin 1%, and I got 0%.   Johnson, Stein, and McMullin collectively got 7.3% of the vote, only 7.3% more than me.  So I was within 7.3% of being third, and 44.4% of being second, and I didn’t even run.

Your thinking matters and Perspective is everything!


Hey Sucka…!

Never fails, I always hear this several times a year….and the time it begins is coming.  Spring.  It goes something like this…

Client:  “I got ’em…..man this guy is pulling hard…good grief, this is a nice fish…”

Jeff:  “yep looks like a good one…”

Client:  “I thought I had a big brown, what the heck is that?”

Jeff:  “Its a redhorse, a redhorse sucker.  Blue Ridge bonefish is what we sometimes call ’em.  Congratulations, you are now part of an elite club.”


To some folks like me, a nice fish is a nice fish.  I  love ’em all.  Now, make no mistake, I love my browns and smallies.  They are my favorites.  But hey, I love suckers too.  But to other folks, its kinda cool but they don’t tell anyone….kind of like riding a moped or driving a Pacer or Pinto….everything’s cool til your friends see you.

Suckers are found in nearly all our local lower elevation trout waters and smallmouth bass waters.  They are of the order Cypriniform, which includes all ray finned fish like carp, suckers, minnows, etc.  The family suckers belong to are Catostomidae.  Some common sucker species in our area include:

Sicklefin Redhorse

Northern hogsucker

White Sucker

Redhorse Sucker

Shorthead Redhorse

Silver Redhorse

Hognose Sucker

Roanoke Hognose

Longnose Sucker

Suckers in our area spawn in the spring, and form huge pods or schools as they spawn.  On larger rivers like the Yadkin in our area, they will form dense schools and move upriver into smaller tribs to spawn.  They spawn when the water reaches 10*C (50F) and up to 18*C (64F).  Usually here that means late March to early April in a warm year, a few weeks later in a cooler one.  But regardless, usually April is a good bet, as is early May.  They eat crustaceans and aquatic invertebrates, just like trout, and they can be caught on some of the same flies.  My favorite fly for suckers is a size 14 or 16 bead head pheasant tail nymph.  Why?  Because it mimics not only mayflies and stoneflies but also can pass as a cased caddis larva in a pinch.  It works.

There’s another opportunity when suckers spawn also….catching the trout on the eggs being laid by the suckers.  The ‘Sucker Spawn” patterns you have probably seen, read about, or maybe even used, they are tied for these situations.  Personally, I like a simple, plain peach or steelhead orange egg pattern in size 12 or 14.  About the size of a green pea.  I have personally landed and with clients landed more large suckers on those flies than any other.  Considering the photo below, which is a sucker from one of our local Yadkin R tribs , a Delayed Harvest water, that is the main reason I use what I use.


So there you have it…….give ’em a try.  You may get hooked like I did long ago.

Just don’t tell anyone….lol


DH Observations…..

As many or most NC flyfishermen who fish for mountain trout are aware of our state has maintained a pretty extensive delayed harvest program since the early 90s.  The Wildlife Commission stocks Delayed Harvest Trout Waters from fall (beginning of October) through spring (first Sat in June) with high densities of trout to increase anglers’ chances of catching fish. Delayed Harvest Trout Waters, posted with diamond-shaped, black-and-white signs, are popular fishing destinations for anglers who enjoy catch-and-release trout fishing.


Over the years the program has steadily grown, and the waters under this regulation have become some of if not our most popular trout waters.  Locally streams like the Mitchell R, East Prong, Ararat River, Reddies River, just to name a few are known to many for the great fishing they provide very close to home.  Its interesting though, because the fishing in these waters is a bit different in many respects.

(1) There’s an acclimation period.  Sometimes, though not always, the fish won’t hit anything when first stocked.  Anglers have surmised that it was the travel in a truck to the river, the stress of that plus being handled, that makes them hard to get to eat at first.  I personally have found, most of the time, that you should leave everything but the streamer and egg pattern boxes at home.  All that fancy shmansy rigging with 6X, two flies, a size 20 or 22 zebra midge, forget all that stuff.  These fish aren’t there yet.  They will be once they’ve been stunk by all the other normal stuff…but not now.  If there’s ever a time you only need one fly, its now.  Give me a black Jeff’s flashabugger and let the slaughter begin.


2)Fish at first, once they do start feeding, hit almost anything.  Literally.  If you are a fly tyer trying to create great fly patterns and want to feel like the worlds greatest tyer try out your new creations now.  They’ll eat them.  But have other stuff in the pipeline, because your day of reckoning will be coming.

