They don’t wear white coats and goggles, but they are in their laboratory almost every summer day collecting data and testing theories leading to breakthroughs in the art (and science) of catching giant smallmouth bass.
They are Tim Landwehr — one of the speakers at the upcoming Hawkeye Fly Fishing Association’s annual show — and the guides at his Tight Lines Fly Fishing Company in De Pere, Wis.
Their research and analysis is the heart of their popular 2017 book, “Smallmouth: Modern Fly Fishing Methods, Tactics and Techniques,” now in its second printing, said Landwehr, who has personally guided more than 2,000 trips.
That same research and analysis, he said, will inform his presentations: “Becoming a Better Smallmouth Angler” at 7:15 p.m. Feb. 15 and “Smallmouth Master Class” at 10 a.m. Feb. 17. The three-day show, which includes many other presentations and demonstrations, is at the Ramada Hotel in Williamsburg.
While all anglers rely on their experience to improve their success, Landwehr said with “six to nine guides on the water every day, collecting precise data and comparing notes on what works and doesn’t work, we are able to push the learning process a little bit faster. It really is like a laboratory out there. It goes a lot farther than different kinds and colors of lures. We are able to pinpoint where in the rivers the fish are feeding.”
Over the years they have learned bass spend most of their time in just 20 percent of a river’s water, with a similar amount being almost always devoid of fish. Knowing the difference enables Landwehr and associates to maximize their clients’ fish-catching opportunities.
That knowledge, coupled with fast and efficient river coverage in western-style drift boats, keeps clients coming back year after year, many of them in pursuit of the holy grail, a 20-inch smallmouth bass.
From May through September last year, Landwehr and associates guided 600 trips, which typically yielded at least two dozen bass per outing, many of them in the 18- to 19-inch range. But of the conservatively estimated 14,400 bass they boated, just 62 measured 20 inches or longer. That is one out of every 232 bass.
“Twenty is a very magic number. It is a high bar to get over,” Landwehr said.
Of those 62 20-inchers, 45 were caught on top water flies — a tactic sure to be covered at the upcoming show.
Not only do top waters select for bigger bass but they can also be fished effectively much more often than most anglers think, Landwehr said.
While many anglers believe top waters should be limited to low light and slack water in the depths of summer, Landwehr said poppers and less aggressive plastic wiggly floaters are the go-to lures for him and his colleagues from May through August — “even on sunny afternoons.”
Though many if not most fly anglers target trout, Landwehr said he — and an increasing number of fly anglers — prefers the smallmouth.
“They are both wild and pretty fish living in scenic and secluded areas, but the smallmouth fights harder and is often easier to catch,” he said.
“It took me until about six years ago to openly state I’d rather catch smallmouth bass than trout,” Landwehr said.
For details, including registration information, visit www.hawkeyeflyfishing.com