I may not have all of the Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) books that have been written but I have a number of them. What I have enjoyed most about these books is how different they are. Some - like Tim Holschlag's simply titled, Smallmouth Fly Fishing - concentrate on fishing smaller streams like the Iowa streams he fished. Others - like Dave Karczynski and Tim Landwehr's, Smallmouth: Modern Fly Fishing Methods, Tactics, and Techniques - are a little more Midwestern and a few - like Bob Clouser and Jay Nichol's Fly-Fishing for Smallmouth: In Rivers and Streams and Jake Villwock's Smallmouth Bass Flies Top to Bottom - are more eastern focused - often outside of the fish's native range. There is even a book about fly fishing for western Smallmouth Bass - which I am not familiar with and only found out about through researching this post.
And there are a number of smallmouth books I do not own. Tim Holschlag has a couple of non-fly fishing specific books, one geared towards smaller streams and another towards larger rivers. Harry Murray, a Virginia angler and shop owner, wrote one of the first Smallmouth Bass fly fishing books. And there are a number of books I did not know existed - books on Western smallmouth, those free on Kindle, and on and on. There are also a number of fly tying books that are not smallmouth specific but have tons of flies for the smallmouth fly angler - like Clouser's Flies by Bob Clouser, Charlie Craven's Tying Streamers, books by Bob Popovics and others aimed at the saltwater angler and tyer, a book on Blane Chocklett's Game Changer, and the list goes on. There are other books on flies for bass that I am unfamiliar with like The Best Bass Flies. This is a long way to say that there area a ton of books out there on fly fishing and tying for Smallmouth Bass.
This is not true for everyone but most of us came to smallmouth fly fishing from trout fishing and smallmouth are different - which I wrote about in one of my first posts. I fish for smallmouth a lot less often than I fish for trout - proximity to good fishing is certainly a large part of it. This, I think, has lead me and many others to buy a fair number of smallmouth books. I understand trout, I am trying to understand smallmouth better. And to me, trout are trout across their range - they are largely a drift feeding fish that as they get larger get more opportunistic and piscivorous.
It is my experience that smallmouth are a little more flexible in their diets and habitat use, depending upon what is available to them. Certainly, they will all eat streamers and crayfish flies but their forage base seems to change a lot depending upon where you are fishing them. Whereas with trout; mayflies, caddis, stoneflies, midges, and terrestrials are largely the same and hatch charts are easy to find online for anywhere you would fish trout. Couple that with our familiarity with trout and most of us feel pretty confident figuring it out in new places. My feeling is that forage and conditions for smallmouth varies a lot more across their range.
Books about Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass
Books on Smallmouth Bass fly fishing tend to be fairly regional, often reflecting the type of fishing on the authors' home waters. Bob Clouser largely fished Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River - and his book on smallmouth is loaded with Susquehanna River images and anecdotes. Tim Holschlag was best known for fishing smallmouth in Iowa's smaller streams - and from my experiences in southwestern Wisconsin, fishing these streams is quite a bit different from fishing larger rivers. Harry Murray's smallmouth books give a Virginia small stream perspective. And lastly, my favorite of the Smallmouth Bass books is Dave Karczynski and Tim Landwehr's book, the most recent of the bunch, has a more Midwestern, Northern Wisconsin focus.
The Karczynski and Landwehr book - is full of great information and I really appreciate the way the book is organized. Karczynski is a Michigan angler - he lives in Ann Arbor - and Tim Landwehr is the owner of Tight Lines Fly Shop in DePere, Wisconsin and has guided Northeastern Wisconsin's Smallmouth Bass for over 20 years. Tight Lines runs an armada out of the shop so the experience of many guides with thousands of combined days on the water provide much of the narrative. That - to me - is the reason for buying "how to" books, to learn from those that have much more experience than I do.
The book is small - 9 inches by 6 inches and 222 pages - but packed full of information and great photography. The organization is pretty simple, just six chapters - and that includes a short introductory chapter and the last chapter titled, "Other Voices: Essays and Interview" which is a mashup of short essays, mostly from other smallmouth fisheries. After the introduction, which is basically a story about how the book got written and the authors' experiences, comes an information dense chapter on rivers and seasons and how they effect fly fishing for Smallmouth Bass. This chapter sets the table for the next three chapters which are really the heart of the book. The book takes a river and breaks it apart from the surface to the mid-column, to the bottom (lower-column). This organization resonated with me as that is how I generally try to approach smallmouth fishing. I will try the surface first if there is much hope of that being productive. My next choice are streamers that are fished from just below the surface to just above the bottom. My last resort is typically putting on a bottom bouncing fly - a Clouser Deep Minnow, a crayfish or hellgrammite imitation, or sculpin or darter streamer meant to be fished on or near the bottom.
As mentioned above, the great strength of this book is that it is based on many thousands of days on the water by the authors' and their colleagues. The set this up in the introduction chapter and then the second chapter on rivers and seasons gets the reader to better understand what is to come in the next chapters. While I really enjoy the chapters on how they are fishing the water column, this second chapter is the one I learned the most from. They take each season and start relating water temperatures with where and what Smallmouth Bass will be feeding on during that season. The other thing I really enjoyed about the book was the section on "Wigglies" - the generally smaller and subtler topwater flies that smallmouth eat confidently, often in really skinny water. This is not a type of smallmouth fishing I have done much of but I am now well geared to do so.