3)Eventually, the fish that remain between stockings learn the stream and its rhythyms and will act a whole lot like wild fish.  They will eat bugs but still occasionally fall for the goofy stuff.  If the water is low and clear, the fish can be as challenging as wild, tailwater fish requiring long leaders, light tippet, tiny flies, and careful presentations.  And because our DH waters typically have better hatches than our wild waters, and there’s reason for that, the fish will feed on hatches and some of your best surface fishing is during these times.

4)Certain times of day can be better than others.  On a good many waters, we find our best fishing often at the most pleasant times of day.  In colder weather, late morning /noon til late afternoon might be best.  During ‘prime weather’ of April or October they feed all day long…..and during warm weather its early and late.  But DH fish don’t fit this mold.   Now to be sure, they will sometimes conform that the above, but often they don’t.  One, usually or often the best fishing is in the first half of the day, regardless of season.  Not always, but often.  Why?  Maybe its because at the hatchery, where these fish spent from a year and a half to three years of their lives, they are fed the same time everyday, and our hatcheries where DH fish come from is usually in the AM hours.  Couple that with the fact that they probably haven’t eaten all night, and viola! you have the perfect setup for a morning bite.  One thing worth pointing out, though, is that on guided trips we can usually stay in fish all day because I have some tricks up my sleeve.  And one last point is that often there’s another flurry just before dusk, particularly big fish, because folks have been fishing all day, and the fish know its finally OK to come out an eat.


5)Weather impacts stocked DH fish less than wild fish.  Why this is I am not sure.  But one thing is for sure with what I do, if its 3oF and the water temp is hovering in the mid 30sF and there’s snow on the ground and someone calls me wanting to fish one of those high elevation, high mountain small streams with wild fish I am certainly telling them “we can’t do that under these conditions.”  You might as well catch up on wood cutting/splitting, yard work at home, or other stuff because small creeks with wild trout are the slowest they are all year when weather is like that.  Stocked DH Fish—-?  The only way we aren’t catching those fish is if the stream is frozen over.  I’ve caught them down to the lowest possible temp before everything freezes up, even where there were ice chunks floating in the river.  Not just a couple fish either, a lot of ’em.   They still eat.  In fact, I believe on these waters there are only 3 times when I can’t catch a DH rainbow….1) River is blown out and so high that to attempt to wade it would be foolhardy and dangerous; 2)When the river is totally frozen over and impossible to fish; 3)when I am not there.

Just a few thoughts……..

Spawning Redds….

The spawn has been later this year on a lot of waters  due to warm temps and lower flows, but I’ve run across many spawning fish the past few weeks.  Trout have been spawning on a number of our tailwaters, most notably the Smith, South Holston, and Watauga Rivers.  Look for clean gravel areas (redds).  Avoid stepping on or near a redd so as to avoid the possibility of crushing eggs or fry.


Please leave any trout on the redds alone.  Female trout will often dump their eggs when they are stressed from being caught and it is very easy to foul hook trout while they are on  the redd.  While fishing anywhere on the river, if you catch a female trout that appears to be full of eggs don’t take her out of the water and try to release her as quickly and gently as possible.

The quality of our future fishing depends could depend on this!

Many thanks!


The Rewards of Sticking It Out…..

15 degrees, 30mph wind……Cold. There’s no other way to put it. And if you don’t have some stuff to keep you warm you are quickly asking yourself what I asked myself recently….”Am I crazy?” Of course, you can still find yourself asking that if you are clothed well!


Cold was the word when I met Carter Davenport and his friend Patrick Williams for a fishing trip at 0’dark thirty here in Greensboro, NC. We rode up to the mtns, and we knew it would be cold. We made a quick stop at a Walmart on the way up to renew Patrick’s license and to grab some gloves and hand and toe warmers. And man was that a good idea.

It was bitterly cold. The first hour or hour and a half was fishing on the ice trimmed edge of the stream, casting into 32.8F degree water that had some small chunks of ice floating in it from an obviously cold still night of low temps in the teens. But I encouraged the guys (and myself!) and assured them that better temps and weather and fishing lay ahead of us, even if not for the first hour or two.

