By Jake Dykstra

Few fish fight harder pound for pound than the smallmouth bass. The shear strength of even smaller than average smallmouth, permits them the ability to peel drags and display gravity defying leaps. The hot summer months offer many opportunities to catch smallies on both conventional spinning tackle or fly fishing tackle. Smallmouth are found in many inland lakes and rivers and rivers across the United States and this past week we found ourselves fishing in Lowell, Michigan on the Flat River.

Although flies and hard baits had proven effective in the past, today, fishing partner Brad and I would chose to fish live bait. Before reaching the Flat River, we stopped at a smaller local tributary. A few weeks before Brad had visited the tributary, and, using a size 14 tear drop and a piece of leaf worm, caught a few dozen creek chubs. The plan was to revisit this same tributary and catch chubs to use for bait. Needless to say the best laid plans don’t always go as such. The large amount of rain received over the spring here in Michigan had caused the water levels to rise significantly, creating many pools and deeper pockets for these chubs to reside in. Now in early July, the water levels had receded to and well below their normal levels, resulting in a scarcity of the chubs we intended to easily catch for bait. We fished for for a few minutes, but it didn’t take long to realize that these fish were not present in the necessary numbers for bait. While walking the banks looking for pools, I noticed that the rocky bottom was home to a few crayfish. The more I strained my eyes to look into the water, the more I saw. There were dozens of these crustaceans shuffling over the bottom of the creek. We were without a net and the depth of the creek prevented simply reaching down and picking these crayfish up, so, I improvised. I cut the top off a gallon sized water jug, and began to persuade the crayfish to back into the jug. Catching and dumping nearly three dozen into the bait bucket in about an hour’s time (yes, that took a lot longer than the 15 minutes I was promised) I felt pretty good about the endevour. Especially when Brad headed back to the truck…with a only a half dozen chubs. We hopped in and headed off to the spont on the Flat we planned on fishing.

After parking alongside the road, we walked a short distance to the dam and set up just below. Due to the warm water temperatures and the sunny 85 degree weather, waders would have made fishing very unpleasant at best. Our tackle setup consisted of a single split shot a foot above a size 2/0 hook; simple but effective. Brad insisted that his chubs would outfish the crayfish as I threaded the first through the tail and out the top shell. We would soon find out.

I casted just behind the dam, and bouncing bottom, I took care not to snag on the rocks below. Before Brad had his creek chub hooked on, my second cast produced a feisty 13” smallmouth. Brad drifted his chub through the hole and with a swift jerk of the rod, he set the hook on what would be a slightly larger smallie. The next fifteen minutes or so nearly every other cast produced a smallmouth ranging anywhere from 12-17”. Brad soon found out, however, that a few creek chubs were not enough to fish for the next few hours, nor did they withstand repeated casting or hits from the tenacious smallmouth we caught. Out of bait, backed into a corner Brad swallowed hard, and then promptly asked to use the crayfish I caught, and on the next cast landed his biggest smallie of the day, 18” in length. 

Our medium action spinning rods and 8lb test line seemed to be holding up well against these strong fish. The crayfish also proved to be durable, lasting sometimes two to three smallmouth each. Over the hour and a half we picked away at these aggressive fish. Often times back to back casts produced these aggressively feeding fish. With only a three of the crayfish left in the bucket, I threaded on the largest left. Only casting a few feet in front of me, I drifted it down through the backwash of the dam. There it was, the fast “tap tap tap” of a fish. I quickly retrieved the remaining slack line and set the hook deep into the upper lip of a heavy fish. In angry response, the fish immediately peeled out 20 yards of line. I slowly worked the fish back to the bank, and was rewarded with the flash of a very large bronze fish. The smallie once again peeled out line. After its second run, I tried to persuade it back in towards us. Brad was now in the water ready to help net, but the fight was far from being over. The fiesty fish proceeded to jump three feet out of the air, not once but twice in attempt to shake the hook free. It seemed my solid hookset was holding true. A few minutes later we were able to land what was a 19 ½ inch smallmouth, the largest of the trip. 

We then released the fish back into the pool where it slowly sauntered back into the backwash of the dam. The last few crayfish produced three more smaller fish, but we had to really work for them, not coming nearly as quickly as the fish caught earlier in the morning. After the last crayfish was used, we tried using plastics and crankbaits, but it appeared that the active fish were already caught as the smallmouth were non-responsive to the alternative baits. Soon after we packed our bags and headed back to the truck, ending a hot, muggy morning having released plenty of smallmouth to fight another day.