Monday, June 20, 2016

6 Reasons to Target Smallmouth Bass

6 Reasons to Target Smallmouth Bass

When the water's start to warm and the trout become lethargic and picky, that means that the smallmouth bass fishing is just starting to pick up.  Put your waders away, and get out your heavier rods and lines.  Football season is well under way.  Below are 6 reasons why we like to fish for smallmouth.   

1. Every Day is a Friday Dress Down Day

One of my favorite parts of smallmouth fishing is the time of the year that we target them.  When the air and water temperatures begin to warm, it’s time to put those hot and heavy waders away.  It’s wet wading season.  After a full spring of trout guiding and being in waders and boots nearly every day it feels great to just throw on a bathing suit or a pair of cut off shorts and a lightweight t-shirt and soak in the sun.  If you have been out with me, you have probably seen me drop the anchor and do a quick cannonball off the side of my boat.  This just doesn’t happen during trout season.  It’s like every day is a casual dress down Friday.  Who wouldn’t love that?

2. They Are Aggressive

When the trout fishing starts to slow down and the bugs get smaller and smaller and the trout get pickier and pickier, the smallmouth fishing is just starting to pick up.  On a given day I will fish at least 4-5 patterns ranging from Clouser Minnows, crayfish patterns, poppers, Game Changers, helgramite patterns and almost all will put fish in the net.  Smallmouth are voracious feeders. I don’t think there is much that they won’t eat.  I have seen smallmouth cough up crayfish and other baitfish after being hooked more times than I can count.  If you have had enough of casting size 20 dry flies at trout, smallmouth bass can offer a change of pace. If the visual aesthetics of seeing a 20’ football shaped smallmouth inhale a 5’ Game Changer doesn’t get your blood pumping I think we need to check you for a pulse.  

3. Streamer Practice

Smallmouth bass are great fish to target with streamers.  I might even go as far to say that they are “the streamer fish.”  A lot of people that I guide throughout the year are dyed in the wool trout anglers.  Many of them have the habit of “trout setting” when fishing streamers.  If you don’t know what a trout set is, it is the act of raising the rod tip during the hook set.  When smallmouth bass fishing with streamers, it is best to strip set.  No matter how many times I try to coach clients into strip setting, the old saying, “old habits die hard” holds true.  It’s a hard habit to kick but after a day of streamer fishing for smallmouth I have seen many trout anglers become more poised and proficient in strip setting.  On a good day 100 plus strikes will certainly give an angler the practice needed to work out their hook setting kinks.  Whatever you learn while fishing for smallmouth can certainly be utilized for many other sport fish.

4. Hard Fighters

If you haven’t fished for smallmouth before than you are missing out.  I can’t count how many times I’ve had a streamer totally tanked by an 18’ plus smallmouth only to find out that fish was actually only 9-10 inches.  Pound for pound, smallmouth can be one of the hardest fighting fish, usually making solid runs and many aerial leaps.  A lot of people I guide complain at the end of the day that their fingers, wrists and forearms hurt.  After fighting up to 100 or more fish in a day that is expected… but that is a good kind of hurt!  

5.  It Can Be a Numbers Game

At times, it is a real possibility to catch upwards of 100 smallmouth bass in one day of fishing.  I just don’t know of many wild fish of this caliber that can be caught with such regularity. For that reason, they are just downright fun to catch, although some days can be challenging.  This can be a great fish to target with young kids, or with people new to the sport of fly fishing as the action can be pretty epic.

6.  Explosive Surface Action

One of my favorite ways to fish for smallmouth is with large bushy dry flies or with poppers.  On rivers like the Susquehanna the white fly hatches can become so thick that some of the roads and bridges along the river need to be closed down due to hazardous driving conditions.  During this time period the smallmouth in the Susquehanna and other surrounding rivers gorge on white flies and just become downright careless in what they eat. If you really like dry fly fishing and fish that try to crawl up your arm to eat your offering than look no further than smallmouth bass.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Lehigh River Early May Fishing Video

Dry fly action has been off the charts on the Lehigh the past week or so... most floats consist of anchoring up on fish feeding on the surface and then floating out the rest of the way and prospecting with dry flies the whole way out.  March Browns, caddis, sulphurs, craneflies and BWOs are coming off in good numbers and the fish can't resist them. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Know Your Limits and Use Your Head

By Nick Raftas

I just want to share a story from this past weekend while guiding a client.  I met with our client around 8:30 am on the banks of the Lehigh River for a full day float.  Full of optimism and hope we were men on a mission to get the boat in the water, get the shuttle completed and start catching fish.  Nothing was going to slow us down. 

