Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at stanfagerstrom@hotmail.com.

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July 02, 2014

The Smallmouth of Steelhead Country - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

I've not fished anywhere in the Pacific Northwest now for years but I know one of the places I'd put on my "Must Do" list if I was to get out there next week.

That place is the one I talked about in my previous column. I'd head for Fossil, Oregon and hook up with my friend Steve Fleming for some smallmouth bass fishing on Oregon's John Day River.


Darn few Pacific Northwest river guides have put their clients on more smallmouth than Steve Fleming. Steve operates Mah-Hah Outfitters out of Fossil, Oregon. The smallmouth one of his clients is holding here is typical of what you can expect on a summertime John Day trip.


Steve has been guiding out of his Mah-Hah Outfitters operation at Fossil now for 25 years. I fished with Steve several times when I lived in that part of the world. The experiences I had then are why I say I'd like to get back again now.

Look at a map of Oregon and you'll find the small community of Fossil located in the central part of the Beaver State. The John Day eventually dumps into the Columbia, but it's that isolated part of this beautiful river on up a ways above Fossil where Steve most often takes his clients.

I mentioned having had the good fortune to experience what Fleming has to offer. One of them is that each time I've been with him, we rarely saw another boat. It's been years since I made my last trip so that might have changed a bit, but I doubt it.

I got an e-mail message from Steve back in March. It was right after he'd hung up his winter steelhead gear and just started guiding for smallmouth bass again. I know darn well you aren't going to find many bass anglers out there on the John Day in March.

The weather and water that early in the Pacific Northwest will leave you with frost on your fingers and maybe on even more tender parts of your anatomy if you're not prepared to deal with it. I lived there for most of my life and I make those comments from personal experience.

Here's what's Steve had to say in that March e-mail I mentioned: "Today we boated an even 30 smallmouth bass in 44 degree water with a 1/8 oz jighead and a Yamamoto 4-inch single #134 tail grub covered with Smelly Jelly garlic. We fished more than 10 different set-ups, but only caught those pesky smallmouth bass on the above described set-up."


Here's a close up of the Yamamoto bait that has caught so many fish for Steve Fleming on the John Day.


As I mentioned in my previous column, Steve had been introduced to that particular Yamamoto grub by a retired Oregon fish biologist named Errol Claire. It has turned out to be one of Steve's most effective lures on the John Day. He loves it and so do those John Day smallmouth fish.

But hold the phone! Remember what I wrote about in my last column dealing with lure makers no longer making the lures you like best? Well friends, that's exactly what Steve found himself dealing with where the #134 4-inch Yamamoto grub is concerned.

Last month, I wrote about the Heddon Tackle Company dropping the Heddon Basser, one of my most effective bass lures on my home lake. However, it wasn't selling well elsewhere, so it was dropped. That was obviously what happened with that Yamamoto grub Steve found so effective on the John Day.

Fortunately, Fleming learned that particular grub was going to be dropped from the Yamamoto lure lineup before it actually happened. "When I learned the #134 was to be dropped," Steve says, "I contacted the company and bought their remaining inventory. I also bought about an equal number of the #134 double tailed grubs."

Yamamoto #134 grubs were a shade of smoke with large red flakes. Today, Steve still uses those he has, but does so sparingly. Sometimes Steve simply removes one of the tails from the double tailed #134 grubs and uses it as a single tail.

Something else Fleming will tell you he learned from his friend Errol Claire was to rig one of his singled tailed #134 grubs as a trailer for use with a white skirted Hildebrandt Pro Series half ounce spinnerbait. The combination has been a big winner for John Day smallmouth.

"This combination," Fleming says, "has produced my largest fish each year since 2009. Some of those fish have won the In-Fisherman Catch & Release contest for the nine Western states."

Fleming uses this spinnerbait-grub combo especially when the river is up and off color. "I've known for a long time," he says, "that when the river color drops and is not clear to go to items with red in them. The #134 Yamamoto grub with the big red flakes is a winner."



It rains a bit in Oregon. Whenever the John Day gets a bit discolored Steve Fleming turns to this spinnerbait and grub combination. It has also caught some of the largest John Day River smallmouth he has put in the boat.


