There's really two shallow seasons around here. The first season is the spring/summer smallmouth fishery. Once September rolls around, those big lake bass tend to roll into deeper water and although the fishing can be fantastic, it's not that classic shallow water fishing we all enjoy and after 4 straight months of smallmouth, one tends to look forward to fishing for something else. The next shallow season is right around the corner. We'll be moving outside the bay and running bigger water to chase big trout on shallow shorelines. It's a fishing experience that makes me more and more excited each and every time we head out there. It's the kind of fishing you can tell somebody about, but until you get out there and see it, only then does it make sense. It's not easy, but it's not too hard either. If you like the idea of heading out with the hopes to hook a big fish in an extremely unique setting, this is for you. It takes the right mind-set, but it's hard to get frustrated when there's so much to look at out there. The water can seem empty for most of the day, especially when in a spot where you can see all the rocks, sand and pebbles on the bottom and swear there's no fish anywhere only to be surprised when a big, dark shadow rockets out from behind a boulder and inhales your offering. Then it's game on and you had better hope you stuck that fish good, because who knows how many more chances you'll get.
Oh man, this has to be my favorite time of year to fish smallmouth on Lake Superior on a fly. The fish are scattered around some super cool areas and yeah, you may not catch big numbers of fish, but you get to see the fish do what you really like them to do. Zero-dark-thirty moring missions have been the best way to get on a good bite as the fish are blitzing shiners as the sun rises. It's really cool to see the way smallies will use structure to confuse baitfish and herd them into areas they are vulnerable. This results in fish crashing the surface and waking across the shallows to ambush the schools of lake shiners. If you're there when it's happening, you'll understand why I get pretty darn excited. So that's the program for the next few weeks. Rise early, fish the morning blitz and then go look around and see what we find. It's also been pretty hard to ignore that little voice in the back of my head that keeps whispering something about cooler temps and ripping streamers for big browns, but I'll just ignore that for now.
I take great pride in working with both fly and light tackle anglers on Lake Superior. Some of the best fishermen and fisherwomen I've been around can throw tight loops on an 8wt into the wind, but also pick up a texas rigged spinning rod and drag a soft plastic through a scraggly wood pile with such finesse it would make a butterfly working a group of flowers jealous. One of the funnest and simplest light tackle bass rigs I've ever seen or fished is what I'm officially calling the "Roger Rig." It's the rig Capt. Roger Lapenter used for nearly 30 years on the Bay for many reasons. Roger didn't care how you fished out of his boat as long as you were easy on the fish. Crankbaits with multiple treble hooks? Not easy on the fish. Flies, and soft plastics with single hooks? Easy on the fish. Beyond that, the Roger Rig simply works. Most people are extremely sceptical when you show it to them. They say "that little hook can't possibly be enough for those big fish." I like it because I can literally tell people how we catch these fish, you know, completely tell the truth, and they still don't believe me. The people on my boat have different opinions and usually buy the fixings for the rig at Anglers All before they head out of town. In the end, it's all fun no matter how you do it.
The Roger Rig:
Nose hook a 5 inch grub onto a 1/32 oz jig head. Work it slow.
*Roger would sometimes go to a 1/64 oz jig head too, when the heavier rig didn't work.
With a Gale Warning in effect for the waters of the western Lake Superior, I cancelled my trip for today. It hurts a little, because the fishing has been great and there's been nobody around, but this will turn into a much needed maintenance day. The boat needs cleaning, tackle needs replenishing, my accounting info is way behind, blah, blah, blah. It's actually pretty surprising that this is the first day I've had to cancel due to wind/weather this year. May is notorious for some bad weather at some point, but it can also offer some of the best weather of the year as well as some of the best Smallmouth fishing of the year. Luckily, we got 12 good days in a row in, and we'll start back up tomorrow and hopefully continue all the way into July. The pre-spawn fishing has been great, and yeah there's been lots of fish, but it's been really fun to see all the things that make this time of year special out there. From watching bears eating fresh buds in the trees, to hearing the Sand Hill cranes to watching groups of Pelicans fly around and dealing with the cool onshore Lake Superior breezes, it's really a special time of year up here. A really neat thing about this season so far has been the amount of Smelt cruising around in the shallows. It's made fishing either really good or pretty tough at times. I've actually seen Smelt cruising around only to be eaten by an aggressive Smallmouth. Many of the fish we've caught have spit up Smelt on the way in too. Obviously, flies that look like Smelt have been best. Well, for now, enjoy just a small sample of some photos from the past 12 days and stay tuned for more. Hopefully this Gale quiets down in the next few hours and we can get ready for tomorrow.
