Occasionally, everything happens just right. On this trip several stars aligned: the right weather, the perfect rod and a world-class guide on a world-class fishery. We should also consider the fly. What resulted was a trophy of a lifetime.
The author with his trophy 5.5 pound fly-caught smallmouth.
Star 1: The Right Weather
May 15th and 22nd -- severe thunderstorms -- reschedule. August 8th -- marginal weather, but 3 to 4 foot waves with winds from the north gusting to 30 mph. No fly fishing today -- reschedule.
Wind is the devil to the fly-fisher. Anxious as you may be to get on the water, you know not to test the wisdom of the wise souls that guide on Lake St. Clair. Capt. Brian Meszaros tells the story of a recent trip where the client stuck his neck on a back cast with a 1/0-hook fly. The fly was still barbed and stuck him too close to his carotid artery for comfort. ER stuff. Many years ago, I myself got stuck in the upper lip with a large Mickey Finn casting in high winds and had to have it surgically removed. The doc did give my fly back with a little chunk of lip meat still on it.
Wind and waves on Lake St. Clair are not to be toyed with. A moving ballad from long ago describes the fate of the scow Julie Plante who was lost, with all her crew, "on wan ' dark night on Lac St. Clair." The poem ends,
"De win' can blow lak' hurricane
An' s'pose she blow some more
You can't get drown on Lac St. Clair
So long you stay on shore."
Then on August 22nd the lake settled down and, as luck would have it, it was the third day of good consistent weather; light winds, overcast and cool.
Star 2: The Perfect Rod
An arsenal of flies for big Lake St. Clair smallies.
A few weeks before this trip I had the opportunity to cast each of the new M-Series fly rods by Mystic Rods, a company based in Clarkston, Michigan. These rods are superb, affordable and I can recommend that you give them a try. After casting these rods, Chris Reister, one of Mystics co-owners, uncased a new prototype saltwater rod. This rod is a 9 foot, 3 inch 10-weight beauty and it immediately caught my eye because I knew I'd be casting 350 or 400 grain full sinking lines on the Lake St. Clair trip. The rod would be ideal, especially if we just happened to get into some Esox. So I asked Chris if I could borrow the rod for a couple weeks. The new name for this saltwater series is "Tremor" and it is sure to strike fear into fish. The prototype Tremor is a very light but powerful stick perfected for fly guys capable of double-hauling heavy lines 70 to 80 feet for hours on end.
Star 3: A World-Class Guide
John Gierach once said in one of his stories that "Fishing guides do constitute a distinct breed, but they're not all the same, as some claim. Far from it in fact." As far as Michigan fishing guides go Captain Brian Meszaros is a distinct breed. Brian began his guiding career on Lake St. Clair in 1992 and is considered by many to be an expert on warm-water fisheries. In the off-season he conducts seminars and regularly speaks at fishing shows all across the Midwest. He has also appeared in various fly fishing periodicals and television shows and his operation was recently honored as one of the top 100 fly fishing destinations in the world by American Angler Magazine. Being an innovator in the sport he became the first fly-fishing guide on Lake St. Clair to originate and pursue the "St. Clair Slam" -- the trio of smallmouth bass, carp and muskie all on the same day. Brian's "Super Slam" is all the above plus a walleye.
Needless to say Capt. Brian knows his way around the Lake St. Clair region like you know your way around your own house, and it is a supreme understatement to say he also knows the fish and their habits. Given that, I also think one of Capt. Brian's great skills is boat positioning. He has an absolute instinct for putting his craft in just the right set-up considering the days wind speed and direction, the lake's ever-present currents and his client's fly casting abilities. The latter he'll pick up immediately but to his credit, beginner or expert, he'll set the boat to the optimum fly casting angles to the lakes best producing waters. It's up to you to do the rest. Speaking of his boat, Capt. Brian keeps his 22 foot craft in immaculate condition -- no duct tape maintenance here.
A walleye caught in the same day as a smallmouth, muskie and carp completes what Capt. Brian Meszaros refers to as the "Lake St. Clair Super Slam" -- a challenge fly anlgers should not take lightly.
A World-Class Fishery
So much has been written about the truly fantastic fishing on Lake St. Clair that its place and fame as a world-class fishing destination is now firmly established. The lake has all the classic ingredients: history, accessibility via two major metropolitan areas (Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, Canada), islands, channels, flats, bays, rivers, the largest sweet-water river delta in the world and incredible numbers of first-class game fish. For fly anglers seeking trophy size fish, one can target smallmouth and largemouth bass, northern pike, muskellunge, carp, walleye and in late spring the white bass bite in the lower Detroit River is tremendous fun with 100 fish days possible if your arms can take it.
