Pro Tips: Low-Water Tactics for Smallmouth Bass

Written By: Tom Werkman, Werkman Outfitters/RiverQuest Charters

Summer is a great time of year to target smallmouth bass on fly.
All photos by Tom Werkman

Summer is fast approaching, which typically means low, clear water in the rivers. This is one of our favorite times to fish for smallmouth bass, because you can actually sight-fish for them. Our go-to flies for these conditions are smaller (size 6 to 8) bass poppers in yellow, white, black, and blue, fished on 10- to 12-pound test. We also like the Fluttering Blue Damsel and various dragonfly patterns. You don’t want to throw anything too big or flashy, since smallmouth spook easily under these conditions. It’s a challenging endeavor overall, but don’t get frustrated–with the right approach, you can still bring a few of these wary fish to the net.

The low, clear water of summer may make fish easier to see, but it also makes it easier for fish to see you.

The most critical detail is that you do not strip your fly. Instead, cast out as far as you can, and let your fly dead-drift with the current, applying stack mends as needed to get an even drift. Every now and then, you can give the fly a little wiggle, but don’t retrieve it. Patience is key here: resist the urge to pick up your fly and re-cast, and just keep it moving with the river as long as possible. If you’re in a boat, make sure your fly is floating well ahead, and try to minimize the disturbance from the oars. Much the same is true for waders: keep the pressure wake from your footsteps to a minimum, and try to walk a few steps downstream with your fly as it drifts.

This hefty smallie was fooled with a dead-drifted bass popper.

Be sure to let your drifts extend as far as possible, since the bass may be following your fly and waiting until the last minute to strike. They can either explode on the fly, or softly sip it down, so be ready for either. We’ve landed some of our biggest bass of the summer in gin-clear water that’s as shallow as two feet. Just try to move slowly and have patience, and eventually you’ll be successful.

Tom Werkman is owner/operator of Werkman Outfitters and RiverQuest Charters.

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