Five Tips for Figuring Out What the Smallies are Eating

May 23, 2022
Five Tips for Figuring Out What the Smallies are Eating

I often have clients who want to fish popping bugs exclusively for smallmouth, and when I tell them that the bass is not feeding on top they still insist that they will. When I finally convince them to fish the fly I think will work, and after they land 5-6 bass, the guy says “how did you know that they would not eat a popping bug but would eat this fly”!! Here are a few tricks that the guides use to figure out what fly to fish for bass.


  1. How did you know the bass were not feeding on top? If the bass is actively feeding on top then the small bass will be jumping at damsel flies, much like a small trout jumping after caddis flies. If the small bass is not actively feeding on top then there is a 75% chance that none of the bass are feeding on top.  
  2. How did you know they were not eating minnows? If the bass is actively feeding on minnows then you should be able to watch the tail out of the pools and observe bass cashing minnows or bait. There will be a small boil and then several bait fish fleeing for their life. If you are not seeing these bait showers occasionally, then the bass is not focused on eating minnows.
  3. How did you know to fish crayfish? Bass are genetically programmed to eat crayfish any time that they come by, much like a trout waiting on a stonefly. But there are indications of when crayfish are more active. Do you see any dead crayfish around? When they molt they are more vulnerable to predators, if they are molting or have recently molted then you will see a lot of dead crayfish on the bottom. Also, if the crayfish have been active you will see dead crayfish on the rocks around the edge of the river where the raccoons and birds have drug them out of the water and eaten them.
  4. What is your rig to go? When the fishing is slow go to smaller flies and dead drift them under an indicator like you were nymph fishing for a large trout. Having the fly heavily weighted so that it sinks quickly and holds near the bottom is key.
  5. What flies work best under the indicator? Flies that represent small crayfish or hellgrammites are best. Also, I like flies that have a lot of rubber legs and marabou in them for added life. My three best bass flies for fishing under indicators are Howell’s Big Nasty, Clouser’s Crayfish in size 8, and Howell’s Ole Hellgy.

Good Fishing,


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