The vast majority of the fly fishing world revolves around trout. And while trout are no doubt fun to catch on flies, that presents a bit of a problem, because a lot of people think they have to find a cool river or lake (trout do best in water temperatures lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit) to enjoy fly fishing. And that’s just not true.
In fact, there are literally hundreds of other fish species that can be caught with a fly rod. And, in my opinion, none is more fun to catch than the smallmouth bass.
Anglers can find smallmouth bass from coast to coast… from the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, to the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and in thousands of other lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams in between.
One of my favorite places to fish for smallmouth bass is on the Great Lakes, particularly upper Lake Michigan, around Beaver Island and in Grand Traverse Bay. That’s where my friend Matt Dunn caught this beefy smallmouth.
How you fly fish for smallmouth bass is limited only by your own imagination and resourcefulness. The simplest, easiest way to start is by using a 5- to 7-weight fly rod, a simple weight-forward floating (or sink tip) fly line, a nine-foot clear leader, and a colorful streamer fly, like a Clouser Minnow. For some reason, smallmouth bass love the color chartreuse, so all my Clouser Minnows have at least a little accent of chartreuse. My bread and butter pattern is a simple chartreuse and white combination, about three inches long, with bright dumbbell eyes.
When you fish clear water (like many areas in the Great Lakes), you can often spot the bass cruising around rocks and other submerged structure. Simply cast the fly in the vicinity of the fish, and then strip it away, so it looks like a panicked minnow escaping. When you can’t sight fish, you’ll want to focus your casts on places like weed mats, rocks, and submerged ledges. You’ll also find smallies hanging around points where there’s decent current.
So give fly fishing a try. You don’t need trout to do it. A smallmouth bass—or any number of other fish—will no doubt make it worth your while.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.