Ted Peck

Outdoors talk with certified Merchant Marine Captain Ted Peck.

Take advantage of 'summer of the bug' by fly-fishing

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Ted Peck
Sunday, July 28, 2013

This has been the summer of the bug. On a good night you can swat enough mosquitos to make a meat loaf. Then there are the gnats that treat DEET like chocolate syrup, doing touch-and-go landings in your eyes and nostrils.

Squadrons of big dragonflies dart across the water like tiny Apache gunships. These are good bugs. They eat mosquitos.

Recent mayfly hatches are the biggest I’ve seen in years. Branches hang heavy with these short-lived beasts. Their exoskeletons join in thick carpets to float downstream once they give up the ghost—a scrumptious buffet for all swimming critters.

Fishing can be tough when the water is splattered with so much hook-free food. Sometimes nothing in the tackle box will provoke a strike. Should you find yourself in this situation, you’re just looking in the wrong tackle box.

Fish are opportunists, feeding on the most readily available food. Should lunch du jour be bugs, show them something which looks like a bug. If you’re like many anglers, your flybox gathers dust once the bluegill spawn is over after Memorial Day.

There are always two flyrods in my Lund. Until late July they are buried under other gear that gets used on a daily basis. The flybox is in the boat, too. Somewhere.

It took a good 20 minutes to find my flies one morning last week when the sky was raining mayflies and smallmouth bass found the boat overhead an inconvenience as they slurped in every bug they could find dimpling the water’s surface.

Ten minutes later, my eight-weight St. Croix was threaded with a deer hair bug on the business end, pack of hungry smallmouth yearning for an education on hooks.

My fly-fishing technique can be described as an ADHD-afflicted bandleader plagued by 200 chigger bites. In short, it isn’t pretty.

Fortunately, when fish are feeding heavily on a fresh insect hatch, they are too overcome with gluttony to notice.

Although serious fly fishermen strive to “match the hatch,” there is little need for meticulous fly selection when bass are on a bender. A deer hair bug and Clouser Deep Minnow are really all you need to get hooked up.

The Clouser is available in a number of patterns. My favorite is the baby smallmouth bass. Cannibalistic bass have no couth.

There are two caveats in finding fish-on-every-cast action with smallmouth on the fly: You must fish where the fish are and fish when they are feeding.

On a summer river, the best place to find smallmouth bass is near a shady riffle in close proximity to deeper water. The best times to fish are dawn and dusk when insect hatches are occurring.

The best action will probably be on the east side of the river in the morning and west side in the afternoon on a river which runs generally north-south such as the Rock or mighty Mississippi.

On rivers which run east-west such as the Wisconsin, you might find success fishing near midriver at midday, but a spinner or crankbait might be a better offering.

Smallmouth bass have no eyelids. Their eyes are sensitive to light. Fishing summer shade, where available, is a good plan.

Why can midday at midriver be productive where the water runs east-west? Minimal glare caused by the angle of the sun. Fish will likely hold just one foot deeper than light can penetrate if they can find cover and a loafing area like an eddy below a big rock.

Poking your rod tip in the water and noting the point at where it disappears from view provides a workable indicator of what this “magic depth” will be. If the rod tip meets resistance, quit pushing. Trust me on this point.

Looking for the best spot to put all this esoteric information to the test? You might try the Wisconsin River, targeting the first mile below the Dells dam. The smallmouths aren’t holding everywhere, but when you find one there will likely be a sizeable gang of his brothers nearby, hankering for a fight.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.cc.

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