Summer River Smallies
by Britt & Leigh Stoudenmire
I often get asked the question; “When is the best time to come fish the New River?” That is not the easiest question to answer because there are so many variables involved. Some anglers don’t mind fishing in the cold, others do. There are anglers focused solely on big smallmouth while others enjoy the numbers bite. Anglers also vary in their experience level and expectations.
After many years of fishing the New River, I have come to believe that the best “all-around” time to fish for river smallies is the summer and here are some of my reasons why.
Summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains typically brings stable weather conditions meaning temperatures during the day in the 70’s and 80’s and night-time lows in the 60’s. Water flows are in the lower range and water clarity is typically clear. These conditions are near perfect for the “all-around” bite we discussed above. Numbers of smallmouth can reach into the 100 to 150 range on certain days and there are a fair number of big fish – in the 18” to 20”+ range – staggered into those numbers to keep things exciting. It is a perfect time to bring children or a spouse fishing, no matter their experience level, because there are so many active fish. The scenery is superb and wildlife is abound. It is not uncommon to see mink, muskrats, river otters, bald eagles, and ospreys, to name a few, on any given day on the New River. When you aren’t busy looking up, the view of the bottom of the 2nd oldest river in the world is stunning with so many ancient rock and ledge formations.
Tips: Don’t forget your camera or phone to capture these magnificent opportunities “on film”. Also, don’t forget to bring your rain gear, there is always that small chance of an afternoon shower during the summer.
Top Water Time
If you could pick one favorite lure to catch river smallies, how many of you would select a top water lure? The answer is probably most of you. Top water lures have long-ranked high on anglers’ list of favorite baits, and they tend to be more consistent in the summer months. The Rebel Pop-R, Heddon Tiny Torpedo, and Phillips Crippled Killer are classics that have caught hundreds of thousands of fish over the years. As the summer progresses and water levels drop, smallmouth will trend towards feeding on top. Peak locations for noisy baits such as those mentioned above are across riffles, eddies, and current seams. Smallmouth usually hit these baits on the first or second rip after the bait has landed making for quick and explosive bites. I often employ a soft swinging motion in the same direction I am working the lure for the hook set. After the rod loads and you sweep into the fish, make sure to keep that rod angle down. Many anglers like to see their fish immediately and if you are pulling up and the fish jumps up, it will often come loose on the bottom end of the jump as you are still going up, and the fish is going down. Top water fishing is extremely fun and certainly a highlight of summer river fishing.
Tip: If the smallmouth misses the lure, do not jerk, keep doing what you are doing. If you employ this tactic, the fish will often hit your lure again. This is easier said than done, but it works!
Slower, less busy water, often presents the perfect scenario to fly fish for big smallmouth bass. Typically, the month of July signifies the start of our fly-fishing season as the annual Dog-day cicadas begin to emerge and, most importantly, die. Big smallies are addicted to these dying cicada bugs and the easy meal they present. We sight-cast to these fish that often surpass 20-inches or more. It is a thrilling time of year and can last deep into September during some summers. Casting ability is key in having a successful day with 30-40 foot casts needed, on average. This is not a huge numbers bite but you will find no better time to pursue some of the biggest smallmouth in the river on the fly. Once that big, black glob of a smallmouth sips your bug for the first time, you’ll be addicted for a lifetime! Remember to allow the fish to “sip” the fly and take it down before setting the hook vertically on a tight line. Smallmouth typically run right at you after eating a fly…
Tip: Don’t overlook the middle of the day for big smallmouth cruising slow water banks in search of an easy meal.
The author, Britt Stoudenmire, and his wife Leigh, have been outfitting anglers for fifteen years on the New River in Virginia. They offer both guided fishing trips (newriveroutdoorco.com) and waterfront lodging (walkercreekretreat.com). 540-921-7438.