Today’s feature is from Kory Boozer, SW Michigan and Smallmouth guide extraordinaire. CLICK HERE to see more info about Kory and how to book a trip to elevate your Smallmouth game.
When fly fisherman think of Smallmouth Bass in Michigan, they think of hot Summer days spent tossing poppers at the rivers edge and while this is a great time of year to pursue Smallmouth Bass, it is far from the only time of year fly fisherman can enjoy chasing these river assassins.
While many anglers are still chasing Steelhead or Brown Trout on Michigan’s Rivers, Smallies begin to put on one of the biggest feeding binges of the year, typically once the water temps reach the mid to upper 40’s is when you will begin noticing a sharp increase in activity. They have yet to vacate their Winter holding lies and are still congregated in large groups which means if you find them you can typically catch a bunch of them. Look for fish to hold in deeper water in slack water areas, such as natural wing dams, sharp drop offs in the river bottom, eddies, etc… Any area that provides baitfish, slack current and deeper water with access to spawning habitat nearby while retaining access to food is the ticket.
As far as gear goes, this isn’t time to fish floating lines and light weight rods, I recommend Scientific Anglers Sonar lines in the 250-350 grain range depending on the rod you are using. Some days you simply need to get down deep and I will throw a 9 wt and 350 grain line. As the water warms fishing deeper water becomes less and less of a necessity though and for the most part 7 and 8 wt rods are all you need. When you fish weightless flies as I do a heavier line is necessary to get them down, lucky for us a good sized Smallie will fold a 7, 8 or even a 9 wt to the cork. You do not want to fish large streamers, even if you are targeting big fish, streamers roughly 3″ – 4″ in length are ideal to properly match the forage at that time of year. Fish them slow with short and fast strips to provoke reaction bites, some times very slowly swinging through an area with minimal action is ideal, others they want more action, this can vary by the hour so something you want to continuously play with to maximize your effectiveness.
Fly choices are dictated by the most available forage where you are fishing. For example if Chubs, Suckers or Gobies are the dominate food source where you are fishing, you want to match the colors, size and flash these bait fish give off as closely as possible. If young Trout & Salmon or Shad are the most abundant food source in the area, then that is the type of forage you want to mimic. A flies effectiveness for Smallmouth Bass is measured by how much motion they provide without movement, how closely the color and flash matches the natural forage and how fast and cheap I can tie the fly in my opinion. I want a fly that swims without being stripped, matches the size, hue and flash of the naturals while being slightly transparent and one that I can tie reasonably fast. I also when possible want it to be cheap so I don’t mind losing them and will fish them like I stole `em so to speak. You can basically get away with 3 flies, a white/grey hue, an olive hue and a brown hue, which would do a good job of matching everything from Shad, Baby Bass, Sculpins, Gobies, Suckers, Shiners, etc… A pattern called the Bad Hair Day, developed by my Friend and Wisconsin fly fishing guide Dave Pinczkowski is a great starting point for flies emulating anything in the baitfish form. It utilizes craft fur which is cheap yet has amazing action in the water, various types of flash and wool or dubbing as a head. Simple, Cheap and Effective… Simply match the materials you are tying with to the forage you are imitating, and get started.
The pre-spawn bite will vary in duration, typically it takes place until water temps reach the mid to upper 50’s and the fish begin to spawn. Depending on weather and location, that can lead to a vastly different window of opportunity. If your into hard fighting fish and don’t like fishing around heavily pressured areas, early Spring Smallmouth Bass might be just the thing for you!
Kory Boozer – Boozer’s Guide Service – www.BoozersGuideService.com
A couple years ago I was on a streamer trip with friend Joe Donati. It was a day in late May and the weather was warm and overcast with water a bit up and stained, perfect for pulling bugs. Joe had landed a few nice trout and we came into a straightaway with grass tight to the bank. I was rowing and Joe noticed a trout shoot completely out of the water for some right along the bank. We dropped anchor mid-river and watched for a bit as more fish along the bank proceeded to come flying out of the water with reckless abandon. We soon realized they were going after damsels hovering near the grass. We sat there for a while just watching one after another taking shots at these bugs that were obviously driving the trout mad. Neither of us had anything remotely similar to a damsel so Joe just went with a hopper pattern and was able to get one to go. I took some video that really doesn’t do the moment justice but worth sharing.