And like clockwork it began. The second place we put in we got almost immediate results. Patrick scored a couple of fish, a couple of good ones, 15-16″ fish and one that broke him off (his beast of the day, it seemed like a big fish- – -a large rainbow that departed adorned with two of my favorite winter flies). But that’s okay, I’ll take losing flies to a big fish over losing them to a tree anyday. Carter soon followed. Like a dozen or so fish in the next 45 minutes, one of them being this brute of a rainbow that must have weighed 6lbs or more and was one of the heaviest bodied rainbows we’ve seen this year. I must say, and I think the guys would agree, after some fish and that trophy all of a sudden it didn’t matter much how cold it was…..Bring it on.

We fished a while longer, caught a few more fish, and had a hot lunch- -chili and trimmings, hot chocolate, and coffee streamside, warming ourselves inside before heading upriver to fish several more places.

The rest of the afternoon was phenomenal. Patrick scored a “Grand Slam), a brookie, brown, and rainbow at least 15” long, as well as between 30 and 40 trout on a day that had most anglers at home tying flies or sitting by a fire. Not us, we had business to do.

Carter also caught at least that many fish. Just proved to me once again what I have believed and practiced for years. That is sticking out some less than ideal conditions to have a chance when a big fish decides to eat. That happened today, and along with 60 or more fish that all decided eating was a good idea too.

Its just as I remarked to Patrick, “…..are we fools for being out in this?…..” to which he enthusiastically exclaimed, “…..well yes, fools for trout that is.” Well said.

Good things and treasures are found in and through some very unusual circumstances. …….
Whether I am crazy or not…….!

I Must Be Crazy…..

High Winds, mid 20’s, wind chill of 0F or less, and lots of snow….in fact near whiteout conditions. I love fly fishing and will fish in nearly any weather condition except a thunderstorm (even did that in my younger days…..boy was that foolish!!!!) but when it is like it was on Friday November 21, 2008 it is just about at the edge of bearable. At least it was at the edge when the wind was blowing. Hardly bearable winter conditions is what my friend and our Men’s Ministry pastor Rick Trautman and I found when we arrived at the river on this particular day. I mean it was so incredible that it snowed probably a 1/4″ or more in the back of his SUV before we could get completely geared up and in the water.


But I love winter fishing and even sometimes on the coldest of days I doubt my decision to step into the water….and find my mind thinking…..”am I crazy?” I mean lets be honest, sometimes discomfort and being cold can become pain if you are not properly dressed or prepared. But then again I remembered a slogan that dons my son’s wrestling warm up jacket………”Pain is just the feeling of weakness leaving the body…”. Now wrestling and fly fishing are obviously very different but the inside “push” to trudge on when things are tough (enter “near blizzard like weather” ) is much the same……its reaching into the gut for that last little bit of whatever that pushes you to go on.

Funny how catching a fish, or maybe a large fish, can change everything. If I could recount and write down all the moments like that in my life whether it was fishing at the coast, or fishing a pond, or maybe a river….whatever it is….that something like a bluefish blitz, a mayfly hatch, a trophy fish – – – all in the “midnight” hour came at the time I least expected it then it would be one of the most interesting things I have ever written.

Like the time that my friend Dave Powers and I, back when the flyfishing community was just learning about albacore, that he and I fished the sand spit at Cape Lookout and for probably 4 solid hours hooked up on those fish and ended up landing about a half dozen of them from 8 to 14 pounds- – -a considerable thing if you have ever tried doing it from the surf. Not to mention that morning the wind was howling (20-25 knots from the East – a bad direction), the water was pretty churned up, and that we actually passed Lefty Kreh (yes, ‘the’ Lefty Kreh- – -he actually fishes NC/Cape Lookout regularly) on the dock there that morning at Harker’s Island Fishing Center- – – and he even remarked to us ” you guys are going to have you work cut out for you today….the wind is terrible and coming from the wrong direction…probably won’t amount to much…” But to his surprise and ours it turned out to be bad conditions but the result was the opposite. Or the time that my fishing friend Malcolm Robertson, cousin Tim Cooke, and I were on the South Holston in November, on a quiet day, where we watched Malcolm stalk, stay low, and make literally hundreds of casts with a size 18 pheasant tail with a 9 foot 3 weight Winston Rod and a 6X tippet to finally coax a huge brown, like 28 inches long and probably at least 8-9 pounds to take his fly. The investment….? All Day. The result….? Malcolm not only managed to hook the fish but landed that fish too. And it was funny to watch the bait fishermen on the bank then start to “stay low” where they were sitting, sitting there as though they were now convinced that doing so would mean a trophy fish for them too. Or maybe the time that Malcolm and I were fishing a dusk sulphur hatch that was so incredible that we couldn’t stop…..never remembering we had not planned to fish here until dark so we didn’t bring a flashlight. We forgot that we had a mile walk through heavy forest back to the car…….I mean it was pitch black and there were numerous times I was down on my hands and knees “feeling” for the path. We got back to the car at almost 11pm and I pulled in my driveway at 2am….Yikes. The result….? An incredible hatch I’ll always remember even if it meant getting lost in the dark and feeling the uncertainty we felt for probably 2 hours.

