Fly Fishing Lake Michigan for Smallmouths

Fly fishing Indiana’s Lake Michigan coast for smallmouth bass is an adventure every serious bronzeback angler should experience. Indiana is home to roughly 40 miles of smallmouth-rich lakeshore between the Illinois border and Michigan City. There is basically no competition from other anglers and the bass reach behemoth sizes.

One of the greatest rewards I get from writing about fly fishing is when someone says to me, “I didn’t know you could fly fish there.” It’s surprising so many people fail to grasp the breadth of fly fishing opportunities across our country. I feel if the water is fishable, then it is likely fly fishable.

Austin Adduci, the owner of Grab Your Fly Charters, one of the few fly fishing outfitters in the Chicagoland area, feels the same way.

Adduci and I are fellow “Chicagolanders.” Growing up where we did, fly fishing is rarely a rite of passage—our people dunk bobbers and run down riggers, and few have ever heard of a roll cast. Yet the mystique of fly fishing doesn’t escape the masses.

Adduci has set out to change the notion that fly fishing isn’t applicable on the Indiana stretch of Lake Michigan. By combining his two loves, the Chicagoland area and fly fishing, he has created a unique business that caters to fly fishers in a region that’s rooted in conventional tackle.

It’s hard to believe how much rock was dumped into Lake Michigan to form miles and miles of breakwalls. These walls, which are often a mile long and 50 feet or more deep, offer incredible habitat for smallmouths. Baitfish and crawfish flock to the structures. Also, because of these breakwalls, no matter which direction the wind is blowing you can always find a sheltered spot to fish.

You can catch smallmouths along the Indiana coast from ice-out to the time the shoreline freezes up again. But right now, Adduci and others know this is a prime time to target smallmouths.

“These smallmouths aren’t like Lake Erie fish in terms of after the spawn as they move offshore and sit in 50 feet of water. They remain close to the shore all year,” Adduci said.

“They’ll hold on the breakwalls all year long.”

Fishing smallmouths on Lake Michigan can be tough, or it can be downright fantastic. You have to know what you’re doing, and that’s why hiring a guide is good idea. You’ll learn a lot in a single trip, but you just can’t show up hoping for a 25-fish day, though it occasionally happens. Be prepared to fish in 15 to 25 feet of water and come armed with an array of goby patterns.

When fly fishing Lake Michigan, you might as well leave the floating lines at home. Sink-tips and full sinking lines are a must. A clear, intermediate sinking line is my favorite for most situations. As for flies, you’ll need a variety of goby and crawfish patterns. My favorite colors are light brown, white and olive.

Mother Nature doesn’t allow small boats out on southern Lake Michigan every day. This is big water and extreme caution must be taken to ensure safety. However, when the stars align, you can run a bass boat along the coast. But even when the winds are howling and waves are crashing, you can fish in the harbors.

Of course, spinning gear works as well for catching smallmouths on the lakeshore, but fly fishing is just my preferred method. It sounds crazy to think of fly fishing Indiana’s industrial harbors, but once you nail a few smallies throwing 4- to 6-inch streamers on a 400-grain sinking line, you’ll likely be hooked for life.