Camping is supposed to be a relaxing return to nature, getting outdoors and living a simple life for a few days. Not so much now-a-days.
Big motor homes pull into paved pads set a few feet from the next one. The “camper” hops out, plugs in and pushes a button to level his home away from home and crawls back inside.
A couple days later they come out of their air-conditioned cocoon with big screen TV, unplug and retract levelers and head back to civilization, a house with all the comforts of camping.
I admit my camping is just a way to sleep comfortably near the water so I can spent more time fishing I have a slide in pickup camper that is air conditioned, but it is for sleeping only. All cooking, eating and sitting around watching other campers is done outside in a screened in room. Watching fellow “campers” is fun from that bug free zone.
I spent six nights last week at Blanton Creek Campground on Bartletts Ferry Lake. That Georgia Power campground is well maintained with a good bathroom and shower, something very important to me after a hot day fishing.
I was surprised the campground was not full since I had to make reservations over a month ago to get a site. The caretaker told me every site was reserved and paid for, but the stormy weather Thursday and Friday probably scared off some campers.
Memorial Day week I jokingly mentioned sitting at a boat ramp over the weekend and watching the comedy show. Too many folks get a boat and don’t have a clue about backing a trailer. And they don’t go to an empty parking lot to train, they wait until they are at a busy boat ramp to cause problems for everyone else.
Some of those same folks on the water are no joking matter. Far too many people drive boats without a clue on safety rules and laws. And boat wrecks happen every year because of it.
Last year I got run out of a marked channel at Lake Guntersville by drivers not following the most basic rule of boating two different times in one day. Both were by boat ”captains” in an Alabama High School tournament.
I was running down the right sides of the narrow channels and they headed right toward me, forcing me to either go to my left and their right, violating the law, or run out into the grass. I chose the grass partly because if I went to their right and they suddenly changed course, I would have been the one in the wrong if we hit.
A picture of a bass boat that had obviously been hit on the port (left) side by another boat was posted on Facebook a week ago. I found out they were running about 40 MPH at night in a tournament when another boat in the tournament, coming across their path from the left, hit them.
Apparently, the young driver in the boat that hit the other bass boat either didn’t see them or didn’t know they had the right of way. To make it worse, they boat in the wrong did not have front running lights.
Front running lights tell you which way a boat is facing in the dark. There is a green light on the starboard (right) side and a red light on the port side. So if you see a red light the boat is going to your left and it has the right of way. The white light at the stern (rear) of the boat confirms this and is easier to see from a distance.
Red and green lights on a boat are like the traffic lights at an intersection. If you see the red light, the other boat has the right of way. A green light gives you right of way, but since so many people don’t know the rules it is best to avoid getting near another boat day or night.
At Lake Eufaula a couple of weeks ago I idled from the campground to the boat ramp in the dark on Saturday morning. A steady stream of boats in the BFL idled from the ramp on my left to the boat basin on my right to get ready for blast off. It took me about ten minutes to make the trip, and about 50 boats went by.
Boat after boat showed their green starboard light to me. Then one went by showing a red light on its starboard side, opposite of what it should be. Either it was installed wrong or someone working on the boat somehow got it changed backwards.
Imagine running down the lake in the dark and seeing a red and green light ahead. The lights tell you to go to the right, justly like in a car on the highway. But with lights reversed it would be confusing.
For years I would go to Clarks Hill during the summer and sleep all day and fish all night for a week at a time. I always enjoyed fishing at night when the air is cooler, the fish are feeding and there are few boats on the water as opposed to fishing on hot days when the fish don’t bite and the lake is crowded.
My bass clubs used to have night tournaments every July and August but several members are afraid to fish at night now due to idiots on the water.
I saw a good example of how dumb folks can be one night at Jackson. I was fishing a point near the dam in the dark when I barely made out a boat idling past about 100 yards out from me. As it went by a spotlight hit the two young girls in a tube 100 feet behind the boat, being pulled along. There were lights on the boat but not on the girls.
