Fly fishing Lake Michigan along Indiana's 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 size.
Austin Adduci is the owner of Grab Your Fly Charters, one of the few fly fishing outfitters in the Chicagoland area. He specializes in fly fishing. 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 water is fishable, then it is likely fly fishable. Adduci 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. 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 idea that fly fishing isn’t applicable on Indiana section of Lake Michigan. By combining his two loves, Chicagoland and fly fishing, he has created a unique business catering to fly fishers in a region 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 smallmouth habitat. Baitfish and crawfish flock to the structures. Also because of these breakwalls, no matter which direction the wind is blowing from, you can always find a sheltered spot to fish.
You can catch smallmouth along the Indiana coast from ice out to the time the shoreline freezes up again. Yet right now is a prime time to target smallmouth.
“These smallmouth aren't like Lake Erie fish in terms of after the spawn they move off shore 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 smallmouth on Lake Michigan can be tough, or it can be down right out fantastic. You have to know what you’re doing. That’s why hiring a guide is good idea. You’ll learn a lot in a single trip. You just can’t show up hoping for a 25 fish day, but 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 the “Big Lake” 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 Lake Michigan situations. As for flies, you 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 too for catching lakeshore smallmouth. Fly fishing is just my preferred method. It sounds crazy, I know, 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.