Michigan's Best Bets For Bucketmouths

Michigan's Best Bets For Bucketmouths

Spring is definitely the best season to catch big largemouth bass, and on these waters, a well-placed bait can result in the catch of a lifetime! (May 2006)

Spring is definitely the best season for you to catch largemouth bass. The big bucketmouths have moved up into the shallows to spawn and to look for warming water. They are readily accessible to anglers, and a well-placed bait can result in the catch of a lifetime.

Here's a look at some of Michigan's best bets for tangling with lunker-sized largemouths this year.

MARBLE CHAIN

"The whole Marble Chain of lakes system has a healthy population of bass up in the 16- to 18-inch mark," said Kregg Smith, fisheries management biologist for the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit in Plainwell. "There is very diverse vegetation available, including bulrushes, lily pads and cattail wetlands, which encourages bass growth. In Marble Lake itself the fish are in the 10- to 14-inch range because the lake is deeper and colder, and the rate of growth is slower. The other lakes in the chain have both good numbers and growth rates of bass."

The Marble Chain east of Interstate 69 and south of U.S. 12 includes Coldwater, Wright, East, Middle, Archer and Marble lakes, and it covers over 3,500 acres of widely varying habitat. Deep coldwater haunts are connected by channels to shallow pond-like environments where the largemouths can pick and choose.

Coldwater Lake is the largest in the chain at 1,610 acres. Shallow spawning areas in the southern section of the lake like Peninsula Beach are spring hotspots. Access is off Waxson Road on the northwest corner.

Marble is the next largest lake at 780 acres. The northern tip warms up quickly in the spring. Boaters will find access at the west end of Wildwood Road about midlake on the eastern side.

The other waters in the chain have limited access, with the exception of a ramp off the channel between Marble and Middle lakes. These waters offer a nice combination of deep water and weedy shallows where bass thrive on the abundant panfish. Taking the time to venture into these smaller lakes can lead to some great spring bassing.

Contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit at (269) 685-6851 for more information. The Branch County Tourism Bureau can be reached at 1-800-968-9333.

GUN LAKE

"Gun Lake has good bass fishing but high angling pressure," biologist Smith said.

There is a healthy population of largemouths, most of which are in the 12- to 16-inch range, but they can run much larger. Gun Lake has the big-bass capabilities that many lakes in the area don't possess.

The bays warm early on and will hold spawning largemouths in May through the first part of June. After spawning, the bass begin moving out of the bays and into the deeper water, holding on bottom structure and breaklines. Shoreline cover can be the scene of a hot bite in the early morning and evening. You'll find shallow water with plenty of submerged vegetation from Baird's Cove to the park. Pickerel Cove is another good post-spawn largemouth hotspot where it pays to cast crankbaits and spinnerbaits. The western half of the lake is only 4 or 5 feet deep, with rice beds and other shallow vegetation.

Gun Lake covers over 2,600 acres in Allegan and Barry counties in southwestern Michigan. A fishing pier is located on the eastern side of the western basin over shallow water where shore-bound anglers stand as good a chance as boaters. Gun is located four miles north of Orangeville on M-179. A valid state park sticker is required to use the ramp on Murphy's Point in the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area on the north side of the lake. Boat ramps are available near Murphy's Point on Gun Lake Road from the east and County Road 430 from the west. Two ramps are available off Patterson Road on the southwest corner.

Contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit at (269) 685-6851 or the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area at (269) 795-9081 for more fishing information. Info on lodging is available through the Branch County Tourism Bureau at 1-800-968-9333.

GRAND RIVER

The water doesn't have to be stationary to have great largemouth bass fishing.

"For largemouths in Ottawa County, the lower Grand has good numbers of fish in Lloyds and Pottawatomie bayous, and Spring Lake," biologist Smith said. "These are highly productive backwaters that fish can move around in, and go between various and diverse habitats. Forage is more abundant in rivers than in lakes, which makes for good growth rates.

"I was on a survey in Eaton and Ionia counties on the Grand River and we saw quite a few largemouths in the 14- to 18-inch range, which is pretty good for a river," Smith continued. "The Grand River in these counties has high densities of bass, and successful year-classes of fish."


Covering nearly 9,000 acres in Alpena and Montmorency counties near Hillman, Fletcher Pond is known more for its northern pike fishing than bucketmouths, but big bass are there. Fish up to 7 pounds have been caught, and numerous lunker-class fish are taken every year.
 

In May and June, both largemouth and smallmouth bass are holding around stumps, along the shoreline or in logjams.

The Weber Dam in Portland in Ionia County offers a boat launch, as well as some good largemouth fishing. Small boats can put in at dams, bridge crossings and at a roadside park in Lyons. Access sites are more numerous near the Grand Haven State Game Area. Launch ramps include 120th Avenue, Bruce Bayou, Lloyd's Bayou on Spring Lake, Robinson Park and the Grand Haven City Marina. Spring Lake is connected to the main river, but is an extensive warmwater bayou with a lot of submerged vegetation, shoreline docks and other bass-attracting structure. Look for bass up to 5 pounds here.

