Smallmouth bass on a fly. The smallmouth bass is largely ignored out here in the West, only a relative handful of us fly fishers out here recognizing his magnificence. There are some fairly good excuses for this failure to appreciate a first-rate game fish in our presence.
A few decades ago—you bet that's new in town, compared with the millennia during which the smallmouth filled so many rivers in eastern North America.
I caught my first smallmouth bass in a stream in Central California in the mid 1970s. It was a clear and warm little flow that would have seemed secluded enough had not so many sunbathers (both with and without swimwear) and swimmers (also with and without swimwear. California, the 70...) strung themselves up and down the stream's rocky desert canyon. But none of them seemed interested in the adequate population of six- to ten-inch smallmouth bass there. I was.
The five-piece funk/pop-music sort of band I belonged to was constantly on the road, charging up and down Interstate 5 mostly, but sometimes beyond to Phoenix, Arizona, Anchorage, Alaska—wherever the booking agency said we'd make the most money. The longer I lived that overwhelming life—rehearsals five days a week, performing six nights a week, working on my instrumental parts and vocals daily—the more I wanted to escape to the outdoors to fish. And the more I did.
That smallmouth stream was a manageable drive from Sacramento (that band loved playing Sacramento, distant as it was from our Washington homes), too far to fish on a night I played music. But Sundays were wide open. I think I spent several Sundays running up to fish among the clad and unclad during the gigs we played there. I had a blast.
That was my first taste of what smallmouth bass have to offer, and I became a fan almost immediately. After that, I caught smallmouth here and there in lakes, but didn't catch another in a river until—hold on, big leap coming—the late 80s or early 90s. It pains me even to think of over a decade without standing in a smallmouth river swinging a fly rod (though I spent plenty of that decade standing in trout rivers).
Since then, however, I've been busy atoning for my smallmouth-neglecting sins—
and loving it!