Fly Fishing for Lake St. Clair Bass

Sneak attack on Lake St. Clair bass! – Photo by Aaron Rubel

When the sun sets slow and fire flies rise in margins between fields, forest and still water, the spirit of kayak anglers awaken on marsh laden edges of Lake St. Clair in search of smallmouth and largemouth bass.

Lake St. Clair sits between Lake Huron to the north (upstream) and Lake Erie to the south (downstream) in Southeastern Michigan.  It is one of the premier smallmouth bass fisheries in the United States, where notably the healthy largemouth bass population is often overlooked.  Fortunately, access for kayak anglers in this large and popular recreational boating lake is ample via canals, river channels, by slipping the yak in along convenient road side pull offs, as well as little used and out of the way island launches.  The lake is divided between US and Canada shoreline options.  Adventurous paddlers, through studying maps and strategic launch points, can navigate narrow openings through high grass to out of the way freshwater flats fishing.

Image Credit: Google Maps

There are a lot of great sub-surface flies to lure Lake St. Clair bass into a tussle, but I’m a sucker for top water triggers like hoppers, poppers, and large foam ant patterns.  The surprise of a line gone tight on a meaty streamer in turquoise depth is thrilling, but there’s nothing like a heavy smallie or largemouth rolling on a fly you’ve presented upon glassy water on a warm and beautiful evening.

Author of IcastInaYak, Aaron Rubel, tying on a grasshopper fly.

On a normal day of fishing Lake St. Clair, when one bass is found, numerous others are there for the taking.  On one recent excursion, the night drew late and I left both smallmouth and largemouth feeding upon decision to make my way back through the marsh to the takeout.  It’s ironically a good feeling to have caught several nice fish and have to turn your back on others in hopes for that next trip out.

Releasing a largmouth on Lake St. Clair – Photo by Aaron Rubel

The prized bass on Lake St. Clair are the bronzebacks.  The average sized smallmouth on Lake St. Clair is three pounds, which is hard to believe unless you’ve actually experienced it.  On some days, the numbers of heavy fish will spoil the angler not residing close enough to call the lake their home water.

Lake St. Clair smallmouth at dusk – Photo by Aaron Rubel

If you are looking forward to a trip to Lake St. Clair, you should be prepared with fly patterns simulating forage of gobies, large crayfish (or crawfish if you’re from the deep south), and baitfish patterns with coloration of perch and bluegill.  The average depth of the lake is only eleven feet, and so be aware of approaching storms that could quickly change surface conditions.  Wear your PFD, and post a flag that makes the kayak visible in case very large and high speed boats that often traverse the lake approach.  Quaint communities dot the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, where festivals and old fashioned eateries abound.  Fish grow fast and thick in this fishery, so be prepared for an adventure that you will be wishing never had to end.

A fatty on the fly – Photo by Aaron Rubel

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In Fall Edition of Kayak Angler Magazine – Trophy Hunters

A few weeks ago, I received a surprise message.  The inquiry was from none other than Ric Burnley, Editor of Kayak Angler Magazine and author of the book “The Complete Kayak Fisherman”, asking if I’d answer some questions for an upcoming article on trophy hunting for fish species.  First, I’d like to say thank you to whomever nominated me for the feature.  Second and reason for surprise is, although I’ve caught some nice fish species on the fly, there are many of you out there who I find myself envious of who land some ridiculously mean and large fish on a regular basis!  So to have my name thrown in for consideration of this feature…well, I’m honored.

Kayak Angler Magazine selected five anglers for the feature, including Brian Cadoret and Tom Fucini from the New England region, Kerry Flowers from the country of New Zealand, Josh Dolin from Virginia, and yours truly.  We share our view on what defines a trophy catch, toughest accomplishment, our favorite fish story, some advice, how we celebrate, and what we seek to catch in the future.  There’s some other great content in this edition too including Ben Duchesney’s account of a challenging trip on water in the Adirondack Mountains, so pick yourself up a copy and get your read on!

You can find the 2016 fall edition of Kayak Angler Magazine on newsstands and in kayak shops around North America, or buy a subscription online!

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Kayak Cockpit Rod Storage in Jackson Kilroy

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When floating rivers in a drift boat upon first learning to fly fish, one of the very useful aspects  I liked in that type of watercraft was a rod storage system with secured tip protection.  One of the most important features to a fly angler fishing in a kayak is a clean layout where everything has its place, not imposing on fly line management.

