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Stained Water Smallies - Surface vs Subsurface
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Joined:
2006/9/9 17:32
From Gettysburg
Posts: 9017
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With the recent stormy weather patterns we're seeing here in mid state these days, many smallmouth bass rivers are going to be stained or outright high/muddy when we visit them. While a typical summer thunderstorm won't blow out a medium to large river with a drainage basis of hundreds of square miles, it will usually put some stain in the water. In my experience, this can make for a good day of smallmouth bass FFing (again, stained - not high/muddy).
Popper fishing is an addiction for a lot of us smallie junkies and they're my go-to fly for most clear water summer fishing, even on sunny days. This is esp true when float fishing from a boat where it is run-n-gun casting to cover a lot of water. I think poppers, or divers, are the best way to consistently catch smallies under clear conditions, including big ones.
When a passing thunderstorm stains the water however, my experience has been that it is often best to go subsurface. River bass, in the summertime, like to lay up in the mid-river channel in front of boulders, ledge rock, or bridge pilings. Now, if the river is high/muddy, they'll move behind these structures and hug the bottom and if the river is outright blown out they'll abandon the channel and move to shoreline eddies and creek mouths to avoid current. With merely stained water however, target these same structures since the fish are still in front of them. While the stain in the water may make the bottom invisible and the river structure unclear - you can still spot boulders above the surface and the bridge pilings and, if the water in front of them is at least a couple feet deep, chances are there are bass holding there. The lesser visibility will allow you to approach a bit closer. Cast a big, dark streamer (I like big, black, rubber legged nymphs with a marabou tail about 2 inches long for this game) like a Wooly Bugger down and across and swing/hop it in front of the structure. It's been my experience that once the water stains, smallies become less susceptible to surface flies but big, dark subsurface flies are visible to them and if you fish these to holding spots, you can nail some nice bass while other guys fruitlessly throw poppers. Good luck with your summer smallmouth bass fishing and don't write the day off if a thunderstorm stains the water.

Posted on: 2009/7/25 8:53


Re: Stained Water Smallies - Surface vs Subsurface
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Joined:
2006/9/11 8:26
From Chester County
Posts: 8869
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Great post FI! I find pretty much the same thing in stained waters, that a big gnarly dark fly like a WB with rubber legs or a dark slump buster works well. I have also found at times, fishing a good sized cupped popper in a dark color and fishing it aggressively with lots of noise also works in stained water, as long as the water is just stained, and not too high.

I ususally tie on a popper first because I love catching SMs on top and resort to fishing underneath when a draw a blank.

One other thing, I great way to split the difference between topwater and deeper fishing is to tie on a popper with a dropper. I find a WB usually works well underneath. It's a little more difficult to cast, but well worth the trouble.

Hopefully the August flows in the rivers will be better for SM fishing.

Posted on: 2009/7/25 9:20


Re: Stained Water Smallies - Surface vs Subsurface

Joined:
2006/9/18 8:28
From Attitudinally, one mile south of Lake LeBoeuf
Posts: 850
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While I'm not a frequent visitor to big (read Susq., Potomac, etc.) rivers for bass, I generally agree with what has been posted.

A lot of the river systems I fish in WI are overall about the size of, say the Juniata system from the Lewistown Narrows up, good size and big but not BIG.

While WI-DNR has been on a dam-removal tear over the past decade or so, a number of these drainages still have fair numbers of mill dams or small impoundments on theem. What this tends to do to the river is to somewhat prolong storm runoff, but also somewhat lessen its impact on water clarity. So, I end up fishing a lot of water where you can just make out your wading shoes when you in the river to mid thigh.

Fish will come topside for poppers in this type of water, but sub-surface offerings are a lot more effective. I do OK on Clousers in chart/white, smoke/yellow and blue/white, but by and large think they're a bit over rated, on my water at least.

If I'm fishing pretty stained water, I've had my best luck on Holshlag Hackle Flies in size #2 (standard shank length), all-black fur leeches in #4 (9672 or 79580 equiv.) and Murray Marauders in Pearl, Black and occasionally Root Beer mostly also in #4.

The dirtier the water is, the more the fish will move to the edges out of the flow. Often, on the rivers I fish, they'll move into places where they will not be under more clear conditions. I think the key is to show the fish something that will contrast with the flow and also move a little water as it is hopped or retrieved or dead drifted and also to have a little more patience in working a particular spot, giving the fish an additional opportunity to find the fly. Generally, when I'm fishing stained water, I'll only cover half as much distance on the river as i would under clear conditions. The whole thing slows down some.

Posted on: 2009/7/28 11:48


Re: Stained Water Smallies - Surface vs Subsurface

Joined:
2006/9/9 20:09
From Harrisburg
Posts: 2181
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Dear fishidiot,

My experience is that they will still hit up top as long as the water is just stained and not flowing so heavily that it is pushing the fish out of their main current feeding lies to rest and recuperate.

Regardless of the color of the flow I've found over the years that what some guy from Middletown who used to be a butcher told me about 15 years ago, "I've it ain't chartreuse, it's ain't no use," definitely rings true. Yellow or chartreuse is an essential color in 90 percent of my smallmouth flies.

To fish the dirty water try whipping up some "Fire Tiger" Clousers. Rapala didn't stumble on that color because some Finn drank too much "Wodka" while in the paint booth painting F-13's. They make it because it works in stained water. All black and all purple have also worked well for me in stained water.

If I can figure out how to tie a "Clown" color Clouser I'll own the PWT. That color plays Hell with walleye no matter what color the water is.

Regards,
Tim Murphy

Posted on: 2009/7/29 19:52
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