Capt. Brian called the location "the dark spot" but though he didn't blindfold me on the way in he did make me swear I'd never reveal its whereabouts. The dark spot is a conspicuous, roundish structure composed of rocks and weedbeds in the middle of a sandy bottomed flat in about six feet of water. That's all it really is and there are probably dozens of similar looking spots in this region of the lake. There was a light southerly breeze so Brian set up the boats drift to slowly pass the spot on its eastern side. Then, after only two casts and still forty feet away the Mystic 10-weight bowed deeply. My first thought was Musky! But the big fish plowed deep and out of sight keeping its identification secret.
When the fish hit the fly I had already stripped in a considerable amount of fly line and it lay in nasty coils at my feet. It quickly became obvious that the fish was too big to fight by stripping line and had to be fought on the reel. In other words, clear the line! My first reaction was focused on setting the hook and just keeping the fish in front of me. I had anticipated a long run but the fish refused to take line and instead frantically dashed back and forth along the length of the boat only thirty feet away. When Capt. Brian realized my dilemma he dashed to my side and began spinning the spool of the Nautilus reel to recover line while I just held on, rod in one hand, line in the other. By the time we got the fish on the reel it was still pulling hard, deep and out of sight. The fish seemed to be well hooked so I dug the fighting butt of the Mystic into my belt and started pumping and cranking, ala saltwater style. It took several minutes to get the fish close enough to I.D. but it finally flashed bronze. "Drum!?" Capt. Brian yelled but it was half statement, half question. We still didn't know for sure. "If that's a smallmouth it's huge!" I pumped two more times and we finally saw the dark tail. It was a bronzeback and it was very huge!
Richards' LSC Perch
Hook: 1/0 Mustad 3366
Thread: 3/0 Olive
Weight: Medium nickel-plated dumbbell
Head: Pearl chenille, medium, brown
Wing: Tan Extra Select Craft Fur (or
Flash: Olive/Pearl Flashabou. About a
Using a black permanent marker make 5
or 6 light perch-like vertical stripes. Make
these somewhat faint rather than bold.
The big bass was still pulling hard when I got it to the boat and, now nearly spent, it made one last short run. Capt. Brian leaned over the gunwale, opened the Boga grip and deftly secured the fish in one smooth motion. It was caught! And she was a trophy! Weighing 5.5 lbs. she measured out at 22 inches. I'm sure our hoops and hand slaps of victory could be heard all the way to New Baltimore.
As a side note, the fly used to catch the trophy bass was given to Capt. Brian by pro angler and Scientific Anglers fly-line expert Bruce Richards who he had guided the day before. Richards was named the 2007 Angler of the Year by editors at Fly Rod & Reel magazine, and among his several accomplishments with Scientific Anglers, he is credited with the creation of species specific fly lines we are now all familiar with. Richards has also been acknowledged for his work with Del Kauss in developing Scientific Anglers' patented Advanced Shooting Technology (AST) now considered to be a quantum leap forward in fly line coating magic. The fly was just a generic minnow pattern Bruce picked up somewhere but I've tried to duplicate the fly from memory. Just for good-natured yucks, let's call it Richards' LSC Perch.
Fly rods ready for battle.
Another "Life-list" Fish
The Clinton Friendship, a 150 passenger calm-water charter vessel, cruised peacefully along as Capt. Brian powered up the big but quiet four-stroke outboard and headed south to deeper water. Although I had caught a fish of a lifetime, I had one more objective in mind, and Capt. Brian knew my wish.
I'm also a fly gear "life-list" species hunter. And although I've said many times that I'll take a new fish I can add to my life-list over a lunker of a species I've already caught, the trophy smallmouth simply blew that theory a mile high. But finally, after several years of fishing elsewhere, Capt. Brian got me into the mighty walleye (Sander vitreus), and on fly gear. Capt. Brian explained to me that this time of year cooler water coming out of Lake Huron via the St. Clair River tends to sink and flow low along Lake St. Clair's bottom along predictable routes. This cooler water can be as much as five to ten degrees cooler than the lakes surface temperature. Find the cool water and you'll find the walleyes. It was the only one caught that day and a healthy two-pounder, but it was all I needed to check that fish off my list. Needless to say, I was doubly delighted!
If you are interested in fly fishing for white bass, largemouth and smallmouth bass, carp, pike or muskie, contact Captain Brian Meszaros at (734) 904-FISH. Brian runs Great Lakes Flyfishing, LLC, and has been guiding on the Lake St. Clair/Detroit River system since 1992. You'll find him on the web at www.greatlakesflyfishing.com.
Wayne Snyder is a Fly Fishing Team Leader at the Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Auburn Hills, Michigan.