Lastly, the book ends with a bit of a random collection of essays and interviews - all of which are interesting in their own way but it certainly lacks the cohesion that the book has to that point. A number of anglers from different places - mostly around the Midwest - write short essays on their unique smallmouth fisheries. Luke Kavajecz writes about Lake Superior, Kyle Zempel about the Lower Wisconsin River, Tom Andersen writes about Northwest Wisconsin, and then there are another four essays before the interviews with Mike Schultz, Charlie Kraft, Lefty Kreh, and Larry Dahlberg. If there is a unifying idea in this section, it is that experienced smallmouth anglers share their experiences from a variety of different places - in that way, it fits the book well.
While it is too late for me, if I were to buy just one book on Smallmouth Bass fly fishing, this would be the one.
This is another great book written by probably the best known Smallmouth Bass fly angler in the World along with Jay Nichols who is best known as an editor of a number of great fly fishing books. Bob Clouser has been fishing for Smallmouth Bass since well before I was born. He is a wealth of information and in my limited experience, one Hell of a nice guy that is fun to be around. He is, of course, best known for his Clouser Deep Minnow which is used on every continent in both fresh and salt waters. He and his family still run Clouser's Fly Shop, now an online fly shop.
As you probably already know, Mr. Clouser earned his stripes guiding for Smallmouth Bass (and other fish) mostly on Pennsylvania's Susquehanna River near his home town of Middletown, PA, not far from the state capital, Harrisburg. And, like the Karczynski and Landwehr book, his book reflects his set of experiences on his home waters. The Susquehanna is a large river best known for its rock ledges and, unfortunately, a history of abuse. Dating back to 2005, the Susquehanna was named America's most endangered river and my understanding is that the river's fishery is on an upswing after issues with disease and pollution.
It is a large book with the rather standard 11 x 8.5 inch glossy pages - 222 of them to be exact. The book is organized into 10 chapters - not including its introduction. These chapters are largely on the biology of smallmouth, their seasonality, the rivers in which they live, and what they eat. The books largest chapter is the one on flies (chapter 5) which, of course, features a number of Mr. Clouser's original flies. The remaining chapters highlight equipment, casting, tips, and then, like the above book, it ends in a chapter that highlights other bass waters - mostly from Eastern North America.
My favorite chapter in the book is titlted, "What They Eat" and is a really well presented overview of the common forage fishes and invertebrates that Smallmouth Bass feed upon. There are photographs of, as an example, an Emerald Shiner (Notropis atherinoides), and then a Clouser Deep Minnow pattern to match that specific baitfish. He does this for other forage fishes along with presenting his Clouser Crayfish and other of his fly patterns which he will get into more details in the next chapter, "My Fly Box".
The book is certainly a look into Mr. Clouser's mind and how he approaches fly fishing for smallmouth, and for that alone, it is well worth the purchase price.
Tim Holschlag's book is the least "glitzy" of the three I review here which reflects it being a self published book. The back cover tells us it is "3 books in One!" with 15 chapters of instruction, the 40 best flies, and 100 top spots to fish for smallmouth. The 319 pages are 9.75 x 7 inches and feature black and white photographs and illustrations along with three different color photograph plates. My copy was signed by Mr. Holschlag who has since passed away.
The book features a whooping 28 chapters. The first 15 chapters are on techniques, the next five are on flies, and the remaining chapters on destinations are organized geographically. Like the other authors, this book is a reflection of the author who was one of the first real smallmouth specialists and co-founder of the Smallmouth Alliance. Mr. Holschlag was a well-traveled angler who was best known as stream specialist. The river that Tight Lines Fly Shop and Bob Clouser's Susquehanna River are much larger than Mr. Holschlag's Iowa streams and the book largely reflects that. The angler that typically fishes small to moderate sized streams will appreciate this book.
The book is a wealth of information and I think the best parts are the illustrations of how he broke down streams at different times of the season. The above example is a late-fall and winter stream which emphasizes that the cold water will make bass less active and less likely to sit in current. The author also details a number of techniques he has developed, most notably the "crayfish hop" with his Holschlag Hackle Fly for which he was probably best known.
None of these books are fly tying books but this would be the least useful for the tyer given the black and white line drawings. There are color plates with the 40 flies on them but they certainly have a dated look in 2022. He does select some flies I knew little about which is a plus for me and my learning.
The author highlights 100 destinations from around North America. While each description is not necessarily lengthy and they certainly would not provide the reader all the information they would need, I am impressed by the insights in the fisheries I am familiar with. The author highlights six waters for each of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. The Wisconsin selections are the Door Peninsula, Menominee River, Sylvania Wilderness (yes it's in the UP...), the North Fork of the Flambeau, Southwestern Creeks (above), and the St. Croix River. The entry above certainly shows that Mr. Holschlag knew these waters. The traveling angler is given a good starting point to further research their trip.
There are two groups of anglers I think are best served by Mr. Holschlag's book - those that enjoy fishing smaller streams and river and those that are looking to travel to fish smallmouth in different places. There is no better book for the small stream smallmouth fly angler.
Wrapping It Up
This entry's length grew beyond where I thought it would so I'll have the books on flies for another post. All these books are well worth purchasing or at the very least, borrowing from a friend or your local library. They all are good books that attack the question of how to put all of fly fishing for Smallmouth Bass into a single book in different ways. The Karczynski and Landwehr book is my personal choice if I had to pick one but you can't go wrong with any of them. Each book gives the reader a lot of insight into how the authors approach streams and each book provides insights from several lifetimes of fly angling for smallmouth. I learned more from each of these books than I have from most trout-centric books.
Smallmouth are smallmouth but it is interesting how they and the rivers they live in across their range - both native and their established non-native ranges, like Mr. Clouser's Susquehanna River - are so variable. I'll save Jake Villwock's Smallmouth Bass Flies Top to Bottom for another post.
Amazon reviews are in the links for each book