Early Season Smallmouth Bass Fly Fishing on Virginia's Rivers

Spring (Early Season April to mid-June)

The river is now warm enough that many of the bass will feed heavily on the natural hellgrammites that live in the riffles and in the cobblestones for the next two hundred feet downstream. Many students in our “On The Stream” Fly Fishing Schools catch their bass here by casting a Murray’s Heavy Hellgrammite (black) size 6 across stream and swimming it back slowly across the stream bottom.

The two to three feet deep gravel bars along the riverbanks hold unbelievably large populations of shiner minnows and the bass feed heavily upon them in a hit and run manner. That is, they swim onto these shallows and eat several shiners before returning to the deep water close by. Cast a Silver Outcast Streamer size 4 out in front of the bass’s anticipated path and strip it right in front of him.

Silver Outcast Streamer

At this time of year many large smallmouth bass find great feeding stations in the back eddies that form on the slow side of the river opposite the heavy riffles. These back eddies may range from 20-50 feet in diameter and from 4-8 feet deep.

The reverse flow of the current in the back eddies make it easy for the bass to find ideal feeding stations and there is an abundance of natural minnows located here.

These back eddies can be fished successively by floating the river in a drift boat or by wading carefully along the shallow bank. Effective flies in these eddies are Murray’s Tungsten Cone Head Marauder size 4 (pearl, black, or olive). An effective technique is to swim my Marauder across the stream bottom by stripping them six inches every 5 seconds.

Murray's Tungsten Cone Head Marauder

Often these eddies are so productive that I’ll spend over an hour to thoroughly fish one which is fifty feet in diameter.

Often my son, Jeff, and I float several favorite sections on the James River in April and May. The Murray’s Magnum Creek Chub Streamer size 4 is very effective in large flat pools. Since Jeff is often navigating the Hyde Drift Boat, I get to sit in the front of the boat and shoot my cast to all the good-looking water. In addition to the flat pools the shaded banks give us many large smallmouths on the Magnum Creek Chub.

Murray's Magnum Creek Chub Streamer

When we hit the riffles, we catch most of the large bass on the Murray’s Marauder (chartreuse) size 6 and the Murray’s Heavy Hellgrammite (black) size 6. Here we have two options. We can anchor the boat and fish from the boat, or we can get out of the boat and fish the riffle by wading. I prefer to wade.

Murray's Marauder, Chartreuse

Murray's Heavy Hellgrammite, black

Since the Chartreuse Marauder mimics a darter minnow that will swim facing into the current and the natural hellgrammite swims into and across the current, we can fish our flies with the same tactic whether we are fishing from the boat or wading. A very dependable tactic is to cast across the current fifty feet. After the fly sinks, swim it back across the current by stripping it three inches every five seconds. Successive casts are aimed several feet further downstream until all the water is covered. At this point you can wade and fish further across the river or use the boat to drift further downstream.

A good 9ft 7-weight fly rod outfit is recommended for these flies and for any smallmouth bass fishing you want to do throughout the season. I keep a WF-7-Floating fly line with a Murray’s Bright Butt 9ft 2X leader on my reel but carry an extra spool with a sinking tip fly line and Murray’s Fluorocarbon 6ft 2X Sinking leader. The river conditions decide on which fly line and leader I use.