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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!

kayak angler mag fall 2016


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.

Landon First Spotted Bass_11_25 in

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.

Spotted Bass Release

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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Grab Your Fly Rod & Let’s Go Snorkeling!

River  640Thank you to the publisher of Great Days Outdoors Magazine for granting permission to post this article to my blog that I originally wrote for the June 2013 edition of the publication.

It was a warm June night a few years ago along the shore of a productive Midwest trout stream.  I was resting in between a spinner fall of spent wings and the hatch of duns during the fabled Hexagenia Limbata mayfly emergence.  These mayflies are famous for blanketing the river surface.  Large trout like to feed upon them.

I caught a few trout on dry flies over the span of two nights on the river.  However, another memory remains vivid from the first evening.  There was a couple sitting alongside me on the bank enjoying the quiet night, interrupted only by brightly twinkling stars and the fluttering sound of large mayflies.  They had fished one bend upstream of me.  I asked the gentleman what they had caught that night.  An hour before, I had heard some excitement from upstream where the couple was fishing.  He told me a story about catching a 23” rainbow trout that fed in the exact location where he had seen it the week before.

His answer intrigued me, so I prodded a bit more to understand how he had discovered the specific location of the large trout.  This was a rather wide and winding river with a lot of woody debris on the river bottom.  Not a river that easily gives up life that’s underneath what only eyes can see from above.

View the Body of Water as a Fish Does

The gentleman told me of his enjoyment of snorkeling and decided to put it to use to benefit his second love in life, fly fishing.  Typically, the June water temperatures of the northern climate I was fishing are much colder than our body temperature.  So the week before that glorious night of catching a large trout, he decided to put on a wet suit and snorkeling equipment to have a look under the river’s surface.  What he found was nothing like he had imagined.  He saw fish holding in current, aquatic life moving about, and the structure and cuts that dotted the river bottom.

There’s nothing more thrilling than watching a fish pluck a fly from the water’s surface.  But if I were to add up all the fish ever caught on my fly rod, I would have to guess that 95 percent of those fish were caught with a subsurface fly.

Whether we are fishing in a stream full of aquatic insects, crayfish, small baitfish, or an estuary populated by shrimp and crab, the vast majority of marine life remains suspended underwater.   Even when fishing a stream that has bugs visible on the surface, just imagine how many more insects, minnows, crayfish, and other life reside within the volume of the water in depths below.

Fly Rod Reel Clouser

Finding the Aquatic Food of Your Local Watershed

We as humans find refuge in our homes.  So does marine life.  Next time you’re in a river and see a piece of wood or rock that appears to have been in the water for a significant amount of time, pick it up.  Turn it over to look underneath.  Let the sun warm the rock or wood for a minute.  The once sterile looking piece of structure will come to life with wiggling insects.  When putting it back to rest in the water, be sure and place it in the same position that it laid in prior to lifting it from the river bottom.

I’ll always take advantage of fish feeding on top, but my first go to fly is subsurface.  So next time you go fishing, grab your snorkeling gear, fly rod and reel, and fly patterns that swim and crawl.  Uncover the mystery that resides beneath and you’ll catch more fish.


Copyright 2013, 2014 by and Great Days Outdoors. All rights reserved