This summer’s smallmouth road trip was even better than the last! In 2013, Ben Levin, Chad Johnson, and myself ventured to Wisconsin in search of big, brawny river smallmouth. The rivers we fished were unseasonably high at the time, and we struggled to find consistent action, but the fish we did catch were so impressive that we immediately decided to make a return trip in 2014. The water was right this time around and well worth 14 hours driving and 7 nights in a tent, although earplugs were necessary to sleep through Ben’s sawmill-like snoring.
It did not take long to figure out what the bass would eat. Our very first afternoon on the water landed us in the best smallmouth action any of us had every seen. Over the course of the week we caught fish on a variety of bass flies from crawdad patterns to Whitlock Diving Frogs to Todd’s Wiggle Minnow, but the best action by far came on large foam dry flies cast at the bank or over rocky drop-offs. The foam dries we brought along did not imitate anything specific, but were inspired by the sage advice of Mr. Dave Whitlock, who knows a thing or two about the habits of Wisconsin smallies.
The water in Wisconsin’s larger rivers is the color of weak tea, limiting sight fishing opportunities, unless the fish happen to be chasing crawdads in a foot of water. A three to four pound smallmouth hunting in a foot of water pushes an obvious wake on the surface and provides a nice moving target to throw at. If you could land a foam dry with a “splat” somewhere near the fish without your fly line passing over the fish, you would likely get bit. The frenzied bass would rush 10 feet or more to the fly, sometimes turning 180 degrees to find the source of the “splat.” We were giddy with excitement watching big bass turn and push a wake all the way to the fly and then suddenly stop and hover under the fly for a moment before slurping it down if it passed the inspection.
It seemed nearly all the fish we sight targeted were somewhere in the 16-20 inch range, weighing 2-4 pounds on a Boga Grip. Granted many smaller specimens were captured as well, but the average size and strength of Wisconsin smallies is something to behold even on 7 and 8 weight rods. We caught smallmouth over 18 inches 7 days in a row – for comparison, an 18 inch smallmouth on Crooked Creek is an every once in a while type of fish. I think I’ll wait a while to let the memory of huge northern bass fade a bit before pursuing our native Ozark smallmouth once again. For information on guided smallmouth trips up north, check out Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co in De Pere, WI, or Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti, MI.
Click the link below for more sweet photos of our trip.