Today’s feature is from Kory Boozer, SW Michigan and Smallmouth guide extraordinaire. CLICK HERE to see more info about Kory and how to book a trip to elevate your Smallmouth game.
When fly fisherman think of Smallmouth Bass in Michigan, they think of hot Summer days spent tossing poppers at the rivers edge and while this is a great time of year to pursue Smallmouth Bass, it is far from the only time of year fly fisherman can enjoy chasing these river assassins.
While many anglers are still chasing Steelhead or Brown Trout on Michigan’s Rivers, Smallies begin to put on one of the biggest feeding binges of the year, typically once the water temps reach the mid to upper 40’s is when you will begin noticing a sharp increase in activity. They have yet to vacate their Winter holding lies and are still congregated in large groups which means if you find them you can typically catch a bunch of them. Look for fish to hold in deeper water in slack water areas, such as natural wing dams, sharp drop offs in the river bottom, eddies, etc… Any area that provides baitfish, slack current and deeper water with access to spawning habitat nearby while retaining access to food is the ticket.
As far as gear goes, this isn’t time to fish floating lines and light weight rods, I recommend Scientific Anglers Sonar lines in the 250-350 grain range depending on the rod you are using. Some days you simply need to get down deep and I will throw a 9 wt and 350 grain line. As the water warms fishing deeper water becomes less and less of a necessity though and for the most part 7 and 8 wt rods are all you need. When you fish weightless flies as I do a heavier line is necessary to get them down, lucky for us a good sized Smallie will fold a 7, 8 or even a 9 wt to the cork. You do not want to fish large streamers, even if you are targeting big fish, streamers roughly 3″ – 4″ in length are ideal to properly match the forage at that time of year. Fish them slow with short and fast strips to provoke reaction bites, some times very slowly swinging through an area with minimal action is ideal, others they want more action, this can vary by the hour so something you want to continuously play with to maximize your effectiveness.
Fly choices are dictated by the most available forage where you are fishing. For example if Chubs, Suckers or Gobies are the dominate food source where you are fishing, you want to match the colors, size and flash these bait fish give off as closely as possible. If young Trout & Salmon or Shad are the most abundant food source in the area, then that is the type of forage you want to mimic. A flies effectiveness for Smallmouth Bass is measured by how much motion they provide without movement, how closely the color and flash matches the natural forage and how fast and cheap I can tie the fly in my opinion. I want a fly that swims without being stripped, matches the size, hue and flash of the naturals while being slightly transparent and one that I can tie reasonably fast. I also when possible want it to be cheap so I don’t mind losing them and will fish them like I stole `em so to speak. You can basically get away with 3 flies, a white/grey hue, an olive hue and a brown hue, which would do a good job of matching everything from Shad, Baby Bass, Sculpins, Gobies, Suckers, Shiners, etc… A pattern called the Bad Hair Day, developed by my Friend and Wisconsin fly fishing guide Dave Pinczkowski is a great starting point for flies emulating anything in the baitfish form. It utilizes craft fur which is cheap yet has amazing action in the water, various types of flash and wool or dubbing as a head. Simple, Cheap and Effective… Simply match the materials you are tying with to the forage you are imitating, and get started.
The pre-spawn bite will vary in duration, typically it takes place until water temps reach the mid to upper 50’s and the fish begin to spawn. Depending on weather and location, that can lead to a vastly different window of opportunity. If your into hard fighting fish and don’t like fishing around heavily pressured areas, early Spring Smallmouth Bass might be just the thing for you!
Kory Boozer – Boozer’s Guide Service – www.BoozersGuideService.com
For our first official Amateur Hour post, I’d like to chat about a topic that I feel often goes overlooked when introducing people to fly fishing: knots. While doing so, I’ll try my best to knot get too tied up with puns and will just attempt to clinch my speaking points. Ha, OK, I’m done.
I feel that when most people take up fly fishing, they assume knots aren’t that big of a deal. After all, they’ve been fishing since their days in Underoos, and already know how to tie a clinch knot. And that may be so. But rigging up a fly rod poses a whole new set of challenges if all you’ve done is tied Trilene to Rapalas and crawler harnesses (not to say hardware guys are incompetent at tying knots…I’m just saying…well….yeah, let’s…let’s just not). You have to deal with tying super thin tippet material to impossibly small eyes on size 100 hooks that always seem to be trying to impale you while you are seating your knots. You also need to know your way around several different types of line-to-line connections that have ominous words in their names like “blood,” “nail,” “perfection” or “albright” (which is Latin for “good luck holding onto all those wraps, loser!”).
Fluorocarbon tippet is also a must now, which means dealing with the line self-destructing every time it turns over on itself. (You do use fluorocarbon tippets, right? I mean, everyone uses fluorocarbon. I heard the DNR is trying to outlaw it because it works so well. I’m pretty sure it was designed by NASA to tether their space ships to space stations). And, in the end, every single one of these knots needs to be as close to perfection as possible when you rely on them to hold as you try to put the brakes on that solid slab of river-current trained muscle making a hard run downstream for the safety of a submerged Forest of Fangorn (NERD!).
