Fishing For Smallmouth

The French Broad River in Buncombe and Madison counties is home to some terrific smallmouth fishing.  The River flows north 213 miles from Rosman, North Carolina, to its confluence with the Holston River at Knoxville, forming Tennessee River. One hundred and seventeen of these miles flow through North Carolina.

It is said that the French Broad River watershed is home to the largest Great Blue Heron population in the world and also to the endangered Bog Turtle. A wide variety of river bottom types give the fish more than enough room and variety for both habitation and spawning.  Because of the variety of river bottom types, the French Broad can be a difficult river to wade at times because of the shelf like rock ledges that often run the entire width of the river, wading boots with studded soles are recommended.

The French Broad is naturally low in nutrients, like most southern streams, but with the addition of runoff from agriculture and water and municipal treatment plants, considerable amounts of needed nutrients are mingled in. On average, it takes a smallmouth bass 5 to 6 years to reach 12 inches, and 8 to 10 years to reach 2 pounds in size.

Tackle: A 9Ft fast action, 6 to 8wt with a battling butt is recommended.

Reel: A large arbor with a smooth drag system. Be sure to have plenty of backing.

Fly line: Preferably a “Warm water” fly line with a short, aggressive head, or “over line” your rod, (one size heavier). Ex. RIO Smallmouth Bass 6-8Wt. Most “Smallmouth” Fly line is designed half a Wt heavier than the actual Wt (6Wt is 6.5Wt) for easy rod loading and fly turnover, and have a warm water coating to prevent “gummy” texture and limpness in higher temperatures.

Leader: Most companies have a “Bass leader”.  For instance, the “RIO Bass Leader” which has more abrasion resistance and designed slightly stiffer with a longer butt section and shorter tip section for easy turn over and is denoted in Lb test for the tip, “8lb” and up, by 2lb increments, rather than the standard “X”, but a standard leader 9′ Ox-4X will get the job done.

Flys: Larger streamers-white, black, chartreuse size 6-1/0. Cone Head Wooly Buggers 4-6, Clouser Minnows 1/0-4. Wiggle Minnows 1/0, Crayfish patterns, top water poppers, and even larger May Fly Patterns.

Other info: Along the river are quite a few parks with easy access and fairly good wading between Woodfin and Marshal, with picnic tables and shade. Most the bridges along 215 pass over feeder streams, when summer rain patterns cause the river to be stained or even “blown out,” look for the clearer tributaries to pick up a bite or two. Stained or “Turbid” water warms more rapidly than clear water and these areas can provide cooler, clearer water where it can be easier for the fish to feed.

Ex: Reems Creek, Flat Creek, Sandy Mush Creek, Big Laurel, and Spring Creek… The French Broad is also home to Carp and Drum, which you can snag on the fly beneath the Municipal Dam in Woodfin. It is also home to quite a few Musky, so watch your fingers on that one.

There are several ways to traverse the Big Muddy: Fishing from a Drift Boat or fishing raft can be the most productive. If you have a Kayak, a lot of the harder to reach places become even more accessible. A favorite is wading, and this can be the most fun and dangerous, however depending on the flow. Wading is easiest when the USGS gauge is around 2Feet.


I think I fish, in part, because it's an anti-social, bohemian business that, when gone about properly, puts you forever outside the mainstream culture without actually landing you in an institution.

John Gierach