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End-of-summer smallmouth fly fishing

Feeder creeks like this one can hold some surprisingly big bass that move in when the light is low. This creek was loaded with crayfish.
Feeder creeks like this one can hold some surprisingly big bass that move in when the light is low. This creek was loaded with crayfish.
Bob Bruns

The Southern Tier of New York is blessed with some beautiful rivers. The Catskill region has its tailwaters and legendary freestones that offer anglers some fantastic fly fishing for trout. But the Susquehanna River watershed is another option for fly fishers looking to enjoy good fishing. An added benefit is the beauty of the scenery and the added bonus: they have very little fishing pressure. Indeed, yours truly has enjoyed many, many hours on our warmwater rivers without ever seeing a single sole.

Even with summer winding down, it's never too late to get out and enjoy fly fishing for smallmouth bass. Dubbed the gentleman species of the warmwaters, the smallmouth has a lot to offer experienced trout anglers and beginners alike. I was reminded of the "game" in their classification as gamefish just recently while fishing for them on the upper Susquehanna in Windsor. For one, they were hard to find initially. I fished many locations that in the past had rewarded me handsomely, but this time without much success. Then, with the sun starting to light up the river, I tried a deep pool that was shaded by big overhanging silver maples. Within that pool that was roughly 30 by 50 feet, I hooked up to over a dozen bass, some of them very nice in size. I then worked my way down the shaded side of the river and found many more spots that rewarded me with good action.

Early and late and low light days are typically best for bass, particularly in summer. Bass tend to be light shy and are more active when the light is dim. All fish are wary of predators and there are plenty of them, besides fishermen. Just the other day while fishing I saw kingfishers, blue herons, ospreys, and bald eagles. All of these birds are located near water and prey on fish. So anytime thelight is low, or there is some type of cover, smallmouth bass will be more comfortable feeding. This includes even broken water as in a riffle or deep run.

Areas of focus:

  • Shallow bays where weeds are present. These weedy areas can hold large numbers of baitfish. When they feel safe, bass will enter these shallow areas to ambush prey. These spots are even better when there is deep water or a riffle adjacent. Bass will often hold in these areas and zip in and out of the adjacent shallow water to feed, then retreat back to their holding area. Be sure to fish these spots carefully as the bass are very wary in shallow water.
  • Feeder creeks or tributaries. These can also provide great hunting for bass. Any place where a river braid re-enters the main river can also be good. Sometimes these rocky shallow feeders can be loaded with crayfish, a favorite food of bass.
  • Tailouts of pools. Especially in early morning or evening, these can be great places to find bass chasing bait.
  • During daylight, riffles and deep runs can provide safe haven. Nymphing can be very effective.

As summer fades to fall, get ready for heavy feeding. As water temps drop, the bass will begin to feed more aggressively, sensing the coming of winter. This is the time to gear up and fish bigger streamers, poppers, and nymphs. Smallmouth bass may have a smaller mouth than largemouth but that doesn't seem at all to limit the size of what they will eat. It's also the time to get more aggressive with presentation and retrieve, particularly where they are found actively chasing bait.

Early, late, all day too. As temps cool, smallmouth will get a little less cautious in search of a big meal. While low light is still a great time to fish, daylight hours can be productive too. Keep a read on water temps, however. Smallmouth start shutting down as temps cross the 50 degree mark. They will also begin to migrate to deeper holding areas. So, enjoy the last of the bass season while the days are still warm!