So, now that we’ve established how important knots are, let’s talk about how you can step up your knot game.
Use the knot in which you have the most CONFIDENCE, and that you can CONSISTENTLY tie well in ALL conditions and scenarios.
This amazingly wise piece of advice was shared with me by our very own Chief Rocka (and was probably followed by “Please stop messaging me at 3 a.m. with questions about knots.”). Sure, some people with a lot of time on their hands have said the San Diego Jam knot is the strongest terminal knot in the universe, but if you can’t tie it to near perfection after being on the river all day in cold rain with a belly full of Fireball, you won’t be able to use it. A well-tied clinch knot is better than a crappy tied SD Jam Knot every time.
Remember that practice really does make perfect.
Being able to tie a good knot in adverse conditions (be it chasing steelies in the rain or smallies under the influence) is a product of muscle memory. My advice for practicing your knots? Find the following items and put them in a big ziplock bag, tupperware container or elegant, hand-crafted, wooden keepsake box:
- Two, differently sized spools of line. Those old spools of Berkley from your spinning gear days should work. Or, if you are super rich, actual Maxima and a few sizes of tippet.
- Some old flies with the hooks cut off, and maybe a barrel swivel if you run indie rigs.
- A good chunk of old fly line (you know you have to change that out eventually, right?)
- A set of nail clippers. It’s not like you are cutting those Sasquatch toenails, anyway.
Now put that bag/box someplace where you usually have down time, like in front of your Netflix box. When you are sitting there watching The Good Wife and eating cheesy poofs, practice your damn knots. The goal is that by the time you get to Alisha dropping out of the governor’s race due to a scandal, you should be able to tie your preferred knots with ease and confidence. And, when you are on the river tying, try to tie all your knots the exact same way. Hold the fly the same way, twist your wraps the same number of times, say the same prayer each time, etc…muscle memory is a beautiful thing.
I don’t care if you use nature’s universal lubricant (spit), river water, whiskey or the tears of your fishing partner. Just lube up that line like your life depends on it before you seat it down.
How to teach yourself new knots
As with most problems in life, if you Google it, you will find an answer. Here are some great resources for learning how to tie knots online. I didn’t include YouTube in this list, but I also highly recommend searching there if you are struggling to learn from animated pictures. I will try to link all knots I mention in this post to one of these resources but don’t take that as the end all say all for learning it.
Rio has a good library of knot tying videos and in each one show the breaking strength of the knot.
Rio Knot Tying Videos
Also consider finding a printed guide that has your favorite knots in it for keeping in your backpack (or fannypack if that’s how you swing) when on the river. The Little Red Fishing Knot Book seems to be displayed in every single fly shop I’ve ever been to. I have two of them.
The Little Red Fishing Knot Book
Bonus link: The Yellowstone Angler did a very in depth comparison of tippets a few years back and in their lengthy article, had some awesome notes and discussions on various tippet and line-to-line knots I feel are worth the read.
Yellow Stone Anglers Tippet shoot-out
Apparently fluorocarbon is super-big-time invisible under water and less susceptible to abrasions. As such, it’s perfect for tippet material. I’m way too cheap to buy actual tippet material in fluro, but I do cheat and buy Seaguar Invizx on a spool and use that, instead. The size difference in diameter is negligible for how I fish (my opinion, calm down, Internet) and after a few years using it, it does seem to be a ton stronger than mono tippets. However, I freaking hate tying knots with it. I don’t understand how something that is so “abrasion resistant” can be so abrasive to itself. I would literally tie the damn knots under water and still have them get all mucked-up. Eventually I realized that you just need to be patient, lube er’ up and SLOW DOWN when you are seating it. I still only ever tie standard clinch knots with Fluorocarbon as all other knots have just been disasters for me. I would like to get to where I have confidence with improved clinches, but I’m still working on that. Speak up in the comments if you are a master of the fluoro. Maybe it’s just me.
Finally, a post on knots wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about actual knots. There are a plethora of knots that are useful in the world of fly fishing, and the ones you need to know will vary depending on what line/gear you are using and how you use it. Since I’m far from an expert here, I’m just going to talk about the ones I regularly use and practice. Let’s break this down from reel to fly shall we?
Reel to backing
The Arbor knot is the best bet here. Before I knew this existed, I would just throw a bunch of overhand knots on there and call it a day. My thought was, if the fish I’m fighting has taken me all the way down to the end of my backing, it’s probably a done deal, anyways. But it’s worth using the Arbor knot, as it’s fairly easy and will definitely hold better than your shoelace knot.
Backing to fly line
How-to guides or articles almost always seem to say to use an Albright knot here. Maybe a loop-to-loop, but pulling the whole spool of fly line through the backing loop doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve always used the Albright. It’s really a simple knot, with the hardest part being the management of the nine wraps it calls for from laying overtop each other while you stack them up. Otherwise the best tip I have for you (again…credit to Chief here) is to close the gap between the backing wraps and loop in the fly line before you tighten it down by pulling on the standing end of the fly line VERY SLOWLY. Just leave enough of the loop showing so that when you tighten it down it doesn’t disappear into the wraps of backing.