This veteran guide will be among the first to tell you that Yamamoto does continue to offer a single tail grub of a shade similar to the #134. That one is the #178 smoke with black and red flakes. Steve says it is similar but not identical to the one he's using.

So, what's the technique Fleming has found most effective with his favorite grubs on the John Day? "The best technique," he says, "is to cast into the current seam on the slack water side and then very slowly swim it back to the boat. Fish your lure just as close to the bottom as you can. Let the lure bump bottom once in a while. Making three little twitches of the rod tip during the retrieve can also help create interest.

"The most important thing, and also the hardest, is what you should do when you feel a bite. When that happens, immediately lower your rod tip. Larger smallmouths suck a bait in and typically get only the tail of the lure in their mouth when they first pick it up. Once you lower the tip, count to two or three and then set the hook hard and you'll get a hook up."


Great smallmouth fishing is just one of the things you'll get on a trip down the John Day River with guide Steve Fleming. He serves a noontime meal right there on the river that will have your taste buds doing a toe dance all the way home.


I could tell you a bunch of other reasons why you'll enjoy making a trip with Steve. Those smallmouth bass on the John Day aren't all he has going. He also has access to a dandy little private largemouth lake in that same isolated area. I've taken fish of 8-pounds there myself. Odds are, he'll show it to you if you're interested.

And then there's the delicious lunch Steve serves right there on the river come noontime. The food he serves has been cooking all morning in the Dutch Oven he fires up in the boat before you start drifting downstream. You'll find the chow Steve provides is just as delicious as those aromas you've been sniffing all morning have indicated it might be.

Again — if I was heading into the Pacific Northwest tomorrow, I'd make sure I had Steve Fleming and his Mah-Hah Outfitters in Fossil on my "Must See" schedule. You're missing one heck of an enjoyable experience if you don't do the same.


Guide Steve Fleming also offers his clients access to a private bass lake. Here I display one of the beauties I caught there myself.

May 30, 2014

The Smallmouth of Steelhead Country, Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

It's something even experienced bass men who should know better find it difficult to believe.

And just what is the "it" I'm talking about. It's just because a lure that always seems to get the best results on your home lake may not be all that great someplace else. If you don't realize this already, you dang well better wise up because you eventually will.


The beautiful John Day River runs through the quiet country of central Oregon before it dumps into the Columbia River. The river supports the migratory fishes like steelhead and salmon but it's also loaded with smallmouth bass. Nobody knows this great Oregon stream better than Steve Fleming, the operator of Mah-Hah Oufitters at Fossil, Oregon.

I've been around for awhile. I can remember two or three times when one or another of the country's top lure makers has suddenly quit making a lure that was one of my very best baits. I thought they had lost their marbles.


Those "loose" marbles were mine. One of my good friends at the Heddon Tackle Company brought this to my attention decades ago when the company announced they would no longer be marketing a beautiful old lure called the "Heddon Basser."

"What in hell are you guys doing?" I asked my friend. "That Basser is one of the best lures you've got. When conditions are right I catch more fish on that thing than anything else in my tackle box."
"Stan," my friend responded, "there a few others like you here and there who catch fish on it but that Basser you're talking about just isn't a good seller for us. Lures that sell are what lets us stay in business. We just can't continue to carry the ones that don't in our inventory. It's really quite simple---if they don't sell they don't stay."


Book a trip with guide Steve Fleming and he'll take you to isolated stretches of the John Day above Fossil. You'll drift downstream and fish for smallmouth as you go. Here Steve launches his drift boat at the start of a trip.

I didn't like that response, but even a bullheaded old Scandinavian like yours truly had to admit it made sense. It has happened to me a couple more times since that Heddon Basser experience.

Did this mean I had to change tactics? No way! As soon as I learned that the lure was no longer going to be available I made darn sure I got a supply of them that would last me down through the years. I'll do the same thing again tomorrow if a lure I like and am catching fish on is about to disappear from the market.

All this came to mind recently when I had opportunity to visit with one of the most experienced outfitters and fishing guides in the western United States.

