It’s Open!

Dan Donarski is back, and this time, he’s sharing some great advice on how to make the most of bass fishing season, which opens this Saturday!

The last Saturday of May is upon us, and that brings bass fishing season! (Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair and Detroit rivers don’t open for a few weeks yet)

One of my military instructors implored our class to “Go for the bronze.” He felt that unless you were incredibly lucky that the gold was out of reach. If you achieved silver then you’d be green with envy about not getting the gold and be mad at yourself. For this fellow, if you got the bronze you got your medal, everyone behind you did not, and you should be quite happy. In military parlance, you’d be a stud.

When it comes to the bass world, going for the bronze may as well be going for the gold. Smallmouths or bronzebacks, no matter what you call them, are the studs of the Great Lakes bass scene. To be quite frank, smallies make largemouths look like pigs with fins.

For the fly rodder, particularly in the early part of the summer, smallies will give you the time of your life. Going for the bronze doesn’t get any better than right now.

It’s romance time in the world of the smallmouth bass. The fish are cruising the shallows, anywhere from two to eight feet of water, searching out the perfect matrimonial bed to do their duty and ensure that the species continues to flourish.

Fine gravel or gritty sand is what you should be looking for in these shallows. A nice break, where the water drops quickly to deeper water, makes the area even more enticing. Throw in a few good sized rocks or even boulders for added cover and you’ll be in the smallies’ version of the No-Tell Motel.

Here’s what you’re going to need to get in on this late May and June action:

  • A nice, fast action 7- or 8-weight rod is perfect. Attach a matching reel that has a smooth disc drag and you’re all set. In most cases with this early summer bite you’ll be just fine using a weight-forward floating line. When you do need to go deeper, you can always attach one of those short lead heads to help get your fly down. Or simply use a small split shot a couple of feet above the fly.
  • For a leader you can stay away from the pre-tied variety that go for four dollars or more. Instead grab a couple 100 yard spools of mono, one in the 10-pound class and the other in six.
  • Tie up your leader using six feet of the 10-pound attached to the fly line (or the lead head) and then tie in a 4-foot section of the six to use as your tippet. The easiest knot to tie these pieces of mono together with is the double surgeons, which is basically just two overhand knots. Of course, you can always get fancy by tying a blood knot or two uni knots but these take a bit longer to tie.
  • Fluorocarbon lines definitely have their place for leaders and especially tippets. If you find yourself in clear water these new semi-invisible lines will go a long way towards improving your hook-up rate. Smallies aren’t particularly line shy, but they are aware of their surroundings and what looks like trouble.
  • Flies are an easy matter. Like just about anything in the fly fishing world you need to match the hatch. For smallies you’ll need to have a selection of streamers that imitate the local baitfish and a few that come in hot colors (yellow seems to really excite these fish). Then you should put a few crayfish imitations in the fly box along with a variety of leech patterns. Always leave room for a number of Wooly Buggers. These impressionistic flies, rather than the imitating varieties, are smallmouth candy. Depending on the retrieve, they can give the impression of a baitfish, crayfish, or leech.

Fly rodding smallies in late May and early June is a load of fun but, like all things with flies or fake baits like spinners and plastics, sometimes they just don’t do the job. While I’d rather catch them on a fly or plastic, the mission is to catch fish, not to practice your casting.

So, when the fly, plastic and hardware bite isn’t biting, go to the real thing. Big juicy crawlers and/or squiggling minnows. These are as close to “no-fail” baits as you are going to get.

The set up is simple. For rivers, simply tie in a No. 4 hook on the terminal end and place a splitshot about 18 inches above the hook. Load that hook up a crawler or minnow and send it into the current, preferably a current break or a hole created by a mid stream obstruction. Now, keeping a tight line let the thing tumble with the current. When it gets directly below you reel it back in and cast again.

In lakes it is the very same set up. While you could simply cast this offering out and let it sit on the bottom and wait for the fish to come to you, there is a better way. Start casting and let the bait fall to the bottom. Now, very slowly start reeling the bait back to you keeping the bait next to the bottom. When, not if, you get that tell-tale tap, stop reeling, give the fish some line, and when the fish moves off with your bait, hammer the hook home. If you fish two rods, let one sit and fan cast the other. Unless you like buying new outfits, you’ll want to keep the bail open on the stationary rod.

Where to go? Let’s see, there’s Little Bay de Noc, the Menominee River, Lake Gogebic and the Les Cheneaux Islands, along with Drummond Island in the U.P. In the lower peninsula look at Wilderness State Park, Beaver Island, Grand Traverse Bay and the Lower AuSable River. The Kalamazoo River, along with the other drowned river mouth lakes along the Michigan coast will also be worthwhile.

Dan Donarski is an award-winning journalist/photographer and author. He specializes in the outdoors and adventure travel. When he’s not out and about he lays his head in Sault Ste. Marie.

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