A game warden had seen them and put his spotlight on the girls. He stopped the boat and I heard him lecture the adults in the boat about the danger of what they were doing and that it was illegal. He said he would not give them a ticket but they must be safe.
The game warden left, the folks in the boat cranked up and merrily went on their way towing the two young girls in the tube behind the boat in the dark.
The closest I have ever come to hitting another boat happened just after dark at Clarks Hill. I was fishing up Little River, planning on fishing most of the night, when lightning in an approaching thunderstorm made me head to my mobile home at the boat club.
Going in, a small island sits about 100 yards off the bank just above Raysville Bridge. The water is deep enough out between the island and bank to run through there, and it saves a couple minutes off going around the island. Since the lightning was getting closer I was running about 45 MPH as I turned to go between the island and bank.
Suddenly a flashlight came on just feet ahead of me. Someone had paddled a boat out there and anchored to fish in the dark, without lights. I am sure I soaked the folks in the boat as I went by, I could not have been more than five feet from them.
Follow the laws and rules on the water and be safe out there.
I was surprised when I shook the limb that had been full of Mayflies on Sunday and Friday, to see two dead ones fall out and not even one fly off. Mayflies attract bream that attract bass, but the hatch does not last long.
The life cycle of a Mayfly is amazing to me. Adult females lay from 50 to 10,000 eggs, depending on the species, on the surface of the water and the eggs settle to the bottom. They hatch in about two weeks into nymphs that live from two weeks to two years on the bottom, feeding on decaying material and growing.
When grown, the nymph swims to the surface and the skin splits and a winged subimago fly emerges to fly to a nearby bush. After resting overnight, it molts into the adult winged fly, the only insect that molts after developing a winged stage.
Soon after the final molt, the adult flies mate and the females lay eggs on the surface of the water at dusk. The males die after mating and the females die after laying eggs, usually living only one day but sometimes live as long as two days.
No wonder they were all gone at Bartletts Ferry in a week!
I arrived on Tuesday and set up camp, then got up Wednesday morning and drove 30 minutes to West Point Lake to practice for the Potato Creek Saturday tournament. I found some bushes with a Mayfly hatch and caught a four pounder on a buzzbait in the shade of them, so I thought I had found something.
I marked some more Mayfly bushes and some deep-water places that looked good the rest of that day. I went back on Thursday and found some more, so I felt pretty good about catching fish in the tournament.
On Friday I put in at Bartletts Ferry to check things out there for the Sportsman Club Sunday tournament. It was a week early due to Father’s Day this weekend. The limb I shook the Sunday before and released a cloud of Mayflies was still full of them. When I shook the same limb they flew around me so thick I had to breathe thought my nose to keep from eating one!
That gave me hope since I had caught a four pounder there in the Flint River tournament. I spent a few hours looking for more bushes full of Mayflies and found many, and marked some good looking cover on points before a thunderstorm ran me off the lake at 2:00.
Last Saturday 24 members of the Potato Creek Bassmasters fished our June tournament at West Point. After nine hours of casting, we brought 68 keeper bass weighing about 118 pounds to the scales. There were ten five-bass limits and three people did not weigh in a fish.
Caleb Delay won big with five weighing 14.15 pounds and his 4.82 pound largemouth was big fish. Edward Folker was second with five at 9.92 pounds, Kwong Yu was third with five weighing 9.90 pounds and Mitchell Cardell came in fourth with five at 8.77 pounds.
My practice didn’t really help me. I landed one on a buzzbait near a Mayfly hatch, one on a Carolina Rig on an old roadbed I found and one on a whacky rigged Senko that hit near some Mayflies. I did lose two nice two-pound fish that I got right to the boat and they just pulled off, one on a shaky head worm and one on a jig and pig.
At Bartletts Ferry Sunday ten members of the Spalding County Sportsman Club fished our June tournament. After nine hot hours in our boats, we brough 30 keepers weighing about 39 pounds to the scales. There were two five fish limits and one person didn’t weigh in a fish.
