The end of May typically signals a transition period on the New River as the water clears, the river drops, and flows stabilize. This is the time of year that anglers often associate with numbers rather than the size of the bass caught. It is true that we start picking up a lot of bass in the 10-14-inch range; however, big fish are still available and susceptible to the right conditions and tactics. There are three things I look for when targeting big bass during the doldrums of summer; stable weather, low light or overcast conditions, and feeding lies with depth (i.e. 2-4-ft), minimal current and a broken or cobble bottom. The best lies are often chunk rock banks that lie adjacent to deeper water where the bigger fish will hold when the sun is bright and burning overhead.
This is the time of year when the big fly/big fish theory is the exception rather than the norm. This pains me being a big fly/rod streamer junkie, but this is not typically the time or place for these tactics. A big streamer ripped through these zones may pick up a fish or two, but it often results in no attention or a courtesy pursuit followed by refusal. In terms of tactics, subtlety is the name of the game! We are stepping down to 6 and 7-wts, floating and intermediate lines, and patterns that provide natural movement as they are dead drifted or subtly twitch and/or stripped.
For streamers think marabou as it compresses when stripped yet puffs out when stopped or drifted. Many big fish follows have resulted in eats when this type of pattern is stopped allowing the marabou to puff out and naturally undulate! This type of fishing is often very visual and rewarding as you “feed” the fly to a pursuing bass.
My favorite tactic during the summer months though is top water. Over the years, I have landed more citation smallmouths in the summer months on top than with any other tactic. There are tricks to the trade with this approach that will increase the number and size of the fish you catch. Most importantly, leave those cupped face poppers at home unless you are fishing at night, which we will save for a later discussion. In daylight, I favor rounded noses or sliders that create minimal disturbance when twitched on a natural drift. Another important consideration, is the weight and the shape of the pattern. It must make a plop when landed and hold its profile as it is fished on the drift. A UV curable resin over cork or foam will add the necessary weight and also make the fly more durable. Rubber legs and suede tails/appendages should also be incorporated into the fly as they provide natural movement without losing their shape. We usually travel to Greentop in Ashland, VA on a regular basis for our fly tying needs as they carry all the materials suitable for tying these types of flies.