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Drive-To Trophy Bass Fly Fishing

Updated: By Colin McKeown

For many anglers, including myself, there is no joy greater than catching smallmouth bass on a fly. From poppers to streamers, the smallmouth bass is loved because they are aggressive and explosive fighters. But finding smallmouth bass in quantity and of trophy-size, that is a challenge. Many anglers living and fishing in urban areas have trouble finding access to good quality bass fishing without crowds, but there is a solution, and it is a drive-to destination. Algoma Country! This centrally located region of Northern Ontario possesses exceptional fishing for big smallmouth bass and it is all at drive-to locations. Each season I visit this region with friends and family to experience the bass fishing. In this article, we will examine where to go, when to visit and what flies and equipment we recommend you bring.

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Where are the fish?

First, let’s discuss in general terms, where the bass can be found in this massive and pristine wilderness. From Wawa in the west and all the way to the Spanish River in the east, the Trans-Canada Highway is your pipeline to access lakes and rivers that have great bass fishing. Along this highway to the south, you have the bays and coves of Lake Superior and Lake Huron which have numerous locations to fish for smallmouth bass throughout the season. Of course, any of the many rivers that flow into these massive lakes offer great bass fishing in the estuaries. North of this highway, up to fifty miles deep into the woods, you have a huge number of lakes and rivers with great populations of smallmouth bass.

If you search the Ministry of Natural Resources website, they further help your search by listing all the lakes that possess populations of smallmouth bass. In addition, you can purchase paper maps which also indicate where smallmouth bass can be found (web link MNR). If you wish to fish in the lakes, you will need to bring a boat or a float tube. There is limited boat rental availability, and it is usually restricted to the lake where the boat is available. But, if you can bring a boat on a trailer or a small float tube or pontoon boat (inflatable style), then you can explore the hundreds of lakes this area has. A good walk and wade fly fishing for bass can be had throughout the region in its many rivers and streams, plus you have the bonus of potentially catching Brook Trout as well. So we’ve assessed there is lots of good fishing for bass but where do you start? The best source is based on where you will get accommodations, the numerous lodges, and resorts throughout Algoma.

If you check out the Algoma website, you will see lists of operators that offer bass fishing (web link). Call some of the operators or email them and they can provide more info on what is available in their area for bass. Of equal importance, these operators will provide you with a base to start each day’s fishing as within an hour of any lodge, resort or even motel/hotel, there are lots of bass lakes and rivers. A good example of how to do this: you decide to book accommodations at a resort or motel in the area between Thessalon and Blind River along the Trans-Canada Highway, call the operators listed on the Algoma website for this region, then make a list of the lakes/rivers from Google Maps, then check the MNR website to confirm what waters hold bass, then you have your list of where to go. This type of research and exploration is what I love about fishing in this area. Sometimes a body of water does not work out that day, so you pull your boat and drive 20 minutes to another lake and start again…all on the same day! There are lots of choices available to you. A final note on researching locations, we’ve visited Algoma numerous times over the past decade and produced lots of great shows focused on bass fishing. If you go to The New Fly Fisher YouTube Channel and search our bass or Algoma videos you will find lots of valuable information to help you.

Best time to go for Smallmouth Bass

Our next focus is “when” to visit Algoma for bass fishing. The answer is virtually all season, from late April through until early October the fishing is consistent and exceptional. But like any destination, the time of year and weather can impact your decisions. Our favourite times of the year to bass fish are the “shoulder” seasons of May/June and September/October because the bass fishing is predictable and equally important, there is generally good accommodation availability. In the summer, July and August, it can be difficult to find accommodations in this region of Algoma because so many families come for their holidays. If you can arrange to visit in the shoulder seasons, the fishing is good, and the accommodation availability is usually great.

Fly Patterns to Use

Lastly, what are the equipment and “secret” fly patterns that work for the smallmouth bass? I always try to come prepared for all conditions and styles of bass fishing. Whether for lake or river fishing, spring, summer or fall, the following recommendations will work for you. A six-weight rod in a nine or nine and the half-foot rod is your ideal choice for most bass fishing. It has the power to cast in high winds and still has the strength to quickly fight large bass to the net quickly. I also bring a five weight if conditions allow or a seven weight if I expect high winds. Next and most importantly is fly line choices. Your number one fly line will be a WF floating line matched to your rod. It will do most of your fishing for bass in Algoma 50% of the time. Your second line should be an intermediate fly line (sinking) with a sink rate of 1.5 to 2 inches per second. This line will be used with streamer or crayfish patterns, especially if the bass is deeper than 5 to 10 feet of depth. The other line you might want to consider bringing is a sink tip line (12-15 sink tips in Type 3 to 5) for casting streamers to banks on rivers and to shoals and humps on lakes. In terms of leaders/tippets, I’m a big fan of straight pieces of mono for 8-to-10-pound strength. You don’t need tapered leaders unless you like them, they’re not necessary for bass. What is more important is stiffness (for turning over larger flies in the wind) and abrasion resistance.

Over the past decade of fishing for smallmouth bass in Algoma, we’ve experimented with a vast array of fly patterns to ascertain what works best. From topwater to bottom-bouncing patterns, we’ve tried many patterns that worked really well and others that were complete duds. For topwater we’ve found poppers in yellow were our number one choice in sizes 4 or 6. Other colours to use are black or dark green (ideal for overcast days when you want contrast) and orange for bright days. But, in all conditions, we’ve found yellow poppers with concave faces worked best in virtually all conditions and all times of the year. Algoma is unique because many of the inland water (inland from Lake Huron and Lake Superior) possess large populations of smelt which contribute to the sizer of the bass caught. There are many streamers available that mimic smelt but two really stand out. The first is Scotty’s McFly which was designed by a local fly fisher specifically for bass fishing.

The second effective smelt pattern is the Murdich Minnow in all white or white/brown size 2 or 4. Both these flies used with intermediate fly lines are deadly in Algoma. When the smallmouth are focussed on crayfish there are many great patterns to choose from but the one we’ve had the most success with is the Bronze Goddess. This fly cast out on an intermediate fly line and stripped slowly on or near the bottom works exceptionally well, especially in the early and late season.

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Whether fly fishing or conventional tackle angling, Algoma Country offers all anglers the opportunity to catch trophy smallmouth bass. Best of all, you will enjoy easy public access, affordable accommodations, wilderness solitude and all at a drive-to destination! If you want to learn more, watch some of the videos we’ve created about fishing in Algoma for smallmouth bass.

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About Colin McKeown

Colin McKeown is the producer of The New Fly Fisher Television Series and several documentary series for the Outdoor Life Network, the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.

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