Jay Gerson had a limit weighing 10.51 pounds for first and his 4.14 pound largemouth was big fish. Raymond English had five weighing 7.02 pounds for second, my three weighing 6.02 pounds was third and Glenn Anderson had four weighing 6.09 pounds for fourth. He actually beat me but he had a dead fish that cost him a .2 pound penalty.
Practice didn’t really help here, either. I did catch one keeper on a buzzbait on the same seawall where I caught one the week before, and caught my biggest fish, a 3.48 pounder that hit a weightless Trick worm on another seawall. My third fish came out of some deep brush where I had caught one the weekend before, and my partner Chris Davies got two keepers there and another one off a dock.
Z-Man® Turbo FattyZ™: Beast Mode for Big Bass
from The Fishing Wire
New fropm ZMan
Ladson, SC – Pro Z-Man angler Miles “Sonar” Burghoff is stoked to break out his hottest bass trick. For months, the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit angler has been tinkering with a hot bait under the radar, conceiving cool ways to catch bass. The bait’s good, no doubt. Different in all the ways that matter, too. The ‘trick’ dangling from Burghoff’s rod tip, however, seems to have put some crazy ideas in his head. As in, saying he’s actually excited to hit up those places where parades of other lures have already chopped the shallow water salad into mixed greens.
You’d assume even an ace like Burghoff would dread rehashing used water. Instead, the friendly professional angler relishes these scenarios— and it’s all because he’s seen what can happen when he shows his new soft swimming worm to the local largemouth population.
“You can go in right after other anglers’ have tossed bladed jigs and traditional surface baits and really clean house,” exclaims Burghoff, with a nod to Z-Man’s new Turbo FattyZ. “This is a softbait that can go places where wire baits and other lures can’t, such as the thickest matted grass. Or, I can pitch and skip the Turbo FattyZ way up beneath overhangs and docks and pull big bites. On the surface, the bait’s buoyant paddletail spits and sputters water. And when you kill it, the worm has this killer waggling action as it slowly flutters.”
As Burghoff will tell you, though, working shallow grass merely skims the surface of the versatile new bait’s talents. But first, a few details . . .
Weighing in with its robust, yet extra soft swim-worm physique, the 6-inch Turbo FattyZ hangs like a substantial bass chunk at the end of your line. The softbait’s stout, segmented torso transitions to a razor-thin, high-action posterior. Propelled by an intelligently-conceived convex paddle tail, the bait hums along with a pulsing, gliding action on a slow to moderate retrieve. The entire tail section is speckled with micro-protrusions for an appetizing appearance and texture. Providing near-neutral buoyancy, a dosage of 15-percent impregnated salt also increases density for easy casts, even when fished unweighted.
“For several years, I searched for a high-performance swimming worm, but just couldn’t find one that clicked,” recalls Burghoff. “I wanted something with extra bulk and weight; a bait with some natural, neutral buoyancy that could be fished a bunch of different ways. So I was really stoked when my friends at Z-Man listened to my wishes, and helped me design the Turbo FattyZ.”
Burghoff’s essential presentation with the bait— a surface and near-surface swimming worm— employs a lightly weighted 3/16-ounce EWG or 1/6-ounce, 4/0 ChinlockZ SWS™ hook, Texas rigged. “Love the way this worm spits and sputters on the surface. Slides right over and through the thickest pads and matted grass. Pause it in pockets and let its tail slowly waggle as the whole worm glides and entices bites. Throw this bait in any of Florida’s big bass lakes or a ton of other shallow cover, big fish situations. You’ll be a happy angler. The Turbo FattyZ is just a really sweet bait for working shallow cover, especially areas that’ve been worked hard by other lures.”
Moving from surface swimmer to other bass apps, Burghoff now calls the Turbo FattyZ his “go-to swim jig trailer.”
“I’ll trim an inch or two off the bait’s head and thread it onto a CrossEyeZ™ Snakehead Swim Jig. The subtle profile and refined tail-kicking action of the Turbo FattyZ especially shine in slower-retrieve swim jig situations. When a faster swim jig retrieve and more thump and action is needed, such as in dirtier water, I’ll switch to the double tailed GOAT™, which displaces even more water.”
Highlighting a trifecta of presentations, Burghoff says the Turbo FattyZ on a Carolina rig remains one of his aces in the hole. “Put the Turbo FattyZ on a 4/0 or 5/0 EWG hook and you’ve got perhaps the ultimate Carolina rig bait for covering water and getting bit,” he explains. “Go with a ¾-ounce tungsten bullet weight and work right over those hard bottom structures—shell beds, patches of smaller rock and gravel. You’ll find those zones all over the Great Lakes, as well as southern lakes like Eufaula and TVA impoundments. So many good places with amazing Carolina rig potential—and almost no one throws it these days.”
Burghoff continues: “The Turbo FattyZ is the perfect complement to a heavy Carolina sinker. You get a great read on bottom composition. And you’re putting a confidence bait down there in front of the bass—an almost neutrally buoyant soft worm that swims and thumps as you drag it behind the sinker. On the pause the bait flutters seductively and then almost hovers in place.
“Every time I cast the Turbo FattyZ on a Carolina or any other rig, it makes me want to keep this little trick to myself,” Burghoff laughs.
To grab your own packs of Turbo FattyZ, check your local fishing tackle stores or online retailers beginning in August. Crafted at Z-Man’s South Carolina headquarters, the Z-Man 6-inch Turbo FattyZ features 10X Tough ElaZtech® for extreme softness and durability. The new swimming worm comes in eight pro-selected colors. MSRP $5.99 per 5-pack. For more information, visit www.zmanfishing.com.
While at Clarks Hill on Memorial Day “working” on my July Georgia Outdoor News Map of the Month article, I watched a pot tournament weigh in. There were 22 teams fishing and it took took five weighing 18.5 pounds for first, 17 pounds for second, 14.7 pounds for third and fourth was 13.12 pounds. Big fish was a tie with matching 5.8 pounders.
Fishing will get tougher and tougher as the water gets hotter this summer. Fish can still be caught, as the tournament at Clarks Hill shows, but it will take more effort for most of us. But trying is still a lot more fun than most other options!
Fish at Clarks Hill school on blueback herring all summer and would be a good choice for a trip. My July article will give tips on baits to use and ten places marked on a map and with GPS coordinates, to show you what kind of places to fish.
NOAA’s Deepwater Horizon restoration partners at the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission selected three new partners to conduct studies on reef fish restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. They were chosen through a competitive process, and the awards total approximately $690,000.
These studies are contributing to a $30 million project to encourage anglers to use fish descending devices. These devices increase survival of reef fish experiencing barotrauma in the Gulf’s recreational fisheries approved by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustees.
Barotrauma is damage caused by the rapid expansion of gases in fish that are caught in deeper water and quickly brought up to the surface. As the gases expand, they can damage the eyes, stomach, and other parts of the fish. This makes it difficult for them to swim back down and survive once released. Descending devices help fish by quickly releasing them at their normal depth, reducing the number of reef fish that die from catch and release fishing.
Coming to a Charter Boat (or Inbox) Near You
Decender Device on Charter Boat
An angler holds a red fish with a fish descender device, about to release it back into the water.
Fish descender devices come in multiple forms, this one is pressure activated, releasing the fish at a specific depth automatically. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Florida Sea Grant
All three studies will focus on the use of descending devices to help fish return to their underwater habitats, away from predators. Anglers can help restore fish populations impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by using these devices.
The first two studies will be conducted offshore, working with close to 40 recreational charter boat captains. Captains will:
Recapture fish previously tagged and released using descending devices, to increase understanding of survival rates
Deploy underwater cameras to shed light on whether predators, like sharks, are targeting fish when they are released with descender devices
Receive training on best practices while using descending devices
Gulf reef fish anglers should also be on the lookout for mail and email surveys from partners at Southwick Associates. These surveys will help the project team understand barriers to using descending devices. By participating in the studies, anglers will help inform future angler outreach and education methods.
Results from the three studies will contribute to restoration efforts that increase the health of reef fisheries impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, while improving angler experiences. The work will be carried out through 2025.
Determination of Predation Mortality, Barotrauma Survival, and Emigration Patterns for Catch-and-Released Red Snapper
Partner: Dr. Stephen Szedlmayer, Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Aquatic Sciences
Timeline: 20-month project, ends December 2022
A team from Auburn University will collaborate with eight charter vessel operators to better understand the survival rates of red snapper released with descending devices. The team will tag and release red snapper across a range of locations and depths off the coast of Alabama and Mississippi. Participating captains will return to the tagging sites within 2 to 4 weeks to recapture as many tagged fish as possible. A combination of different tagging methods will provide a robust evaluation of descending methods and their effect on red snapper survival.
Barotrama make fish easy meals
A shark opens its mouth for a struggling fish underwater.
This fish was an easy lunch for a bull shark after being released without help from a descending device. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Florida Sea Grant
Do Descender Devices Increase Opportunities for Depredation? A Gulf-wide Examination of Descender Device Depredation Rates and Depredating Species
Partner: Dr. Marcus Drymon, Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center
Timeline: 32-month project, ends December 2023
Working with 30 charter boat captains, this study will document whether hooked reef fish are eaten by predators and which species are responsible. This team from Mississippi State University will train and incentivize captains across the Gulf of Mexico to use descending devices and film fish releases with cameras. The team will then analyze the video footage, and results will be used to inform best release practices and address depredation concerns with descended fish. The project team will make short videos to train captains on data collection processes and share project results with stakeholders.
Measuring Changes in Angler Awareness and Use of Fish Descending Devices
Partner: Southwick Associates
Timeline: Baseline study in 2021, follow-up study in 2025.
Southwick Associates will assess recreational reef fish anglers’ current knowledge of fish descending devices. The goal is to establish an understanding of anglers’ perceptions about releasing reef fish and identify barriers to using descending gear. Understanding barriers will inform future education and outreach, and help anglers learn the advantages of best release practices. In 2025, the team will measure the change in anglers’ awareness and adoption of descending gear over time.
Improving Recreational Fish Survival is One Project Among Many Restoring Marine Resources After Deepwater Horizon
Fish showing barotrama damage
An angler holds a fish, its mouth open and air bladder inflated from barotrauma.
Barotrauma expands gasses in a fish causing the air bladder and other organs to expand as well, making it difficult for fish to swim after release. Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Florida Sea Grant
These studies are one part of a comprehensive $30 million project reducing barotrauma injuries and deaths in reef fish. The project also aims to increase successful use of fish descender devices by distributing them to recreational anglers and providing information on their use. Supplying fishermen with the tools and knowledge to minimize barotrauma-related fish death and injury will result in increased survival of species released during recreational fishing activities.
This barotrauma project was one of four fish restoration projects funded by the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustees’ 2019 $226 million restoration plan. The remaining 14 projects in the plan are restoring sea turtles, marine mammals, and deep-sea coral habitats.
Hundreds of fish species were exposed to oil during and after the Deepwater Horizon spill. The exposure killed fish larvae that would have grown and contributed to the food web and fisheries. It also impaired fish growth and reproduction and caused changes in reef fish communities. Recognizing these and other impacts, the settlement with BP included $380 million to help restore injuries to fish and water column invertebrates.
Several new gas stations in our area carry the new E-15 15 percent Ethanol gas. DO NOT put it in your boat – or any other small engine. It will ruin an outboard motor if you run E-15 in it.
For years we looked for “white gas” to run in our small outboards. It ran cleaner but was more expensive. After I got my first big outboard, a 1974 70 HP Evinrude, I ran regular gas in all my outboards but then around 2010 E-10, ten percent ethanol gas, gas with alcohol in it, was mandated by the federal government.
Starting in 2004, I was running a 2004 225 Yamaha fuel injected motor. It locked up om 2011 during a West Point tournament. I was lucky, Yamaha repaired the motor for free even though it was two years out of warranty. They got me as a customer for life from that service! I am now convinced ethanol gas broke my motor.
When 2004 motors were made, ethanol gas was not popular and my owner’s manual said nothing about using it, so I ran it. Apparently, Yamaha stood behind many of their motors during that time although it was not their fault!
Now, as E-15 becomes popular and may be mandated by the federal government, we may have to seek out non-ethanol gas for our outboards. It is more expensive, of course, and harder to find, but may be the only way to keep running outboards.
I understand every small motor, from chainsaws and lawnmowers to four wheelers and generators, may have the same problem.
By Alex McCrickard, Virgina DGIF Aquatic Education Coordinator
from The Fishing Wire
During the dog days of summer, many anglers put their rods and reels down and are content to wait until later in the fall for cooler weather. Unfortunately, these anglers end up missing some of the most exciting warm water fishing conditions of the year. During this time frame, I tend to focus my efforts on one species of fish in Virginia, smallmouth bass. Pound for pound and inch for inch, these fish fight harder than most other freshwater fish in the state.
Smallmouth Bass in Virginia
Smallmouth bass, frequently referred to as smallies or bronzebacks, are a freshwater member of the sunfish family: Centrarchidae. Their green and brown sides are often marked with vertical black bars. Some of these fish have war paint like markings extending horizontally and diagonally behind their eyes and across their gill plates. Smallmouth bass are native to the Great Lakes system and the Mississippi River Basin including the Tennessee and Big Sandy River Drainages of Southwest Virginia. However, these game fish have been introduced all across the Piedmont of Virginia and are truly a worthy opponent on rod and reel. Because of the smallmouth’s widespread range in Virginia, they are readily available to anglers fishing west of the coastal plains above the fall lines of our major river systems. This allows anglers who reside in cities and large metropolitan areas to fish local as smallmouth opportunities are plentiful. The James River in Lynchburg and Richmond, Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Rivanna River in Charlottesville, Maury River near Lexington, and the New River in Blacksburg are fine examples of local opportunities.
The author with a fine summer smallmouth on the James River. Photo by Joe Revercomb.
The mainstem and larger tributaries of these rivers are full of smallmouth. Anglers in Northern Virginia can focus efforts on the Upper Potomac River as well as the Shenandoah mainstem, North Fork, and South Fork. The North Fork of the Holston River and the Clinch River provide excellent smallmouth opportunities in Southwest Virginia. Floating these larger rivers in a canoe or raft can be a great way to cover water, just remember to wear your life jacket. You can also wade fish these rivers and their tributaries, especially in the lower flows of late summer.
My favorite conditions to fish for smallmouth are from mid-summer into early fall. During this time of the year our rivers and streams are typically at lower flows with fantastic water clarity. These conditions provide for some incredible sight fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass. Look for fish to be holding against steep banks with overhanging trees and vegetation. During the middle of hot summer days it can pay off huge when you find a shady bank with depth and current. It can also be productive to target riffles and pocket water during this time of the year. Smallmouth will often be in the faster and more oxygenated water when river temperatures get hot.
It’s important to think about structure when locating summer smallmouth. These fish will often be found along a rock ledge or drop off. Log jams, underwater grass beds, and emergent water willow also provide structure that these fish can use for cover. Smallmouth can be found along current seams where fast water meets slow water. Fishing a quiet pocket behind a mid-river boulder or targeting the tailout of an island where two current seams come together is a good idea.
During hot, bright, summer days the fishing can be most productive early in the morning and again in the evening. I try to fish during these times as smallmouth will often be active during low light conditions and can get sluggish during the middle of a hot bright afternoon. That being said, these fish can be caught in the middle of bright sunny days as well. Also, afternoon cloud cover and a light shower can turn the fishing on in a matter of moments.
Wade fishing can be a great way to break up a float during a hot summer day. Photo by Alex McCrickard
Summer Feeding Habits
Smallmouth bass are piscivores, they feed primarily on other fish. Various species of shiners, darters, dace, and sunfish are bass favorites. These fish also prefer large aquatic insects like hellgrammite nymphs and crayfish. However, the abundance of other aquatic and terrestrial insects allow smallmouth to diversify their menu in the summertime. It is not uncommon for these fish to target damselflies and dragonflies during summer hatches. I’ve seen summer smallmouth feeding on the surface with reckless abandon as damselflies hovered along a water willow island on the James River. These fish are happy to eat large cicadas, grasshoppers, or crickets that find their way into the water. These seasonal food sources allow for exciting topwater action.
One time during a mid-August float on the James River I found a long bank with overhanging sycamore trees providing shade along the edge of the river. I had been fishing a subsurface Clouser Minnow without a strike for nearly an hour. Because it was a windy afternoon I figured I would try my luck with a small green Boogle Bug popper on my 6 wt fly rod. A few casts later I had a fine smallmouth explode on the popper underneath the overhanging tree limbs. I landed the fish and held it up for a photo just in time to see it regurgitate a half dozen large Japanese beetles. The fish had been utilizing the windy conditions to snack on beetles as they got blown into the water. It can really pay off to change patterns based on water and weather conditions.
Fishing with friends is a great way to spend time on the water. Joe Revercomb shows off a nice Virginia smallmouth caught on a popper. Photo by Patrick Dudley
Rods/Reels & Tackle/Approach
Medium to medium light spinning and baitcasting rods in the 7 foot range are great for late summer smallmouth. It can pay off to scale down in low clear water. You may want to consider fishing 6-8 lb test instead of 10-12 lb. Soft plastics work well for smallmouth and favorites include swim baits and tubes. Various spinnerbaits can be a great way to cover water in the larger rivers during this time of the year. Sometimes you can be surprised at how well a simple Mepps spinner or Rooster tail will produce. Topwater baits are a late summer “go to” with low and clear water. Try fishing buzzbaits, the smaller Whopper Plopper 90, Zara Spooks, and Heddon Tiny Torpedos. Buzzbaits and Whopper Ploppers can be retrieved quickly across the surface enticing explosive takes. The rotating tail of the Whopper Plopper acts like a propeller and creates lots of noise and attention.
For fly fishing, 9 to 10 foot rods in the 6 to 8 wt range are best. A 9ft 5wt may work well on the smaller rivers across Virginia but you will want a heavier rod on our larger rivers. Heavier rods in the 7 to 8 wt range will also turn over some of the bigger bugs we tend to throw this time of year on floating fly lines. A 9ft tapered leader in the 0x to 3x range will work well depending on water clarity and flows. Fishing large poppers like Boogle Bugs or Walt Cary’s “Walt’s Bass Popper” will get the smallmouth going. The Surface Seducer Double Barrel popper by Martin Bawden pushes lots of water. Large foam cicada patterns, Japanese beetle patterns, and western style Chernoyble Ants are fun when fished tight to the bank. Don’t forget to include a few damselfly and dragonfly patterns in your summer smallmouth fly box.
Don’t let the dog days of summer keep you from missing some of the most exciting warm water fishing conditions of the year!
When fishing these surface flies and lures, the takes can be very visual. Sometimes during a strip and pause retrieve, the smallmouth will slowly approach the fly from 5 feet away to gently sip it like a trout. Other times a fast strip retrieve will generate explosive takes. These visual late summer takes are hard to beat!
