Note: I originally wrote this for northern Michigan but much of the article is applicable to anywhere in the country that people flyfish.
Quick Man-on-the-Street quiz: When I say “fly fishing” what is the first image that comes to mind? The majority of answers surely include something along the lines of trout fishing in a river or stream, right? That perception does define some fly fishing and it is certainly a big part of our northern Michigan tradition. Trout Unlimited was founded in Grayling 50 years ago, the brook trout is our state fish, the world famous Adams fly was created for fishing the Boardman River, and we have over a dozen blue ribbon trout streams in northern Michigan. However, with regard to fly fishing, it’s time to think outside the trout.
Am I saying to forget trout fishing? Absolutely not! To do so would be missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. But by restricting your fly fishing to trout, you are only eating a small piece of the pie. I often tell people that are unfamiliar with the fishing in our area that we may not have the very best of anything, we have very good everything. Whatever you want to fish for, it’s here: trout, bass, pike, salmon, steelhead, carp (yes carp), bluegill, and more. They are all fair game for a fly-rodder. The only real limitation to fly fishing is depth, but if it swims in less than 20 feet of water, than it can be caught on a fly. Not only do we have lots of fish but you can fish any type of water: lakes, rivers, ponds, the bays, tiny creeks, or Lake Michigan. Just try to drive 10 minutes in any direction up here without running into some body of water! Apparently I am not the only one that sees it that way. In their February 2008 issue Field and Stream Magazine ranked Traverse City #3 on their list of best fishing towns in America! They described Traverse City as “A Freshwater Wonderland” and their choice was largely based on the diverse fishing opportunities that the area has.
Fly fishing for other species will extend your season and never leave you wondering where to fish because the river is “off” today. Open up to fly fishing for bass and carp and all of the sudden those dreaded trips downstate can become fly fishing destination trips. Seriously, have you ever fished the hex hatch for smallmouth bass on the Huron River (it can be awesome), muskies on Lake St. Clair, or smallmouth on the Grand River? Great fun!
Many people have wanted to try fly fishing for years but are intimidated by what they perceive as a very difficult sport. It can get a little complicated at times, but lake fishing is the perfect place to start, and it’s fun too. How about getting the kids or grandkids into fly fishing? Trying to fool a selectively feeding trout in a river with a tiny fly and a perfect presentation probably won’t stick as well as bluegill caught on every other cast in the boat with an occasional 14” bass surprise. Many of us started out that way and have forgotten how much fun it can be.
Alright, so you’ve decided to broaden your horizons and try to eat the whole pie. Good news, you do not need to go out and buy all sorts of species-specific fly rods and reels (although I know someone that could help if you’d like to do that). With a 5 weight and an 8 weight rod, you can effectively cover everything that swims in Michigan. Again, I don’t want to come across negatively on trout fishing, I love it (as most fly fishers do), but you are cheating yourself if you don’t sample all that fly fishing has to offer!
The Northern Angler