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Smallmouth Bass on a Fly - A Fly Fishers Dream
Those of us that live in or near the Great State of Michigan can thank our lucky stars for the multitude of
outdoor sporting opportunities that exist here in our area. Not only can we hunt, camp, trap, hike or
whatever on a bounty of public lands but we can enjoy some of the best fly-fishing in the world on the
largest bodies of fresh water on the planet. The thousands of miles of great lakes shoreline, the
thousands of miles of streams and rivers, and the thousands of inland lakes in Michigan offer us fishing
choices far beyond the wildest dreams of most outdoors people elsewhere in the world. Besides the
plethora of places to fish, we are blessed by the fact that we have so many different species from which to
choose. One of my favorite species to target here in Michigan is the feisty, smallmouth bass.
Micropterus Dolomieu - Smallmouth Bass
Micropterus dolomieu, the smallmouth bass, is as deserving a trophy as any fish that treads water. These
hard fighting, high jumping dervishes are a pure joy to catch, but even more so when you fish for them on
a fly rod. They readily take streamers, nymphs and even an occasional dry fly. Catapulting out of the water
with your fly clamped tightly in its jaws, a smallmouth fighting for its freedom is something to experience
on a fly rod. They fight like there is no tomorrow, causing your graphite rod to hum, not with their antics
but with your strumming heartbeat as you try to bring them close enough to land.
Smallmouth Bass Fly Equipment
A five-weight fly rod is more than an adequate tool for the small mouth bass, especially if it is teamed with
a reel that has a smooth disc drag system. For windier days or for throwing larger streamers, you might
want to graduate to a seven or eight weight rod. However, under normal conditions that five weight will
do the trick. When you are fishing smaller streams or shallower lake waters with nymphs and dry flies, you
will probably want to fish a good weight forward floating line, with as small of a tippet as you can handle.
For tossing streamers in deeper lake waters, go with a full sinking line or at least a line with a fast sinking
tip. Then just attach your streamer to the line with a piece of straight flouro-carbon leader, about two feet
long, in the ten to fifteen pound test range.
Flies, Streamers & Nymphs for Smallmouth Bass
Small mouth feed on a wide variety of organisms. Their prey ranges from nymphs, crustaceans, and
mollusks to small baitfish, surface flies, frogs and other reptiles. Any fly that imitates any protoplasmic
creature that will fit into a smallmouths pie hole will work. Some of the best flies for these bass are
crayfish imitations, small streamers that imitate baitfish, wooley buggers, and hex nymphs, swimming
clouser nymphs and deer hair frogs. Mice, grasshoppers, ants and grubs also will fill out a good small
mouth fly box.
Method of Attack for Smallmouth Bass on a Fly
The method of attack that you choose for your bass angling outing is as varied as the numbers of places
that there are to fish for these predators. To some extent, small mouth inhabit most streams and rivers in
the State. They are present in all of the Great Lakes and are swimming in many of the inland lakes as well.
They prefer colder water and areas with structure and rocky bottoms. You will find them prolifically
inhabiting sandy or mucky bottomed areas as long as there is some cover. One of the best smallmouth
fisheries in North America is our own Lake St. Clair here in Southeast Michigan. This shallow, mostly sand
and muck bottomed lake is a breeding ground for smallmouth bass. It is common to catch three pounders
there, and it is not unheard of to have days where an angler can catch and release two or three four to
five pound fish. My son, Captain Steve Kunnath, who runs a fly-fishing charter service on Lake St. Clair,
says that even in wide muck bottomed flats, all that is needed to tie into some nice fish is to find a rock
pile or debris that is no more than one foot high and you will locate some small mouth. These fish also will
populate shallow weedy areas in the bays, both in inland lakes and on the large waters and even in rivers.
Until the summer heat warms the water too much, you will catch smallmouth in the reeds where they wait
in the shadows to pounce on passing smaller fish. While fishing these reedy areas with a bass popper or
frog in the early morning, cast your fly to the edge of the reeds. Twitch it a few times and then watch the
reeds part as the bass fly out to see what the commotion is. But don't be surprised if these same haunts
and tactics entice a vicious strike by a northern pike. They inhabit some of these same haunts and eat
what a bass eats. Now that is excitement.
My all around favorite areas to nail these bass has to be rocky-bottomed shorelines, whether they are
located in the Great Lakes, streams, or in small local waters. The fish are right at home where the rocks
meet the waves. A good spot to find them is on inland man made lakes where a stream has been dammed
with a berm of rip-rap rock. Follow the edge of the dam, either from the water in a boat, or along the berm
itself. Cast a crayfish imitator into the rocks and just strip it slowly along the bottom over the structure.
Before you know it, you will have a smallie running for deeper water with your fly in his mouth.
Smallmouth Bass All Over Michigan
Besides Lake St. Clair, there are many wonderful smallmouth fishing areas in our State. At the tip of the
thumb there is an access area called Eagle Bay. The Lake Huron shoreline in this area is a perfect
smallmouth heaven. The shallow waters, you can wade out for what seems like miles, are mostly rocky
bottomed with some of the boulders being the size of basketballs. There is also an old wreck from a
wooden schooner, with just the frame of the hull left under the water, located a few hundred yards
offshore in wade-able water. These provide perfect cover for the bass. They wait behind this structure
for passing meals, hopefully provided by your fly rod. The area also has some fantastic streams that empty
into Lake Huron that harbor some nice large fish.
Across Saginaw Bay lies the eastern shore of Lake Huron, the Sunrise Side. Into its waters empties the
Rifle, the Au Gres, and the Au Sable rivers. The lower reaches of all these streams carry a bountiful
number of smallies. The shoreline of Tawas Bay, as well as Squaw Bay near Alpena, host some impressive
bass catches every season.
West of Mackinaw City lays one of the best smallmouth shorelines in Michigan. Wilderness State Park
contains a classic rocky shoreline. It is an absolute smallmouth amusement park for fly fishers, with
numerous Master Angler entries over the years.
The Sylvania Wilderness Area in the western Upper Peninsula has some lakes that are considered by many
to be gems. My friend, Dr. Eli Barlia; makes an annual pilgrimage to hike into one of these lakes to fish for
‘red eyes’. Each year he comes home with his arms sore from fighting fish. Just do not ask him about it
unless you have lots of time.
Wherever you fish for smallmouth bass, one fact will remain constant, and that is that you will enjoy the
sport. These fish probably fight more, pound for pound, than any other fish in our waters. They are quickly
becoming the favorite sport fish of many of our States anglers, surpassing large mouths in popularity in
many areas. They are fairly easy to catch, when you know where and how to fish for them. They are strong
fighters and persistent predators. In addition, they are widespread in our lakes, streams and rivers, with
large numbers of fish near many of our largest metropolitan areas. It is no wonder that so many anglers
have taken to fly fishing for smallmouth bass.
Just remember-catch & release firstname.lastname@example.org
Captain Steve Kunnath's Lake St. Clair Fly Fishing Guide Service
On A Fly
By: Jerry Kunnath
Previously Published in Michigan Trout
A Michigan Lake & Stream
Fly Fishing Smallmouth
Captain Steve's 'Fire Tiger' Streamer
A really good smallmouth bass & pike fly
Fly fisher Andy Kotys with a Lake St. Clair
smallmouth bass - nice fish Andy