You could read several books about catching smallmouth bass on the fly and still get it wrong. I have. You think you have your favorite stream or river pegged, and then you take a good fish from an unexpected place, or on an unexpected fly. It can be frustrating, but also the very point of the sport that keeps bringing us back; a very simple problem of catching fish that compounds over time.
I like to break down fly choice into small categories that make it easier to know when to fish what. I start with three basic fly types; top water, suspending, and jigging type flies. Then, I break down the season into two basic sections; early and late (spring and fall), and middle of the season (also known as summer).
Top water flies work best in the summertime. Poppers, sliders, foam beetles and cicadas, and damsel and dragonfly patterns all fall into this category. I like to fish sky blue, white, dark yellow, olive and black. Specific flies that come to mind are Shenandoah poppers and sliders (sky blue and dark yellow with orange respectively), Dahlberg divers in smaller sizes, Todd’s wiggle minnows (a killer pattern that dives and wiggles but can be fished top water) and many of the Walt’s poppers. The best hint I could give about fishing top water flies for smallies is don’t move the fly. Get a good dead drift like fishing a dry fly for trout. If that doesn’t work, or for deep slower water, pop and move the fly.
Suspending flies work best in early and late seasons; that is, early to mid spring, and mid to late fall. There are exceptions to this timing such as clear low water, and late summer evenings as the shadows creep, but generally when hardware guys are fishing jerk baits and soft jerk shad, this is the time to use deceivers, reverse minnows, CK baitfish, and other unweighted or lightly weighted flies. Try to match forage color, but of course chartreuse is always go-to. Fish these flies dead drifted on the swing or jerk and pause. You really have to fine-tune the retrieve in order to be successful here. A good rule to follow is the colder the water, the longer the pause between jerks. Be prepared to feel the weight after the pause and slam the hook with a strip strike.
Jigging type flies work all year round, and these include Clouser minnows, crawfish flies, rabbit strip flies, big nymphs and wooly buggers. Some specific patterns include: Clouser minnows in chartreuse and white, baby bass, and all white; Clawdads, Half and Halfs, prince nymphs; wooly buggers in black, olive and rust, and zonkers and other rabbit strip flies. Crawdad flies could encompass a whole book to themselves, but I have had the most success with Clawdads and rabbit strip armed patterns in olive, rust and natural brown. All of these flies can be fished slow twitched on the bottom when it is hot, or stripped in fast on active periods. Normally, I start crawfish flies with a long slow strip or a complete dead drift, and other weighted flies with slower erratic strips. Like I said jig type flies should be your go-to patterns that you fish every day to be supplemented by other patterns as needed.
If this primer of smallie info isn’t enough for you, check out Bob Clouser’s excellent book, Smallmouth Bass on the fly. I really can’t recommend this book enough.