INTERLOCHEN — You’d think that by now, having done what I do for as long as I have, I wouldn’t have all that much more to learn. But every time I go fishing with Doug Smith, I get schooled.
Smith, a 76-year-old retired refrigeration mechanic, is an absolute ice fishing machine.
I recently met up with Smith, his nephew Tim Smith, and a couple of his buddies for an afternoon on a small lake near here. I caught fish. Smith’s nephew and buddies caught fish. But Smith killed ‘em.
And even he can’t tell you why the fish gods smile so broadly upon him.
“I don’t know if I have just the right jiggle or what,” he says with a trademark laugh. “We’re all fishing the same flies, the same line, the same rods. But I don’t stay at one depth for long. I’m up and down. I jig up and jig up all the time, whether that’s the difference, I really don’t know.”
Smith is semi-legendary amongst those who’ve encountered him. He’s devised a system that, just about everyone I know who’s ever fished with him has adopted at least a few elements of.
Smith fishes with monofilament sewing thread for line, a spring bobber, and a long (53 inches) limber rod. Ninety percent of the time, he has a small, simple fly – and no bait – on the end of his line.
Smith’s drill is simple: Lower the bait to the bottom and jig, jig, jig, moving that fly up into the water column, watching that spring bobber until it as much as quivers. Then he sets the hook with a simple lift of the rod tip. He doesn’t miss many.
Smith has been fishing that way for 45 years, he said, something he started doing with his dad, though he’s improved his technique and gear over the long haul. He now makes his own spring bobbers (Got-cha bobbers, which are available at some of Michigan’s bigger sporting goods stores). He ties his own flies, too and he likes them small; what really put him over the edge, he said, was when he started tying his flies with tungsten bead heads instead of lead.