Fly line to leader
Again, this will vary greatly depending on what fly line you are using and what you are using it for. I see a lot of recommendations for the Nail Knot (with a straw) for this connection, as “apparently” it’s strong and transfers energy really well. I hate this knot, though. First off, you have to have a nail, paper clip or magic tool to tie it (apparently there is a version where you don’t, but I still stand my ground) and even then it’s a pain to get it right, as wrangling the wraps after you remove said nail is nightmare material. Even if it’s tied correctly, the whole principle of how this knot works is crazy to me. You are basically relying on the leader to squeeze down on the fly line hard enough to not slip off under a load. For me, it’s always going to be a loop-to-loop knot. All but one of my fly lines have pre-made welded loops, and once you understand the trick to tying them, perfection loops are a snap. Chuck n’ duckers should be using the blood knot here, but we’ll discuss that in the next section, as the shooting line used in that application is more akin to a heavy leader material than floaty fly line.
Leader to tippet or custom leaders
The blood knot (and if you are insane, the improved blood knot) is widely known and regarded as the strongest line-to-line knot for this scenario. You also need four hands to tie it correctly. Seriously, if you look at this knot online or in a knot book, it will show you need to pull on two tag ends and two standing lines at the same time in opposite directions.. At the very least, you need three hands since the two tag ends are pulled in the same direction. They way I’ve gotten around this is to…..all dentists stop reading for a bit….use my front teeth to hold the two tag ends and my hands to pull the standing lines. Depending on what you have going on in the teeth department and the variances in diameter of the two lines you are joining, this may or may not be a good solution. But I have no idea how to make it work otherwise. I pride myself on tying pretty awesome blood knots, but if I’m having an off day, my back up knot is the Double-Uni knot. It’s essentially just two clinch knots tied onto each of the lines that then smash against each other when tightened down. I don’t think it’s as strong as a blood knot but it’s just as streamlined, and (I think) much easier to tie. The Double Surgeon’s knot is also a really strong line for this connection, but it is super bulky and doesn’t traverse through eyelets well.
Leader to fly
And now the bread n’ butter knots: terminal connections. Look, there are SO many knots that can work here, so please re-read my first bullet point about using what you can confidently and consistently tie in all scenarios. I’ve been down a handful of roads here, but have come full circle and with the exception of my trout streamers, always tie either a standard clinch or improved clinch knot. These knots will never come out on top in a terminal knot strength contest but come on, it’s literally called the “fisherperson’s knot,” for Pete’s sake. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I bet every single one of you reading this post (all 12 of you) already know how to tie it. For me, I just had to get to the point that I could tie it LIKE A BOSS. I will say that for whatever reason, I still struggle getting the improved version to seat correctly on my heavier leader material. But from a line tensile strength standpoint, my tippets usually break off before that knot comes into play anyway, so I haven’t been super concerned about it. However, I’ve debated going back and mastering the Trilene Knot. I used to tie it a lot for terminating my leader to swivel for indicator rigs, but lost confidence in it. For my big nasty trout streamers, I will often tie a Non-Slip Mono Loop for even more dip-in-the-hips action. It’s a fairly simple knot to tie, but again, takes some dedication to get right every time. For me, the struggle has been getting the loop size to not be ridiculous big. But I’ll get there, as I really like the drunken swagger it gives my streamers.
I’ll end with a quick P.S.A about the line itself. No matter what size or material of line you are using, make sure you are checking it for nicks, frays or extreme kinks frequently throughout your fishing escapades. I know you don’t want to hear this, but if said anomalies are found, you need to change out that section of line as they are DRASTICALLY reducing the tensile strength. Unfortunately I’m speaking from experience here.
Alright! That’s all I have to say about that. I know we aren’t really a heavily comment-orientated blog, but if you are so inclined, I’d love to hear what knots you all run!
Peace out girl scout!
Great Lakes fishermen tend to shelve the swing gear in favor of other techniques in the spring. Opportunities do exist when water temps bump a few degrees during the pre-spawn window and later on while fish are dropping back. This pattern evolved out of a deep desire to swing up spring steel when fry are abundant in softer water often getting kicked out into the main current when water rises.
Eumer teardrop tube 22mm
Senyo’s laser dub (minnow belly)
Hareline dub (silver)
Senyo’s laser dub (fl. fuchsia)
3-D molded eyes pearl white 2.5
Clear cure goo thin
There is an enormous number of ways that fly anglers rig themselves to target steelhead in the Great Lakes watersheds, each and everyone of them have their own merits. I often get asked how I construct my rig so I thought it might be a good idea to start some dialogue and get everyone’s thoughts and ideas on their own unique rigging method. I will go more in-depth on this particular rig in the coming days and break it down to a fundamental level. So stay tuned, but for now here we go: