Tyler and I had the pleasure of fishing with central Pennsylvania's premier Smallmouth guides, Brian Shumaker. Brian is the owner of Susquehanna River Guides and has spent the past 30 years floating the rivers in and around west central PA including the fabled Susquehanna and Juniata rivers. Brian has become a good friend over the years so we jumped at the chance to spend a day on the water with him.
We did the 2 hour ride from our place to the meeting spot in record time where we then followed Brian with his Hyde drift boat in tow to the um, well, we will say...boat ramp. We were on a smaller piece of water Brain can only float in his hard hull during the Spring. later in the year there is simply not enough water to get down this particular river. Getting the boat in the water was interesting, but we got it down the bank and we were soon on our way.
Smallmouth are my favorite fish, they are beautiful, hard fighting and are tailor made for fly fishing. We spent the day pounding the banks and back eddies with streamers and slowly stripping them back. "Stripping them back" is really a bit of a misnomer, really we were just letting the flies hang and swing a bit and just keeping the line tight as the boat drifted down river. This is a cool technique as once you "get" it you can literally hold the fly in one spot for an extended amount of time to entice a big ole' bronze back to come up from the deeper water and smash it.
We started off a little slow, typical with spring time smallmouth fishing as the water was still a bit on the cool side at 52 degrees. When the sun got up and the water warmed so did the fishing. As soon as he stepped up on to the front casting position Brian was tight to a solid smallmouth. Literally it was on his first or 2nd cast!
nThis was not a guided trip, it was what we call a "row and go" meaning three guys are in the boat, 2 guys fishing and 1 rowing the boat. We would switch positions so every got to fish and every one would row. If rowing a drift boat is not something you do every day you will soon appreciate the skill of an accomplished oarsman. It is not as easy as a good rower makes it look...just ask Tyler. I really think you should spend some time on the oars if you can, it will give you a better appreciation of how everyone needs to work together for the boat to be successful. Tyler was picking it up toward the end, I am very excited for our Smith Fly raft to be completed so we can start floating some of our local (and not so local) rivers this summer.
On his second stint on the bow Tyler stuck a good fish followed by an even better smallie.
Tyler and I were fishing some of TFO's new gear, mainly the Axiom 2 X rods and the new BVK sealed drag reels. As mentioned smallmouth are my favorite fish to fish for, coincidentally we spend a lot of time chasing them each year. For years my go to set up has always been a 7 weight. We throw some pretty big flies when chasing smallies; Game changers, O'Neill's Controlled Chaos, O'Neill's Hovercraft, weighted crayfish patterns and the like. For me a 6 weight just doesn't have the muscle needed to punch these bigger, wind resistant flies through the air. It is not uncommon for us to be on the water all day and honestly an 8 weight was just too heavy to cast for 10 hours straight, that is why I prefer a 7 weight. Until now.
During one of my turns in the back of the boat I looked down in the rod holder and low and behold there was Tyler's Brand new A2X 8 weight. Will, I am not one to let a new rod to go to waste so I figured I would break it in for him. As mentioned earlier I am a huge fan of a 7 weight. That being said, if you get a little more than I light breeze the shortcoming of the 7 weight quickly comes to light, especially if you are trying to punch 60' casts with big flies. This was the first time I really got to spend with the A2X 8 weight. The first thing you notice is the overall weight of the rod. If you didn't know any better you would swear it you were holding a 6 weight. Load it up to cast and it is quite apparent what you are holding. Paired with an aggressive, weight forward shooting head this stick is an absolute rocket. It is light in the hand, you can cast it all day and it has plenty of punch to drive a big, articulated fly through the air with ease. It is a bit early to say it is my new favorite, but it will be a staple in my quiver for sure.
Several hours later and sever rotations on the oars we were at the take out. We had had a fantastic day with several Smallmouth landed along with a bonus Walleye, my first ever.
If you are looking for a fantastic central Pennsylvania Smallmouth experience Give my buddy Brian a call or check out his Facebook HERE. You will be glad you did. Till next time...
Tight lines, Tim
Most of my friends locally that know me know that I am a self proclaimed Smallmouth nut! They are my favorite fish and they are tailor made for fly fishing. Myself, Tyler and my friends spend many hours chasing Smallies each Summer. We have our rods, reels, and watercraft dialed in. We each carry several rods with different lines so we can cover the entire water column from top to bottom and we are very familiar with the rivers that we float. What does all of this mean? Well, we are fortunate enough to land several 18 to 20 inch Smallmouth each year. Our Smallmouth game is tight, and we take pride in that.
