Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Swinging for Smallmouth - Mystic Fly Rods Interview

I was recently asked a few questions by Bob at Mystic Fly Rods for a piece in their latest newsletter. I figured I would publish the full interview here for anyone interested. I have been fishing Mystic Fly Rods for several years now and I remain very impressed with their performance. You can see their rod selection at: 

Mystic: When is swinging for smallmouth effective?

Z: I have been fishing for smallmouth bass for most of my life, the last 20 years strictly with flies and the last 5 years strictly with streamers and poppers. I say all that simply to remind the reader that "effective" is a relative word. Although there are certainly the rare occasions when a swung fly is very effective for numbers of fish, that is typically not why anyone choses swinging over other methods. To those that already swing for steelhead and salmon, you know that the swung fly bite is in a class of it's own as far as pure enjoyment of our sport. If you haven't experienced it, I can't explain it well enough... it is simply a style of fishing you must experience. I have yet to hear a client say a steelhead or salmon on a swung fly isn't worth the extra time spent in pursuit. The smallmouth bass is no exception, although the reasons for swinging for bass are a little different than with steelhead or salmon, which I'll try to cover later.

Mystic: How do you set yourself up for it? (Skagit head vs. Scandi vs. other line) - sink tip?

Z: On my home water, Michigan's Muskegon River, I don't find a need for anything longer than a skagit line but keep in mind I am also fishing from a boat and can anchor anywhere I want to, a scandi line may be a better choice in some circumstances. The most fun choice is a floating skagit line with a popper or diver, but if the water temp is below 70 the best choice would be a streamer on a polyleader. In general, the colder the water temp is the deeper you will want your fly. For example, if the water is 60-65 I will fish as deep as possible. At that temperature many of the bass in my river are still making their way upstream from the lake and will take advantage of silty inside bends where they can soak up some sunshine as well as take advantage of easy meals such as fry from our migratory fish and other rich food sources like small crayfish that gather in these areas. A superfast sinking polyleader (7 ips) works well. As the water gets closer to 70 degrees I switch to an intermediate polyleader fishing my streamer just under the surface. Over 70 degrees and I'm typically going for a popper on a floating line, my favorite choice!

Mystic: What types of water do you target? 

Z: In general I target the same places for all my river smallmouth fishing. I mentioned silty inside bends in my last answer, but keep in mind that's for colder water temps and only when my river is higher than our typical summertime flow. At normal summer flows and water over 65 degrees I will target bass in the deeper (3'-6'), slower bends especially if they have some structure. Bass are super structure oriented as they are best at hiding out and ambushing their prey.
As I mentioned earlier, my reasons for using a swung fly for bass are a little different than for steelhead. When swinging for steelhead I'm searching for a fish aggressive enough to take a swung fly and my fly may swing past quite a few to find that one fish I'm after. With bass, I'm typically swinging because I either want to cover a certain area very well or I'm fishing alone and don't have the luxury of someone rowing me slowly through the prime water. I have many clients who want to catch a bass on a swung fly just to say they did it, but for the most part on my bass trips, we are using a single hand rod (Mystic M-Series 8 wt. is my rod of choice) casting into structure as I back row to keep a slower pace than the current. For the wading angler especially, swinging is ideal.

Mystic: Tell me about fly pattern selection.

Z: My bass fly selection has become very small over the last few years as I've narrowed down my top producing flies. If I'm fishing a streamer it will either be a Zuddy's Super Streamer (usually in yellow/gold or yellow/copper or an un-named streamer I've come to rely heavily on.
For poppers it's always a Zudbubbler although the color choice may vary from day to day. There are also days when they will bite a smaller, less noisy surface pattern much better, for those days I'll choose a leggy hopper pattern like "Darth Hopper". No matter which pattern I choose, I keep the presentation very slow. Bass are ambush feeders and they won't typically go after something they don't think they can catch easily. The strip/pause retrieve is a good one. Work it slow but let them know it's alive! When swinging a fly for bass, I simply lift and drop the rod tip throughout the swing to give it the same effect as the strip/pause retrieve.

Mystic: What do you look for in terms of rod performance?

