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Fly Fishing for Smallmouth Bass in Northern Michigan

by Mark Knee
03/20/13 Schmidt Outfitters

As spring warms into summer, smallmouth bass become active and so does my addiction to chasing them. My soul fills with delight when rowing along a shoreline, casting a gurgler fly next to a drowned log and waiting for a smallmouth to emerge from the depths to attack it. It’s amazing to watch a smallmouth crush your fly on the surface and can be down right startling at times.
Smallmouth bass are one of Michigan’s native predators found in a wide variety of waters. They are opportunistic foragers and take advantage of a diversity of prey species. Smallmouth bass are found in Michigan’s warm and cool waters as well as in river and lake environments. Smallmouth lakes are generally over 100 acres, greater than 30 feet deep, have thermoclines and have good water quality with large areas of rock and gravel substrate. In river environments, smallmouth bass prefer cool, clear rivers with moderate current, rock and gravel substrate, as well as nearby cover. Smallmouth bass prefer water temperatures between 68.5–70.3°F and spawning occurs late April through July in Michigan.
We are blessed here in northwest Michigan with a wide variety of smallmouth bass fishing opportunities in both river and lake habitats. The Big Manistee River Watershed has all of the right workings for a world class smallmouth fishery and offers excellent smallmouth bass fishing throughout the spring and summer months. You can stalk them with top water flies along many miles of forested shoreline in the backwaters or explore the countless log jams with streamers while floating down a wild and scenic river.
A 6 to 8 weight fly rod with matching reel will cast weighted flies on windy days and handle the toughest smallmouth. Smallmouth bass will be at different depths in the water column throughout the year. Floating and sinking fly lines will be needed to present your flies at the appropriate depths. Smallmouth bass love eating flies and can be taken on a wide range of surface and subsurface flies. Flies such as the Clouser minnow, wooly buggers and top water poppers consistently catch fish. Fly selection for smallmouth bass will vary depending on location, time of year and temperature.
Smallmouth Bass are an outstanding game fish in every aspect. They have been known to assault flies as well as completely reject the finest of offerings. Once hooked, they fight as hard as anything that swims, pound for pound. Come enjoy a day or two with us this summer in pursuit of smallmouth bass.