I always say if you were to look into my working fly boxes you would probably be extremely underwhelmed. You may expect to see box after box with hundreds of different patterns in every color under the rainbow. While I do love tying flies, I love catching fish even more. and when I am all on the water it is all about the fish and catching them! While we are constantly experimenting, tweaking, and coming up with some new patterns. What follows are my core 5 Smallmouth flies. I call these "American Express Flies' because you don't leave home without them (you will have to be over 40 to get that reference) and you can bet if you see me on the river one (or 3) of these will be tied on my tippet.
We are full into summer fishing right now (the heat index is 108 as I type this) so I thought for the next couple of blog posts I could do a series of my 5 favorite Smallmouth patterns followed by a step-by-step tutorial in the coming weeks of each pattern. If you are a Smallmouth Junkie like me this is a great opportunity to fill your boxes with some proven producers. Here we go...
If you told me I could only ever fish one fly for Smallmouth this may be the one. This fly has accounted for more 20+" fish in the last 8 years than any other fly I fish. Spawned from the mind of Chuck Craft and available through William Heresnaik in materials or whole at Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing this could possibly be the perfect Smallmouth fly. I typically ALWAYS have one of these rigged and fish it on the bottom on an intermediate or sinking line. Brown (or moccasin) is my go to color, we have also done well on olive and black.
I tie mine a little bit different than the original dressing, just a few little tweaks. They probably don't really help and the original is probably best left alone. Fishing is 90% confidence and if I feel more confident in the pattern, I am going to fish it more effectively.
Any Serious Smallmouth angler worth his salt loves fishing poppers. The fishing is very visual and the takes can be explosive. We have used several popper styles over the years, some tied and some purchased. we have settled on these 2 as our favorites.
The Boogle Bug. A friend from Virginia turned me on to these several years ago. We got to talking about Smallmouth fishing and he said in his Virginian accent "you ever fish Boogles"? You have to say with the accent or it kind of looses the presentation. I had no idea what he was talking about.
Boogles are a hard face popper tied with a hackle skirt and rubber legs. They are very durable and catch a ton of fish. The one thing I noticed is the hard face poppers, especially the Boogles have a higher pitch pop when you strip them. Something I believe the fish really key on at times. If interested check them out here.
A few years ago the Flymen company came out with the Double Barrel popper heads. As soon as I saw them I knew I had to try them. The dual sound chambers and the semi-soft popping face gave us a sound that was very familiar. Remember the old Arbogast Hula Popper? The big gaudy, weird looking Bass hard bait? We fished these all the time as kids and they produced a deep, hollow pop it seemed the fish couldn't resist. Well, the Flymen Double Barrel popping heads come the closest to reproducing that sound. We quickly put these heads into some of our current designs (both mine and some of my friends) and the results have been fantastic.
O'Neill's Controlled Chaos
This type of fly is really more of a tying style rather than a pattern. Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters came up with a great pattern Called a Swinging D. This was the first time I saw a foam popper head turned around backwards to create a diver type of fly. The Swinging D is a GREAT fly, it takes a long time to tie with a lot of steps. Many people, including me, have taken Mike's pattern and tweaked it a bit for various reasons, for me it was strictly tying time. This is probably my favorite pattern in the bunch and, like the Clawdad you will be hard pressed to see me without one if these rigged up. Throw this on an intermediate or a type 2 sink tip on a short leader. The foam head want's to naturally float the fly up and the sink tip wants to pull it down. This self imposed Tug -of War creates an action that is incredible! This pattern is ever changing and here are a few of the variations I have used over the past few years. I am currently working on a all Synthetic version of the fly using some of the great new brushes that have hit the market recently. Like I said, this is more of a basic platform pattern so have fun with it.
The Feather Game Changer
About 8 years ago a fly hit the market that was truly a revolution in the fly tying world. Blane Chocklett's Game Changer is truly an innovation in the fly tying world. More of a platform for tying multiple patterns the Game changer is available in many variations today. My favorite is the Feather Game Changer. MUCH faster to tie that the original (not fast mind you, they still take 45+ minutes to tie) the best thing about this version is the taper is in the materials, there is little to no trimming. Now you are seeing variations with spun deer hair heads, popper heads and the like making this pattern very versatile. Check out one of the great videos on how to tie this great pattern by searching Feather Game Changer.
Shumaker's Shimmering Minnow
Brian Shumaker is one of the premier guides on Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River. You may have heard of the Susquehanna before as it is where the famous Clouser Minnow was born. The Shimmering Minnow is a bit of a wide body baitfish pattern, a perfect match for the juvenile Shad the Bass in my area enjoy. Easy to tie and fishy as any fly out there it is easy to see why this pattern has become a staple in my buddy Ed's Fly box. You can tie this in Multiple colors, we prefer the pearl / grey version. To date I believe the shimmering Minnow has landed something like 40 different species from Smallmouth on the Susquehanna to Steelhead in Erie, it is just a great all around fly.
Well, there you have it, my top 5 Smallmouth flies. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for tutorials on how to tie all of these great patterns. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim