THE SMALLMOUTH TRAIN IS ROLLING
For the first time in almost a decade, we were able to enjoy a relatively full spring smallmouth season. Moderate amounts of precipitation and a gradual, relatively even warmup kept the fishing consistent and good. But the season has changed. For the past month or so, our smallmouth have been set up in their summer patterns, and we're imbued in the sweet spot of smallmouth fishing that is the summer season.
Other things are changing, too, largely thanks to moderate streamflows, which, again, have been scarce for several years. Our smallmouth spawn was a resounding success, and large schools of smallmouth fry are spotted often in shallow habitat near spawning areas. Baitfish numbers are huge, right now, as well, potentially due in large part to the decline of smallmouth numbers that we've witnessed in the last three years. This is a silver lining in that the river is supporting a strong forage base for a recovering smallmouth population. Thanks again to lower flows and relative lack of cataclysmic, scouring flooding in the last few years, there's more grass in the river now than I've seen since 2017, and the woody debris is increasing along the shoreline as it's not being washed downriver before it can waterlog and settle as it tends to do at higher flows. These are both excellent forms of habitat and cover for both smallmouth and their forage.
It's interesting to note, too, that in the New River, we are starting to see a distinct presence of two-year-old, six- to eight-inch smallmouth in our catches, this year. These fish were born in the spring of 2019. There was a very poor spawn in 2018, and so that size class of fish was relatively absent in our catches in 2020. In 2023, this small, two-year-old fish class will likely be huge, thanks to the great spawn, this spring.
The best thing about the summer smallmouth season is that it often means topwater fishing, and we've had some great topwater bug fishing so far this summer. However, there have been periods, particularly on the New River, which is dam controlled and has seen some very sporadic releases (which smallmouth don't like), when streamer fishing is drastically more effective in putting numbers of fish in the boat. I suspect this is due in large part to a wandering smallmouth population, one that hasn't been able to set up and get comfortable in stable streamflows, and a strong baitfish population. Each day has been different.
As usual, the mountain stream fishing has been phenomenal. Dry fly fishing is very viable in the summer months, and can be a ton of fun. We're seeing very low flows, now, and so seeking out cold water, oxygen, and overhead cover have paid off big. Though our water temps as a region remain fishable (below 70 degrees) through the heat of the summer, our temps tend to peak at the end of July and early August, so now is the time to carry a thermometer and check the water before you fish. The higher in the mountains yo
u fish, the better off you'll be.
I currently have a few dates left for the summer season, and several in September. This is the peak--the best of the best--of topwater fishing, and should be spent on the water!