This is my third summer in Western North Carolina and without a doubt the hottest and driest I’ve seen. As summer temps hovered consistently around 90 degrees and water levels dropped, the fishing in bigger watersheds predictably slowed down. The solution to the “dog days of summer” quandary is quite simple. Smallmouth bass and small wild trout fisheries have been on fire. The challenge is getting the average client to think outside their normal box and realize the reward these fisheries have to offer.
Before relocating to WNC most of my fly fishing experience was in Colorado. Smallmouth bass were not on my radar and bow-and-arrow casting was something I never even conceived of as a necessity. However, any serious angler would be willing to adjust his or her routine tactics to stay on fish throughout the year. I’ve made those adjustments and come to greatly appreciate the benefit of carrying a bigger bag of tricks.
The small, tight streams of this area are unquestionably challenging. Stalking pools on hands and knees, poking heads over rocks, delivering an accurate cast on the first try and being quick enough to hook these little ninjas is not an easy objective. Some would say the reward of a 6 or 8 inch fish isn’t worth the effort. I couldn’t disagree more. There’s something about catching a wild fish, full or beautiful color, in the stream it was born that holds a special place in my heart. A few weeks ago we had a family of three fish on our private water. They caught many fish, many big fish in fact. When the trip was over they asked about doing something different the next day. I did my best to sell the small stream experience and though somewhat grudgingly, they agreed to give it a shot. That next morning we took out 7 ½ foot 3 weight rods and headed to Courthouse Creek, a main feeder stream of the North Fork of the French Broad. I explained the importance of a stealthy approach as well as the necessity of bow-and-arrow casting and we took to the river. There was a wild rainbow or brown trout in every little pocket. Many were missed but the small gems they caught, mostly on dry flies, were brimming with color and full of life. Every picture of these small fish had a big smile in the background.
Smallmouth bass have quickly become one of my favorite targets with a fly rod. When the smallmouth bite is on the action is unreal. They will attack a fly and put up a fight in a way that is not found in trout fishing. The most effective way to fish for smallmouth is typically stripping streamers through the water. They can also be caught in deep runs with heavy nymph rigs running big girdle bugs or crawfish patterns near the bottom. My personal favorite way to feed them is with surface popper flies. Watching these fish explode on your fly top water is a thrill. Once hooked these fish do not give up without one hell of a fight. They have been dubbed pound-for-pound the toughest fighting freshwater fish and they live up to this title. A decent sized smallmouth will bend a 7 weight rod over double. In freshwater conditions what more could you ask for?
For you avid trout anglers who have put your rods on the shelf until October, I would strongly encourage you to knock off the dust and give one or both of these fishing situations a try. There is no need to take an unwanted break from fishing during the summer because the water in many rivers is too low and too hot. Diversifying your game will keep you on the water and make you an all around better angler.
Head Fly Fishing Guide
Headwaters Outfitters Fly Fishing