Surface Smallmouth Tackle
An ideal tackle setup for stream dry-fly fishing is a 9-foot, fast-action, 5- or 6-weight rod, a weight-forward floating line, and a 9-foot knotless, tapered leader with 3X or 4X tippet. This combination will cast and fish larger mayfly and stonefly patterns and is strong enough to handle aggressive strikes and fights.
For fishing larger terrestrial patterns, try a 6-weight, medium-fast action, 81/2- or 9-foot rod and a floating weight-forward 6- or 7-weight bass-bug-taper line (like Jim Teeny’s Professional Series or Rio’s and Scientific Anglers’ bass tapers) with a 71/2- to 9-foot bass leader (like those from Umpqua and Rio) and 2X or 3X tippet. The bass-bugging outfit I recommend is a 6- or 7-weight, medium-fast action, 81/2- or 9-foot rod, a floating bass- bug-taper line, and a 9-foot, 2X to 0X leader. You will need and enjoy the extra rod power, and the heavier weight-forward line design and stout leader makes casting and presenting these air-resistant bass bugs more efficient.
While smallmouth usually prefer larger aquatic insects and terrestrials than trout, they generally go for smaller bass bugs (#4-12) than largemouth bass. The exception is trophy smallmouth between 4 and 6 pounds. These monsters can attack a huge pike-caliber diver (#1/0-5/0) that looks like a frog, yellow perch, sucker, or sunfish. Barbless hooks are best for smallmouth surface flies. They penetrate better than barbed hooks, and each smallmouth is too special a prize to kill by removing a barbed hook from a tender area.
Smallmouth dry flies are usually fished on the surface in open riffles, runs, eddies, and pool tailouts, so weedguards are not necessary. But terrestrials and bass bugs are most effective when presented close to or on shoreline structures or protruding objects in the stream, so I recommend tying or buying them with weedguards.
There’s an eternal argument that weedguards cause missed fish. In reality, good ones don’t and they allow you to get more strikes because you can confidently present them closer to where the biggest bass lie in wait. Weedguards also prevent those incessant little sunfish from getting hooked as often.
I like to use monofilament-loop-style weedguards on my flies. If you don’t want to tie a loop into your pattern, or want to fix a weedguard to any bass bug, another favorite of mine is to cut a piece of monofilament—approximately the same diameter as the hook shank—a little longer than the bend of the hook. Flatten the last 1/8″ with pliers or hemostats and bend it back so it looks like a foot. Angle the mono so it points towards the hook point and use Zap-A-Gap to glue the flattened area to the bottom of the bass bug. This type of weedguard makes the fly slide over objects and doesn’t obstruct the hook point as much as a mono loop.
After you read this, it should be just about the right time to get out your tackle and dry flies and discover our amazing, stream smallmouth bass. When you do, plan on your fly-fishing pleasures reaching a new dimension. In the next part of this series, I’ll cover nymph and streamer fishing for stream smallmouth.
Dave Whitlock lives in Midway, Arkansas, where he and his wife, Emily, have a fly-fishing school. Dave is an author, artist, photographer, fly designer, and lecturer.