Trading Secrets with a Bass Master, Plus a Chrome Surprise

Tom admires a fine Lake St. Clair smallmouth caught in fairly cold water.
Photo courtesy JP DeRose, Breaking Boundaries

Yesterday, I was on Lake St. Clair—just outside of Detroit and Windsor, Ontario—and it was cold, rainy, and windy with water temperatures in the high 40s. If someone had asked me last week if this would be a good time to fly fish for bass, I would have said, “Don’t waste your time.” Luckily, I am with JP DeRose, tournament bass angler and famous TV host and a guy who can drive a bass boat in the wind at about 60 mph in 20 knot winds and keep me laughing. But besides shaking my teeth loose, he is teaching me a lot of fascinating stuff about cold water bass fishing, which I promise you now is very effective on a fly rod.

JP works some riprap and dock pilings while Tom ties on a new pattern.
Photo courtesy JP DeRose, Breaking Boundaries

JP is making a new TV show for the World Fishing Network called “Breaking Boundaries,” in which anglers with different types of gear compare notes on their methods on the fishery that is home water to one of them. So I am the one learning the most: Where to find bass in colder water (shallows and rock piles, look for bait concentrations, look for clear water), how fast to retrieve, what sizes and colors work best. I am using our new $159 Encounter Outfit, and despite tough conditions the rod is performing like a champ. It even does well throwing a 200-grain depth charge into the wind. (I am using the 8-weight model.)

JP shows off a small largemouth, caught with baitcasting gear.
Photo courtesy JP DeRose, Breaking Boundaries

JP has gotten me into some really nice smallmouths and largemouths, but the most memorable thing was a big surprise to both of us. Since Lake St. Clair connects Lakes Superior and Michigan to Lake Erie, and all of these lakes are superb producers of lake-run steelhead, I asked if any steelhead ran through the lake.

“Nope, never see or heard of one in here,” he said.

“That doesn’t look like a smallmouth!”
Photo courtesy JP DeRose, Breaking Boundaries

So after about 30 minutes of fishing for smallmouths, I threw my Woolly Bugger into slightly deeper water, probably about six feet. Something bright hit the fly and jumped, and it sure didn’t look like any smallmouth I had ever seen. We were all struck dumb when I landed a bright chrome 12-pound steelhead. Crazy. The film crew, JP, and I all had a good laugh about that one.

And by the way, the Encounter rod handled that big steelhead just fine.

Today, I am teaching JP to fly fish, and he is going to show me how to skip a jig underhanded on a baitcasting rod, something I have always wanted to do. Stay tuned. . .

A 12-pound steelhead smacked Tom’s Woolly Bugger, surprising everyone involved.
Photo courtesy JP DeRose, Breaking Boundaries

4 thoughts on “Trading Secrets with a Bass Master, Plus a Chrome Surprise”

  1. Sounds like a really fun idea for a show… and a great title for it too. I’ve recently begun to get serious about baitcasting gear and techniques, and it’s been nice to add something new to my arsenal of fishing tricks… especially for the cold weather. I’ve often fished ultralight spinning gear as an alternative to fly fishing gear (especially in winter), but I never really wasted much time with the heavier stuff- especially baitcasting. I would have to say that learning to cast a baitcaster well is just as challenging as fly casting, and these professional bass fisherman make it look downright easy. Good luck skipping that jig!

  2. Great story Tom. I’ll be sure to watch for that new episode on WFN. By the way, I am glad you were using an Encounter fly rod. Another testament that you don’t need to spend allot of $$$ to get into fly fishing.

  3. Glad you’re having fun here in Michigan. One thing the fish here will always do is keep you guessing. Heck, I’m not really surprised you found a steelhead in Lake St. Clair there’s a halfway decent run that comes up the Clinton river about now. In fact, you made it to Michigan in time for some good Steelhead fishing and with them are the big lake run browns that follow. Head up north a bit and you might find some “junkyard dog” browns lurking around the rivers waiting for eggs. Or try tackling any small water up north that’s still open for some brook trout goodness.

  4. Very happy to see some big names breaking down silly barriers. At the end if the day we are all fishing. Let’s not quibble over method validity and subjective style points.

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