Billy was from the little town of Celina, Tennessee. He guided and fished Dale Hollow Lake on a regular basis. Although Billy wasn't
a fly fisherman, he was known for using very light tackle. He advocated using small baits and finessing them Ole Brown Fish into
striking. I had the opportunity to fish with Billy a few times. Two of those several occasions were in National B.A.S.S.,
tournaments. He invited me to come up to Dale Hollow and fish for smallmouth with him on several occasions, not as a guide, but
as a friend. Although I always had good intentions to do that, I never got around to taking him up on it. I regret that very much and
feel like I couldn't write an article about smallmouth bass fishing without mentioning him.
Although this isn't about Billy, keep in mind that when the smallmouth bass see an artificial lure or fly in the water, they don't know
or care what type of tackle an angler is using. His "go light" spinning techniques works equally well for fly fishing. Dale
Hollow Lake and most all other smallmouth bass lakes have very clear water, certainly clearer than most largemouth bass lakes. Of
course, some clear lakes have both species and I can assure you, irrespective of the species, if they exist in clear water, the
longer and lighter the tippet and leader is, the higher your odds of catching them.
Everyone that has ever caught a smallmouth bass knows they are very hard fighting fish. That fact scares a lot of anglers,
regardless of the type of tackle they are using. The result is they often use far too heavy line, or in the case of fly fishing, tippet
and leader. Another problem adding to this problem with fly gear is the use of too short of a leader. To make it simple, I'll put it like
this. Unless you use a net, you can't possible catch a fish you don't first hook. Step one is to get them to take the fly. If they are in
clear water, and I don't care if it is two feet deep or twenty, if there's a heavy fly line within a few feet of the fly, your going to get
far more rejections than takes. By the way, I did fish with Billly Westmoreland one day when he landed a largemouth bass from a
clear lake in Virginia on eight pound test spinning tackle that weighted over ten pounds. To help make the point, I was fishing in the
boat with him using much heavier line on casting tackle and failed to catch one half that size. There's no reason to worry about
losing a fish if you not going to have the opportunity to try.
If your fishing streams with fast current, even if it's very clear, you have a decent opportunity to catch smallmouth using shorter,
heavier tippet and leaders. This is especially true if the fish are feeding in shallow water. It is much more difficult for them to see
the tippet and leader under those conditions. They don't usually get a good look at the fly. But if your fishing clear lakes or clear,
smooth flowing slow to moderately flows, you will increase your odds of a hookup considerably is you use longer, lighter leaders
I fish our local Little Pigeon River that runs through Pigeon Forge and Sevierville several times a year. The water is usually a
little off-color but at times, it becomes very clear. When that happens, I see a huge difference in my success. It took me a few
months to wake up and realize the same size and length leaders won't work for the varying water color conditions. Of course, the
amount of light that's available also plays a huge difference in that respect. The brighter and clearer the sky, the more difficult it is
to catch them. When it's cloudy or overcast, or it's very early or late in the day, you generally can expect better results. Now, not all
of this relates strictly to leader and tippet sizes and length, it also has a lot to do with where the smallmouth bass are holding. In
general, except during the spawn, the clearer the water and brighter the lighting conditions, the deeper you will find smallmouth.
It isn't exactly easy to throw a larger fly on a 12 or 15 foot, light leader. Many anglers simply refuse to even try to do it. It takes
some casting skill and it also takes a good fly rod that's well balanced to do it well, but it is often necessary to catch smallmouth in
clear lakes under bight, sunny conditions. The same thing applies to the deeper, slower flowing clear pools found in many
smallmouth streams. Fast action rods, or at least moderately fast action rods, make casting such leaders much easier. A rod
length any shorter than nine feet is a disadvantage. As mentioned above, long, light leaders and tippets are often required when
smallmouth are holding in deep water, but also sometimes necessary when they are holding in very clear still or slow moving
Many anglers think light leaders and tippets are a much bigger disadvantage in fighting and landing smallmouth bass than they
really are. This is almost always a product of their imagination, rather than their experience. Most anglers that think this way
haven't even as much as tried using long, light leaders and tippet. You can't force the bass to do everything you want them to do.
You do have to take your time fighting the fish. You do have to have a good drag that's set properly. You may lose one every once
in a while, but there's one thing that's certain. You will have a heck of a lot more opportunities to try to hook and land them.
Fly Fishing For Smallmouth Bass
Them Ole Brown Fish
Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Premiere Issue August 2013
think most anglers reading this are probably too young to remember the great fisherman, Billy Westmoreland. Billy was not
only one of the greatest smallmouth bass anglers, he could catch anything with fins. Although his book "Them Ole Brown
Fish" is no longer in print, and he is no longer with us, I remember him like we were fishing together just yesterday. Although I
never had the opportunity to see one of the programs, I understand he was also the host a TV show on smallmouth fishing.
Billy's "Them Ole Brown Fish" book
Not an unusual shot of Billy
at a B.A.S.S. Tournament.
Billy's best ever smallmouth - 10.1 ounce.
A tribute to my friend and one of the very best, if not the best smallmouth angler ever, Billy Westmoreland
James Marsh, on your left, and Billy Westmoreland, on your right, headed to
a B.A.S.S. tournament weigh-in approximately 1976.
Billy passed away in October of 2002 at
the age of 65. If there are any fish in
heaven, Billy will catch them. We wouldn't
even have any Bass Pro Shops if it were
not for Billy. In 1974, Johnny Morris,
founder of Bass Pro Shops, capsized and
sunk his boat in rough water. Johnny and
his partner were fighting hypothermia in
very cold water when Billy spotted them
and literally saved their lives.