When I moved back to home to Ohio from the West Coast I was aware of the amazing numbers and size of steelhead in the Great Lakes. Which was no small part in the decision to move home. BUT I had no idea the quality of warm water fishing was so good. Especially, for smallmouth bass. And fortunately for me, my boss and fishing partner Jerry Darkes is a warmwater fly fishing junkie with 20 years of experience. Not a bad guy to learn the ropes from when you're trying to catch a few bass!
Don't get me wrong, trout fishing will always be fun. But there is something about the hunt for bass that is akin to swinging flies for steelhead that I really dig. I will happily pound structure looking for small jaws long after giving up on searching for trout under an indicator. And smallmouth bass will take a swung fly to boot. It's hard not to like them for that very reason alone.
In fact, smallmouth season usually starts with incidental catches while swinging for steelhead at the tail end of Spring as the air and water temperature warms up. Below is a pic of the first really nice river bass of the season, caught on a swung fly while steelhead fishing way back at the end of April.
Anyway, at the beginning of June (it's amazing how time flies) my buddy Dave was bugging me to take him fishing. The original plan was to head over to the Spring Creek area of PA for an overnight trout fishing trip. A quick call over to Scott Fly Rod pro-staff member Karl Weixlmann had us changing plans in a hurry. The weather had finally broke and the smallmouth were in the shallows over at Presque Isle Bay near Erie. If you have never experienced the smallmouth bass fishing at Presque Isle, it should make the top of the bucket list. Not only are the size of the smallmouth outstanding, but the location provides a unique fishing experience. Most fisheries that give up really big smallmouth require fishing from a boat - larger body of water, larger forage base = larger fish. What's so cool about Preque Isle is that you can wade fish and cast to structure along the bank or fish the vertical structure (water depth) of the bay. And on the lake side you can wade out as far as possible then sight fish back towards the shore to smallies on their beds. Simply an amazing smallmouth fishery. And, of course, one best explored with the expert guidance of an experienced guide like Karl. The only bummer is that the season is short, only lasting about three weeks. Like steelhead, when the fish are in you have to drop everything and just go!
Below you can see Karl wading the flats of Preque Isle Bay. It's just like saltwater fishing, but for smallmouth bass and a lot cheaper too.
Dave with a nice largemouth bass. Besides smallmouth Presque Isle Bay has largemouth, rock bass, carp, freshwater drum and everything else you can think of that swims in Lake Erie.
Dave with a nice four pound smallmouth bass, Karl is casting in the background. A combination of both sight fishing and blind casting is necessary to catch fish. Any way you look at it, a stout leader, 2-3" lead-eye clouser minnow, and fairly good casting skills are required.
Rock bass are a pretty common incidental catch while blind fishing for the smallmouth. A change in the ratio of rock bass and largemouth caught to smallmouth signals the spawning run is coming to an end.
Wind is often a factor, if not a problem. Successful catching means watching the weather and having a friend (or guide) who lives less than 20 minutes from the Bay. 7 and 8wt rods are standard not only for fighting the fish, which can go to 6lbs, but also for fighting the wind. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see white caps. The day we went, it was blowing as hard as Karl had ever fished the bay. And despite that, we each caught at least a half dozen smallmouth in the 2-4 pound range. Worth a sore casting arm every time!
That's all for this post. Time to get outside and cut the grass before the next weather system rolls in. I'll post Part II soon. And hopefully, I should have a new adventure to add as well. Tomorrow Jerry and I are headed out to a sweet piece of smallmouth water we'll call "smallie creek" to get an afternoon of floating and fishing in before everything gets blown out again.
Until then, get out there and explore the excellent warm water fishing opportunities outside your back door.
SAO Spey Specialist, Steelhead Guide