The South-Central Upper Peninsula (where we're located) gets a special helping of craziness in early to mid may when our Bay de Noc tributaries get overrun with big, goliath class small mouth bass (aka. bronze backs, small jaws, green trout, etc.) We've been chasing these fish for the past week and it has been a blast! These fish are bruisers and they come ready to rumble. A fat 18-20" smallmouth bass will yank a 7wt rod out of your hand faster than you can say hold my beer...and there are many 20+" fish!
I don't get too crazy with fly patterns. Size 4-6 beadhead woolly buggers in white, brown, green or black thrown with a 6ft chunk of T-18 sink tip will produce nicely (unfortunately it's still a little early for top water, these fish are down and not looking up). If you wan't some variety in your box go with a flip-flop fly, or any of those big, gnarly trout streamers you have been throwing this spring.
It goes something like this...you spot a juicy hole...throw your lucky whatever...swing or strip it through...BAM! something like a snag then a couple head shakes...strip set...strip set some more...fish goes postal and really starts hammering you with headshakes and bulldoggin...you yell to your buds fish on and start really tussling with this beast!...then hook spit...through teary polarized lenses you head to the shore to recuperate.
I always have to get a bit recalibrated when I fish smallmouth. First, I have to quickly change how I set the hook. Trout sets are no good. You gotta strip set, and strip set some more. Even then these fish will somehow magically spit the hook.
Read on if you're curious about 10ft rods, I've been doing some experimenting and as a result have swapped 10ft for a lot of my 9ft rods.
My casting arm has been giving me grief, kind of like tennis elbow, most likely developed from nymphing with a two handed rod and hook setting too many snags -- don't laugh, the struggle is real! So to give my arm a bit of relief I've experimented with 10ft rods to find more flex and shock absorbtion. Example, for steelhead this year I went to a 10ft 4wt (from a 9ft 7wt) and it was magical. More than enough power, easy to nymph with, I lined it up with 3wt Rio Chucker and it was the bomb. 60-70ft roll casts with big indicator rigs felt easy.
Now I've been experimenting with 2wt and 3wt 10ft rods (vs my trusty 5wt 9ft) for trouting work. I fish a big river and having that extra length is awesome, it's just what the doctor ordered for nymphing, dry/dropper, and the little bit of swinging I do. I've also been putting these in my clients hands with 1-2 weight heavier line and it's really helping them achieve longer/easier casts vs 9ft rod.
Besides smaller streams and tighter quarters, here's when a 10ft rod clearly doesn't work as well as a 9ft -- streamers and sink tips. I've been trying the 4wt 10ft on smallmouth and love the long, smooth casting but it takes way too much work lifting a heavy sink tip and streamer out of the water on the back cast. Simple physics at work. Longers rods just give line tension more of a lever to pull against, which translates to more work your arm has to do.
Now with that said, I'm finding that 10ft rods when sized down 1-2 sizes from their 9ft counterparts are pretty magical for roll casting, mending, throwing 3-6wt lines, wading/floating situations where you need some extra lenght to keep line off the water, and let's not forget that these 10ft'rs are perfecto for single hand spey jujitsu.
Basically, in the right situations 10ft rods allow you a lot of cast for little effort -- but in heavier line situations, ouch, they quickly become detrimental.
One final word of caution if you are thinking about giving this a go...10ft rods are much stiffer than their 9ft counterparts, especially 4wt and over. So go down a weight or two. Example: I have found a 3wt 10ft feels like a 9ft 5wt just with a lot more length and a bit more flex.