The man I'm talking about is Steve Fleming, the veteran operator of Mah-Hah Outfitters on Oregon's famed John Day River. Steve headquarters in Fossil, Oregon. As you'd expect, Steve guides for the migratory fishes for which the Pacific Northwest is famous. But his superb guiding efforts don't end there.


The John Day River got a plant of 80 young smallmouth for the first time back in 1971. Guide Steve Fleming shows us here how well that plant made 43 years ago has turned out. He took the beauty he displays here in mid-March of this year.

What you might not realize is that the John Day also carries an abundance of smallmouth bass. An Oregon State Department of Fish & Game biologist named Errol Claire planted 80 smallmouth bass in the John Day River in 1971.

To merely say those young smallmouth liked their new home doesn't get the job done. They flat out loved it! "The plant Errol made was the only stocking of smallmouth ever made on the John Day," Steve Fleming says. "Today you'll find the river holds about 1,000 smallmouths per mile of water. Some of these fish exceed 5-pounds in weight."

Fleming has been running his Mah-Hah Outfitters operation on the John Day now for 25 years. During that time he's guided anglers from all over the country at one time or another. One of them happens to be the same retired fish biologist who made that original plant of smallmouth in the John Day.

"One of the advantages," Fleming says, "of getting to fish with lots of different folks is that they introduce you to new lures and techniques. This happened when I started taking Errol Claire smallmouth fishing on the John Day."

That's not surprising because besides being technically qualified as you'd expect an experienced fish biologist to be, Errol is also a cracking good angler. Today Steve will tell you his retired biologist friend turned him onto the lure that now is his number one producer in the cold water of early season fishing.


Here's another example of the excellent smallmouth fishing to be had on Oregon's John Day River.


He'll also tell you that this valued friend introduced him to the tackle and technique he now employs to nail some beautiful big John Day smallmouth when the river is up and discolored. One of these set ups has produced John Day smallmouth that have won top honors in the "Catch & Release Contest" conducted by In-Fisherman magazine in the nine Western States.

But right here's where my friend Steve Fleming ran into that same problem I mentioned in the beginning. That problem is no longer being able to continue to get the exact lure he'd been clobbering the fish with because it's no longer being produced.

Don't miss my next column. I'll reveal what that lure is and how Steve Fleming uses it to produce even when conditions are less than ideal. It's bound to give you ideas you can use in your own fishing.

You'll find that column right here beginning in July.


-To Be Continued-




February 28, 2014

You Can Make Your Practice Pay

by Stan Fagerstrom

You and your best pal are going fishing in the morning.

You've been thinking all afternoon about what you need to do to be all set when he comes by to pick you up in the morning. As you think about it, you become more aware of just how darn few things you can do that will actually help assure catching a few fish.

You can't, for example, do a blasted thing about what the weather will be. You don't have any kind of control over the water temperature, barometric pressure, wind velocity or direction or any number of other factors - all of which might affect the fish to one degree or another.

As I've mentioned, there are just so many things you can't do anything about as you prepare for the trip. Developing the ability to handle your gear so you can place your lure on target time after time isn't one of them.

Actually, accurate casting is one of the few variables associated with fishing that we can control. Sadly, and as I've endeavored to point out in my last two columns, not all that many anglers do exercise this one controlling factor that is available to them.


A level wind reel is one of the best fishing tools there is. I don't care what the advertising says, you're going to have to accept the need for practice to really learn how to use it.

Let's suppose you're one of those rare newcomers to angling who does recognize and accept the need for practice. What's the best way to go about it? I'm assuming, of course, that you've been successful in finding quality equipment to work with.

The first step is to get yourself a selection of practice casting weights. Be certain that you have weights of 1/4th-ounce, 3/8th-ounce and 5/8th-ounce.


These three different size practice casting weights are essential for your practice sessions.

You'll also want different size targets. They needn't be fancy. You don't have to have water for your practice sessions. That's one of the easy things about it. Just get your gear and head for the backyard or the front lawn. Either spot will work just fine.

Hula Hoops work well as targets if you're doing your practice in your back yard or a neighborhood park. Different sized cardboard boxes also work well.

I like to use a small kiddies' plastic wading pool as a primary target. You can fill it with water if you choose. Your casting weight won't bounce out of the plastic pool if it is filled with water. You can get the same result by placing something like a blanket in an empty pool.

