Algoma Shoulder Season Smallmouth Bass
Every fishing season my friends and I look forward to our annual drive-to trip to Algoma Country to hunt for trophy-sized smallmouth bass. The best time to go to this Northern Ontario region? The shoulder seasons bracket the summer months. Specifically, the months of May - June and September - October are the prime shoulder months for drive-to locations throughout Algoma. During these months, the fishing is exceptional with lots of access to rivers and lakes. Best of all, there are no vacationers, families and few if any anglers at these times of the year. There are lots of great resorts, lodges and motels to stay at during your visit (see the list below of locations we recommend). To help you get the most out of your trip, here is some important information to help you plan.
Spring: May and June
Once the ice starts coming off lakes, there is really good fly fishing for smallmouth in water from 2 to 8 feet in depth. Generally, the smallmouth will be cruising the edges of lakes in packs of 4 to 6 fish (much like wolves), hunting for minnows, crayfish and even emerging insects like dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. Casting floating lines with weight streamers or insect patterns into the shallows and using a slow retrieve will often produce good results. The water is still very cold (45 - 55F degrees) so a slow presentation is best with all fly patterns.
For fishing deeper, especially along shoals, rock piles and drop-offs, use an intermediate flyline (sinkrate of 1.5 to 2 inches per second) with a short 4 to 6 foot leader to find fish. We’ve had really good success using this line coupled with smelt patterns, dark woolly buggers or crayfish patterns like the Bronze Goddess. As water temperatures rise, the smallmouth will continue to hunt food but now they are thinking of spawning. Usually, they will begin preparing to spawn at a temperature of 57F degrees or above. In the shallows, you will find the small males making nests while the larger females will be nearby in deeper water. Once the spawn begins and you see fish on nests/redds, then please keep away from these bass. Instead, target the females that are either pre-spawn or post-spawn that are in deep waters.
Of note, even in deeper waters (6 to 8 feet), the bigger smallmouth will come up for topwater patterns like poppers. It is an amazing event to watch a big smallmouth swim up 4 to 5 feet to take your popper…really visually exciting! As the waters warm in June, the bass fishing in the shallows continues to be excellent and topwater action is exceptional. Cast to emerging rice weeds, boulder fields, and into small bays…all will hold big marauding bass.
Fall: September and October
We love this time of year fishing for smallmouth bass because the days are generally warm and nights cool with virtually no biting insects. Since it is getting colder at night, the water temperatures are beginning to drop and this brings the big smallmouth into the shallows again. Best of all, the topwater action can be exceptional at this time of year, especially in September. We like to cast poppers to points, drop-offs, around shoals, etc… looking for roaming and hunting fish. Once you hook a few on poppers and the action drops off, then switch to an intermediate flyline and cast streamers, using a fast retrieve. The hits are often arm-jarring and some really large bass will come after your fly. We don’t recommend any leaders or tippet below 10 pounds breaking strength as they will snap a 3x or 4x easily.
For poppers, we recommend yellow, orange and black. For streamers, smelt patterns such as “Scotty’s McFly” work well as do Gamechangers. Toward the end of September and into October, the fishing will sometimes slow down, especially with cold and rainy weather. You will find the bass are now a little deeper around structure and you may need to slow down your retrieve to incite a strike. A special word about the weather and fishing in October, if you have really windy days and can safely fish rocky shores or shoals, this can be some of the most exciting fishing of the year. The winds drive baitfish into the shallows plus the wave action stirs up the bottom which puts insects into the water column. The smallmouth bass are very keyed into this type of condition and the action can be virtually non-stop if you can find these types of structure to cast to. Of course, wearing PFDs and appropriate fishing gear is strongly recommended.
The shoulder months have become a favourite time of the year for my friends and I to enjoy great fishing, reasonable accommodation prices and all at drive-to fishing locations. Bringing your own boat is suggested so you can fish the many lakes that Algoma is blessed with. There are lots of public launches to use. If you wish assistance in helping you locate the right lakes and rivers to fish, then we strongly recommend you hire one of the guides in the region. They will help you understand what is available and what works, based on the time of year you’re visiting.