Many of the best anglers we know were spawned in the Upper Midwest. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan incubate most of America’s outdoors people, before shipping them off out West (or South). If you’ve read much Jim Harrison, you understand some of that flight cycle, as well as the impulse to return.
Not everyone leaves, though, and some who do find themselves drawn back to the variety of fishing available in their natal waters—tannic trickles bolstered by beaver ponds and brook trout, to the great inland seas where dragons swim. Our good friends at Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti fit that category. In fact, some of their crew have actually migrated to the Midwest from fisheries afield.
To continue our celebration of all things fall, we chopped it up with Corey Hasselhuhn from Schultz Outfitters, a Michigan native who grew on the shores of Lake St. Clair. Corey generously shared his perspective on what makes this time of year special in the Midwest.
All About Options
October, November and December are hype season for the musky and smallmouth, especially larger specimens. Musky fishing here locally on Lake St. Clair and some of our northern river systems, that's definitely a big thing we're doing as it gets cold. You can catch some of the biggest fish of the year, and they’re likely gonna be in less than 10 feet of water
Bass will start to stack quite a bit more weight as we get closer to the freeze. This is probably the best time of year to fish Lake St. Clair if you're looking to catch a really, really big smallmouth. And when I say really big, I mean something that's seven pounds or heavier.
Obviously, a lot of guys at the shop enjoy steelhead fishing here in the Great Lakes tributaries, so that's something that we're partaking in come fall.
If you want to branch out, you have really good opportunity this time of year to target fish in the Great Lakes themselves that are staging for pre winter. You can target lake trout and big brown trout that are following bait fish into the shallows.
But What are You Doing on Your Day Off?
I'm still trying to catch carp, man. I don't give up on those fish. I think my wet wading season is just about over, but I’ll put on the waders and keep after them. We'll find fish in shallow water in the rivers even into the winter months.
Of course, musky too. That's something that I really enjoy as we get later in the season.
How Are the Crowds?
From the perspective of the Great Lakes angler—somebody who spends time on St Clair, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, or Lake Michigan, fall gets you hyped up. The walleye fishermen target those fish as they move around the systems. So, you have a big group of anglers that are fired up to hit that. The musky casting, be it a fly or a big piece of rubber, quite a few guys are kind of shackling up and getting ready to go out and do that.
Traffic on our bass rivers, though, really dips off this time of year. We're very blessed because even mid-season we don't have to deal with a lot of other boats out there actually fishing. We deal much more with canoe, kayak, and tube traffic. Once we get into the fall, we have the smallmouth rivers virtually to ourselves. A lot of the fly crowd around here tends to shift focus entirely to our migratory species come fall. So, a lot of the anglers that dedicate time in the summer months to warm water species just fall off the map around now.
Speaking of Those Lake Run Rainbows...
Steelhead fishing is a very big part of our angling up here, especially in the late fall-winter season. Swinging flies has caught on fairly well in our community up here in the Great Lakes, and we have a really good group of anglers that dedicate a lot of time to it.
We also like to strip streamers for steelhead. We fish out of a driftboat, casting a sink tip—very similar to trout—throwing big flies that move and swim, and animating them all the way back to the boat. I've had steelhead eat flies off of the oar blade. So, it can be a pretty exciting, and it can be productive, too. I've had days stripping flies for steelhead on the Pere Marquette where we out-fished other boats that were bobber fishing.
Best Fall Day Ever
A couple years ago, I went out with a good friend on St. Clair and dedicated the whole day to throwing nothing but flies for musky. The forecast was crummy but we went anyway and it ended up being one of those rare flat, calm, sunny days in November. I caught four fish over 40 inches on the fly. Best day of musky fishing I've ever had using conventional or fly gear. So that was a pretty special one and confirmed how much I need enjoy every bit of November.
That Doesn’t Suck. Anything Else You Like About Fall Fishing?
I would say fall tends to eliminate the half-hearted anglers and breathes life into the guys who are more dedicated to their craft. I take pride in being one of those guys who is strapping up and getting after it. My season doesn't stop, and it’s the same for our whole crew here at the shop. Michigan is an interesting place: We have four seasons on paper, but in reality each season is maybe two months long. Then you have a couple months in between each season when it can swing from 40 degrees, to 75 degrees, to 31 at night, then back to the fifties. We get stoked for those off seasons, those transitions. That's when we go out and pick new locks, figure out which keys fit.
How Do you Stay Comfortable in Those Transitions
You need a layering system—good base layers, mid layers, and outer layers. We’re banana peels up here. When you start the day, it's 30 degrees. Then it may get up to 60, and then dip right back down to 30 by the time you're pulling the boat out of the water. The 3/2 Fusion jacket is crazy good because it’s so versatile and keeps you comfortable in a range of temperatures. I’ve also been using the Sol Hoody as a base layer on days when it’s not too cold. I love the hood on that thing. When I'm racking up layers and we're running around in the boats doing 40, 50, 60, 65, 70 miles an hour. it's nice to have a hood that doesn't wanna pull right off my head. The attention to detail is all those pieces makes them excellent additions to the quiver.