Normally, I carry two or three fly rods rigged up with different scenarios for reducing time spent changing out flies.  Carrying multiple rods maximizes the number of casts to fish while on water.  Getting a little older, my shoulders remind me they don’t like reaching 180 degrees behind seat to release a rod from atop a milk crate.  When shopping for a new kayak a year ago, the Jackson Kilroy’s very efficient rod stowage system intrigued me.  This system, designed much like what I’m used to in a drift boat, allows the angler to store up to four rods along the inside left and right cockpit hull walls, where the rod tips are also stowed securely.

Rod stowage secured along side seat (image taken from rear of kayak)

Rod stowage secured along side seat (image taken from rear of kayak)

Rod tip stows securely inside hull of kayak

Rod tip stows securely inside front hull of kayak

Upon viewing the system for the first time, I was suspect as to whether extracting the rods could feasibly be accomplished while fishing.  Yet I found that when the seat is in the highest position, which I prefer, the rear bungy location can easily be reached without twisting torso, and stress on my shoulder is no more due to the low position of fly rod in storage.  Sliding the rod tip out of the protective sleeve is also a smooth operation.

But I normally like to have one extra rod where I can change out in a matter of seconds very quietly, and as of late hadn’t yet found a solution for this additional need, even in the Kilroy.  As an engineer, I prefer simple solutions to problems.  Taking a little closer look to the options on the current design of the Kilroy this past week while fishing, I realized by simply utilizing the forward bungy strap location of the existing stowage system, the fly rod could be secured backwards!  Securing the rod in this position enabled me quick access to the rod, set a low profile angle for stealth compared to using a rod holder positioned on a milk crate or on top of the kayak, and reduced risk of tip getting caught up in forage behind the kayak due to minimal tip length projecting beyond stern.  Problem solved!

Using the front bungy location of cockpit stowage system to position the rod backwards for quick access.

Using the front bungy location of cockpit stowage system to position the rod backwards for quick access.

The next question that came to mind is whether to use the top or bottom position when carrying another rod on same wall.  Testing with another rod in stowage, I found the rod positioned rearward tucks nicely in behind one positioned in the design intended forward direction when bungied in on top.  When trying the bottom bungy position of the rearward facing rod, the reel protruded into the cockpit, reducing foot room.  Therefore, I recommend utilizing the top position for most efficiently storing the quick access rod in rearward orientation.  Removing the reel from behind the additional rod when needed was a snap.

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I’m really excited to stumble upon such a practical way to utilize an existing feature on the Jackson Kilroy for an additional purpose.  This alternative way to stow a quick use rod will free up space elsewhere for other functions, and make the fishing experience a simpler one that my shoulders will thank me for later!  Are there multi-use features on your kayak?  I’ll bet there are utilities there just waiting for your discovery.

Rear of kayak shown:  Fly rod positioned rearward, using front bungy position within hull just forward of seat.

Rear of kayak shown: Fly rod positioned rearward, using front bungy position within hull just forward of seat.


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Copyright 2016 by All rights reserved

Kayak Anglers Supporting the Flint, Michigan Water Crisis

The Flint River. Photo by Aaron Rubel

The Flint River. Photo by Aaron Rubel

The Flint River has for many years supported a productive smallmouth bass fishery.  It breaks my heart to learn that corroded pipes have reportedly poisoned Flint, Michigan drinking water pulled from the very river my good friend Ed Roden and I floated this past fishing season.  There will be those that root cause the issue’s concerns, but for this forum I encourage kayak and fly anglers to consider donating to the needs of the community as they grieve real impacts to life and home.  You can find information on how to contribute at the bottom of this article.

Over the years, I had probably made a quick glance below I-75 to the Flint River a hundred times or more on my way up to more fabled waters a bit further north.  However, my mis-informed perception of this fishery shouldn’t have been made so hastily even considering the close proximity to the nearly 4 million people residing in the Flint and Metropolitan Detroit area just to the south of the river.

Ed Roden fly fishing the Flint River. Photo by Aaron Rubel

Ed Roden fly fishing the Flint River. Photo by Aaron Rubel

The Flint is a wide, smooth flowing river with a bottom substrate that ranges from sand to cobble to breathing pockets of underwater grass beds.  The depth in the stretch we fished varied from knee-deep to holes that were clearly over the head of the wading angler.  We floated a five-hour stretch of river that began at a small township park to a take-out at an established access lot.  Ed cruised the river in the Hobie Pro Angler 12 and I paddled a Jackson Kilroy.  Skittering a small foam cone-shaped topwater fly, it didn’t take Ed long after launching before he hooked up with a nice smallmouth.

Ed Roden of the Hobie Fishing Team with a Flint River smallmouth bass. Ed is wearing Maui Jim Banyans in bronze toned lens.

Ed Roden of the Hobie Fishing Team with a Flint River smallmouth bass.

On a float just north of a large metropolitan area, you’ll of course encounter an occasional business or two along the banks, but I was surprised at how the river cut through mostly secluded forest that made for a pleasant fishing trip.  Smallmouth bass are generally considered a species that have a low tolerance to pollutants in the water.  The clarity of the stretch we floated varied from gin clear to slightly stained which seemed typical of good smallmouth water I’ve fished elsewhere.

Aaron Rubel with a smallmouth caught on a yellow popper fly. I was wearing Maui Jim Sunglasses in Wassup frames with rose toned lens.

Aaron Rubel with a smallmouth caught on a yellow popper fly.  Photo by Ed Roden

We had a successful day, landing eight smallies between us in the 12-15″ range with Ed landing six of those caught.  The Flint River smallmouth fed from the middle of the afternoon all the way through dusk.  It was a great trip and I look forward to another float on this river someday in the near future.

Flint River Smallmouth on the fly.

Flint River Smallmouth on the fly.  Photo by Aaron Rubel

I love the textured like pattern on the smallmouth bass species. The Flint River smallies also had a beautiful hue of light blue on their lower jaw.  And so, amidst the sad news surrounding the Flint River community, I hope the history of a quality smallmouth bass fishery can serve as an example of why this watershed remains a valuable treasure to conserve and visit in Southeast Michigan.

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A beautiful Flint River bronzeback. Photo by Aaron Rubel

If you’d like to consider helping the residents who are suffering a devastating health concern from lead poisoned water, reportedly stemming from corroding pipes, donations can be made to United Way of Genesee County, Michigan at the following link: .  When on website, click the “GIVE” button, and then there’s an option to support the Flint Water Fund.   You may also call 810-232-8121 for details.  I have donated in the amount I normally reserve for  spending on myself from my current paycheck.  I challenge you to also give to the desperate needs of Flint, Michigan residents.


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Copyright 2016 by All rights reserved

Ever Wonder How Kayaks are Made?

Plant 300I recently had the unique opportunity to go inside the Jackson Kayak manufacturing plant to learn how these paddlecraft are made and write about it in YakAngling Magazine.  It was interesting for me as I hold a black belt certification in Lean Six Sigma (fancy term for someone who sat in a classroom for way too long learning how to rid waste and reduce variation in a business process and now applies it 9 to 5).

The Jackson Kayak facility really did impress me, but the great people who work to build us anglers these great fishing platforms will remain as the lasting memory of the tour.  Get the inside scoop on page 17 of the 2015 October/November Edition of YakAngling Magazine at link below!


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Kayak Fishing Upper Peninsula Michigan Wilderness Brook Trout Lake

Naomikong Lake Fishing 11 300Since beginning my fly fishing journey eighteen years ago, I’ve read stories of little known wilderness brook trout lakes nestled away for the adventurous angler to explore.  During my most recent trip to the U.P. of Michigan, I did some research in attempt to seek one out.

I found a potential candidate through studying maps and confirming with some local knowledge from native Yoopers.  My father, two sons, and brother-in-law set out on a hike where the creek crossed a backwoods U.S. Forestry road.  We were hoping for a trail, but quickly realized we’d be blazing our own atop a high bank on the west side of a creek.  The creek itself seemed to offer high potential of successful fishing, but our desire to find the lake kept us pushing upstream in hopes of discovery.

Boys Hiking Trail 300We trudged left and right across each fallen tree and low covering conifer.  Maps showed the lake to be due south of where the creek crossed the road.  In contrast, as we hiked our compass revealed the creek actually flowed from the southwest.  We knew we were likely close, but decided to call it a day and hike north from our location to understand where we were in relation to the starting point.  We came out just a short ways from a two-track heading directly south into the forest.

On day two, instead of parking the Jeep at the creek, we headed straight for the two-track in hopes it would lead us closer to the lake.  The two tracker ended 1/2 mile from the forestry road, where a foot trail picked up and continued south.  We lathered on bug spray, tucked our pants inside socks to prevent ticks from finding a cozy home on lower extremities, and set on our way with anticipation.

Naomikong Lake Trail Hike 4 300The foot trail crossed two small feeder creeks and opened into a clearing another 1/2 mile from where we parked the vehicle.  We had made it to our first wilderness brook trout lake!  Dad and I decided to wake early the next morning around 4AM with a deer dollie cart prepared to accommodate the hike in with the Jackson Kilroy kayak aboard.

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Dad is creative. He has brought out many a deer on his dollie cart, and so decided to adapt it for transporting the kayak through the foot trail.

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I used to watch “The Red Green Show” on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network.   Ole Red would be proud of our duct taping job of securing wood cross beams to the dollie cart for supporting the kayak!  According to Red, duct tape is “the handyman’s secret weapon!”

The extra height the dollie provided for clearance in gullies of the two creek beds worked great and we soon were at water’s edge.  Hiking a kayak in changes the mindset of how much gear to carry and how to transport it.  So, we were selective in only bringing what would fit in a backpack with an additional few lightweight items tucked inside the kayak.

Dad Hike Kayak 300  The water was glassy on a beautiful sunny morning.  Unfortunately, the lake was silent of any fish feeding, and I wasn’t able to entice a brook trout to take a subsurface offering either.  With all that work and no fish to hand, one would think it all a waste of time and effort.  Then again, exploration is an ongoing process and how can one say the view of tranquility a waste of anything?

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Backdrop of a wilderness brook trout lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, as seen from my kayak.

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Photos by Aaron Rubel and Paul Rubel

Copyright 2015 by  All rights reserved

A Weekend Fishing Lake Mitchell, Alabama

Landon Eating Burgers Cooked on GroundWhen a son comes of age, his spirit seeks adventure beyond the four walls of home.  As a father, I couldn’t be more honored to be his guide in exploration of new territory shoulder to shoulder.  From the moment I asked him if he’d be interested in coming with me to Lake Mitchell, Alabama for some camping and fishing, he radiated an excitement that will always be vivid in heart and mind.  We fathers can learn from our sons.  They remind us of a desire to be a man from a young age, and when we encourage them to explore in healthy bounds beyond where they’ve been before, amazing growth can occur in their own lives and in our relationship with them.

Landon and Dad Fishing    Landon and I made our way to a Lake Mitchell Alabama Forever Wild primitive campsite where we enjoyed the shelter of towering box elder trees in the warm afternoon and eating dinner cooked over a blazing fire on the ground with friends later in the cooling evening air.  We paddled out onto fog covered water early Saturday morning and fished until sunset the evening before.

Landon Portrait CanoeWe encouraged one another after each of us saw the big one break away from the grip of hook and line, and later laughed at our follies that make long lasting memories.  We landed a few fish too, and thanked the good Lord for allowing us to enjoy his creation in hand.

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Landon with his first ever Alabama spotted bass

As we slipped up a small tributary leading to the lake, we discovered a boulder strewn shoal that Landon enjoyed wading through while casting into seams and eddies swirling with possibility.

Landon Shoals

Landon wading the shoals

While Landon caught spotted bass on a white plastic swimming shad lure, I caught a couple spots on a white and chartreuse clouser minnow fly accented with red eyes.

Aaron Rubel with Spotted Bass

Photograph by: Landon Rubel           Angler: Aaron Rubel

Not foremost in our minds as we sought to just enjoy the out of doors together, the Coosa Canoe & Kayak Fishing Tournament Trail event on Lake Mitchell was scheduled this same weekend.  The tournament trail is a catch, photo, and release format whereby participation of anglers from around the region has contributed over $10,000 to the Coosa Riverkeeper, a non-profit watershed conservation organization that seeks to improve the quality of the Coosa River system.  I’ve enjoyed participating in the cause and meeting other anglers from across Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee that travel to fish these outstanding lakes and streams of the Coosa River watershed.

Landon and Dad Lake Mitchell Open

Photo Courtesy of the Coosa Riverkeeper

Landon won a book entitled “Fishes of Alabama” donated by the Alabama Nature Conservancy and I was fortunate to win the fly fishing category of the tournament sponsored by Deep South Outfitters of Birmingham, Alabama.

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Photograph by: Landon Rubel, Releasing a spotted bass

Landon Kissing Spotted Bass

The joy of a son…and a father’s pride


Copyright 2015 by and Coosa Riverkeeper.  All rights reserved

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Installing a Kayak Anchor Trolley System

Trolley Assy 300Over the years I’ve learned that an easy to use and quiet anchor system is key to successfully closing the deal on an approach to feeding fish or settling into position for searching a potential spot.  It’s difficult to beat an anchor trolley system as it provides options for a stake out pole or anchor on a line.  The system made by Hobie provides all working parts including the screws and washers.  The installation takes about an hour and a half.

Supplies 300The directions are easy to follow, right down to drill bit size for holes.  Drill as few holes as possible through the hull of your kayak, but when doing so adds value like this assembly does make sure and squeeze silicone into the holes of the pulley bracket and onto the screw shaft for good measure.

Silicone 300There’s different philosophies of how far forward to assemble the front pulley bracket, but I put mine about 24″ from the tip of bow although the instructions advise twelve inches.  However, I do follow directions on assembling the rear pulley twelve inches from stern.  With assembling the front pulley farther aft, I can be assured the anchor rope will be underneath surface of water before plane of the nose so I don’t clip the line with my fly or line when retrieving from a cast.

The other day I fished with Jackson Kayak Pro-Staffer Justin Seiffert.  He recommends installing the front pulley at the mid-kayak/cockpit region.  The reasoning behind this, according to Justin, is to minimize the risk of a fish getting caught in the line when fighting anywhere out in front of the angler’s seating position.  Another idea that Johnson Outdoors Pro-Staffer Blake Walters utilizes is an anchor and rope that is coiled onto a floating buoy.  Blake disengages the buoy assembly from the trolley ring when he catches a fish.  This is a great idea for the angler who wants to drift away from the risk of being wrapped up in an anchor line while fighting a fish, and then able to re-unite with the anchor by visibly locating the small buoy.

Screw in Trolley Pulley 300Once the pulleys are in place, thread the line back through the pulleys to required length for your kayak.  It will be important to tighten the rope prior to securing onto pulley system, as it will stretch a little over time.

Trolley Up Close 300The anchor rope will feed through the trolley ring and you can store the excess rope underneath, beside seat, or in a netted pocket if available.  I prefer to use an 8 lb polymer coated dumbbell as an anchor.  A metal claw anchor works well, but they make a lot of noise inside the kayak and as they hit the floor of the water column, they become great conservation tools (scaring fish away)!  It should be noted that I don’t recommend using an anchor if fishing big open water or flowing rivers for safety reasons.  In the case of expansive open water, large swells can lift and then flip the kayak if an anchor is deployed, making for a bad day.

Anchor 300A cleat is a nice addition to secure the rope for easy operation of maintaining anchor depth or quick release when retracting line.

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If there’s one accessory that will increase enjoyment of kayak fishing, it’s adding an anchor trolley.  The Hobie anchor trolley system is easy to install and a feature of your kayak that will be used often.  Check it out at your local kayak dealership!

 Copyright 2015 by All rights reserved

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Sneak Peak of Kayak Fishing Chattanooga, Tennessee

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Nothing like spending a morning on a trout stream / Photo by Aaron Rubel

Lately, I’ve not been able to be on the water as much as I like, but recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Tennessee.  Along with picking up my new Jackson Kilroy, I kayak fished with Jesse Cochran and Andy Newman of Rock/Creek Paddlesports Shop in Chattanooga on a beautiful lake and trout stream.  I’ll save the details of the story for my September column in YakAngling Magazine, but here’s a sneak peak of fishing the Chattanooga area.

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Andy Newman twitching a fly, anticipating a heavy strike from bass / Photo by Aaron Rubel

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TFO Pro Staffer Jesse Cochran, releasing a largemouth bass on quiet Tennessee water / Photo by Aaron Rubel

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Oddly enough, this is actually the first crappie I’ve ever caught and likewise in my new Jackson Kilroy. More on this great performing kayak to come in my September column of YakAngling Magazine.  Wearing Maui Jim “Wassup” with rose tinted polarized lens  / Photo by Jesse Cochran

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A view of Chattanooga, TN / Photo by Aaron Rubel

 Copyright 2015 by All rights reserved

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YakAngling Magazine Available Online!

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When Andrew Cameron and Miguel Pandich launched YakAngling Magazine this past summer, they weren’t expecting the rapid growth in popularity received since.  After the first two issues released in the last half of 2014, YakAngling Magazine was awarded runner-up in category of Magazine of the Year in the annual Kayak Angler’s Choice Awards.  Votes were submitted  by kayak angling enthusiasts from 23 countries around the world.

In 2015 YakAngling Magazine is going monthly.  The magazine has assembled a knowledgeable, enthusiastic team of writers and photographers, bringing the sport of kayak fishing to life at the turn of a page.  If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, take the time.  Just to name a few topics in the January 2015 edition, there’s advice on getting the best out of your camera setup, a striped bass fishing adventure, skinny water angling, understanding black crappie, a deep south recipe, and if you’re participating in the upcoming Kayak Bass Series you’ll want to check out the down low on the iAngler Tournament App that will be used to enter your catch.  Speaking of tournaments, my good friend Stacey Martin writes about preparing for these events before arriving at your destination to get the most out of your time available.

So now, go check out this very practical publication that has…well…hit the water paddling!

Click here to read YakAngling Magazine!

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YakAngling logo and magazine cover image courtesy of YakAngling Magazine

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