It doesn't feel like it right now, with six inches of decaying, two-day-old snow melting in my yard, but the sun shines a little longer, and spring gets a little closer, each day. For many Eastern U.S. anglers, spring's arrival brings trout fishing, but not for all of them. Anglers like my friend Ron McGraw (pictured above) have no interest in chasing dainty mayfly hatches on wild trout streams, or waiting for trout trucks to deliver fresh fish to be stocked in what will become July's marginal waters. Ron is eager to pursue pre-spawn smallies.
The fish pictured in this blog were caught near the bottom end of a stocked trout stream. And that's my tip of the day: Many anglers view smallmouth fishing as a predominately big river experience, but excellent fishing can also be found in the lower end of stocked trout streams in the spring. Get a topo map and look for any sizable tributary to a larger smallmouth river. Bass will move into many of these tributaries, looking for a place to spawn.
I'm not in favor of pulling any wild fish off of its spawning bed, so please don't do that, but many fish will be eager and hungry before and after they spawn. That's when you target them. The same rods, reels, flies, and lines that you use in the big rivers will work in the smaller water too. I've mentioned this fly before, but I'll do it again. A black Zuddler can be deadly smallmouth bait.
This one ate a Zuddler. I apologize for the hot spots on the photo. There's no good way to take a fish picture when you're by yourself.
Yesterday, PA Fish and Boat Commission fisheries biologist, Jason Detar, and I were discussing the current state of smallmouth fishing in Pennsylvania's rivers. Much has been lost in recent years with the steep decline of YOY (Young of the Year) recruitment in the Susquehanna and Lower Juniata Rivers. But there has been some good news. Recent studies have shown some increased production in Susquehanna River YOY smallmouths. The fishery will not fully recover this year, or even next year, but at least, for now, it seems as though the River's slide towards smallmouth oblivion has slowed.
Jason told me that low springtime water levels combined with higher summertime flows create excellent conditions for smallmouth YOY survival. He also said that, much to some anglers' surprise, water can get too warm in the summer for smallmouths. And that's been a problem in recent years. I don't think there's much we can do about the weather, we get what we get, but let's hope we get a break for the next couple years. The bass could really use it.
Amidst the Susquehana's decline, the middle and lower Delaware River has risen to perhaps the best smallmouth fishery in the northeast. The fishing has been so good that some Upper Delaware trout guides have now begun guiding for smallmouths after the trout fishing slows in the summer. Captain Joe Demalderis, the 2010 Orvis Endorsed Guide of the Year, is one of the people taking advantage of the Delaware's smallmouth bounty. Joe, another friend and frequent commenter on this blog, has told me about many terrific trips with his clients last year. And there's no reason to expect anything less this year. Here's a link to Joe's web site:
I also found the link below to be very interesting. It's a recently published study of the smallmouth YOY survival rates for the Delaware River by the PA Fish and Boat Commission . You can read it here:
p.s. If the photos of Ron make you wonder how someone holding such big, beautiful fish could look so miserable, don't trouble yourself. Ron usually looks much more angry than this. He was almost bubbling after catching that fish, or at least as bubbling as he gets. I asked him to smile, asked him to remove his sunglasses. He grunted in my general direction. Ron is like the weather: you get what you get.