Fly Fishing In Your Own Backyard

Smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, musky, yellow perch, brown trout, channel catfish, whitefish, steelhead - the list of fish in Michigan's waterways stretches to 28 species on the Department of Natural Resources website. Michigan is an international destination for anglers because of its world-class warm water fishing.

Right in our backyard, the Huron, Flint, Shiawassee and Kalamazoo Rivers offer great watersheds, along with the River Raisin that flows into Lake Erie. On any of these bodies of water you can drop a worm and a bobber into the water and pull something up, but the real angling experience is had with fly-fishing on these gorgeous waterways. Fishing season opens the last Saturday of April and anglers local and international can't wait to hit Michigan's rivers.

Nobody is more excited that Mike Schultz, co-owner of Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti, located right on the banks of the Huron River. Established in 2003, Schultz Outfitters is Southeastern Michigan's only full-time, four-season fly-fishing guide service. This winter they opened a fly shop on Cross Street, selling rods, reels, waders, fly lines and all types of gear, while also offering on-stream fly fishing lessons. Schultz Outfitters also arranges guided fly-fishing trips to exotic locales in Chile, Alaska and the Bahamas. Not a bad gig for fishing enthusiast Schultz.

The Popular Misconceptions About Fly Fishing

"I could be working months to save enough money to take just one of these trips," says Schultz, "but now I get to fish all day for a living. It's pretty sweet."

Schultz is built like a high school lacrosse coach, with a baseball cap snug on his head, a big smile and passion for fishing in his voice. He's quick to dispel some popular misconceptions about fly-fishing:

Fly fishing is hard...

"Fly fishing has never been easier. The equipment has never been better and I can have someone catching fish on a fly within an hour of a lesson."

Fly fishing is expensive...

"We've got a saying around here: Save Gas, Fish for Bass. With the price of gas right now, do you know how much it costs to gas up your truck, drive an hour or two, take the boat out on the lake, drive around for a few hours, load back up and go home? For what? Ten fish? We can wade out into any of the rivers nearby and catch 20 fish in an hour."

Fly fishing is only for trout...

"Anything you can catch conventionally you can catch with a fly. Smallmouth bass, walleye, pike, musky, we've caught them all on flies."

Schultz uses the metaphor of hunting to explain how fly-fishing relates to conventional fishing.

"We all start with a worm and a bobber catching bluegill," he says. "Conventional fishing is like conventional hunting with rifles. Fly-fishing is more like bow hunting - more involved and takes a little more concentration. Then there are those hunters who use primitive gear. That's like some of your hardcore fly fishermen."

The gear in Schultz Outfitters comes in a carnival of colors, from animal hair for flies dyed hot pink, chartreuse, and olive. Partridge feathers, Icelandic sheep wool, deer hair and lead eyes all the most flamboyant rainbow you've ever seen.

True aficionados customize their flies, experimenting with color and composition to make masterworks of angling resembling colorful fat horseflies or succulent mutant mosquitos. The father of one of my roommates in college would pull over on the side of the road when he saw a promising roadkill, looking for the perfect color and consistency of animal hair for his homemade flies.   

Fly tying is an art. Part of the appeal of fly-fishing is the preparation.

Fly Fishing For The Soul

To listen to fans of the sport talk is to believe that fly fishing is a Zen-like art that calms the spirit and ease the mind. And there may actually be a real case to be made, given the emotional and physical therapy it can provide.

The concentration and attention to detail necessary to successfully land a fish is the reason fly fishing has become a popular treatment option for mental health professionals. Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing uses fly-fishing as a way to help with the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military personnel. Fly-fishing has also been used to help children with autism, teaching them concepts through the peace and rhythm of fly fishing.

Schultz also enjoys the educational aspect of fly fishing - taking someone from being a pure beginner to teaching them basic knot tying, rigging, casting and how to hook, land and release your catch. He's also a big fan of destination fishing. Schultz Outfitters offers fishing trip to the Upper Peninsula for trout, to Wisconsin for smallmouth and musky and to Alaska, not to mention full and half-day guided trips on the Huron, Flint, Shiawassee and Kalamazoo Rivers.

"Fly fishing takes you to beautiful places you may never have gone before," says Schultz. "Fishing is an excuse to go to ridiculously beautiful places like Chile, Montana and the Catskills, or even right here on the Huron or Raisin. Just you, the river, the sound of your rod and the fish."

Schultz Outfitters is also proud to host the Second Annual Huron River Single Fly Tournament on June 16. Pick your best fly and fish until you lose it. The event features prizes, raffles and auctions with proceeds benefiting the Huron River Watershed Council.

"Catching fish on a fly you tied yourself is more fulfilling than throwing in a line and a piece of lead and drinking a beer," says Schultz.

All photos by Doug Coombe

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