Interview - Jeff Little, A Student of Smallmouth E-mail
Monday, 01 February 2010 14:43

Jeff with a winter smallie

I first became aware of Jeff when I was looking for more information on fishing for smallmouth bass from a kayak.  That search led me to Jeff had several articles on the site and it was obvious he was at the forefront of catching smallies in rivers from a kayak.  I spoke with him on the phone when I was putting together a slide presentation for seminars I was doing at the time and Jeff sent me a couple of pics - one with a monster smallmouth and the other with a very nice musky.  One thing is obvious; Jeff is a terrific fisherman and really knows his stuff.  Jeff is the owner of Blue Ridge Kayak Fishing LLC has taught clients how to catch smallmouth bass from rivers and reservoirs in the Mid Atlantic region since 2003.  In 2007 he released his first book: In Pursuit of Trophy Smallmouth Bass: My Life in a Kayak. He is currently working on a second book.  When I spoke with Jeff I it was just before I was leaving for Florida.  When I get my hands on a copy I’ll write a review.  Knowing Jeff’s expertise it will be terrific.

When did you first learn about kayak fishing?

I fished out of a kayak before I heard of "kayak fishing" or knew that anyone else was doing it.  People were of course, just not on the Mid-Atlantic Rivers.  It just makes sense. Didn't Eskimos come up with kayaks for transportation, fishing and hunting?  I was fishing alone in a 17 foot aluminum Grumman canoe before I bought my first kayak, an Old Town Loon 138.  At the time it was a huge jump in the direction of agility.  My favorite kayak now is a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 Ultralight.  I've been able to attain (paddle up through) some very large and complex ledge rapids on the Susquehanna River.  It turns on a dime, and weighs next to nothing, allowing me to drag it up onto rocks in the middle of the river.

What made you start?

The big canoe kept me from fishing on windy days.  I got pushed around, blown into overhanging branches, and couldn't concentrate on a presentation.  I had put a rod in the hands of a buddy who was in a kayak, along for a camping float trip on the upper Potomac. I think it was a Perception Piroette, not exactly a fishing friendly platform.  But he caught fish.  Smallmouth would nail the topwater popper and send him spinning around as he fought from that old school whitewater kayak.  I thought that something in between my wind susceptible canoe and his whitewater kayak would do the trick. It did.

Jeff, tell me how you came to teach kayak fishing.

The classes I teach are built upon the American Canoe Association course called Basic River Kayak.  The Potomac River humbled me quite a bit when I decided that a kayak was the right platform to catch smallmouth in some of the whitewater areas.  I lost a lot of gear and had more than one good scare before deciding to educate myself.  I enrolled in whitewater courses, swift water rescue classes, and eventually earned ACA instructor certification.

So, you teach whitewater paddling to kayak fishermen?

Sort of.  I teach based on what my students individual goals are.  I need to bring them to a certain level of paddling skill in order to be safe, but beyond that it’s up to my student what new skill set they walk away with.  I used to focus on the whitewater paddling much more, but found that most people are just interested in tactics to catch big smallmouth.

How long is your season?

For guiding and teaching, I start in April and run through October.  But as far as fishing, there is no season.Jeff with a big wintertime smallmouth

What do you mean?

I don’t stop doing it until the river or reservoir locks up with ice.  When it does, I can usually find a power plant discharge to fish.

What’s the coldest water you’ve caught smallmouth in?

33.4 degrees.  It hit a hair jig that I tied to look like a crawfish.  Winter fishing can be phenomenal, but you have to be smart about it.  I have good gear to keep me warm, know how to self assess on hypothermia, and I don’t fish far from my vehicle.  I keep a dry bag filled with extra clothes and the materials needed to quickly start a fire should I get wet.

Tell us about your favorite fisheries.

I’ve been stuck on the Susquehanna River recently.  I’ve fished the New River in southwest Virginia and West Virginia, the Potomac is my home water, the Shenandoah, the Rappahannock, as far north as the Allegheny in northwest Pennsylvania, and as far south as some of the small but productive eastern Tennessee flows.  The Susquehanna just has an amazing forage base.  The entire river bottom will be in motion with crawfish at times.  But I’m concerned about its future.

Why’s that?

The electro shocking studies that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have done to count the young of the year smallmouth have demonstrated that for the last 9 year or so, there have been very poor spawns.  Honestly I may be looking to teach people how to catch striper and tidal largemouth in the upper Chesapeake Bay in a few years if something doesn’t change.

What causes the poor spawns?

Many of the fisheries biologists will cite high water when they spawn or low water once the fry hatch as the primary culprit, but I think the flow is only part of the issue.  Just like on the Potomac, fishery biologists have now found intersex smallmouth.  I forget if it means that you have male fish making eggs in their sexual organs or vice versa.  Either way, it’s not good.  There are theories about hormonal compounds coming out of wastewater treatment plants, but so far they haven’t identified a smoking gun.  Also the river carries a heavy sediment load.  The sediment reduces how much of the river has the hard substrate that smallmouth like to put their eggs on.  It’s the same muck that feeds the dead zone that forms in the Chesapeake Bay each summer.

Wow, that’s kind of scary.

Yes it is.  What really of blows my mind is that rivers like the Potomac and Susquehanna serve as municipal water sources for a huge number of people in places like D.C.  People assume that if it comes out of the tap, it’s safe.    I know that they treat the water, but some of those hormonal compounds can not be filtered.  Watchdog organizations like The Potomac River Keeper will take polluters to court.  That helps a great deal, but the reality is that we have experienced massive fish kills in many Mid Atlantic watersheds like the Shenandoah and James Rivers and still have no firm grasp on why it’s happening.  It hasn’t been for lack of trying to figure it out though.  They have created task forces with fishery biologists, and other experts on water quality to solve the problem.  I think that the rub is where the science meets the political arena.

I hope they are able to figure it out.

Me too.

Besides rivers, where else do you catch smallmouth?

I turned to Maryland reservoirs for a change of pace and a challenge a few years back.  I did well the first year before they spawned, but then they became far more elusive than I would have guessed.

What helped speed up your learning curve?

I’d like to say time on the water and very detailed trip reports in my reservoir fishing log book, but that would shortchange a few generous anglers who helped me understand still water smallmouth.  Two of them, Jerry Sauter and Steven Flint will be featured experts in the book I am working on now.

Do they fish from a kayak as well?

No, they are more traditional. Jerry is an expert on the electric powered reservoir rigs.  I’m going to cover all kinds of smallmouth fishing craft in the new book: bass boats, catarafts, canoes, kayaks, whitewater rafts, jet boats, I even have a wading expert to talk about wading tactics.  Steven guides up on Lake Champlain in New York as well as some other small bodies of water, both lake and river.  Both of these guys mentored me through the different seasonal movements of smallmouth in a reservoir setting and the techniques to catch them.

Compare your first book with the one you are working on now.

My first book covered river smallmouth fishing from a kayak. The second one puts smallmouth bass dead center.  It will be more in depth as far as seasonal tactics for both river and still water smallmouth.  I also wanted to reach out to those who have little interest in kayaks, but experience the same kind of bronzeback related OCD that I have.

Great!  I’m looking forward to reading it.  Thanks Jeff.

Copies of Jeff’s first book can be purchased through his website  The site also features trip reports, how-to articles, and smallmouth fishing video.


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