Anglers across New Jersey fishing the NJ Big Three: SBR, Musky, and Pequest Rivers, have enjoyed a spectacular spring and early summer. The cool days certainly helped trout through what otherwise were (and still are) very low waters. More importantly were the very cool nights; blessed be the nights with temperatures below sixty degrees. Moving forward, this week’s overnight lows are above 60, with tonight’s low only getting to around 65. Groups in other states have begun posting a sign by rivers to remind anglers that, unless you will eat your catch, to leave the trout alone entirely and focus on safe waters and safe species. Here is one from Trout Unlimited in Colorado whose guidelines equally apply here:
South of Route 78 is a good place to start if you like to fish rivers for smallmouth bass. A wooly bugger or streamer can be fun and test our casting accuracy by focusing on deeper pools and runs that are revealed by lower flows. Low water brings better visibility and enticing a smallie from under a log is a thrill when we see them stalking our offering. Be prepared for the aerial antics associated with large and smallmouth bass.
Approach what looks like fishy water, usually darker colors reveal depth and structure offers cover, and start at the top (up stream) looking downstream. Let your fly (any fly, really - terrestrial, stonefly, Chubby, ants, beetle, or that wet fly, streamer or bugger) enter the pool by beginning the drift above the target water. Keep tension on the line because the strike may be quick. Sometimes, you can guide the fly into the target area by lowering the tip of the rod (looking down stream from above) and letting the current pull line from your line hand. If you are fishing perpendicular to the area, pay attention to your line and control it as the fly enters the strike zone with upstream mends. Watch for the take. But do not drift a bugger/streamer through the whole pool yet. Bring the fly out of the zone into the shallow water that typically runs along one side. Sometimes you can watch a fish follow into the shallows.
Next, cast the fly to the same spot and let it drift longer. With a streamer or bugger, start stripping back towards you at different, controlled points in the target area and systematically cover the zone, exiting the pool from the side.
Finally, cast over the area and retrieve back towards you with varying speeds, as if a fish is swimming up and against the current. Dead drift your fly back through with a high stick - and repeat.
Since these holding areas tend to be small, more than a few passes by potential fish feels futile with the same fly after a short while. Change flies or move to the next promising looking thalweg and remember to hit each spot again, from the opposite approach, while working back to the vehicle.
A similar cast-and-retrieve method is effective on ponds. I remember a tip Jim Holland would impart before folks went out with poppers - let them sit! Strip, strip, pause. Strip, strip, strip, pause.
This seems the opposite to stripping for trout - if you pause, the trout lose interest; whereas a bass will wait for the pause to strike. Again, try both (a constant retrieve and a staggered one) and see which is more effective.
Don’t be afraid to test traditional trout patterns, too! We have some drake patterns that can be fun along the banks as they imitate damsel or dragonflies. Attractor patterns and hoppers can be snapped under by a variety of panfish and huge spinner patterns - size 10 or 8 - present easy pickins’ on long, hot summer evenings from a dock.
With warm water species and their powerful strikes, consider a heavier leader. Sinking leaders are great for trolling flies behind kayaks or getting down deep, quickly, when fishing deep drop-offs from a bank.
Check out all Tightlines’ videos for warm water patterns and tips on how to fish them. Then, stop by the shop for coneheads and foam blocks to add to your tying bench arsenal.
See you out there!