Most fly anglers in Cape Town consider winter to be a quiet time of the year. Not me. Winter equals the start of the bass season and the hunt for big smallmouth bass. While they become really active during the pre-spawn period of early spring, the bigger fish remain active throughout the year and winter can be a very good time to target them.
The key is to look for a couple of consecutively warm days and the third day is usually the best bet. If there is even a few degrees raise in water temperature, it will get the bigger fish into feeding mode. The main thing to remember in mid winter is that smallies will want to spend as little energy as possible, so always look for slack water. Most of our rivers are quite high at this time, making stillwaters a better choice. When fishing stillwaters, I always choose inlets where I will concentrate on current seams and eddies. These are perfect ambush hangouts for big smallies.
I fish a 5wt and a floater. My pattern of choice is a large meatwhistle on a 12 ft + leader (8lb fluoro) and a big strike indicator. The idea is to put your fly up-current, let it sink and drift it on the edge of the seam as deep as possible. The current velocity will dictate your leader length. Keep an eye on that indicator, as takes can be very subtle. Set the hook if the indicator does anything funny, such as shiver, slow down or drift faster. At this time of the year the will rarely smack it, just sip it in.
Smallies are underatted, and I guess it’s because few fly anglers have ever caught fish over 20 inches. These fish fight incredibly hard and any smallie of 15 inches and up is a very rewarding quarry on light fly tackle, especially in fast water. So if you feel like getting rid of that winter blues, remember that there might be a bad-ass smallie in a river near you!