Where am I going with all of this…..? A simple point. If you have a good day on the water, catch lots of fish……, a huge fish…. sometimes it will cost you something. Sometimes it will cost you alot. Sometimes there might be some discomfort and pain involved. But sometimes its like life too- – – that stuff is not all bad and it has something good in the end for you. And sometimes the very thing that you find difficult and even frustrating is the very thing that is pushing you to go on and do better. “Suffering” has its benefits.

So from just coming off the heels of fishing in bitter cold, below freezing temps, blowing snow, wind chills at zero or below, ice in the guides, the rod tip frozen so much the line won’t move…..that sounds like a pleasant day doesn’t it? would I do it again? Absolutely. When are we going?


Riseforms……the tell tale ring of a feeding trout on the water’s surface. For many anglers its what fly fishing is all about…..casting to a rising fish. But rising fish, though feeding and an easy visible target, can be difficult to catch, particularly if you can’t tell what the fish are feeding on. In this short piece, I will give you a few ideas on fishing to rising trout..and what some of the different types of rises are…and what they indicate…..and most importantly, what you may want to consider if you are to be successful fishing to them. In our area anglers are most likely to have these opporunities to cast to risers on our tailwater rivers…but you will see them everywhere on occasion.


It is important to note that while trout all rise at one time or another all trout don’t necessarily act the same from river to river. Also, the size of the rise is not always indicative of the size of the fish. Observation is the key, we need to study the fish, fish behavior, and the foods they eat more than we do assembling a vast array of equipment and flies. Here are a few of the riseforms that are common and that you are likely to see if you fish over rising fish regularly:

1) The Bulge – With this type of riseform the fish is taking subsurface insects, quite possibly midges or mayfly nymphs just under the surface. On area waters this is common with blue winged olives and sulphurs. One way to fish to this rise is with a small nymph or midge pupae just under the surface under a tiny indicator or dry fly (using the nymph or pupae as a droppper), or using a greased leader technique. The latter involves using paste floatant and coating the leader down to within a few inches to 10″ of the fly, leaving this last portion untreated. The fly will then drift in the area of the water column that is just under the surface.

2) Boils – similar to a bulge rise, but more violent, and this feeding is also occurring just under the surface. The rise is usually not only violent but erratic as the food item is struggling or is quite animated or active. Usually this rise involves mayfly emergers or caddis emergers. One way to fish this rise is like the above but imparting a twitch or pulsing movement to the fly right as it comes into view of the fish. You can also get above the fish, put yourself at an angle to it, and ‘raise’ the fly while twitching it as it swings in front of the boiling trout. Another option, and this works well on occasion, is to strip the fly like a streamer, except that you use tiny half to one inch strips, imparting a slight and short pause every 8 or 10 strips….this can be deadly during a hatch.

3) Sips – the sipping rise is classic and if you can see the fish its great fun to watch a trout feed this way…especially if its a large fish. Sips clue you in that a fish is eating small surface insects or slower emergers in the surface film. Small mayfly duns, midges, and mayfly spinners all will cause this type of rise. Sippers are often found in quiet edgewaters, pools, eddies, tailouts, and other margins where the water is slow. Beetles and ants fall into this category as once they fall in they sit very low in the surface film….and they will almost always be sipped. Also, shallow, gentle riffs are a good place to see sippers as well.

4) Head Risers – this rise in one in which the fish lifts its head or part of its head almost vertically out of the water. This type of rise is almost always going to coincide with surface food. So in order to be successful you would fish a surface fly….our CDC emerger flies are murderous on this type of fish……like last week when we nailed a 23″ plus brown trout on the South Holston that was head rising. The fish ate a #18 dorothea emerger…. Usually head risers tend to be the larger, more mature fish and they do it so well they seem to make an art of it. Head risers are often eating emerging mayflies that are halfway through the surface film, spinners, terrestrials, and they are often bank feeders as well.

