Tactics for the river smallmouth of midsummer
A fishing trip for smallmouth bass last week coincided with the peak of the mayfly hatch on the Mississippi River. If you’ve never witnessed scenes from mayfly season in river communities, it is impressive: street lights blacked out from swarming mayflies and businesses sweeping up piles of dead insects the next morning.
We’re of course witnessing the final, one-day airborne stage of these amazing aquatic insects. Their presence signals a healthy river.
But when they’re emerging from the river, they present an ubiquitous food source for fish, and that creates a challenging scenario for anglers. So given the heavy hatch in my portion of the river, I found myself encountering minimal success.
My solution? Head down river to an area where the mayfly hatch had peaked more than a week earlier. Once I relocated, I started quarter fan-casting to riprap areas with small 1½-inch crankbaits. Quarter casting allowed me to keep my crankbait in the strike zone longer.
I use spinning rod and reels spooled with Nanofil line because the thin diameter allows me to increase casting distance and run deeper.
In such situations, employ extremely slow retrieves – just fast enough to feel the crankbait vibrate.
After working a long stretch with relatively little luck, I decided to go wacky with a jig in two different weights in 3 to 8 feet of water –starting with a 5-inch wacky worm plastic. No results.
As a near last resort, I switched to use a wacky worm hook with no weight and had excellent results. Obviously, fish wanted a very slow-fall wacky rig combined with a crawl and occasional hop retrieve. The moment I encountered any resistance, I knew I had a bite and that was set-the-hook time.
My learning for the day? We must understand the fish’s environment and adjust accordingly.
No, we can’t think like a fish, but we can relate to the whats, whys and hows to increase our catch rate. Bass were not shut down, but the availability of so much food had altered the pattern. By searching and experimenting, I found fish on what many might consider a negative bite situation.