If the fish aren’t looking up you can do well stripping streamers. Bob Clouser’s Clouser Minnow was developed for smallmouth bass and a variety of colors can be productive this time of the year. My favorite color combinations for this fly are chartreuse and white, olive and white, as well as a more natural brown and white. The dumbbell eyes on this fly make it swim up and down through the water column as you retrieve. Lefty Kreh’s Deceiver is another fine smallmouth fly along with the famous Half & Half which is a combination of the Clouser Minnow and Deceiver. Chuck Kraft’s Kreelex has become a favorite amongst fly anglers in Virginia and the smallmouth can’t seem to ignore it. The flashy profile of this fly attracts fish in clear and stained water. Another popular smallmouth streamer is the Gamechanger developed by Blane Chocklett. The Gamechanger is multi-sectioned allowing it to swim naturally through the water column. Most other articulated streamers developed for trout fishing will also be productive on smallmouth bass as well. All of these streamers come in a variety of sizes. When choosing fly size, it’s essential to match the size of the forage fish the smallmouth are keying in on. This can vary from larger rivers to smaller tributaries but typically sizes 2-6 will work well with larger patterns being in the 1, 1/0, and 2/0 sizes.
Crayfish and Hellgrammite patterns can be productive during the heat of the day in late summer. Harry Murray’s Hellgrammite and Strymph can be fished with success lower in the water column closer to the bottom of the river. Chuck Kraft’s Clawdad and Crittermite are two other go to patterns. Its best to try numerous different approaches and techniques until you can find out what the fish are keyed in on each day.
In all, late summer smallmouth should be on your angling to do list. The conditions during this time of the year are excellent for sight fishing and cater to a topwater approach. From the smaller tributaries to the larger rivers, smallmouth opportunities are diverse across the state. Make time to get out this summer and fish local in Virginia.
This past Sunday seven members of the Flint River Bass Club fished our June tournament at Bartletts Ferry. After eight hours of casting, we landed 22 12-inch keepers weighing about 36 pounds. For a nice surprise, there were only six or seven spots, the rest were largemouth. There were three five bass limits and one zero.
My five weighing 10.37 pounds won and Doug Acree had five at 7.10 for second. Bailey Stewart fishing with Lee Hancock placed third with two weighing 6.60 pounds and his 4.90 largemouth beat my 4.74 pounder for big fish. Lee Hancock was fourth with five weighing 6.53 pounds.
I was “junk” fishing, just trying a lot of different things with no pattern and never found one. I got beat to the point I wanted to start on by another club member but caught my second biggest fish, a 2.5 pound largemouth, on a buzz bait beside a seawall I went to as my second choice.
A little later I eased the boat out on a point where I saw some brush on my electronics and caught a two-pound spot on a shaky head in about ten feet of water. My next stop was a dock on a steep rocky bank. I noticed Mayflies around the bushes overhanging the water and started skipping a jig under them and caught the 4.74 pounder under the third one I tried.
Although it was only 8:00 and I had been fishing for two hours with some success, fishing got tough. Three hours later after trying to get another bite around the Mayfly hatch I had not gotten one.
I went to a small creek where I can usually get a keeper around docks and got a 13-inch largemouth on a shaky head worm from one of them that consistently produced for me. A guy sitting on the next dock said that was the first fish he had seen caught in that cove all weekend, although it had been fished by several others in bass boats. I guess the fish liked my worm for some reason, maybe the JJs Magic on its tail.
That fish made me run to another dock that often has a keeper under it, and I got a 13-inch spot on a whacky rigged Senko. It was a miracle I caught that fifth fish. As I skipped my worm under the dock, waves from a big boat going by pulling a tube hit my boat
sideways. I had to grab my boat seat with one hand to keep from getting thrown out.
I thought I felt a bite while I was rocking and rolling and holding my rod in one hand. When the waves finally passed, I tightened up my line, set the hook and landed the fish. I had to cut off the last six feet of line it was so frayed because the fish had gone around a concrete post. Normally, my line would break or the fish would feel pressure and spit the bait. I guess some fish are just meant to get caught.
I relaxed after catching a limit and went to some calmer water up the river and fished bluff banks with Mayflies on the bushes for the last couple of hours. Although it was calmer and conditions seemed ideal, I caught one 14 inch largemouth that culled the skinny 13-inch spot. I did catch two 11-inch spots while fishing the area, but they were too small to weigh in.