5) Gobblers – this happens a lot out west when the fish have lots of food coming to their feeding station. Have only seen it once before around here, and that is the South Holston tailwater. The food or hatch has to be heavy. I have seen this during some heavy sulphur emergences, and also witnessed it on the Missouri River in Montana during the caddis flights and Silver Creek in Picabo, Idaho during a morning Trico spinner fall. In this type of rise the fish rises and takes a food item once every second for ten seconds or more, then stopping the rising and taking time to swallow all the food it captured. This type of rising is very rare but when you see it it is a sight to behold…..it makes you quiver and shake and your knees will knock together…

6) Porpoising – with a porpoising rise you see the head, back, dorsal, and tail in a slow parade as the fish takes food….this rise sometimes exaggerates the fish’s true size. Porpoising indicates the presence of smaller, emerging flies, and to catch fish doing this you will want an array of mayfly nymphs and emergers, midge pupae and emergers, and all of them should be in the film patterns or ones that sit low on the water.

7) Tailing – very uncommon unless the water has lots of weedbeds or vegetation…fish feeding this way are likely rooting out mayfly nymphs, cressbugs, scuds, and whatever else they can find.

8) Splashy Rises – often belies a small or juvenile fish, they seem to get really excited about feeding…..and often seeing a really splashy rise is really nothing more than small fish. This happens alot during a caddisfly emergence, and with some swiftly emerging mayflies too. Moving the fly or twitching it, stripping it, raising it in front of a fish doing this will work well.

Hopefully this will give you a little insight into the riseforms of trout. They are amazing creatures, and coming up with the right fly and/or technique for the rising fish of the moment is about as good as it gets…especially if a fish winds up in the net.

Figuring Out Summer Smallmouth….

Often I get messages , emails, calls, etc. from friends and customers about fly fishing problems…..they usually involve what flies to use….and how to best fish them.  Of all the types of fishing I enjoy and guide for, I get a ton of questions about smallmouth bass.  So many folks who fly fish for trout try their hands at smallmouth.  Some do well, some don’t….and most of us, me included, will have days where things just aren’t going well.  Take heart, and read on.  Please….  As they say in the Appalachians, I am going to ‘learn’ you something.

Before I offer any suggestions on summer smallies, lets get a few things out there to think about because they will impact every thing you do in the way of fly fishing for these great fish.
One, water type is important.  Fly fishermen who fish for trout primarily (me included, even though I have fished for all species ever since I began fly fishing) will normally make this mistake first.  And it compounds all the others.  The mistake?  Fly fishing for smallmouth like they are trout.  Well, simply put, they aren’t trout.  For one look at the body of a bass and compare it to that of a trout.  Trout flourish in streams that are fast….fast or slow and in all speeds in between.  They can tilt up or down and go to the surface or return to the bottom with little more than tilting the head and moving a couple fins.   A bass’ body is too wide and bulky to sit in really fast current for very long.  The result?  You won’t find bass very often in “trouty” water.  Notice I said often.  I didn’t say never.  That means that you won’t find them in those fast riffs and boiling runs that you would find trout.  Will you once in a while?  Yes.  But its more the exception than the rule.  An exception might be a hatch of a large mayfly or caddis or stonefly…in which case the smallies will and do feed ….and sometimes in trouty water.  But there again, that’s not MOST of the time.
Two, they like areas with slow to almost no current….MOST of the time.  Where are these places?  An eddy, a slow bank, behind a midstream ledge or protruding rock (stops the current, this is a great place for a popper), the shallowing tailout of a pool, the tail of a pool where there is grass or weed growth, a bankside tree lap, blowdown, or log jam (smallies love structure).  Often, you find smallmouth where you’d find brown trout…s….l…o….w..e…r water.  If you see water that has foam on it, and there are one or more distinct lines of moving foamy water…but a patch where the foam is either barely moving or not at all….smallies love this type of water.  A patch of water where the foam isn’t moving (“Foam is Home”) is essentially a vertical column of water that isn’t moving. Smallies love this.
Three, some form of cover is important.   If there’s cover around, and its either near slow water or in slow water, you can bet smallmouth will be utilizing it.  Wood is great (“Wood is good”), and so are ledges, and large boulders (“Rocks rock!)…these are what I call high percentage targets.  Wood and rocks and ledges all are somewhat permanent stable structure.  Grass can be good, sometimes there’s two or three different grasses growing in the river….. grass that grows from bottom to top can be really good- – -especially if adjacent to deep water.  Smallies can take advantage of the multitude of dragonflies and damselflies (a major summer food source, which is what our poppers imitate)…these flies crawl beneath the grass and lay their eggs there.  But grass isn’t stable…isn’t always there.  One high water event like a string of several days of thunderstorms, or a tropical system (tropical storm or hurricane) and the grass can break loose and wash away.
Four, bass don’t feed like trout.  Look at a trout and the way they feed.  They have a small mouth for the most part.  The eat a lot of insects…it takes a lot of insects to get full.  Bass on the other hand, have a larger mouth and feed on insects plus minnows, crayfish, hellgrammites, etc.  Simply put, while both bass and trout are opportunistic, trout are more likely to feed all day long and bass aren’t.
Five, weather is a significant factor.  It seems to affect bass in ways that trout seem to ignore.  Not to say that fronts don’t affect trout, they no doubt do at times.  But I find I can still catch trout consistently front or no, and I wouldn’t say that about smallmouth. River fish don’t seem to be as affected as lake fish, but it still affects them.  I do very little post cold front smallmouth and largemouth fishing, as in the day of the front and the day after, for this reason.
Here are some suggestions on flies for smallies and how to fish them.  We should begin this discussion with the three areas I feel are necessary to cover.
(1) One area, the bottom is important and during cold spells, weather changes, etc., I need to be prepared to ‘bottom bounce’ some of my flies.
(2) Area two is the middle of the water column, or mid-depth, and these are flies that are stripped back in……the cover water to within a foot of the bottom up to a foot from the surface.
(3) Area three is the surface, and this is where you fish poppers, divers, etc., anything that floats.  Divers are included here because usually when you stop stripping them they come back to the surface.
Dr Jim Kramer
These are some of my favorite Smallmouth flies …..
(1) Ernys Twisted Critter- a hybrid wooly bugger /crayfish tie created by Matt Erny , this is a good bottom bouncer as are most crayfish patterns.
(2) Murray’s Hellgrammite – a black and grizzly wooly bugger hybrid that incorporates ostrich herl for the tail, lead eyes, and a pair of white rubberleg tentacles, also a great bottom bouncing pattern.

