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Smallmouth Bass – The Hard Way – And a Blackjack!

We are all faced with days when the fish have lock jaw. You can return to a body of water that, only days before was hotter than a pistol, only to find the fishing all together different.

Follow me through the last weeks’ fishing trips to check out the ups and downs we faced as the weather conditions kept changing.

Day One

The last week, early August in Minnesota normally brings 90 degree weather and hot river fishing! This season everything is backwards and inside out. The daytime temps have been a series of cold fronts with high 70’s being the average. We are getting September weather in August.

While I enjoy these perfect temperatures, I’m finding the smallmouth to be extremely unpredictable in fly preference much less a general interest in biting. 

Last week was a great example of the roller-coaster of fishing scenarios we faced. I’ll explain briefly what we faced and how we altered our approach in an attempt to score. 

On Sunday, my wife Lisa and I floated a section of the Mississippi known for big fish. It was a bright sunny day with temps in the high 70’s. She was throwing a Pop-R and a Chug-Bug with spinning gear and the smallmouth were hitting it consistently all the way down the river. We never had to change a thing. I pulled out the fly rod periodically and a Yellow Roadkill Blockhead Popper brought up several large specimens. 

Day Two – three days later
Three days later, under similar weather conditions, my brother Bruce and I floated the exact same stretch of the river. We started out throwing poppers patterns – not. We switched over to streamers using the old reliable Murdich and variants – zero, zip, nada. We didn’t get a bite for the first 1 1/2 hours. The fish, in the traditional spots – along the shoreline rocky outcroppings and eddy areas, were non-compliant to put in kindly.

We finally took a middle channel within an island studded area of the river and found a slower channel riddled with logs cut decades ago and left waterlogged and scattered along the banks. 

We threw streams into the log jams and began hitting fish – and some bigguns’ too! With the fish in the main bank holding areas turned off, we found a different kind of holding water with fish willing to play ball within the same river system. Certainly you can’t do this on small rivers as easily, but big rivers typically present many options for holding fish.

The key was to experiment and quit pounding the unproductive water. Interestingly the weather was very similar and stable over the last several days – but the fish behavior was not.

Day Three – two days later
My good friend Brian Tichy of Chanhassan, MN and I floated a small river that still holds enough water to avoid most of the rocks – which is generally unusual for this time of year. Normally these small rivers are too shallow to float.

We knew the day was going to be cool, pushing into the low 70’s – maybe. We were greeted with sunny skies and low 70’s when we departed around 2 pm, which is when I like to be on the water. I love fishing the afternoon into early evening hours. We will often see a change in the fish behavior as the day wears on. With increased sun on warming waters, the later hours of a 4 – 5 hour trip will frequently bring explosive surface action.

As has been the case over the last couple weeks, the fish did not respond to traditional poppers. We quickly switched to streamers and struck out on several baitfish imitations as well as leech and crawfish patterns. It wasn’t until we tied on some Hopper Poppers in desperation, that the fish took notice – however reluctantly.

The clouds built and the temperature dropped. The only action we could get was very infrequent “slurpage” on the hopper patterns.

Then they quit looking up all together. 

21 inch smallmouth

Yes, I’ve had days like this before and will again. This river is blessed with innumerable targets for which to quickly ID and hit with a well presented fly. No matter, the fishing went from marginal to non-existent as we continued to try different patterns from top to bottom with little, if any, interest. 

Then something happened to salvage the trip. My friend threw a large Murdich variant into some fishy looking deadfalls and whammo! A behemoth smallmouth rocketed out of the water after a solid hook set. It fought like hell with the fly hanging precariously on the edge of its mouth, just waiting for a little slack line to separate itself from the bass. 

Nonetheless, Brian expertly battled the fish before finally lipping and measuring the 21 inch fish.  It is the largest smallmouth he’s ever caught and provided a bright spot on a day when we were flogging more than fly fishing. 

This is not the first time a bummer day was punctuated by one good fish. 

That’s the great thing about fishing. Brian will remember this day as the trip when he caught a 21 inch fish or “BlackJack”, as we sometimes refer to these extremely rare fish. 

After this one, the weather continued to deteriorate, as did the fishing. The temperature actually fell around 10 degrees while we were on the water and the fish responded accordingly. 

The moral to the story is: “If you don’t have to fish under adverse conditions – don’t. If you do, throw the kitchen sink at them and you may be surprised at what happens.”

After all, even a cool cloudy day drifting down a beautiful river with a good friend, beats just about anything else I can think of doing.

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