Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Winter Smallmouth Fishing- the Float and Fly

Smallmouth bass can be caught in rivers all Winter long. A simple 1/16th oz hair jig, 1" weighted foam float is all the special equipment you need. Mostly ignore lake FnF articles for rivers unless they are very deep.

Here are several factors to help make your winter hunt a successful one:

1) Know your water. The best stretches of river will have somewhere close where the fish will survive through the Winter. Look at those river bends on Google Earth. Where would you shelter if your life depended on conserving every drop of energy?

a) Bass need shelter from current since they are cold blooded. There is a definite current speed at which they can conserve energy. The 'hole', may not be a hole at all; an inside bend that diverts current away, a sudden deep ledge that drops off, a long straight pool that gradually bends ever so slightly to where a couple lay downs provide ample resting area. There needn't be rock in the area, though some of the best winter holes are also great spawning grounds.
b) Bass like overhead cover when the water gets clear and the sun shiny. Deeper water where you can't see bottom, rocks to wedge under, rip rap etc... Water doesn't have to be deep at all if there is shelter from high waters.
c) Smallmouth need food. Food is attracted to some of the same places as Mr.Smallie.

2)You can catch smallmouth all winter on Float and Fly as long as ice doesn't cover your water. There is no water or air temperature at which you cannot catch fish.

3) Visibility of at least 14" will greatly increase the chances of success in cold water months on FnF.

4) High water concentrates fish more than normal. Winter high water can have good clarity.

5) You must really believe the fish are there. Impatience will kill you. Once you begin catching fish on FnF, you'll see there is nothing hard about it. The key is location.

6) Observe how the sun shyness crowds smallies in the darker easier to predict areas for your catching pleasures. Observe how the sun can turn the bite on when moments ago there was none! If the bass are gone to ground, observe how they move about when the day has less light.

The below picture illustrates a recent winter spot I found. The picture is sadly out of scale as the slot on the left looks smaller than the water to the right. The slight bend above the riffle bending to the right sends all the creek's water plunging right even at high water. The riffle and point on the left provide shelter all winter long even if the water were up several feet. The bass simply follow the slower water on up the bank.

At 5' higher the fish will move up that bank on the left. At a 1' lower than the pic, you are looking at fish in a 2-3' hole that is right on a food source (riffle). Looking at the river all year long for these types of spots, things start to make sense. Just ask yourself after you catch a nice fish or concentration of bass where these fish live.

The technique- you cast the bait out with about 3' of line underneath your float (adjust for your hole, I like the fly just off the bottom or even on the bottom). Let it drift along slow seams (depending on temps)if it is warmer, or to the slowest possible water if colder. As it gets colder, hopping the float in place, pausing, dead drifts all work at times. Be methodical and search mid and lower water column by changing depths until you get bit.

The object is to catch fish by being thorough, observing, and thinking like a cold fish.


  1. Thanks for the refresher. The fish weren't cooperating this past weekend on either plastic or FNF. They must have had too much Turkey :) Would have liked to been out yesterday or this morning but thankfully I have to work.

    Do you ever use braid when it's above freezing or do you just stick to mono?

  2. No bother at all, Curtis.

    Sorry to hear the bass over ate in Chi-land, Kev.

    Our water was super clear here. Which was bad news with low water as well. Saturday was a sunny disaster with 2 fish in 3 hours trying new spots.

    On Sunday, I got 6 to 16.5" in 3.5 hours. One on a 4" hard jerkbait. Had two others hit the bait in the 15-16" range that didn't hook.

    Other 5 were FnF.

    Need some stain to the water bad. We got good rain today so that should help for the weekend.

    Kev, I'm using braid now with a spare spool in my backpack of mono. I tie a small snap to the braid, then use a 3' mono leader with a loop on one end and the fly jig on the other. Hook it into the float and put it around my neck to organize it. I can then freely swap to a tube or jerkbait to makes sure the fish are inactive in a spot.

    When it gets below freezing or has a chance of it, I switch to mono.

  3. Brenden,
    I'm sure it also had something to do with location, water clarity and timing on the fishermans part LOL.

    Nice job on your fish for a few hours!

    That's some good info and good advice. Thanks, I'll be trying all of it. Picking up my spare spool tonight and it will be loaded up with PP soon enough.

    Since I never really used braid any tips for spooling other than mono backing and the palomar for tackle. I heard not filling to the edge helps avoid wind knots etc. How tight should I wind it?

  4. K, I fill the line quite close to the edge of the spool lip, Just watch that it's on the spool tight and you'll be fine. The line diameter wil reduce as it finds use. Paint and gunk come off the line shrinking it on the spool over time. I always add a little more than I need.

    The closer to the line comes to the spool lip the longer your casts will be as the line flies off easily.

    The only advantage for braid and FnF is ripping your rig out of the trees easier. Almost always prefer mono instead. Since tubes and hard jerkbaits still work I go with the snap and leader for quick change.

  5. Great blog I'll try to check in more often .