As I was launching the boat, my client say's "boy, that guy up river looks really wobbly wading over there."  We both agreed it would be a good idea to keep an eye on him.  In short order, I went to run our shuttle.  As my shuttle driver dropped me back off at the boat launch I was really surprised by what I pulled up to.

My client was dragging that older gentleman who was now soaking wet out of the river.  Apparently, while I was gone my client was fishing and he could hear somebody yelling up river.  He decided to run up there because the person sounded panicked. The older gentleman fell and could not get back up to his feet.  He was wearing hip waders (cement shoes) that filled up with water instantly.  My client found this guy with his head barely above water. 

Who knows what the outcome would have been if we were not there.  The water coming out of the dam was about 45 degrees so I imagine it wasn't much different where we were.  Very good chance that this gentleman would have succumbed to hypothermia and possibly even drowned if nobody would have pulled him out of the river.

He said that he left his wading staff at home... his wading staff didn't do him much good at home. He also told us his friend was fishing with him but was about 200 yards down river.  I can't understand why two older gentleman or anyone for that matter would decide to fish so far away from their fishing partner on this river.  The best analogy I have ever heard for wading the Lehigh is that "it's like trying to walk across greased bowling balls."  I avoid fishing the river alone unless I am in my boat and even that isn't the safest thing to do. 

If you are going to fish this river it would make a lot of sense to take your time with the wading or boating until you know what you are getting into and you have a feel for how to navigate the river.  There are pools deep enough to hide a school bus in.  Fishing the river with someone who knows it would be a good idea.  Wading staffs, chest waders, and felt wading boots with studs are a total necessity.

If you have any questions about the river, or would like to schedule a day on the water drop us a line.  Be safe out there!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Cast Far: If You Can

By: Nick Raftas

Streamer fishing is a different type of challenge and for those of you who say it isn't fly fishing or it takes no skill, you have absolutely no clue what you are talking about.  Forget about delicately fishing your size 18 blue winged olives and leave your dinky 3 weight at will probably snap in half when throwing a decent sized streamer.   

Throwing meat is not for the faint of heart and at times it can be a contact sport...I've had to pull a few hooks out of my head, shoulders and face from errant and wild casting.  It's akin to swinging six inches of fur, feathers and lead with ferocious speed past your head over and over and over again.  A lot of people really struggle with streamer fishing because they can't handle casting flies of that size accurately and with distance.

An obvious result of casting far is covering as much water as possible.  Most Pennsylvania anglers that I know fish small to medium sized streams and casting more than 35 feet is the exception rather than the rule, so needless to say most people have never even tried casting more than 35 feet.  I frequently hear people say "why would I ever need to cast that far?"  I can't think of one good reason why being able to cast far is a bad thing, especially when it comes to streamer fishing.  Casting far allows us streamer fisherman to ultimately present our streamer to more fish.  

Another obvious result of casting far, is that it puts distance between you and the fish, which helps to conceal your presence from them.  On numerous occasions, I see anglers that can’t cast far enough and while they might get some follows and fish to eat many times the fish are scared off during the chase or just plain run out of water to chase the streamer in.  I would much rather cast from a distance to fish rather than sneak up close to them especially when streamer fishing. 

If you would like to really learn how to fish streamers effectively it would be a great idea to seek out some casting instruction or go in your side yard and work on your distance casting.  Learning the double haul cast will improve not only your streamer game but will improve your fishing on every front.  I remember the first time somebody pulled me out to the grass and challenged me to open up my cast and actually throw some line.  Believe me, the experience was humbling.  You are never going to improve unless you challenge yourself.  We are available to help with casting instruction and answer any questions that you might have.  Feel free to give us a shout!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Looking For Something To Do This Wednesday? 3/30/2016

The International Fly Fishing Film Tour is coming to Bethlehem, PA this Wednesday.  If you would like to catch a ride up with me let me know.  Drop us a line through the Sky Blue Outfitters Facebook Page.  We may go to a local brewery beforehand and then attend the shows.  I look forward to this every year.   

Fly fishing aficionados, lay down that cast as the original and preeminent exhibition of fly fishing cinema, the acclaimed Fly Fishing Film Tour (F3T), returns March 30, 7:30 p.m., to the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks.

Dubbed “a cut above anything we’ve seen before” by the film judges, this year’s selection of films is sure to impress. The tour features nine story-driven films with backdrops ranging from Bolivia to Saskatchewan, Montana to Virginia, and Patagonia to the Seychelles. From the hunt for the world’s largest brook trout in South America to the pursuit of billfish on the fly off the coast of Virginia, these films showcase remarkable places, larger than life characters and fish that will haunt any angler’s dreams. The Fly Fishing Film Tour showing at the ArtsQuest Center is the only screening of the film tour in region; the complete list of films and trailers is available at

Guests are invited to arrive starting at 6 p.m. to see fly tying demonstrations by Trout Unlimited members, talk with fellow anglers and enjoy food and beverages from the ArtsQuest Center’s Mike & Ike Bistro (not included with ticket price). New this year is a fundraising raffle featuring incredible float trips on the Upper Delaware River, donated by Jerry Hadden of the Delaware River Fly Fishing Guide Service; the Bighorn River in Mont., donated by Steve Galletta of The Bighorn Angler; and the Bitterroot, Clark Fork or Blackfoot River in Mont., donated by Russell Parks of the Missoulian Angler.

Proceeds from the Fly Fishing Film Tour benefit the Monocacy Chapter of Trout Unlimited’s habitat improvement work and coldwater conservation efforts on streams throughout the Lehigh Valley, as well as the ArtsQuest Arts Education Programming Fund, which helps to support ArtsQuest’s free music, arts and education programming for the community.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Hendrickson's I tell ya! I Wouldn't Tell A Lie

By Nick Raftas

After getting off the water this past Friday I sent out an informal report to a few fishing friends who were planning to fish the same water the following day.  I wasn't surprised when they didn't believe my report of a prolific hatch of Hendricksons that came off mid-day and resulted in about 3 hours of rising fish.

Put your internet hatch charts away folks and forget what happened the year before and the year before that.  Mother nature is throwing us a curveball with this mild spring so far and it looks like some of our more prolific hatches are starting a little bit early this year.  Don't let dates on the calendar decide for you when it's time to go fishing. Get out now!

Here is a simple Hendrickson dun pattern that is sure to produce.  This is a "guide fly."  It takes about 3 minutes to tie. 

Materials List
  • Hook: Size 14 Orvis Extra Fine Dry Fly Hook
  • Wing: UPDNTROUT Wing Material and Dun colored CDC
  • Tail: Coq De Leon
  • Thorax: Spikey Hendrickson Dubbing
  • Body: Uni-Thread Camel 6/0
  • Ribbing: Uni-Thread Tan 6/0

1. Lay a thread base down on the hook.

2. Tie in tails, thread ribbing and build up thread body.
Wrap thread rib and tie off at the thorax.

3. Tie in Updntrout wing material.

4. Tie in CDC on top of Updntrout wing material.

5. Add spikey dubbing behind wing and in front.

6. Whip finish and trim wing to desired length. 


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Say It Ain't Sow

By Nick Raftas

Taylor, one of our guides for Sky Blue Outfitters was exploring this week on a local freestoner looking for trout.  Taylor took some macro samples of the river and found a lot of sowbugs. Taylor promptly tied on a sowbug pattern and started catching the streams resident brown trout.  That just goes to show you that it isn't just our limestoners in Pennsylvania that have good numbers of sowbugs and fish can be caught using them on tailwaters and freestoners just as well. 

This healthy brown trout fell for a dead drifted sowbug at the head of a pool

Down 'n Out Sowbug tied using UPDNTROUT Wing Material by Nick Raftas