Smallie Streamers – Flies for Bass Fishing

February 5, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson

Author with a nice smallmouth

Author with a nice smallmouth

Except for a few wily grayling in the cold running streams of northern Norway, few freshwater fish have fought as valiantly on the flyrod as the smallmouth bass of my home water. These fish, from late April through October on the Sheyenne River and others like it in the upper Midwest, are happy to oblige a fly fisherman working a streamer down a rip-rapped bank, or one skillfully cast under overhanging trees. The big fish, those over 17 inches, bite best in spring and fall but can be found in the warmest months with enough probing. Constant action from one- to two-pound fish can be had all season long.

Of course there are many patterns that will take smallmouth bass on many different waters. I’ve caught them while presenting size 14 dry flies and landed them on large pike streamers. But there are three patterns that have provided more success, season after season, than all others. As a result, these three populate my smallmouth fly box in a variety of colors and sizes. This trio is a set of flies no fly angler should be without when pursuing bronzebacks. The remaining months of the hard water season provide ample time to tie (or buy) these effective patterns in order to be ready when the smallie rush is on to stage, spawn and smash every offering they see with greed and gusto.

Clouser Minnow

This fly is the Godfather of all smallmouth flies. Designed specifically for the pursuit of smallies in east coast streams by Bob Clouser, the bucktail pattern is the forerunner of all smallmouth patterns, as it is in many anglers’ streamer boxes. The design is simple, the presentation is easy and the result of fishing one is typically an aerobatic assault from a hooked smallmouth.

The bass fishing flies mentioned in the article

The bass fishing flies mentioned in the article

The pattern consists of bucktail (or a synthetic hair) in an attractor color, such as chartreuse, as the back of the minnow over a layer of Krystal Flash material followed by an underbelly of white bucktail. A set of barbell eyes serves as the weight to put the pattern in the strike zone, lending to its original name of Clouser’s Deep Minnow. In the water – particularly the clearer flows of late spring – the streamer is a thing of beauty. The hairs pulse and tremble, and the Krystal Flash strands fire off glints of sunlight which one can only assume trigger that “it’s scaled, better eat it” reaction in the brains of all bronzebacks.

The pattern can also be customized to various prey species. In oranges, blacks, blues and browns, with the darker bucktail over the lighter, the Clouser Minnow becomes a crayfish imitator. Green or olive over a small amount of black bucktail and a white belly makes a great baby bass pattern. They can be tied up sparse, as recommended for baitfish imitation, or thicker for a fuller body profile to imitate crayfish. A solid selection of Clouser Minnows in a variety of colors is a must for anglers pursuing smallmouth on the fly.

The Woolly Bugger

The Woolly Bugger is everything to all fish. It’s a minnow, it’s a crayfish, it’s a nymph, it’s a leech, it’s a worm, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Superman. The smallmouth is as common a victim to the wiles of the Woolly Bugger’s marabou-and-hackle attraction as a trout or panfish.

The tail of marabou undulates in the current like a minnow or a leech, the hackle fibers tense and relax like the legs of a crayfish or the gills of a dragonfly nymph. The basic materials – chenille, wet hackle and marabou – all come together so nicely on the fly-tying vise that for many it is the first pattern attempted when learning how to put a fly together with feathers and thread.

Fished higher up in the column, without weight, the Bugger is a free-floating form, a morsel lost in current. With a few twists of .02-gauge lead wire underneath the chenille body, or a shiny bead head, it becomes a minnow or water insect squirting through the water column. With chain-link or barbell eyes holding it close to the bottom, it becomes a crayfish or a dragonfly larva scouring the substrate.

If you’re fly fishing for smallmouth, or any fish for that matter, a solid selection (maybe even a boxful) of Woolly Buggers, are worth tying this offseason.

Mickey Finn

Along with its brother, the Blacknosed Dace, these compact bucktail streamers are quick ties and effective at triggering fish. The traditional Mickey Finn is simply a three-part wing of yellow bucktail over red bucktail over yellow bucktail with a streamer hook dressed in silver tinsel. Meanwhile, the Blacknosed Dace is a similar pattern of black bucktail over brown bucktail over white bucktail over a gold-tinsel-covered hookshank with a pinch of red yarn tied in at the bend.

I like to substitute oranges and white for the standard colors in a Mickey Finn. Make it a Tricky Finn with your own color scheme or a Trippy Finn with wild attractor colors such as pink, purple and chartreuse. But don’t stop there, change tinsel colors or use colored wire for the hookshank dressing. Try pearlescent, red, orange or blue tinsel or copper wire for a new twist on some old highlights.

Switch the colors in the Dace pattern around as well, using green, white and a few strands of Flashabou for an emerald shiner. Or go gray and white with some solitary blue and yellow thrown in, and a Sharpie-drawn dot for a spottail shiner. Make the standard red tail something different, like chartreuse, pink or some other color that smallies in a given water key in on. Tie a few of each pattern up and experiment with them this upcoming season.

The key is to keep using classic patterns, mixing and matching their components and trying them out, season after season. Work new variants into your box, bounce them around on the bottom, strip them through likely smallie haunts and staging areas and hold on for the wildest battle you can find on a fly rod from April to Autumn…in our outdoors.


One Comment on "Smallie Streamers – Flies for Bass Fishing"

  1. Mike Speir on Thu, 29th Oct 2009 4:36 pm 

    Re Micky Finn, the first fish I caught when I moved up to Kenora, Northern Ontario,on a Micky Finn, was a 29 1/2″ 10lb Walleye/Pickerel. Since then I have had, Pike, Perch, Smallies more Walleyes on that fly . I wont go anywhere now without at least a dozen in my fly box.

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