Whatever targets you select - and this so important in the beginning - don't set them way out there somewhere. Forget all about distance as you begin your practice. I'll make you a promise: Concentrate on learning to hit your targets consistently close in. Once you do, you'll find that it's no sweat to reach out farther when it's necessary.

I stress this because it's so darned important in developing good casting techniques. Unfortunately, distance is often what beginning casters are prone to give the most attention to. Don't make that mistake. Again, learn to hit the targets you've positioned fairly close in the beginning. If you do it the other way around you'll be in trouble from day one.


I've had the good fortune to share thoughts and demonstrate casting over a sizeable chunk of the world. This picture is from one of a number of appearances I've made in Brazil.

So what's a good distance to work with in the beginning? I recommend setting your primary target 25 to 30-feet away. There's little physical effort involved in casting that far if you've got good quality, balanced equipment to work with.

If it's a level wind reel and casting rod that you're working with, tie on a 5/8th-ounce practice weight in the beginning. You'll find the heavier weight handles with less effort. A practice plug that size also brings out the action of the rod and helps give you the "feel" for what good casting requires.

You'll eventually want to switch to lighter weights for some of your casting practice with a level wind reel but hold off doing so until you've got a good sense of what's required.


Your level wind reel will never perform the way it should if you screw all of its spool tension devices way down tight. Practice will enable you not to have to do that.

Someone is sure to ask what test lines should they choose for their practice sessions. I favor 12 to 14-pound test on the level winds where monofilaments are concerned. With quality braids like Power Pro, my choice is 20-pound test.

With the open faced spinning reels my choice is usually 6-pound test with monofilament and 10-pound with braid. Incidentally, if you've not used Shimano's Power Pro braid on your open faced spinning reels, don't hesitate to do so. It spools beautifully. You won't quite get distance as easily as you do with monofilament, but as aforesaid, distance is overrated where accurate casting is concerned.

Closed face spinning reels come already loaded with monofilament. If you're teaching a youngster how to use one, and those reels are a great choice for kids, pick one that's small enough for them to easily handle.

Like most anything else, you'll generally get about what you're willing to pay for in purchasing a closed face reel. One of the best I've found is a Daiwa Goldcast. It's a dandy. The smallest of these quality reels, and that's the best size for kids to handle, is the Daiwa GC80.

If your wife, like mine, doesn't want to get into fishing up to her ears, but wants to be able to enjoy herself when she does choose to go, a closed face is also a good choice. Years ago, I got her a Daiwa Goldcast closed face. I taught her how to use it properly early on and she's pretty darn good with it.

There's a whole lot more to be said about the importance of casting practice and how to go about it. But I'll make you a promise: mastering the gear you'll be using for actual fishing will have just one result - that's more fish in the boat.

If that doesn't make you happy, I don't know what would!

November 26, 2013

The Stan’s Spin Spinnerbait - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 2


The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin spinnerbait I talked about in my last column can be a fish-catching son of a gun when it's in the hands of an angler who knows how to use it.

If you read my previous column you know I urged readers to get away from the habit that so many bass anglers share when it comes to spinnerbait fishing. That habit is to simply keep throwing these lures hour after hour without ever varying the speed of retrieve or trying certain other techniques that can sometimes make a dramatic difference in results.

One of the lakes I used to fish contained lots of piling. These piling were a favorite hang out of some of the lake's largest bass. Most of the pilings were located in water that ran from 7 to 10-feet in depth.

Rarely did I take bass on a spinnerbait by simply firing one up next to a piling and then just start reeling back in. What sometimes did work was to cast just as close to the piling as I could get, then just let the lure drop on a slack line. I counted the lure down as I picked up the slack. Once I knew it was near bottom, I flipped my rod tip sharply to cause the lure to dart up and away.

This simple procedure helped me boat some of the largest bass I ever took from that lake. More often than not I had my best success when I added a trailer to my spinnerbait hook. Sometimes I used a plastic trailer, but more often I'd tip the lure with an Uncle Josh pork rind strip.


