Bass on the Brain
Two weeks. That is all that remains of North Carolina’s Delayed Harvest trout season… Bloody Saturday (June 3rd) will be upon us before we know it and trout fishing on the Tuckaseegee, Upper Nantahala, and many other Delayed Harvest streams will begin to slow as a result of anglers harvesting what the trout hatcheries have stocked in the months leading up to opening day of "catch and keep" season. (Keep in mind that there are plenty of wild trout streams that continue to fish well throughout the summer months!) Now that might sound bad if you like to catch and release, but as fly anglers this change in season gives us a chance to further develop our skills and become more rounded anglers. The pursuit of tight lines will take us to new places that don’t need the help of a stocking truck and will challenge us to learn and employ new techniques with a fly rod and might even encourage us to target a new species.
It’s almost June and it feels like the heat of summer is already upon us here in Western North Carolina. While water temperatures continue to rise, trout are not the only sport fish on the move. And just as trout seek out cooler, more oxygenated water, smallmouth bass tend to do the same, as some fish leave their lake homes and head upstream. Unlike trout however, smallmouth bass can tolerate the warming water of the bigger rivers in our area and thrive there during the warmer months. From mid-April into October we find healthy populations of bass in stretches of the Tuckaseegee River, Little Tennessee River, Cheoah River, Hiawassee River, and we even catch them in Deep Creek! The broader rivers can be floated in a canoe or drift boat for miles through some of the best river fishing for bass in the south.
If catching a smallmouth bass with a fly rod is on your bucket list then read on as I go over two of my favorite local rivers for catching smallies!
(Here's proof that big smallmouth can be caught in the cool waters of Deep Creek)
Little Tennessee River
Where to fish: The stretch between the confluence with the Cullasaja River near Franklin downstream to where it flows into Fontana Lake near Almond. This section is highly accessible along Needmore Rd as it follows for many miles.
What to fish: 2”-6” long streamers tied to imitate baitfish work exceptionally well, especially when rigged in tandem (large streamer behind smaller streamer). Crayfish patterns thrown on a sinking or intermediate line produce fish in some of the deeper pools. Topwater poppers like Boogle Bugs are a ton of fun to throw on slower water in the evenings and draw violent strikes from smallmouth.
What to expect: 20-50 fish days are very common with the average bass ranging 8-12 inches. Smallies in the 3-5 pound range are also attainable if conditions are right.
Where to fish: We’ve caught smallmouth from the confluence of the East and West forks of the Tuck all the way down to Fontana Lake. The prime bass water however, is from Dillsboro downstream to the lake. The Best Western River Escape in Dillsboro offers great wading access to some deeper runs right behind the hotel. Bring your A-game, as you will probably have an audience cheering from the balcony. Other access points include pull offs along Hwy 74 from the eastbound side, a boat ramp at Barkers Creek, great wading access from Old River Rd in Bryson City, and bank + ramp access from Old 288 out of Bryson City.
What to fish: Fly selection remains about the same as the Little Tennessee although I would put more focus on the baitfish and popper patterns. The slack water in the lower mile before you get to the ramp at Old 288 offers some incredible topwater action in the evenings and produces larger fish that have moved up from the lake.
What to expect: 10-20 fish days are the norm but the average size is slightly larger than the average bass in the Little T. Smallmouth in the 4-6 pound range are possible in the lower reaches and into the lake.
(TFS guide Jack Tamborski hooked up on a smallmouth behind the Best Western River Escape in Dillsboro)
Want to learn more about smallmouth bass and how to catch them?
Give us a call, stop by one of our two locations, or schedule a guided trip through our website to experience the pound for pound, hardest fighting freshwater gamefish!