Smallmouth bass are greedy, opportunistic little pigs! This photo does a great job of making my point. You can clearly see that this bass had already gobbled up another anglers 5" soft-plastic worm, yet still had an appetite for a streamer pattern.
This photo also does a great job of making my point. I posted this pic recently when the bass were gobbling up out-migrating smolts this spring/summer.
Smallmouth bass feed about every three days depending on several factors. One of which is water temperature. When the water warms up into the 70's their metabolism really burns through the groceries and they need to feed. As water temps cool, so does their desire to feed.
Smallmouth Bass on the Umpqua are given a wide variety of food items to choose from throughout the year. I've shown you what they do to out-migrating smolts. Some years this feeding activity is more pronounced than others. This season and last season happened to be years with heavy smolt predation. Other years, the bass key more on the pike-minnow fry which helps our salmon and steelhead fry and smolts from higher populations of these lowly predators.
Every year around the middle of August one of the smallmouth's favorite food items hatch heavier than the Umpqua moss. Hundreds of thousands of Shad fry hatch and form up in massive schools to begin their migration to the ocean. This outward-migrating biomass cause the bass to binge like no other time during the year. Many, many days I've had so many regurgitated Shad fry in the bottom of my boat that you could hardly stand! The bass were so full of fry that every one of them that came in the boat would eject the shiny little fry and if I didn't constantly pluck them off the floor of the boat and toss them over board you'd nearly slip and break your neck!.
Crawfish are another favorite food of the smallmouth. Especially crawfish larva and the early stages of the crawdads life. Its is extremely rare to catch a smallmouth and not see them regurgitate pieces of crawdad while they're in the water fighting you, or once they're in hand and you look down their pie hole, you can often see a pair of crawdad antennae sticking out. Interestingly though, I've tried a multitude of crawfish patterns and soft plastics over the years. These flies and lures closely resemble the crawfish, and rarely are they productive. Where crawdad patterns shine is when your using a pattern that "generally" represents the size, color and "look" of the crawdad's young when their larva are present. Bass fight over getting to your fly first when that's happening.
Lamprey larva are another favorite food of the bass and when these are present in the river, usually late spring, I use a san juan worm in tan, grey, olive, black or dark brown. I tie them just like I would for trout, just a little longer. You'll know when the bass are on the Lamprey bite, because like the crawfish, you'll see the lamprey larva stuck in the throats of the bass when you catch them and bring them to hand.
Smallmouth bass have a pair of bone "pads" in the upper rear of their mouth, just ahead of their throat. If I remember correctly from my college days in fisheries, the bone is called a "hyoid" bone. This pad-like bone pulverizes food items the bass consumes before sending it down their throat. This process takes some time, so its very common to see the bass regurgitate what they've just consumed, or to look into the back of their mouths and plainly see what they've been eatin'. If you look closely at the below photo, you can make out the two pads in the back of this bass's mouth. If you stick a finger down there, you'll immediately feel a very hard, rough surface and the bass will begin to reflexively squeeze your finger tight against these pads.
In the first installment of this series, I mentioned girdle bugs and bead head rubber leg patterns. The fly in this photo and the one below are representative of what most of my flies look like. Day in, day out, all spring and summer long these types of patterns account for 80% of the bass my guests catch.
In the next installment I'm going to cover flies and techniques to catch bass on surface patterns and the wet fly swing, two of my personal favorite ways of whacking these little green slimy creatures!