The seasons we look forward to all winter long can come and go in the blink of an eye. It wasn't that long ago I was driving around looking for a boat landing free of ice to launch and start chasing big browns. Now, as I type this, my lap is full of Bucktail trimmings as I try and fill out my box with Clouser Minnows for the upcoming Smallmouth season. It sometimes is hard to take everything in as it's happening, but it's important to take a step back when the smoke clears to reflect on those transpired events. In this whirlwind month of April, the fishing was simply awesome. Those of you who got out to experience it with me saw the potential of this fishery, and at times I thought this is exactly what I've always dreamed of. For now, we'll have to slide these spring memories back into our off-season dream reserve and focus on the next task at hand: Pre Spawn Smallmouth. It's time to change the season, and we're ready.
First off, thanks to everyone who stopped by the Anglers All/Freshcoast Angling booth at the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo this past weekend and an extra special thanks to those of you who donated to the Roger Lapenter Chequamegon Bay Fund. It's always a fun time to see friends and touch base with everyone before the fishing season gets into full swing. The highlight of the event for me was connecting with a great family from Duluth, MN. After giving my presentation about the Lake Superior fishery I'm lucky to have in my backyard, I was approached by Eric and Kat and they pulled out their phone to show me some photos.
Let's back up just a few mintures here.....Now, the last 10 minutes or so of my presentation involves some information on the history and the results of protective regulations on the Chequamegon Bay smallmouth fishery. I end the presentation with a photo of myself with a small bass I caught in 1995, a year after the regulations were put in place. Next to that photo is another picture with a young angler who was in my boat taken in 2013. His bass was 21 inches, mine was 13. Knowing how long it takes for a bass to grow to maturity in the bay, if you do the math, it is entirely possible that the two fish could be the same. I include the slide to show people that catch and release works, and that these fish will be available for multiple generations of anglers.
Back to Kat and Eric and their phone..... They started scrolling through photos of their daughter holding gigantic smallmouth that she had caught on the Bay last year. I almost had to hold back tears, as I knew that the work Capt. Roger accomplished had come completely full circle: the next generation is already enjoying these fish. Kat and Eric are people that get it, and thanks to them, their daughter is gaining the knowledge to show the generation beyond her how it works. This is why I got into guiding.
For a little more info on the Roger Lapenter Chequamegon Bay Fund, please visit: www.anglersallwisconsin.com/lapenterfund
Those of you who have followed my blog over the years (yeah, all three of you), probably know that I work out on Lake Superior. I've updated my personal site to include these services, and yeah, I'm probably selling out, but we've got some pretty cool things going on up here and the future of our fishery is bright. Stay tuned here for future news and as always, I'll be updating this blog with photos of what's happening on the Freshcoast. Thanks for following!
We get caught up in routine all too often in the angling world. It's hard to try different things when we know we have experience catching fish a certain way, in a certain place at a certain time. But really, all it takes is a blank slate and the right amount of dedication and will-power to change your game. Luck helps too. My latest angling obsession is something I've been working on for the past five years or so and I'm only just starting to see the potential of a fishery that's fast becoming one of my favorites. If you're lucky to have a fishery you're passionate about, take the time to peel back the next layer to see what it offers. You may be surprised at what you find.
-Captain Luke Kavajecz