Check out the latest installment of Costa Behind the Guides presented by Costa Sunglasses. The Fly Lords team was lucky enough to catch up with Mike Schultz. Owner of Schultz outfitters located in Ypsilanti, Michigan. We sat down with Mike to talk about his local fishery, some of the gear he likes to use, and how you can book a trip to fish some of the best smallmouth water in the world.
Flylords: Tell us a little about yourself:
Shultzy: I’m Mike Schultz and I am from Dexter, Michigan. I’m 37 and have been working in the industry for close to 20 years. I’m a fly shop owner and fly fishing guide in Southeast Michigan.
I try to keep my hands in a little bit of everything to stay relevant and sharp on the water and in the shop. The shop is always moving, there is always somewhere to be and always something to do. That’s kind of my life; the kids, their sports, the wife, the fly shop, guiding, fly tying… A little bit of everything. I have my hands in all of it, which is where I think you need to be if you want to be good at what you do, you have to be obsessive!
Flylords: What do you love most about this lifestyle and business that you’ve been able to build?
Schultzy: Well, definitely being self-employed is fun, because you kind of make your own schedule and your own schedule is pretty much a 20 hour day. You get what you put in, that’s how it is when you’re running the show, so, fortunately, I have a lot of fuel in the tank right now. I love the people, love the travel, the different cultures and people from all walks of life that fly fishing draws in. Some of the best friends I have in the world come from this industry and the time that I’ve spent traveling and doing shows and events.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about when Schultz Outfitters and your fly shop came to life and what made you want to make that commitment?
Schultzy: I always knew I wanted to do it. In my late teenage years, I worked at quite a few fly shops in the Southeast Michigan area and then I started guiding full time. All the shops that I worked at were super old school and concentrated on trout fishing, even though they were hundreds of miles away from viable trout waters, they were pushing trout. Eventually, with enough exploring, I managed to get six different smallmouth fisheries dialed in and started my own guide service back in 2003. The shop didn’t come to life until 2011. But during that time I was able to gain a bunch of knowledge on the waters and make the right connections for access and all the important things that go into running a successful guide service. The guide service also transitioned into destination travel, I started taking the clients that I would guide on a regular basis to Alaska or to Montana or even just regional stuff.
All the fly shops in southern Michigan were owned by corporate refugees, second careers, trust funders. They weren’t really shops where these guys had to bust their ass to make a living. It was really more like a boy’s club. And I always knew I could do better than that so when all those shops kind of went by the wayside, those guys got into their 60s and 70s and just kind of faded away. There was a huge void near southeastern Michigan and I already had a pretty good following with the guide service and the destination travel. It was a natural thing, and the time felt right, so I pulled the trigger, got the shop rolling and here we are.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about the smallmouth bass fishery and what makes that species so special to you.
Schultzy: These fish are everywhere, they’re native, and they are badass. That being said they are not easy to catch… Anybody can go out and catch a whole bunch of little dink trout or a bunch of dink bass. But going out and fishing for a resident fish that has lived in the same logjam its whole life, can be difficult at times. People don’t realize that these giant fish are 18, 19, 20, 21 years old. A 20-inch fish grows slow and is extremely smart.
What we’ve been doing the last couple years since it’s been legal to do, is fishing 12 months a year. And we’re catching these fish in 33-degree water or we’re catching these fish in 80-degree water. For the most part, the bite can be finicky, then you have those days, it happens three, four, five times a year where it’s just lights out. You can’t keep the fish off your line. Being in southeast Michigan, you’d think the rivers would all be pretty similar but every one of them is super unique. I’m not sure exactly how many miles we have to fish, but there are six rivers and I think the shortest one is 40 miles. So if you can do the math, there’s a shitload of water around here. And not a lot of people doing it.
Flylords: How have you seen your fishery change over the last five to ten years?
Schultzy: I think they’re pretty stable, they’re healthy. Every river is different, we have some rivers that have low-density big fish. We have some rivers that have a stupid amount of fish. It’s our responsibility as a guide service, to manage the fishery properly. Whether it be barb-less hooks, or not fishing the same beat two days in a row. Some beats we’ll rest for up to a week. But we’re able to manage these waters. There’s the same fish that we caught two years ago that I haven’t caught in two years that’s still in that same exact spot. I go by and wave to him every day. When I go by…
These fish are valuable. No one realizes how long it takes these fish to grow to the size that they can get up to. So we’re doing our best to educate the right people on how valuable these fish are. If you have a chance you should check out the video “The Blue Economy”, it’s a film that our local watershed council did about the river that the shop is on. Take a look at it, it’s a five-minute video but they put a dollar figure on how much the river is worth. It’s pretty astounding. A river that was once looked at as a trash river that nobody wanted to float down or look at or fish is now worth billions of dollars.
Flylords: If somebody wants to come out and spend a day on the water with you, when should they come? Also if you have some advice for what they can practice on before they go.
Schultzy: It’s all about flow, so in the spring meaning March to June, that is going to be our peak of all peaks. So if you’re coming out here to fish for a trophy fish and you want to go home with a photograph of a 20 plus inch fish, you’ll want to be here in that time period.
What you need to work on before you get here… You’re going to want to be proficient in casting 7 and 8 weight rods. If you can double haul that will be great to have in the arsenal. You also want to be able to cast off your backhand. We can teach you a lot of that while we’re out here, but if you serious and want to catch giants like you’d want to go to Kansas and Texas to shoot a giant buck you are going to want to be prepared. I tell guys, I know it sounds silly but stand on a cooler in your yard and work on your backhand cast, work on your casting angle. It’s not always overhead, 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock, easy casting. It’s backhand, it’s sidearm. Our watersheds are fairly small in comparison to what most people are used to fishing. So having a short game is really important.
Flylords: Tell me about your favorite Costa shades to wear on the water.
Schultzy: My number one lens is the Sunrise Silver Mirrors. In Michigan, you get beautiful, bluebird days but most days are what I’m looking at right now, Overcast. And these are the days that I want to be on the water. So I’m rocking those Sunrise Silver Mirrors pretty much all the time… I’d say my second would be my standard Silver Mirrors. Those are the two that I run all the time. My favorite frames are the Permits, in black.
Flylords: Do you have a favorite or most epic fish you’ve caught outside of your local fishery?
Schultzy: I’d say the most badass fish I’ve caught in freshwater outside of smallmouth and my local fishing is a really big Musky I got up in Wisconsin. It was just an incredible eat, and the fish just went absolutely bananas when it started jumping. It was straight up Tarpon style, tail walking like I’ve never seen a Musky do in my life and just totally scorched my fingers. The fish was clean, the fish wasn’t bleeding, the fish was 100% fine. We never got a really good measurement on it but it’ll tell you what, It wasn’t 50 inches but it was every bit 49.
We would like to thank Mike Schultz for taking the time to interview with us, and for Costa Sunglasses for making this interview possible.
If you are interested in booking a trip with Schultz Outfitters you can visit their website here: http://schultzoutfitters.com/
Read our other guide interviews: