Category Archives: Smallmouth Bass

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

Copyright 2017 by All rights reserved

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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

Upper Peninsula Michigan Smallmouth Bass

There’s a place north of the 45th called God’s Country.  It’s a place my father and I have trod many a mile through forest, swamp, and highlands searching for whitetail deer.  It’s a place where most fisherman’s thoughts turn to brook trout.  It’s a place where moose, wolves, cougar, and black bear roam the wilderness.  It’s a place not easily reached by car, plane, or train and for good reason.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan (termed “the U.P.” by native Michiganders) is a special and wild place.

Cross north over the Mackinac Bridge that connects lower and upper peninsula’s of Michigan, and it’s difficult to believe you haven’t entered another state.  The topography suddenly changes and colorful flowers obviously not planted by man grow on both sides of what seems nearly every country road.  Table fare of various whitefish recipes, a delicious pasty, and strawberry shortcake can be found in out of the way, yet memorable restaurants.

Roxane's Smokehouse Restaurant in Strongs Corner, Michigan makes the best strawberry shortcake with a homemade sweet biscuit.

Roxane’s Smokehouse Restaurant in Strongs Corner, Michigan makes a great strawberry shortcake with a homemade sweet biscuit.

The state fish is the brook trout and romance species of the great white north.  Yet my favorite species to pursue in this range is the smallmouth bass.  Our family has a cottage on an eastern U.P. lake that had been taken over several years ago by bullhead catfish.  Since then, careful management techniques to reduce the population of bullheads and balance it with smallmouth, largemouth bass, and bluegill game species have been successful.  During a recent trip to the lake we caught all three species of game fish, including juveniles up through well established adults.  The early morning alarm clock is anticipated in the form of a yodel from loon, signaling good fishing in an unparalleled wilderness backdrop of tall pine and hemlock surrounding the lake.

When looking for a good fishing lake in the U.P., seek those that have variable depths, with some natural and protective shoreline.  These lakes will provide shelter from the harsh winters.  There are lakes in the range that are shallow, and as a result freeze several feet thick in the winter.  Deep freezing in shallow lakes will reduce potential for game fish survival. Heavy snow pack in the U.P. can provide a layer of insulation, preventing fatal freeze depths in these shallow lakes and yet block valuable sun rays from reaching through the water column.

Once finding a lake that has characteristics friendly to smallmouth bass, cast to structure, drop offs, and transition areas such as pinch points that combine the two.  My favorite flies to catch adult smallmouth bass on lakes are top water concave foam poppers. I like to use a primary color of black with red accent at dawn and dusk, then switch over to chartreuse with black accent as the sun rises above the tree line.  I know sub-surface flies such as crayfish patterns are great for enticing smallies, but as an angler can’t resist experiencing a football shaped bronzeback rolling on a fly off the surface, doubling over a medium flex fly rod and on into a battle royale!

This 18" smallmouth bass was caught by Aaron Rubel on a U.P. lake. Photograph by: April Rubel

This 18″ smallmouth bass was caught by Aaron Rubel on a U.P. lake.

Smallmouth bass are beautiful creatures with hues of gold, brown, and black.  Keep them in the water when you take pictures.  Keeping the fish wet while snapping a photo will help to maintain protective slime and at same time share what kind of habitat you caught it in with those viewing the picture.

The beauty of smallmouth bass and the habitat they reside in.

The beauty of smallmouth bass and the habitat they reside in.

Releasing adult smallmouth bass is important.  Smallmouth take several years to reach lengths of 18″ and greater, and these fish are prime brood stock for promoting future generations of the species.  This smallie was released back into the lake that our family cottage is located on.  It is a testimate to the results of what careful conservation management techniques are capable of.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources have put together a great resource to the angler in providing maps of hundreds of lakes throughout the state.  Many of these lakes will take some effort to get to, but it’s part of the adventure of fishing the U.P.  You can find maps of Michigan lakes here:,4570,7-153-67114_67115-67498–,00.html

Photography by Aaron Rubel, and April Rubel

Copyright 2014 by All rights reserved


Video & Book Review: Smallmouth Fly Fishing – Revealed!