(3)  Clouser Deep Minnow. A size 4 or 6 chartreuse and white Clouser minnow, tied with Chartreuse on top, white on bottom, and mixed colors or pearlescent Krystal flash.  I like to tie them with size medium prepainted red lead eyes.  I make the overall fly about 2 to 2 1/2″ long.  A lot of different colors will work but I seldom find that there is a need to carry any other but this one.  It works that well.  This fly is usually a mid depth or middle of the water column fly and is stripped.

3)  A JJ Special.  Brown and yellow tail with a few strands of flashabou or krystal flash (brown on top , yellow on bottom), wooly bugger body (brown chenille), and yellow legs off the body…(one set at the back, one in the middle, one at the front), Grizzly hackled palmered through the body and the rubber legs just like you do a wooly bugger, and tie this in size 8 and 10 and use a 5/32″ gold , black , or copper bead head (not sure color even matters).  Versatile…  Can be used as a bottom bouncer or a mid depth/middle of the water column pattern.  Originally designed by James Jones of High Country Flies in Jackson Hole, WY…which is what JJ stands for.  So far as I know, we were the first to bring it back East and promote its use for smallmouth and trout here.  I got to know James and his partner in the business Howard Cole from my 25 yrs of going to the Jackson Hole area.
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(4) RLD….A rubberleg dragon  nymph  olive  (olive marabou tail, a sparse amount of krystal flash in tail, only one of two strands), tiny lead eyes, olive chenille body, yellow or white rubberlegs on the body like an ‘X’, grizzly or olive or brown hackle through the body.  Tie these in size 8 and 10.  Versatile…  Can be used as a bottom bouncer or a mid depth/middle of the water column pattern. Originally designed by Carter Nelson, a guide and instructor at Callaway Gardens, GA.


4) Kreelex – a Chuck Kraft pattern, a flashy streamer you can fish slow or fast or any speed in between…..  Great fly for off color water.  A mid depth or middle of the water column fly, normally stripped back in .  Created by Chuck Kraft, smallmouth and trout guide in VA.  For the recipe click here .

(5)  Popper-  I carry a wide variety of poppers, from chartreuse to white to black, an occasionally an oddball one like black /yellow (bumble bee), blue (blue damsel), but I will say that I rarely find bass ‘selective ‘ to a particular color of popper.  I like to carry sizes 2 through 10.  Most of the time I use a 6.  One note about poppers, don’t always pop the bug aggressively.  Mix it up.  Try an active presentation, then if that isn’t working, try casting the bug, letting it sit, pop it once, let it sit.  If that doesn’t work, try a twitch.  This works well on fish that you can see coming to the popper.  Often a twitch does it, a pop spooks them away.  And somedays, and I see this a lot when fish are pressured or toward the end of summer after they have been pounded for months, there will be days where an absolute dead drift will work best.  I am shocked how many times I have made a cast, looked away or looked down, or maybe been trying to untangle fly line from my legs, pack, or in the boat…only to look up and see my bug gone.  If you have that happen, maybe its a clue to try the “do nothing” presentation.
(6) Stealth Bomber- I put this one in there because there are times that you might want a fly that imitates a dragonfly or damselfly more closely.  While those super sexy and anatomically correct damsel and dragonfly patterns look really cool, I find that they lack something when it comes to catching fish.  Enter the Stealth bomber.  This Kent Edmonds pattern is great for imitating these large bugs.  Black in size 6, 8, and 10 is killer. White and chartreuse are great too, and blue isn’t bad either.  These bugs glide and slide and in my opinion are a better imitation of a damsel or dragon than the more specific patterns.  Check out Kent’s great website  here .
There are times in the past I liked using a light rod, because the fish feel great on it, but I think you miss and lose fish because of a lighter rod.  I use 6 weight minimum, I like a 7 weight most of the time, and use an 8 at times to throw heavy stuff, big poppers, or a heavier sink tip.  A 5 weight lacks the rear end to set the hook at distances greater than 25 feet.  If you are missing fish, or having them come off, and are using a 5 weight…..it may be the rod is too light.  I’d bet on it.
Fly Lines….
I use two lines, a floating line and a 10 to 12  foot factory sink tip that I cut back to 6 feet.  I would definitely recommend this if you are trying to wade and throw a sink tip.  Easier to cast and get out of the water if the tip is less than 10ft.  6 feet is more than enough to fish most smallie rivers in our area.  The only exception would be the lower New River below Claytor Lake, from Claytor Dam to Glen Lyn or Shanklins Ferry…..when Claytor is releasing water the flows are up and in that case a 200 to 250 gr sink tip works great.  I’d make the tip higher density, not a longer sinking section, as the density is what gets the fly down.
I like our own leaders for most applications, a 9ft 1x and 2x for heavy bugs, 9ft 3x for smaller stuff or when the water is low and clear or on bright sunny days with little wind.  For sinking stuff, I’ll use the same leader but cut 4 feet off the butt making it a 5 foot leader.  For sink tip, you don’t need more than 5 feet of leader and tippet.  Any more than that and the fly planes up, never sinks at the same rate as the tip, and the line /tip is at the bottom and fly is several feet above it.
Here is the response I gave to a fellow guide and friend of mine, as we were discussing catching smallmouth on the New River in Ivanhoe, VA, during a weather change.
I watched the weather closely and it wasn’t a cold front, but the combination of a ‘wedge” (easterly wind flow) and a bermuda High running together, the result was some fairly heavy rains for about 3 to 4 hrs in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday.  Some areas apparently got 1 to 2 inches of rain.  Fairly impressive given there were no real strong ‘storms’ .  Somehow the NC mtns have gotten rain and SW to Central VA has not.  Although Kathy and I were up there over the weekend, and the river from Ivanhoe downstream had started to get really dingy.  It had been gin clear, allowing some incredible sight fishing for smallies.  You could see them coming from 50 feet away to find the popper.  Not so today.  No fish on poppers….not so much as a strike.

One thing I always defer to…..when you are in an area where you know there are fish, is find the deepest, slowest water….usually bank eddies, slicks, flat pools, tailouts (the best of all—-the last 20 to 30 % of a pool before it turns into another riffle or rapid) and target them and fish slowly and thoroughly with the flies I have described above.  That approach drives me nuts if I have had good popper fishing, its hard for me to switch gears and slow down to match the patterns of the fish.

My experience is topwater flies only work in reasonably clear conditions.  Severe stain calls for subsurface stuff for sure.  I have also found that dark colors are better than bright and flashy, because dark creates stark contrast and directly addresses the low visibility problem stained water creates.  The flashy stuff is only good if there’s light penetration sufficient to make it flash, and given low visibility at a depth of 2 to 3 feet in stained water the flash probably does you little good because it only flashes if there’s enough light to make it do that.  Rattles are good too, incorporating a small rattle in the body of a fly is a great way to allow fish to ‘track’ it .
So there you have it, hopefully some of these tips will come in handy.  Also, the summer is still young and plenty of days left for the smallies…..join us for a trip….you will find them a worthy adversary and deserving of just as much respect as any trout.  I have often said you could tie a 3lb smallmouth tail to tail to a 3lb anything else and the smallmouth would drown it.  I fully believe it.  They are the best fighters inch for inch and pound for pound as you will ever catch on the long rod.
Yes I just said that…..