After telling Bob this story that evening he laughed and said that he’d just taken the two or three damsels he had parked in his dry fly box out because he never thought he’d get a shot at fishing them.
If you’ve been living off the grid for the past couple years and haven’t seen this amazing video of trout crashing damsels then check this out.
Nothing makes a fish bigger than almost being caught. ~Author Unknown
Far more often than any of us would like fishing outings conclude with thoughts of “what the hell happened” or “what went wrong” instead of the glorious celebratory end to the day that we all yearn for. As I look back upon my past few years pulling streamers I have experienced a fair amount of success and have been fortunate to come face to face with a number of quality trout.
Thats all fine and dandy, and I feel honored to have been able to put a fish in the net – but thats not what drives me. I am unequivocally motivated by the fish that I had brief encounters with. Those ones that showed themselves in a lightening quick flash as soon as my streamer descended into their habitation OR the ones that charged the stripped bug all the way to the boat and inexplicably turned away without commitment OR (and the worst ones of all) those fish that ate or tried to eat and in a fit of excitement and stupidity I trout set the shit out of and they quickly came unpinned.
I spend way more time than I should trying to figure out how to elicit a reaction from a predatory fish with a brain the size of a dime. I lose sleep at night because of it. It’s a sickness in which there are only 2 cures – more whiskey than my bank account could afford or more time spent on the water. The biggest problem is, far more times than not I have a brief encounter with a fish that undoubtedly in my mind looks somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3 times larger than it really is if I were to actually catch it and get a tape on it. The fish that we don’t catch seem to always be potential record breakers that would land us piles of “thumbs up” on Facebook, never before seen levels of street cred, piles of endorsement, and an endless stream of friend requests from women not trying to sell us Oakley sunglasses (seriously, what’s up with that on Facebook right now?).
The persistent challenge that exists of cracking the code of trout drives me. If it were easy I don’t think I would do it as much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying that if I had the ability or opportunity to walk out my door and start railing 30″ giant browns one after another any day of the week, that I wouldn’t do it. Of course I would – I’d also probably be unemployed. What I’m getting at is that the ever changing challenge of catching these fish on streamers is what gets me going. If I could go out and rail 30″ giants, I wouldn’t feel the need to devote so much time and energy into figuring this stuff out.
The sad fact of this is….this is a game you can never really win. There will be days that you are ahead in the score column, but in the end the fish will always be victorious more times than not. So, the reality of this is I’m going to spend an enormous portion of my adult life trying to win at a game that is impossible to win. Sounds like a great plan to me.
Michigan differs from most other states that have a trout oriented fishery, unlike the landlocked states of the Rocky Mountain west we are fortunate to have a migratory fishery available to us. Another often overlooked opportunity to enjoy the bountiful resources in our state is targeting warm water fish.
This year I plan to spend a considerable amount of time pursuing bass, pike, and pan fish in many of the lakes that are in my immediate geographical area. Instead of settling into the same routine of summer which is smallmouth bass fishing every weekend, I’m excited about learning something completely new and different.
I’ve made the statement several times over, that “if you put me in a lake, you might as well blindfold me because I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.” I said that to my wife not so long ago – and she surprised me with a guide that focuses solely on the lakes in our region.
Doing a fair bit of research between this guide and the internet, has more than peaked my interest this year – it has me really excited. I’m completely engulfed right now with gathering as much knowledge as possible to learn about how to fish these resources. Another exciting component is that while my normal trout/bass streamers will most likely work just fine, I have enjoyed seeking out new patterns to tie.
While I’ll always be a trout streamer and steelhead nympher first – finding a new way to further immerse myself in the sport isn’t a bad thing.
Now that the holidays are behind us, its back to our regularly scheduled programming…….who am I kidding, there’s nothing “regular” about us.
Spent some time behind the vice the past few weeks, spinning proven steelhead targeting nymphs and trying to come up with a few “new” patterns. There’s really not much new in the world of fly tying, we borrow materials, proportion templates, color schemes, and pretty much just about anything else fly construction related from others. However, that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying new things, developing new ideas and adding new bugs to their box.
Here are the “new” bugs that I put together for this year’s edition of my steelhead nymph box.