How to ... fly-fish for smallmouth bass

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 5:54 PM

Mickey Johnson, of Brainerd, displays a dandy smallmouth bass he caught while fly-fishing an area river.

Photo: Photo by Bill Marchel, Photo by Bill Marchel

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

 

Mickey Johnson, of Brainerd, is somewhat of an anomaly in this part of the state.

He fly-fishes almost exclusively. In a region where walleye is king, Johnson can often be found fly-fishing for other species including trout, panfish, even carp. Plus he travels north, south, east and, in particular, west, especially to Montana and its world-renowned trout rivers, to satisfy his appetite for fly-fishing.

But in central Minnesota, Johnson is usually found pursuing smallmouth bass. He has written a book on fly-fishing titled “Flyfisher’s Guide to Minnesota,” which can be purchased online from various booksellers.

Johnson is well-equipped for all this fly-fishing fun. His boat is a flat-bottomed aluminum jon boat powered by a 40-horse jet-drive motor. The combination is ideal for navigating shallow, rock- or weed-strewn water — skinny water as anglers call it. A foot-controlled electric trolling motor is mounted on the boat’s bow. Johnson employs umpteen fly-fishing rods, each a certain length and weight for unique angling situations. And his fly boxes are jammed with colorful offerings that fish seem to enjoy as much as anglers. Johnson ties his flies himself.

I’ve had the opportunity to fish smallmouth with Johnson on several occasions over the years. He recently shared these tips on fly fishing for smallies:

“In a lake, Mille Lacs for example, I look for rocky points that feature good escape routes to nearby deep water,” said Johnson. He prefers submerged rock points or rock piles in 3 to 5 feet of water.

“I like fishing when the wind is calm,” Johnson added. “When the water is flat, oftentimes I can spot fish and cast directly to them.”

On calm days Johnson’s fly of choice is the Dahlberg Diver, which he ties in a variety of colors.

“One of my favorites is an olive body with some orange added. The idea is to simulate a crayfish, a favorite meal to a hungry smallmouth,” he said.

When the wind is blowing, Johnson prefers to use streamer flies, especially the Woolly Bugger in sizes 2 to 4. “My favorite color is black with some crystal colors like red and silver tied into the fly. But never be afraid to switch colors.”

When it comes to casting, Johnson generally employs a slow retrieve, bringing his fly to the boat with small jerks. At times, though, he lets the fly sink to the bottom and then jigs it back to the boat. He stresses the importance of varying your angling technique until you find what is working on any particular day.

“When I fish smallmouth bass on rivers, I look for bends in the river that create an eddy. I also watch for anything that causes a current break like woody debris, large boulders or rocky points.”

Johnson has observed that hungry smallmouth will hold on the slower or back side of an eddy but close to the faster current. “They don’t want to move far to find food,” he explained.

What’s Johnson’s favorite fly for river smallmouth?

“I’ve boated two six-pound smallies this summer. Both were caught on white-and-chartreuse-colored deer hair poppers.”

 

Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fla Southern 2 FINAL
Detroit 12
FIU 2 FINAL
Miami 7
Toronto 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Golden State 6:30 PM
Brooklyn
Phoenix 6:30 PM
Miami
LA Clippers 7:00 PM
Minnesota
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Dallas
Nashville 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Carolina 7:30 PM
Chicago
Montreal 9:00 PM
San Jose
Virginia 6:00 PM
Syracuse
Baylor 6:00 PM
Texas
Hampton 6:30 PM
Delaware State
Norfolk State 6:30 PM
Howard
Bethune-Cookman 6:30 PM
NC A&T
SE Louisiana 6:30 PM
Northwestern St
Central Arkansas 6:30 PM
Sam Houston St
Lamar 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Nicholls 7:00 PM
New Orleans
NC Central 7:00 PM
Savannah State
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Texas Southern 7:30 PM
Alabama A&M
Prairie View 7:30 PM
Alabama State
Jackson State 7:30 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Iowa State
Grambling St 8:00 PM
Miss Valley St
Boston College 8:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Bethune-Cookman 34 2nd Half 18:04
NC A&T 31
Hampton 53 2nd Half 14:48
Delaware State 36
Norfolk State 31 2nd Half 20:00
Howard 26
NC Central 14 1st Half 7:26
Savannah State 29
Texas Southern 5:30 PM
Alabama A&M
Prairie View 5:30 PM
Alabama State
Jackson State 5:30 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Grambling 5:30 PM
Miss Valley St
Tulsa 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
(1) Connecticut 6:00 PM
South Florida
UCF 6:00 PM
East Carolina
Central Conn St 6:00 PM
Bryant
Wagner 6:00 PM
Robert Morris
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Fairleigh Dickinson
St Francis-NY 6:00 PM
Long Island
Mount St Marys 6:00 PM
St Francis-PA
Temple 7:00 PM
Houston
Texas Tech 7:00 PM
(6) Baylor
Iowa State 7:00 PM
Kansas
SMU 7:00 PM
Memphis
Oklahoma 7:00 PM
Oklahoma St
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close