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
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.
I’ve been really fortunate to be a witness and active participant in seeing and experiencing a number of really great fish this year. While I really enjoy chasing after all fish species, brown trout has a special allure for me. Seeing a big brown trout make it into the net is an awesome experience and sharing that moment with pals in the boat makes it all the better. Here’s a look at this years fish that I had the privilge to witness first hand.
For the second consecutive year I commished a fantasy football league filled with a bunch of fish heads. A motely crue cast of charachters all bound together by our strong affinity to chase fish. I quickly found out that there is 1 thing these yahoos take as serious as fishing, fantasy football!
I spent most of my season last year getting repeatedly curb stomped but had a good time doing it as the near daily trash talk added good commentary to give me quick breaks from my work day. This year, I decided I’d spice up some of the weeks by publically calling out particular opponents on weeks I faced them and challenge them to a “side bet” of sorts. Well, unfortunately for me those curb stompings from last year carried into this year and it didn’t go well for me.
Throughout this I discovered I may have a bit of a repressed gambling problem, as the typical wager was 3 articulated streamers and each week I lost I would just double down the next week to try and win some bugs back. Let’s just say I burned through a lot of materials this year.
However, thats not where my punishment ends. Oh no…that’d be way to easy. My poor decision making and inability to set a good roster of players continues to punch me square in the throat.
Twice this year I lost to Jeff from Fly Fish the Mitt and had to contribute to his already loaded streamer box. Being that I was going to be fishing with him on this past Sunday morning, I worked late into the night spinning up a version of Galloup’s Boogie Man.
Jeff, not one to shy away from rubbing a bit of salt in a pal’s wound decided he would immediately lace one of his winnings up and fish it right out of the gates on our streamer escapade. I quietly chuckled to myself as I sat in the rowers seat and watched him struggle with the bug getting fouled around itself, as it appeared that I unintentionally provided him with a “dud” that had too much space between the hooks and not enough beads to prevent the hooks from becoming entangled with one another during casting. “Serves him right” I thought – but of course outwardly I appeared apologetic. “Jeeze man, I’m really sorry. I thought I tied those perfectly.”
A simple adjustment, opening the loop of this cast up a bit, allowed him to accurately sling the bug without it getting tangled. No worries, the color combination is surely not one we’ve ever seen work in this particular river – he even commmented on it himself.
That’s when the throat punches started rolling in. On his first shift he brought a few fish to hand. Then on his second shift, Mike Tyson punched me square in the neck and this fish decided this terribly tied bug looked good enough to eat.
He continued to fish the fly for the entire day and of course landed not only by far the largest fish of the day, significantly more fish than I did as well. Wasn’t it enough that I just paid my dept and suffered the humilation of proclaiming my Fantasy Football superiority only to be embarrased?
Stay tuned for the report following me paying my bet to Dan, as I practically have to row him around the river the whole day without me even fishing. Fantasy Football sucks.
In my latest readings of the book by Jason Randall, titled Trout Sense, a work that is subtitled “A Fly fisher’s guide to What Trout SEE, HEAR, & SMELL” the author draws an extremely interesting comparison. He compares fly fishermen in a sense to door to door salesmen – putting the entire act of chasing trout on the fly into an entirely new perspective. He writes:
We are marketing our wares to a skeptical consumer, one that is often not quite convinced it wants what we are selling. To help us make the sale, we need the equivalent of market analysis. A good salesman considers two things: the target audience and how the product appeals to the target audience.
Simply put, what can we do as anglers to cause an “EAT” reaction, instead of “DON’T EAT” response? With streamer fishing we are knocking on a lot of doors throughout the day – there are a extreme multitude of factors that play into enticing an “EAT” response that we must consider.
Size, shape, and color of the streamer often times plays an extremely important role in triggering a desirable response. Does the pattern that we are presenting to our ‘customers’ match or resemble what they want to ‘buy’? Also, action of the streamer plays an enormous role – does the pattern move or act like potential prey? Does the fly act like a fleeing or injured food item, making it an easy target?
The product that we are selling is ENORMOUSLY important – as any salesman will tell you, if you don’t have a good product that is marketable, it makes selling it much more difficult. However, I’d argue that at the very least equally important to the product – probably even more important – is the number of doors we are knocking on. In many sales type roles, it becomes a numbers game, streamer fishing is not any different. Simply put, the more doors you knock on the better your chances to make a sale. Even if your product is not the perfect offering, if you present it to enough fish the odds tip in your favor.
Get your bugs in the water and pull them around…..the more times the better. Don’t waste time making several false casts, don’t get caught up with frequent bug changes, and don’t waste time doing other things that prevent your flies from being in the water.
Nearly 1 full year ago I picked up a book from Glen Blackwood, owner of Great Lakes Fly Fishing Company. He highly recommended this particular read as a counterpoint to many of the other recently published writings that highlighted fish, trout specifically, as highly intelligent and evolved beings capable of semi-cognitive reasoning. The book is called What Trout Want (Link to Amazon for more info).
While I’m no where near completion of the book, I already have plans to re-read most if not all of the sections presented as it is certainly a very different perspective than we as fly fishermen have grown accustomed to. The author of this work is Bob Wyatt – and simply put he states that trout, while indeed highly evolved creatures, are still trout and they have no idea of what is going on in the world outside of their watery ecosystems. He goes on to explain that trout are unlike humans in many ways – most significantly that their consumption of food is solely for survival, not pleasure. Therefore, unlike most theories – trout are not as discerning consumers as we’d often paint them to be.
To be fair there is a helluva lot more thought and development that goes into that philosophy, certainly more than I’m capable of writing out here. However, there is one thing that I read yesterday that really struck me and made me really start to re-think my thought process when fishing, in particular when pulling streamers for trout – “FAITH IS BETTER THAN HOPE”.
Fishing, whether it’s floating a dry fly past rising trout, indicator fishing for steelhead, casting 1,000,000 repetitive times for musky, or pulling streamers in moving water for trout, is a lot about confidence. If you are fishing with confidence, you are fishing to the best of your ability.
How many times have you caught yourself saying “I hope the fish are feeding today” or “I hope we hit a bite window” or “I hope we find some players” or “I hope that we see some action”? Hope is not faith. Fish are going to be feeding – thats what they do, they have to.
Just because they are not reacting in a desirable fashion to your offering, does not mean that they are not willing to eat at all that day. All it means is that you are not giving them the type or size of food they are interested in, in the fashion that they are keyed into.
Have faith that the fish are willing participants, change your perspective and your success rates will probably change as well. Know that fish are going to eat at some point during the day – it maybe only for a short window, or it maybe a causual all day grazing. Understand that it is up to you to figure out what they want and how to best present it. Keeping the faith that ‘something’ can happen at anytime will make for a more enjoyable day for you and everyone else in your boat, and will lead to more success.
For more thought provoking ideas, look up What Trout Want – please be sure to check with your local Fly Shops first.
This is my list and only my list. Not everyone will agree with everything that is on here, that’s cool – we all have our own favorite patterns. The important thing is that you are fishing a pattern that you have an extreme amount of confidence in. Having the confidence in every cast is important to anyone’s success. Here are the bugs that give me the most confidence:
- Galloup’s Heifer Groomer (Yellow). Big fish and streamer aficionado Kelly Galloup created this relatively simplistic pattern that imitates an enormous variety of food opportunities for fish. It’s easy to see, it’s easy to cast, and it moves and darts around and can simulate either a fleeing or injured baitfish or sculpin. Find them here.
- Danny Ward’s Double Deceiver (Cotton Candy). Truth be told, I was a bit dissapointed at how this bug swam when I first started to fish them. It didn’t give that long side to side swimming action that most other Double Deceivers I’d fished before. But then, magic started to happen! This pattern was responsible for more 20″+ fish, in the group of guys that I fish with, throughout 2014 than all others combined! The thing that I realized is this – this bug swims exactly…EXACTLY…how a bait fish would swim. Quick twitch, short bursts – its perfect. Just adds to the age old question of, “do your flies catch fisherman, or do they catch fish?” Connect with Dan on his Facebook page. there is not a nicer, easier guy to do business with.
- Strolis’ Headbanger Sculpin. Pure and simple – it looks realistic, it moves realistic, and it fishes deep just like a real sculpin would. In higher water this is a bug of choice. In deeper pools and runs, this is a bug of choice.
- Galloup’s Boogie Man (White). A big wool head that pushes a lot of water, and a large mallard flank on the rear hook creates a realistic swimming action to this pattern. Once again, this fly is general enough that it simulates a multitude of different food sources for trout. I carry 4 different color combos in my box.
- Cohen’s Slop Mop. Pat Cohen really pisses me off – he does things that are absolutely un-natural and seemingly impossible with deer hair, and makes it look so easy that it instills in me a false sense of confidence and hope. I will then sit down and try to re-create exactly what he does step by step and it comes out looking similar to a 3 year old’s coloring book – messy and all over the place. Pat has an unbelievable amount of creative talent and he spins up wild streamer patterns that look like works of art and fish even better. See the link here for more color combos.
I think there are two types of people in this world, those who enjoy rowing and those who put up with the task until they can get off the sticks. I’ll admit it, I like to row. It may sound strange to those unaccustomed to fly fishing but casting from a boat floating down a river requires constant focus and attention. Reading upcoming water, thinking about presentation, considering changing out the bug, trying to keep line from catching on that damn boat bag zipper again, critiquing the last cast, and about 100 other thoughts are incessantly zipping around in my head. In the rowers seat I’m able to appreciate the river, unwind, and maybe have an occasional cigar. My reaction to seeing a bald eagle is totally different in the seat compared to when I’m fishing which is just a quick glance and the obligatory “we’re in luck now fellas”.
I enjoy the challenge of putting friends at that perfect distance where the boat isn’t likely to spook fish yet not making them struggle with long casts they can’t consistently deliver. Alternately, I hate the feeling when I blow it and have the boat on the wrong line or completely forget about the glass eating boulder at the head of a run. The process of successfully hooking and landing a solid fish is heavily dependent on the rower. The mayhem of the fight is way more intense when the rower is not doing his part in the job. I have the opportunity to fish with some guys that are very good at the task of rowing. What strikes me the most about how they go about it is that I don’t think about boat position while they are on the sticks.
Take some time to improve your game in the rower seat. Put some effort into giving your casters their best opportunity to hook up. Your friends will appreciate the effort and maybe put a few in the boat worth remembering years down the road.
It is incredibly difficult to improve upon a pattern that is already at the pinnacle of streamers as far as production is concerned. However, there are times that subtle changes in either coloration, movement, size, or flash will increase opportunities on those really tough days. Here is a different version of Galloup’s Zoo Cougar that I have fished successfully for trout and smallmouth.
- Thread: GSP Olive
- Hook: Size 2 B10s
- Tail: Hot Orange Marabou + 3 strands of copper flash on each side
- 1 Green Speckled and 1 Orange Speckled Rubber leg on each side
- Body: Florescent Chartreuse Diamond Braid
- Underwing: White Calf Tail
- Overwing: Gold Mallard Flank
- 2 sets of Green Speckled and Orange Speckled Rubber leg on each side
- Head: Spun and trimmed Olive Deer Hair
A great streamer pattern that sheds water well and is easy to cast – but maintains a larger profile and moves extremely well when fished with a sinking line. This pattern moved several large trout and even a few early season steelhead last year.
- Rear Hook: B10S (size 2 or 4)
- Tails: Schlappen
- Body: Cactus Chenille
- Underbelly: Senyo’s Lazer Dub (minnow belly)
- Overwing: Farrar’s Flash Blend
- Connection: Beadlon & Beads
- Front Hook: B10S (Size 2 or 1/0)
- Reverse tied Bucktail (on top and bottom of hook)
- Body: Cactus Chenille
- Overwing/Underwing: Reverse tied bucktail
- Underbelly: Senyo’s Lazer Dub (minnow belly)
- 2nd Overwing: Ferrar’s Flash Blend
- Deer hear trimmed slightly larger and wider than normal