American Fly Fishing

Lurking in the Shadows
By Nathan Perkinson

Thornapple River, MI

The old bridge at McKeown Bridge Park, east of Hastings, is one of the author’s favorite spots to target bass and panfish. The water is fast, but wading is fairly easy. Look for fish-holding structure, including deep holes and submerged rocks. Photo by Kyra Perkinson

One of my favorite little smallmouth holes is just east of Hastings, Michigan, on the Thornapple River. You can see it from a highway bridge and it’s easy to reach. This spot was always easy to fish, too: just hop a heavy fly along the sandy bottom and wait for a fish. That is, until last year, when a log drifted into the hole and wedged itself in place. I’m sure the bass enjoy this extra cover, but it makes fishing that hole a real headache.

One day last autumn, I started my day on the Thornapple at that spot, casting a heavy sculpin pattern under a strike indicator—standard operating procedure for my style of targeting smallmouth. My first cast found that submerged log and I broke the fly off. When a second sculpin fly met the same fate, I began to suspect that my go-to spot may have soured. I lost a Clouser Minnow next, further confirming my fears.

Eager to feel a bend in the rod, I swapped out my smallmouth rig for a 5X leader and a Gurgler with lots of rubber legs. Having already lost three flies in that hole, my faith in that Gurgler was right on par with my belief that the Detroit Tigers will ever win another World Series. But fishing is full of surprises. The little white Gurgler plopped down, a shadow materialized from the depths like Captain Kirk beaming onto an alien plant, and I set the hook. The bass was no wall-hanger by any stretch, but my fear that the hole had been ruined disappeared in a hurry when I happily brought the smallmouth to hand.