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Early Season Smallies

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

Old man winter still has his grip on the Shenandoah Valley. in Virginia. Streams have icicles along the banks and water flows cold. The days are getting longer, however, and fly fishing is starting to consume more of my time and thoughts. Same goes for the smallmouth bass of the region.

More sunlight begins to initiate their "pre-spawn" time frame. If we get several warm weeks, these fish start to understand that they need to put on weight and get ready. This is not a time to be a chub, crayfish, or other baitfish in the general area of one of these smallies. They become aggressive and territorial, staking their claims for their own spot in the river.

Fishing trips during March and April can provide a lot of challenges, however. Cold fronts, rains, and flooding make getting on the water difficult sometimes. Smaller fish tend to shy away from chasing flies, as they might be more vulnerable to larger fish. Catch rates compared to the summer are low, but the quality and size of the fish more than make up for it. This is not a time of year for short strikes from 6 inchers. Solid, strong fish in the 15" range and up with full bellies are the usual, and more than enough fight for a 5 weight rod.

I tend to use a lot of low and slow flies this time of year. A crayfish pattern is usually productive, my favorite being a CK Clawdad. Dark flies with a little strip of light is usually another successful way to go, big crystal buggers or clousers. Knowing there are some monsters I bring several rods along on my floats. My typical 5 weight with floating line and streamers for shallower sections or in pockets along the banks, and an 8 weight with a sink tip line with a Clawdad to get to the bottom of deeper holes. I try to maximize a few good casts instead of peppering an area. If there is a big fish in a spot, they will usually take it quickly so make a few count and move on. Slow strips on my retrieve, and I usually keep an irregular timing to make the streamers look injured.

As we thaw ourselves out and get into Spring consider a smallmouth bass trip. Its a great start to the fishing season and you might break your personal best bass before you break out the shorts and short sleeves.


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