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

San Francisco - LP: J. Peavy 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: K. Herrera 7
San Diego 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 90 FINAL
Orlando 89
Brooklyn 86 FINAL
Boston 100
Washington 100 FINAL
New York 103
Cleveland 92 FINAL
Memphis 96
Minnesota 110 FINAL
Milwaukee 91
Atlanta 117 FINAL
San Antonio 107
Portland 86 FINAL
LA Lakers 94
Phoenix 105 FINAL
LA Clippers 108
Toronto 0 Postponed
Ottawa 0
Philadelphia 5 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Washington 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Buffalo 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 2
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
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