Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bass by Fly River Smallmouths Are Worth the Fly Rod Challenge

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bass by Fly River Smallmouths Are Worth the Fly Rod Challenge

Article excerpt

On the line, smallmouths keep you guessing. They can dig deep to wrap around wood or stone, or explode through the surface to shake off the hook. In rivers, smallmouths use their broad bodies to plane against the current, testing the best vectors for escape.

Add to all that the challenge and intimacy of fly fishing - the physics of rod loading and line control, the absence of apparatus separating fish and angler, the better odds for the bass.

"I enjoy catching trout - no doubt about it - but my favorite fishing is smallmouths with a fly rod," said Bob Heil Jr., of Sewickley.

Last week, while regional rivers ran high and muddy, the avid fisherman and member of Trout Unlimited and Allegheny Fly Tyers spoke at a free meeting at International Angler in Robinson about gearing up for, and locating and catching, western Pennsylvania's most abundant aquatic game species on a fly rod.

"Why use a fly rod for bass instead of a spinning or casting rod? That's easy," said Heil. "There's nothing else like it around here. It can be challenging - just getting to the right position to cast can be hard - but the rewards are great when you get a nice fish on the line."

Heil fills his fly box with homemade poppers and other bass bugs and Clouser-style streamers, which were developed for Pennsylvania smallmouths. He fishes rivers and big creeks throughout Southwest Pennsylvania, but says he's most at home on the Youghiogheny River, far below the whitewater rapids, down in the calmer waters from Smithton, Westmoreland County, to the mouth at McKeesport.

"I do mostly all wading from shore," he said. "Finding access is the hardest part . but the Youghiogheny River Trail is there the whole way and gets you into good places that don't get fished that often. Sometimes it's deep right off the bank. You have to be careful."

With some 30 days of unseasonable rain in the past six weeks, he said, water conditions for fish and anglers are "just terrible."

"When the flow is 3,000 to 6,000 cubic feet per second, you can't even wade that water - it'll knock you off your feet - and I would feel unsafe being in a canoe. …

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