Pre-spawn time is the one of the best times of the year to catch massive smallmouths. Anglers that go after record fish, fish the pre-spawn. This is when the fish are moving out of cooler deep water to stage for the spawn and are ready to feed to have enough energy for the very laborious spawn. Fish are all cold blooded, this means they cannot regulate their body temp against the ambient water temp. They can be tricky to target in the Pacific Northwest because of the unstable water flows, weather, and temperatures. I’ll shine some light on how to target them and hopefully get you into your biggest fish of your year.
In the PNW the water flows are probably the most unstable part of targeting the pre-spawn fish. As I’m rewriting this I’m watching the rivers get blown out week after week. The rain will finally stop and the rivers would drop then the rain would start up again. This can be the most dangerous part too. Keep an eye out on that so you don’t go boating or wading when it isn’t safe. When the water is blown out, but the temperatures are good you are going to want to look for sloughs and tributaries that drain faster and aren’t affected by the fast flows of the main river.
This is going to be the second most important part. The fish start to stir around 45 degrees. In the PNW it could be as early as April or as late as mid June. As the temperature increases in the water so does the metabolism of the fish. This means they can process food more and more efficiently and then, therefore need more of it to maintain the inevitable growth they experience. When water gets to about 50 degrees the fish are now moving in between the temperature differences within the water column. For example some of the shallow rockier water will warm much faster than the softer deeper water. This can even be by a degree or two. It’s much more dramatic in lakes. You will find dormant fish in deeper water like 10-20 feet in a drop off or in a deep pool in a river, and then by 11am the water in the shallower eddy or flat might have warmed by a degree or two and that’s where they move to. That’s where they will forage for whatever bait happens to be most active in the area.
Where are the fish? I love to target rock year round especially this time of year. This is because of two reasons. One it warms faster and two it’s where the crayfish live. Smallmouth love rock so that would be where I would be focusing most of my effort. Now after that you’re looking for softer water of some kind. In a lake this is drop offs or rock dams, in a river this would be eddies and undercut banks. A slough is the best of both worlds of a lake and river, to me the only downside is the lack of the rock. Make sure you’re presenting your flies in the right environment. Don’t be bringing food to the bedroom when smallmouth are looking in the kitchen for it.
Now what most of you guys are looking for. This is when you shouldn’t be skimping on size. 5” gamechangers, 4” crayfish, 5” sculpins, and big leech patterns. Pick whatever patterns you like to match the “hatch.” For me I’m becoming a fan of the clawdad from Chuck Kraft. I like a good feather gamechanger when I know the fish are moving to target baitfish that are moving from deep wintering schools to bait balls that are roving for aquatic invertebrates. Leeches are great for off color water. Tim’s moppet in black with those rubber legs have worked well for me. Now my sculpin is my favorite sculpin pattern. It’s great when the fish look angry or are hitting flies hard.
I spread the pictures of the flies throughout the post, but feel free to message me through social media, email, or our contact page for more info or specific situations.
Good luck and tight lines