Z: When swinging for any species, I prefer a medium to soft spey or switch rod, but it's gotta have power to unload a heavy skagit line. For bass my first choice would be a 7wt. Mystic switch rod 11'3". The 5wt. switch is my favorite rod for swinging wetflies for trout and it'll get the job done for bass as well but the 7wt. is really a perfect bass rod for swinging. The 7wt. can also handle the occasional day steelheading, although a couple more feet of rod would be preferred to throw the extra heavy sink tip required. I can't wait for the Mystic Spey Series for steelhead!

Mystic: Are the casts and 'swings' similar to what you would use when targeting steelhead?

Z: Yes, casts are the same. Whether your using a switch rod for steelhead, trout or bass the casts are all the same, making it a great way to keep your skills sharp all year.

Monday, June 24, 2013

6-23-13 Fishing Report

I took my family out for a relaxing day on the river yesterday... not to fish, just to enjoy. I couldn't resist spending 15 minutes casting for smallmouth though... just to see if the bite was good yet. It was! In fact in very short order I had two bass to the boat and had a very large pike slam my fly! Boy am I looking forward to some bass trips. Trout fishing remains very good, especially mornings and late evenings. I love having trout and bass as options. -Z

Saturday, June 22, 2013

6-21-13 Fishing Report

Muskegon River trout fishing remains very strong (in certain locations) with lots of fish to the net yesterday. Mornings especially have been good as the water is at it's coldest point of the day. Dry fly fishing has been very good some evenings with Iso patterns. Nights are starting to be warm and that means trout fishing is about over for me. I will give the trout another week or so then it's on to smallmouth bass for the remainder of the summer. I have some mornings and evenings open next week if you want in on some trout fishing still. Chris holds a nice holdover rainbow from yesterday.

Friday, June 14, 2013

6-14-13 Fishing Report

I love taking my kids fishing! Pictured is my 16 year old Morgan with a nice brown trout that fell for a gray drake pattern on the surface. Dry fly fishing was very good tonight but didn't get good until after 9:30. Bugs are falling later each night... maybe another 2 weeks or so of good trout fishing (below Pine street anyway). Get in on it while it's good!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Freddie's Big Brown!

I've seen it quite a few times over the years... the kid outfishes dad. This evening was 7 year old Freddie's lucky night. After cranking in quite a few trout that ate his swung leech pattern, he knew right away this one felt bigger. I knew it was bigger too, but even I was surprised to net this dandy brown. Thank God for 3x tippet:) Freddie is one fishy kid and did a fantastic job tonight. His dad was proud, but also a little jealous I think. Great job Freddie!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Dry fly fishing!

I'm so glad that we finally have great bug activity AND trout feeding on them! Water is at a good level and clearing up nicely. Bugs have been stellar. Some of the best dry fly fishing I've seen in some time on the MO. Get in on the action before the water gets too warm.
Pictured is my youngest daughter Alexa with a nice brown that ate a gray drake pattern on the surface tonight.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Can we just have a normal spring?

Crazy weather! For the last two springs we've have certainly seen some crazy weather patterns. Climate change, or just normal trends, who knows for sure? but I feel myself longing for some normal weather. Yes, even here in Michigan we do have what we consider "normal"... but this is not it.

Typically at this time of the year we can count on well over 100 trout per day on wet flies and great dry fly opportunities in the evenings, but with continued high and dirty water things haven't been as good as what I'd like. Right now we are only averaging 40-50 trout per day on wet flies and the dry fly fishing is just beginning to gain momentum. Although we've had some incredible bug activity lately, the fish haven't been looking up much because of the dirty and high water... it is coming down and clearing though.

The good news... cooler air temps are keeping the water at prime temps and trout fishing should be great well into July this year if things continue on the current trend. More good news... the extended high water conditions this spring have been really good for the river and will benefit the system for years to come!

It hasn't been an easy spring to be a fishing guide, but we have to take what we're given. I was fishing some slow water the other night and could see a steelhead, several smallmouth bass and a few trout, all in the same hole... in June, talk about crazy! I decided to throw something big and yellow (Zuddy's Super Streamer) and got a couple bass to bite... even had the steelhead follow up to the boat.

As long as we can stay dry for a while, the trout fishing should continue to improve over the next weeks. Hope to see you soon!