Fishing with real pro at smallmouth bass

If you don’t recognize the name Tim Holschlag, he is a professional smallmouth bass fisherman.

He makes his living fishing for and communicating about smallmouth bass. After fishing one of my favorite waters, Sugar Creek, with Holschlag, it was easy to see why he is considered one of the best in the business.

Holschlag is the author of the books “River Smallmouth Fishing” and “Smallmouth Fly Fishing.” He’s published hundreds of magazine articles on the subject, has produced a DVD titled “Stream Smallmouth Fishing,” commercially ties smallmouth flies, hosts on-stream smallmouth fishing schools and guides smallmouth fishing trips.

If that doesn’t qualify someone as a professional smallmouth fisherman, I don’t know what does.

Upon my invitation, I learned Holschlag had fished Sugar Creek before, many years ago.

I was pleased when he said he looked forward to returning, further stating the combination of the creek’s scenery and fishing left an indelible mark on his memory.

“Sugar Creek, especially in the state parks, is one of the most scenic streams I know of, and the smallmouth fishing is right up there with the best I’ve encountered in the lower Midwest,” Holschlag said. “It can be fished year round.”

Sugar Creek is home to smallmouth bass Holschlag considers of “impressive size.” In 2007, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources implemented a law limiting keeping smallmouth bass to one fish per day, and it must exceed 20 inches.

Under such strict regulations, Sugar Creek has unofficially become a catch-and-release smallmouth water. Very few fish consumers are willing to spend their time trying to catch one trophy-sized bass for the frying pan. The only bass being kept these days are the occasional trophy for the wall and the unfortunate monster that falls victim to a catfisherman.

Jeff Conrad, a fly fishing guide on Sugar Creek, said, “Sugar is the best protected smallmouth river in Indiana, partly due to the ‘over 20’ regulation and partly due to the relentless patrolling of the river by conservation officers who patrol the river by kayak and respond quickly to any notification of poaching.”

Fishing with an authority on any species is an incredible opportunity. Tactics you thought were correct can be improved, and new lessons are sure to be learned.

“Go ahead and take that off,” Holschlag said, pointing at my Clouser Minnow. “Slow, slow, slow. That’s how we have to fish them today. If we’re going to catch fish today, we have to be on the bottom of the deepest holes to float a fly right in front of their faces.”

With that, I was introduced to the Holschlag “float-and-fly” method. In his book “Smallmouth Fly Fishing,” he describes the technique: “Its essence is simply suspending a fly below a strike indicator buoyant enough to support the fly and moving the fly extremely slow.”

He rigged me up, and we got to it. I laid a cast out next to a large boulder at the head of a long eddy and started to strip it back in.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Just let it float. If you do anymore than occasionally twitch the fly, you’re going to pull it off the bottom, out of the strike zone.”

Again from his book, “Precise depth control and the ability to work the fly extremely slowly are the key components of the float-and-fly concept. When the fish are suspended at specific depths, when they are sluggish and holding tight to the bottom or even when you want to fish subsurface in very shallow water, being able to keep your fly at an exact depth comes in mighty handy. This is possible with a fly suspended directly below a large indicator.”

I’ll admit the float-and-fly method wasn’t too exciting. It reminded me of jigging for walleyes with my grandpa in Minnesota years ago. As a kid, the torture of sitting in the boat raising and lowering my rod tip for hours made me want to crawl out of my skin. I prefer action, ripping streamers and hopping poppers, but you can’t argue with positive results. Holschlag caught fish during a time when most might not.

During our outing, Holschlag pointed out spots along the creek that would be prime to target at different times of the year. He pointed out seams, boulders, back channels and bluffs like a kid pointing out a wish list in a toy aisle; left side, right side, down a ways, behind us.

In spending only a few hours with Holschlag, it’s obviously apparent that he not only understands smallmouth bass, he truly loves them and the waters they swim.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears regularly in The Republic. Send comments to sports@therepublic.com.

Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@daily journal.net.