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It’s Back to Basics for Smallmouth

Tis the time of year for freshwater transition. It’s September. It’s still a bit too hot for trout, and the largemouth bass is a morning and evening proposition. However, the most willing sparring partner in early fall is not hard to find. The smallmouth bass is a viable fly-rodding option as summer yields to autumn. Smallies love to take a fly and fight hard, from the hookset to the release.

Even though the bronzeback is a formidable foe, it’s a fish I’ve consistently neglected throughout my 30 years of fly fishing. I’ve always found trout sexier. It’s true that trout, as a species, boast loads of tradition, but if you honestly evaluate the attributes of each species, the smallmouth compares favorably and is well worth pursuing.

And since trout usually need a break, I’ve decided to give smallmouth a fair amount of love from now on during each fishing season.

So, it’s back to basics. Below are a few key components of my strategy.

Time Year for Smallmouth

Geography, of course, plays a role. I live in Western N.C., where the southern smallie season starts in late spring and ends in late fall. My fishing calendar starts in March and April with trout. As soon as the trout start to feel the heat of summer in late May and early June, it’s time for smallmouth. And when the autumn leaves start to turn, it’s about time for trout.

Temperature and Time of Day for Smallmouth

Smallmouth can be caught if the water temperature lingers in the 50s, but cold water is better for trout. Smallmouth like water temps in the high 60s and 70s, about the time trout head for the oxygen of the riffles.

For most of us, fishing revolves around work and family commitments, but the ideal time for smallmouth is early or late in the day. Low light is better than bright sun simply because the fish feel more secure. If you can fish on a cloudy day, take advantage of such conditions. The fish will hold shallower longer.

Where to Find Smallmouth

Smallmouth are not easy to find on your local river. But if you find one smallmouth, you will usually find several. And once you pinpoint a fishy spot, remember it, because chances are, fish will hold there consistently.

Smallmouth are ambush feeders. They use structure — logs, rocks and boulders — to hide and wait for unsuspecting prey, not unlike brown trout. And don’t forget your trout training. The tails of pools usually hold nice fish. Deeper runs are also a good option.

Food for the Smallmouth

If you don’t have a specialty box of smallmouth flies, don’t despair. Trout love dragon flies and crayfish. The venerable woolly bugger works well for both. I like to use bead-head versions of this pattern. When fish are feeding on the surface, I love poppers, and there’s no better smallmouth popper than the Sneaky Pete, which can be fished with a small woolly bugger or similar substitute as a dropper.

For trophy fish, there’s no better option than Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer. The Game Changer’s movement rivals many conventional lures.

The Equipment for Smallmouth

Heavy trout or light saltwater setups work well. A 5 or 6-weight rod is about as light as you would want to go. A 7, 8-weight can be used to throw bigger poppers. If you throw small flies, you can bring your lighter rod. Big flies, obviously, need a bigger stick.  For instance, you would not want to fish a Game Changer on your 5-weight rod. Step up to a 7-weight or bigger.

Temple Fork’s Axiom II series is a good option as is the BVK series. As for reels, our Power or BVK are good choices.

I fish for smallies with standard weight-forward line, but specialty lines and leaders come in handy when you need to throw bigger flies into a headwind or find yourself fishing deeper water, where you need to get the fly down fast.

Most of the time, I keep the leaders simple —- with a 9-foot 2 or 3X approach. Again, the main variable here is the size of the fly. There’s a difference between casting a size 10 woolly bugger and a 5-inch Game Changer.

If you have any other smallmouth suggestions, feel free to leave a comment on one of our social media pages.

Get Ready for the Axiom II

As a seasoned guide in the mountains of Virginia, Blane Chocklett has chased an array of species throughout his fly-fishing career — brook trout in the Blue Ridge, big browns in the spring creeks and musky in the rivers. Big fish, small fish, doesn’t matter, there’s always something tugging on the line for the Roanoke, Va. resident.

Chocklett, a TFO advisory staffer and owner of the New Angle Fishing Company, was one of the first to demo TFO’s new Axiom II, having fished the new rod since March. The Axiom II will make its official debut in October. Last week, we chatted with Blane about the Axiom II. Here’s what he had to say:

TFO: What stands out about the Axiom II?

BC: “What I like about it the most is I put in a lot of clients’ hands. Everyone has a different casting stroke, but everybody that’s used it, they’ve all been able to pick it up and cast it without having to fix their casting stroke, which says a lot about the rod. So for me, it’s a no-brainer when I hand it to a client. There’s not a period where they have to figure out how to balance the rod and cast well enough to shoot the line. The rod has plenty of reserve power. That’s what I really like about it. It’s very smooth.

“The other cool attribute — and I don’t want to get ahead of myself — is it’s extremely durable. I’ve had clients put rods in awkward positions and they will fail. This rod held up to that. We’ve caught very large fish on it, so we’ve put it to a pretty good test. I’ve been really pleased with it.”

TFO: When you’re talking about durability, you’re talking about fish fighting?

BC: “Not only fish fighting, but delivering the fly to the fish. Not to get too detailed, I know lines have a lot to do with that, too. … The rod is smooth and it fits a lot of different casting strokes. That’s the coolest thing about it and the thing that stands out to me.”

TFO: I know you’re not an engineer, but any idea, in layman’s terms, why the Axiom II can do what it does with different casting strokes?

BC: “You have the Ferrari and you have the wagon with the horse, going from one extreme to the other. This rod, once you get in a medium action, you start losing those guys on the top end and gaining more people on the bottom end. Most people can’t figure out those medium action rods. This is one step up from that. It’s not quite as super-fast. What that does is it lends itself to all styles. It’s not too fast for most people. It’s not too slow for the guy that likes a super-fast rod. It kind of hits that sweet spot where it has plenty of reserve power. It doesn’t break down, which medium to soft rods have a tendency to do, when you have a lot of line out. Some people can’t wait long enough for the line to uncoil the line on the back cast. It responds to the guy that doesn’t haul at all and using the cast without any extra line speed. The rod can handle that easily without uncoiling too quickly where they lose the timing.”

TFO: I assume you tried the original Axiom? Any difference?

BC: “I think the original was on the high end for people who had a super aggressive casting stroke. … Not taking anything away from that rod, but I think it was a bit much for some people. When you get too fast of a rod or too stiff of a rod, the negatives are one, it takes a lot of people out of the equation if you’re selling rods. Second, your body feels the torque and the recoil during a long day of fishing, especially if you’re doing a lot of fishing. For me, guiding for musky, fish where you have to cast over and over and over, that’s not a good thing. You can feel it over time and fatigue quicker. What I like about this newer rod is it will absorb some of that shock. You have the power to still get big flies turned over and not wear yourself out. That’s a nice attribute of this rod over the other one. It’s also a lot lighter. It’s also a good-looking rod.”

TFO: What type of fish have you caught on that rod?

BC: “Smallmouth bass, big grass carp, big stripers, redfish and some albacore.”

TFO: Have you had much feedback from clients on the Axiom II?

BC: “I’ve had a lot of them say it’s one of the best fly rods they’ve ever cast. I’ve got a really good client that’s got every rod known to man. Like a lot of us, he’s a gear junkie. He has all the new rods that come out every year. He always does. He does well for himself, so he can afford to do it. That’s his thing. He fished it with me earlier in August and thought that it was one of the best rods he had fished and he’s got a lot of the new rods, the new Sage and the Scotts that he likes and he’s got Loomis rods, too. He buys from everybody and he was impressed with that rod and said it’s as good as any of the top-end rods on the market.”


The Axiom II is now shipping to dealers!  Call your local fly shop and request yours today!