Growing up in northeast Iowa, Tim Holschlag fished a small stream near his home and was happy enough landing creek chubs and bullheads.
Then he laid into a feisty smallmouth bass. And his life changed forever.
He was 10 years old.
“That smallie pulled harder and jumped out of the water,’’ Holschlag said. “It was only a 12- or 13-incher. But I was impressed.’’
Now 63 and living in Minneapolis, Holschlag is one of the nation’s smallmouth bass gurus, a river-guiding legend sought by anglers nationwide who also are impressed with the fighting prowess of smallmouth bass.
“I’ve had a few real jobs over the years,’’ Holschlag said by phone Thursday from Southern California, where he was touting the many attributes of his favorite fish to a West Coast angling club. “But mostly I’ve been a fishing bum.’’
Holschlag will return to the Twin Cities this weekend to offer smallmouth bass seminars at the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo, which runs Friday through Sunday at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
A timeless favorite of anglers who love a fish that will hit a surface plug or fly, the smallie is enjoying its heyday just now, Holschlag believes, crediting in part the earlier and warmer springs that northern tier states have experienced in recent years.
“As a result, the growing seasons are longer,’’ he said, “leading to more smallies in more waters, and bigger ones, too.’’
After Holschlag moved to the Twin Cities in 1979 following hitches in the Army and at the University of Iowa, he hung out a guide’s shingle, advertising his river-fishing services in brochures he printed and distributed to sporting-goods shops.
Simultaneously, he began penning his first book on smallmouth bass fishing.
“In those early days, I found two types of people who wanted to go smallmouth fishing,’’ Holschlag said. “There were the hard-core bass anglers who knew smallmouth fishing and really loved it. And there were those who had fished in many places, Alaska, Belize, wherever, and had heard about smallies and wanted to try it.’’
Holschlag’s initial craft of choice for river smallies was a customized 15-foot johnboat, with comfortable seats for him and his client. Ruggedly built, the boat could be dragged over rocks as necessary, or powered by a small outboard he hung on the stern.
But mostly he propelled the boat by rowing it from one likely smallie haunt to another, and another still, all the while directing clients when and how to deliver plugs or flies.
“At first, I had about half and half, spin fishermen and fly fishermen,’’ he said. “Now it’s almost all fly fishing.’’
As the Internet has become more pervasive, Holschlag’s popularity has grown. He still fishes the St. Croix and Mississippi. But nowadays he also hosts trips to an Ontario resort, and on given summer afternoons he’s as likely to be in Upper Michigan casting a fly, or in Maine, as he is in Minnesota.
Regardless of water fished, everyone in his boat abides by one basic rule: All bass caught are released.
“Today, with digital cameras, the photo of someone holding a nice fish is generally regarded as just as valuable, or more so, than a stuffed fish on a wall, anyway,’’ he said.