Smallmouth Revealed 1

Eleven years ago a friend handed me a 29 page pamphlet on fly fishing for Smallmouth bass, written by a well known bronzeback angler from Minnesota named Tim Holschlag .  Three or four years later, I discovered Mr. Holschlag expanded the information to a 326 page book packed full of secrets uncovered.

Well, if that wasn’t enough, he’s done it again!  This time, Tim Holschlag has brought to life, through a 71 minute video, all of the valuable tips from reading the river, to flies, and even details on how to do the Crayfish Hop with the fly rod!

When watching a fishing show or instructional material on the topic, I want details.  If the why’s aren’t given, I lose interest quickly.  Upon reviewing this video, I was amazed at the extent that Tim Holschlag and company went to produce Smallmouth Fly Fishing – Revealed!  Over the course of a few months, Mr. Holschlag traversed 14 rivers, numorous lakes, and even went as far as acquiring underwater footage to show the action of each fly he discusses within the actual environment of the real thing.

Techniques such as the Twitch & Tease and the Crayfish Hop, just to name a couple, are covered in detail right down to the timing of action in varied types of current.  Not familiar with fishing rivers?  No problem.  The video instructs about stream substrates, pools, riffles, and bends.  Have you ever wanted to gain some advice on improving your casting stroke with those heavy flies that smallies go after?  Tim Holschlag communicates some great insight and strategy on the topic of rod, line, and reel combinations for effective casting in Smallmouth bass habitat.

I was very impressed with the quality of presentation, and the expertise effectively communicated.  I’m confident after watching this video that my knowledge of fly fishing for Smallmouth bass has been enhanced and will result in more bronzebacks caught and released next time I’m out on the stream.

Are you a reader?  There’s nothing like having a book to enjoy and study.

Fly fisherman have always had a love affair in the pursuit of catching fish amidst the backdrop of tumbling water and towering pines.  Usually those thoughts are directed toward trout, and yet Smallmouth bass can be found in similar scenic settings, have proved to be a challenging species to catch on a fly, and are known as pound for pound the fiercest fighting freshwater fish.  A few years ago I was in a fly shop when I saw a book entitled Smallmouth Fly Fishing, written by accomplished guide and fly fishing instructor Tim Holschlag.

I was surprised at the short amount of time it took me to pick up on the advice given by Mr. Holschlag to start catching fish.  It is true what he says in the book about how smallmouth attacks a surface fly.  Additionally, crayfish are a staple in the diet of Smallmouth bass.  In the book you’ll find out how to do the “Crayfish Hop”.  This is an irresistible presentation that will draw a strike in the bottom half of the water column.

The book begins by answering the questions of why consider fly fishing for smallmouth. I was impressed not only with the approach the author used to introduce fly fishing for smallmouth bass to the reader, but also the detailed illustrations by artist, Ron Nelson.  Explanations on how different techniques are required to successfully fish for smallmouth versus those for trout are covered.  The challenge of catching a trout on a fly was part of why I took up the sport of fly fishing.  Tim Holschlag goes into great detail for the novice or experienced alike who is interested in pursuing the challenge of fishing for smallmouth on a fly.   Some of the key content Tim Holschlag covers is the anatomy of a smallmouth stream, subsurface and top water techniques, watercraft options, wading tips, and behavior of Smallmouth bass.  He reviews topics of lake and stream fly fishing techniques for smallmouth, and has included recipes and instructions for tying 40 bronzeback flies.

Usually we seek a book out to deepen our technical knowledge of fishing and then find a different resource for where to use the information.  In this book, there are one hundred smallmouth destinations introduced to the reader from around the country.

Smallmouth bass can be caught in spring, summer, and fall.  A variety of flies can be used.  From poppers, grass hoppers, to crayfish patterns, the fly angler can catch trophy bronzebacks even in mid to late summer.  I highly recommend Tim Holschlag’s book to anyone who has thought about fly fishing for smallmouth bass.  In my opinion, this is a required textbook for any fly fisherman who wants to diversify his or her angling skills to include bronzebacks.


Click here for more information on the newly released video entitled “Smallmouth Fly Fishing – Revealed!”, by Tim Holschlag

Click here for more information on the book entitled, “Smallmouth Fly Fishing”, by Tim Holschlag


Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved

Smallmouth Bass in Mountains of Virginia

Photograph by: Jameson Redding, Anger: Aaron Rubel

My roots in fly fishing go back to days wading within well-structured banks swept with cool flowing water. I have no idea why rivers energize me, but even after a week of only 20 hours of sleep, a day on a mountain river in Virginia expunged every bit of stress in my body.

I have learned that some of the very best days of fishing on a river nearly always occur on cloudy days. I have also learned that there is something about friendships introduced around water and fish. The morning started early as Jameson and I met at 5:30AM for a day of fishing. When we arrived at the river, there were fish actively feeding, and the sunrise combined with just the right amount of fog reminded me of why the Blue Ridge Mountains are so appropriately named.

If there’s one thing that is the same about every fishing trip, there’s always a surprise that ends up making the day memorable. After casting from a bolder into a promising corner structure, we decided to move on after only catching one small spotted bass. Moving on gracefully in a kayak sometimes turns into begging for some mercy. After placing my fly rod in the kayak, I leaned over to sit on the water craft, but my foot was not firmly planted as moss was growing on the aggressively angled rock ledge. In certain circumstances, there comes a point when time stands still and you know there’s no going back. A choice must be made and made in that moment with no hesitation. I only had one option to keep from swimming, and that was to lunge for my kayak as it slid away from the bank. When I lunged off the ledge, I was certain the kayak would capsize and my fly rods would be at the bottom of the river (seven feet deep at this point). Well, thank the Lord I didn’t lose a single piece of gear, wasn’t impaled by a hook, and I stayed on top of the kayak albeit refreshingly wet!

The fishing picked up around 9:00AM, maybe not so coincidently in sync with clouds that moved in. I’ve learned that smallmouth like top water flies, and big ones. This knowledge is thanks to a guide I’ve spent some time on the water with in Michigan named Jon Ray as well as reading the book, “Smallmouth Fly Fishing”, written by well-known author Tim Holschlag. I came armed with an 8wt and 10wt rod. The ten weight might seem overkill, but I subscribe to selecting a rod for the day that efficiently casts the size of flies I intend to throw rather than choosing a rod solely for the size of fish I am targeting.  Anyway, smallmouth fight hard which raises the bar compared to any other freshwater fish of the same size.

Smallmouth Virginia 2Smallmouth bass flies of choice for the day

On our way upstream earlier in the morning, I noticed a deep trough on the inside of the river that spanned thirty yards across by one hundred yards long. My Maui Jim Ho’okipa’s with rose lenses enabled me to see detail that consisted of a deep and relatively narrow finger within the width of the river and adjacent shallows on all sides. On my second or third cast into the head of the pool as I drifted downstream, a smallmouth rolled my fly but the hook set wasn’t successful. I didn’t have to wait long for another chance as about ten casts later, another smallmouth rolled on the black and red popper fly and this time my rod bowed and it was game on! During the fight, the three plus pound smallmouth leaped out of the water, exposing just how fat he was and made some strong runs. I knew I needed to get downstream of him if I had a chance to land him. Well, as soon as I successfully negotiated getting downstream to gain leverage, the bronzeback ran under a rock ledge and anchored in with current pushing between him and the underside of the large rock structure. I was able to reel down to where the leader and fly line met my rod, and Jameson came over to lend assistance by sliding his hand down the leader and bringing to hand the 18 inch Virginia smallmouth bass.

Smallmouth Virginia 3Aaron Rubel with an 18 inch Virginia smallmouth bass

Photography: Jameson Redding of

I so enjoyed the day, both fishing in the river and at a pond that was literally on top of a mountain. In addition to the smallmouth we caught on the river, we landed ridiculously large bluegill that afternoon on the pond and some largemouth bass too. In all, we caught and released four species of fish and I look forward to hosting Jameson to some coastal Alabama fishing in the future.

Smallmouth Virginia 4Smallmouth being released, Photography: Jameson Redding

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved