If you are like me, mid to late summer you find yourself in a bind. Water conditions make it unsafe/unethical to fish for trout. Stream flows shrink and the temperature rises. These conditions can frustrate many anglers.
In Southwestern PA, we are blessed however with a healthy smallmouth population. Pretty much any river or stream you go to around here has a healthy population of smallmouth. These fish are hungry and aggressive, but not easily fooled all the time. It still requires the right presentation to be successful and get a strike.
Tips on Understanding the Water
Understanding where the fish could be
It is important in smallmouth fishing, as it is for most other species, that you are able to read and understand where the fish should be at. You want to be putting your lure/fly in the best spot possible that likely holds a fish.
Typically when the water levels get low, I will target areas where a riffle dumps into a pool. Similar to when you are trout fishing, these features in the river provide a good ambush point.
Also, I will try to gain some elevation on the stream bank and look down with a good set of glasses. Smallmouth tend to hug the shore facing it, waiting to ambush prey that either jumps or falls in.
Well place casts and baits are important
Structure is also key. If you see a large rock or sunken tree, it is worth a few well placed casts.
Part of understanding the water is knowing which bait to choose when casting to these fish. Typically my bait of choice for around here is something that mimics a minnow/baitfish, or a frog.
Topwater can be one of the most exciting ways to fish for smallies. With that being said, I like to choose a bait that can be fished in more than one way. I will rig up a rage shad or other soft plastic so that I can present it sub-surface, or on top.
Fish will react differently to different presentations, so you will need to be versatile. If you see fish boiling or chasing baitfish on top, it is a good read that they are being very aggressive and will probably blow up on top. On the flip side of that, if you are seeing them hold tight on structure, a more finessed jigging presentation might be the way to go.
Never Give Up
Either way I want to encourage all anglers not to give up or get frustrated when the summer heat hits and causes havoc on the trout water. Pound for pound smallmouth put up some of the best fights in freshwater. Do not cheat yourself out of the opportunity to chase these bronze backs if you get the chance.