It doesn't matter where you're fishing largemouth bass, a quality spinnerbait is going to get its share of fish. It may get more than its share if you use the right one in the proper fashion. The one these anglers are about to boat came out of Clear Lake, California.

The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin works wonderfully well for this procedure. The main reason it does is because of the lure's lightweight Mylar plastic spinner blade. To observe what I'm talking about, drop your Stan's Spin in clear water next to your boat and watch what happens as it falls. You'll find that the lure's plastic blade has a unique helicopter-style action as it drops.

A swimming pool provides an even better place for you to get a look at what I'm talking about. Cast your Stan's Spin into the deep end of the pool, let it drop and then flip your rod tip once it gets down a ways.

That old pot bellied bass down there in the cover you're fishing has probably seen more spinnerbaits than you have. But she's never eyeballed one like the Pro Model Stan's Spin. Every now and then that ‘copter blade action and the darting get away it makes when you flip your rod tip are sufficient to trigger her short fuse. She'll smash the living daylights out of that bait and you better have a good grip on your rod when it happens.


See that white skirted Stan's Spin spinnerbait? It got this fish from the cool waters of Siltcoos Lake on the Oregon Coast.

In my last column I also touched on the importance of slowing down your retrieve sufficiently so your Stan's Spin bumps into the underwater cover where big bass often hang out. I love to use this approach whenever the cover happens to be submerged timber.

If you've ever had the good fortune to fish Mexico's Lake El Salto you know what I'm talking about. This wondrous bass fishing paradise is loaded with wood cover. I've had a chance to fish it half a dozen times and always I come away amazed at the number of bass just one cluster of partially submerged trees might hold.

Often, depending on just how thick is the cover you're fishing, plastic lures of one kind or another provide the best chance to take fish. But this doesn't always apply. Never overlook a spinnerbait, especially in stretches where the partially underwater wood thins out a bit.

I'll never forget what transpired one evening at El Salto just before it was time to head back to Anglers Inn Lodge for our evening meal. The guide eased our boat along a steep bank where partially submerged trees were scattered all along the shoreline.


This picture doesn't do justice to the size of the fish. The fish my guide is helping me get out of the net weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. I caught it at Mexico's Lake El Salto.

I'd made about a dozen casts with a blue skirted Stan's Spin and---wham! Fish On! That heavyweight bass had to be one of the largest I've ever hooked at El Salto. I've caught largemouth down there of almost 12-pounds so I know what a trophy fish feels like.


Look close and you can see the blue and black skirted Stan's Spin spinnerbait that put this nice fish in the boat.

I was never to find out the exact size of that bass. The guide had the net poised and was all set to use it when the fish came unpinned. The line didn't break and the hook was as sharp as when I took the lure out of its package. The fish just hadn't been well hooked.

As soon as I'd determined my Stan's Spin was in good shape, I went right back to casting. Whenever possible I cast up between the trees that poked slender fingers up above the surface. Then I'd let the lure drop and endeavor to make it bump off the larger underwater limbs I couldn't see but I could feel as the lure came back to me.

I'd made just such a cast, felt it bump off one of those larger submerged limbs and again---wham! Fish on! This one didn't get away. When we finally got it onto our Boga-Grip scales it weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. We shot a couple of quick photos of that old girl and back into the water she went.

A guy like me who has spent most of a lifetime fishing bass in the Pacific Northwest doesn't have that many chances to eyeball a bass of 10-pounds or more. There just aren't that many of them around. You can be assured I was one happy camper when the fishing was done that day at El Salto.

This two-part series on the Stan's Spin spinnerbait still just scratches the surface on the tricks and tactics you can use with it. Perhaps you have developed even better methods of using it effectively. If you have, by all means let me know. I'll be happy to hear from you.

While the lure that carries my name is one of my favorites, let me make something else abundantly clear. The Stan's Spin is not "always" going to catch fish. Neither will any other single lure you have in your tackle box.

Be that as it may, few lures are more dependable day in and day out than a spinnerbait. The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin has some things going for it that the others don't. You're missing a bet if you don't let the fish in your area tell you whether they like it or not.

November 14, 2011

Often Color is The Key - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

There's simply no question that color often plays a tremendously important role in consistently putting fish in the boat or on the bank.
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