“They’re Taking _________________”

Wish I had a dollar for everytime I’ve heard that yelled across a stretch of river when one chap has gotten into some fish.  “Hey, they’re taking _________________.”  Just fill in the blank. Where I hear this most often you could put ‘sulphur emergers’ in there, or blue winged olives, or duns, or any number of words.  Its as though one guy has “figured” them out, cracked the code, into the honey…..  And I am as guilty as the next guy.  Catch a couple nice fish and instantly proclaim something like “They’re taking cripples…”  or “they are taking duns, I just saw a dun get eaten..”
Sometimes those statements are right on.  Well founded.  Made based upon catching a fish.  But they are also misleading.  And most of the time I am convinced they may be wrong.  Not completely wrong for the fish that got fooled, but wrong to attach the “They’re taking __________” label to all of the fish.
One of the big mistakes I believe we make as trout anglers is being in that mindset.  They are taking ___________.  Just fill in the blank.  Its the same as saying you have to fish __________because all the fish are taking only this fly.  Really?  I believe that is totally in error.  One, they didn’t all collectively decide to eat just one thing.  Its way more complicated than that.
First, lets consider the scenario on one of my favorite trout waters.  Hatches are very much water temperature driven.  I’ve kept detailed conditions on my favorite trout water for almost 25 years.  One of the favorite hatches begins in earnest in spring when the water temps approach the low 50s.  It continues all the rest of the year and can come off whenever the temp is in that magical low to mid 50s range.  I can and do expect them then.
When a hatch is occurring, a million and more insects leave the river bottom and wiggle to the surface and when they get to the surface film, which is a very problematic zone for them, they struggle, wiggle, struggle to get out of the nymphal skin and through the surface.  Getting through the surface alone has been said to be like us crawling up to the earth surface after being buried in 3 feet of dirt.  They don’t all look exactly the same.  Some are 1/10 hatched, some are half hatched, some are mostly hatched…I mean there are so many possible body positions that you almost couldn’t imitate them all.  So how is it that they could be taking just one fly….?  Answer:  They aren’t.

Figure 1:  Rose River rainbow that enthusiatically ate one of my little winter black stone imtations...Jeff Wilkins photo 2012

When you are standing in a river you are in a small part of the whole.  Consider this…..if you are standing in the tail of a long pool, trout in the riffle , which is where a good many of the nymphs are coming from in most cases, are taking the nymphs.  So its very likely the trout in the riffle might be eating nymphs as they come off the bottom and emergers struggling in the surface film.  They aren’t necessarily keyed in on just ‘one ‘ fly.  They might also be eating a few duns (completely hatched) that weren’t eaten in the pool above and continued to drift downstream into the next riffle.  This is particularly true on chilly or damp , rainy days when flies can’t get off the water right away.  Trout below them might be seeing mainly emergers….and no unhatched nymphs.  Trout below them might be seeing a combination of emergers and adults and maybe a stray nymph here or there.  Fish in tailouts might be seeing a concentration of everything….and maybe there’s so much food making it down that they ‘selectively ‘ choose an emerger here and there, realizing they can’t get away quickly, and handily ignore everything else that floats by.
And to top it all off….maybe all the fish in the situation above are seeing a mix of cripples…flies that are partially hatched, stillborns, ones that die or drown in the process of hatching…along with the real ones hatching.
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So you see, it isn’t that cut and dried.  Some will read what I described above and lose hope.  I do right the opposite.  I see great hope.  Tells me there’s a wide range of possible flies that might work and if I don’t spook fish and my presentations are up to snuff I can do well with a number of patterns if I get the size right.  As I am convinced its mostly about size.
Don’t believe this?  I’ll make you a bet.  Find a half dozen people on any river fishing any hatch that are catching fish and I’ll bet you they are all using a different fly.  I could do that on any crowded Saturday on my favorite river above.  So, with that said, could it then be said the fish are tough or are being selective?  Not so if they hit 6 different flies.    Difficult maybe, but not selective.
If they were truly selective I could accurately say “They’re hitting ________________.”
And I can’t do that…..  🙂  At least not as often as we say stuff like that….