Seasons of the Smallmouth
The most misunderstood season for Smallmouth is spring, it is also the most intimidating. Sugar Creek and the Tippecanoe River are two very different rivers but have similarities because, well, they both are Smallmouth fisheries. They are on a different schedule, Sugar is typically about 1-2 weeks ahead in water temps. Early spring means Smallmouth are transitioning from winter patterns and are beginning to eat more often. Winter fish eat every so often early spring fish eat more consistently but still not as often as they will in late spring or summer.
Understanding water temps and flows are critical to finding Smallmouth in spring. Chad's two favorite months of the year is April and August, April for big fish and August because of terrestrial fishing. April is a high water month and Chad specializes in fishing high water. Sinking lines and large streamers are critical for fishing big deep holes during spring. If you enjoy chasing BIG Smallmouth then April is tough to beat. It is really one of the only times of the year you can actually target BIg fish.
As the leaves start to sprout and the birds start to sing the water begins to warm and the Smallmouths metabolism rises and they get hungry. Numbers begin to increase and that really good average fish in Sugar begins to show up. Typical average fish in Sugar is 15-17 inches and they top out at 22 inches. The Tippy is just starting to fish in mid April as long as the flows are low enough to fish. The Tippy is a big river with 2 impoundments that generate electricity so April can be a little more unpredictable. We like the consistency of Sugar Creek in April for sure, though we will go chase big fish on the Tippy as well in April. When the water warms Sinking lines are still important but floating lines start to become important. Swimming flies that sink very slowly or are neutrally buoyant give the Smallmouth a long look at the fly. Strike zones are increasing but they are still somewhat neutral, hanging the fly over or around cover is crucial. In Indiana it can be in the 70's in mid or it can be mid 50's, when it is mid 70's believe it or not poppers can come into the equation.
As May comes around Smallmouth are beginning to spawn and we try and only fish to fish that are willing to come to the surface to eat. We do not drop flies onto beds and bother spawning fish. We have very little pressure on our rivers and they are only floatable during spring and there is very little wading so pressure stays down on our spawning fish. We really concentrate on big pre-spawn females. Pre-spawn female Smallmouth are only on the beds for about 48 hours if even that so once the spawn begins they are not on the beds but in holes or tail-outs eating, it is a very good time to look for big fish.
June is a mixture of fishing, some high water some low water possibly. Popper fishing really starts to crank up on Sugar Creek. The Tippecanoe River is still in a post spawn period early June so we typically stay on Sugar during this time. Smallmouth are beginning to chase minnows so floating lines with swimming flies and poppers are an every day thing. June is a fun time to fish for surface oriented Smallmouth. Sugar is a very clear waterway so the angler gets to see the fish eat the fly a vast majority of the time.
Ahh summer....it is the Smallmouth anglers favorite time of the year. Water has warmed and the Smallmouth are on the feed. Sugar Creek is on fire and the Tippy is right behind it. Sugar will always be a baitfish oriented river but early July means crawdad molt and sometimes the fish in Sugar get very crawdad obsessed. There are a lot of different ways in July to catch Smallmouth which is great but identifying what is going on is important. Watching for signs are important to good fishing in July and after spending his entire life on Sugar Creek Chad understands this very well.
Late July sees a transition on both Sugar and the Tippy. Flows come down and the fish spread out in the river and get on mid river structure. Late July is the beginning of terrestrial season our favorite time of the year. Chad's contribution to fly fishing is his development of terrestrial fishing for Smallmouth Bass. Many of the techniques and patterns used today come from Chad's development of Smallmouth Terrestrial fishing dating back to the late 90's, it is his specialty. Now terrestrial fishing for Smallmouth is done in many places and it is satisfying to see anglers fish for Smallmouth in a new and exciting way.
Sugar Creek Smallmouth are so terrestrial centric that in the months of August and September it is likely that Chad will fish with only terrestrials from the time the boat launches to the time the boat lands at the take out. It is 24/7 Hoppers and Beetles. It is the best time of the year to catch a 20" fish on the surface. It is a unique experience to see and then stalk a trophy Smallmouth with a beetle, floating line and a 5 weight. Without question the weather and water is the most dependable this time of the year and so is the terrestrial fishing.
Fall Smallmouth at the end of September the Smallmouth in Sugar Creek begin to transition away from terrestrials and start the fall minnow binge. Like the Tippecanoe River the Smallmouth in Sugar turn into minnow crazed eating machines. At this time Smallmouth start working together and crashing minnows. The falling water temps trigger a need to feed up for winter and there is no baitfish that is safe.
The water begins to rise as fall rains bring increased flows. The leaves are changing and there isn't a prettier float on a Smallmouth stream anywhere than on Sugar Creek. With the changing of the leaves comes changes for Smallmouth as well. With falling water temps they are moving to the sections of river where they will love through the winter. During this time Smallmouth are still minnow centric but they are increasingly bunched up and living in deeper holes. As the water temps fall into the mid to lower 50's in late October and November the big fish become the main focus.
Some of the largest Smallmouth of the year are caught during this time. Its about the same as fishing in March and April. The small fish kind of get scarce and the big fish eat enough during the day to make it worth the effort. The sinking lines from March and April return and become important in reaching those big late fall early winter trophy fish.
The Tippecanoe River is warmer during this time and not only are Smallmouth in play during the baitfish crash the Walleye, Wipers and Muskie begin to create a mix bag of fish. With the crazy number of species in the tippy you could hook any number of fish. Again sinking lines become extremely important. The Tippy is getting higher but still very fishable, the fish start moving towards holes and really bunch up. We guide the Tippy into early November but have short trips that can be done during November and December.