The days are long; the work is light while the air is hot and heavy. Fishing is entering the midsummer doldrums for most cold-water species. The heavy spring flows have since subsided to a trickle with the welcome exception of a midsummer freshet. Trout are hunkered down in springs and at the way bottom of pools uninterested in any fly you may wish to throw. All this while one fish is running hot and heavy in these rivers, the Smallmouth Bass. Taking in the relaxing summer just makes you want to watch old Marlboro commercials and shout, “Welcome to Smallmouth (Flavor) Country!”
(PSA: MKFF does not condone any particular brand of tobacco product or tobacco use in general.)
“Oh the buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees, by the soda water fountains, By the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings, in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks,
Little streams of alky-hol comes trickling down the rocks.
Oh the shacks all have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind,
There’s a lake of stew and whiskey too,
And you can paddle all around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.”
The Smallmouth Bass has a scientific name of Micropterus dolomieu, micropterus meaning small fin and Dolomieu being a French mineralogist. The fish is native to the Midwestern United States, coming as far east as the St. Lawrence. It has been widely introduced throughout the United States, now inhabiting the Delaware River and its tributaries in New Jersey and New York.
The Smallmouth Bass is not as tolerant of fast flows as the Trout whom it may share habitat with. This type of Bass does enjoy gravelly streams with moderate gradients; they tend to inhabit the pools in good oxygen conditions. The preferred water temperature for the species is between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, they can tolerate up to 90 degrees.
Tools of the Trade
Throughout the summer Smallmouth Bass are prevalent in most New Jersey streams. The most well known places are the Delaware and the Raritan; they can also be located in streams connecting to these rivers. I have even dredged a Smallmouth or two out of the lower Big Flatbrook though they rarely venture up when the water is at summer flow levels.
Due to the variety of stream sizes and water conditions that this highly adaptable species will habit there are several fly rod options you can use. I prefer to consistently use floating line as the waters are never high enough at this time of year to warrant sink tip or full sink line.
I have the most luck using Woolly Buggers to prospect for these guys and girls. Green seems to work the best for me, orange is better in streams with more crayfish, sizes six through ten with a gold bead head. The body can be Chenille with some flash or Marabou; they bite it if you fish it correctly. Preferably there will be a little bit of lead wrapped around the hook shaft.
Smallmouth living in streams like the Paulinskill have an almost unbelievable biomass. Depending on the season and water temperature, the same runs where the Smallmouth will populate in the summer Trout used to frequent in the spring. Where do all the Trout go? Mostly down into the deep pools with springs, or to inlet streams and areas of high oxygenation.
The traditional northeast streamer technique, cast across and slightly upstream at the transition area between fast water and slow water. Once the streamer bounces off the bottom a little bit you are doing it right. I then let the line drift taught, hold for a few seconds and start to bring it back in a wet fly style retrieve. If this doesn’t get the Smallmouth going, they probably are not there.
Smallmouth Bass are one of the treats to look forward to during the dog days of summer. In northwest Jersey farm country, summer is a time of plenty like Big Rock Candy Mountain. The crops are coming up, thunderstorms bring fresh water to the streams, and the trees provide the shade. Find a spot to camp on some land, or rent a little campsite on the Delaware for the weekend.
If you don’t have anything going on this weekend, fire up the old SUV, load your gear and drive out here. We don’t have cigarette trees or streams of alky-hol but we do have fresh air, shade trees and Smallmouth Bass! However, if you do find a good spot, keep it a secret because loose lips, sink fish!
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