Additional information can be obtained by contacting the DNR Plainwell office at (269) 685-6851.

ST. JOSEPH RIVER

"The St. Joseph River at Mendon, Mottville and below Berrien Springs contains successful year-classes of largemouth bass," Smith said. "The fishery produces large fish and high densities of bass.

"When you have a flowing river environment, the largemouths are definitely oriented to the stumps and structure out of the current," he continued. "We've been finding that the younger fish tend to be up in the bayous and oxbows, while the more mature fish are closer to the open water and the flow. The lev

el of energy in these older fish and the larger forage allow them to be nearer moving water."

Below Mendon, the Prairie, Pigeon, Fawn and Portage rivers' inflows create confluences and varying structure. River access is a problem in this area, and about the only way to launch is from the dams and bridge crossings. The Mottville section is included in this area, above Interstate 80/90.

The section from Berrien Springs to Lake Michigan stretches over 25 miles with a varying flow. Check shoreline cover, smaller bayous and backwaters for largemouths. The river in this section averages about 5 feet deep, with some 30-foot holes.

Access sites are plentiful the closer you get to the Benton Harbor and St. Joseph area. The DNR has constructed a state-owned access above Oxbow Bend. The Shamrock Park access in Berrien Springs has camping facilities as well as boater access to the river.

For more information, contact the DNR Plainwell office at (269) 685-6851.

FLETCHER POND

If the Master Angler Awards are any indication of how good a big-bass water Fletcher is, then it is definitely one of Michigan's premier largemouth lakes.

In 2004, five catch-and-release entries were made for bass over 22 inches here. Of these, two fish were over 23 inches. A variety of baits took these monsters, including a plastic worm, a Jointed Rapala and a spinnerbait. In 2005, another catch-and-release Master Angler Award entry was made for a 22-incher fooled by a topwater bait.

Covering nearly 9,000 acres in Alpena and Montmorency counties near Hillman, Fletcher Pond is known more for its northern pike fishing than bucketmouths, but big bass are there. Fish up to 7 pounds have been caught, and numerous lunker-class fish are taken every year.

The northern shoreline east of Jack's Landing can produce outstanding action. Casting small floating Rapalas up along the shoreline can result in taking a big bass every few yards when the conditions are right.

When this impoundment was first flooded, the standing timber was logged off after it iced over. Stumps and scattered vegetation provide ideal habitat in the shallow water that seldom exceeds 6 feet. The water can be rough, and the stumps are a real danger. Just look at the dents in the rental boats at Jack's Landing and you may opt for renting one of them instead of slamming into the stumps with your own boat.

Anglers will find a public access at the end of Jack's Landing Road on the north side of the lake. For more information, contact the Northern Lake Huron Management's Gaylord office at (989) 732-3541. The Alpena County Visitor's Bureau at 1-800-425-7362 can help with trip planning to the area.

KENT LAKE

Of the good bass lakes in southeastern Michigan, Kent Lake is one of the best, according to Jeff Braunscheidel, a fisheries biologist with the Lake Erie Management Unit.

In 2002, a Master Angler Award largemouth bass measured 23 inches, and in 2003, another qualifying largemouth was caught that measured 22 inches.

Anglers can expect more 14-inch fish than anything else, but the trophy-class fish are there. Whether it's due to smaller bass being thinned out by the northern pike or the good forage base and habitat, plenty of rod-benders will be taken this spring.

Early-season largemouths will be found in the northern part of the lake near the beaches before they're marked off with buoys. The bottom consists of sand and gravel, which provides good nesting locations for largemouths. There are sandbars and small islands a little ways out into the lake that post-spawn bass will frequent.

Largemouths in this lake are heavily pressured. Kent's proximity to metro areas in southeastern Michigan means plenty of anglers, but the lake just keeps pumping out quality bass.


Of the good bass lakes in southeastern Michigan, Kent Lake is one of the best, according to Jeff Braunscheidel, a fisheries biologist with the Lake Erie Management Unit. In 2002, a Master Angler Award largemouth bass measured 23 inches, and in 2003, another qualifying largemouth was caught that measured 22 inches.
 

Kent Lake is part of the Kensington Metropark on the north side of Interstate 96 between the Milford and Brighton exits in Oakland and Livingston counties, and is operated by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority. The park manages a marina on the north side of the lake, and a total of eight locations to launch a boat. A daily or annual sticker is required to use the park. Rental boats are available. The park is open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. A vehicle entry permit is required. There is a no-wake limit on the water. For more information, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit at (734) 953-0241 or the Kensington Metropark at 1-800-477-3178. The Livingston County Visitor's Bureau can be contacted at (517) 548-1795 for assistance in trip planning.

WIXOM LAKE

"I have several lakes that are pretty good for largemouths, but Wixom is one of the best," said Jim Baker, Southern Lake Huron Management Area fisheries biologist. "Bass are typically a couple of pounds, which is average for central Michigan, but there are some over 5 pounds. There are some big bass in there."

Wixom Lake covers 1,980 acres in Gladwin and Midland counties. It has sections that warm up early and draw big bucketmouths up from the colder depths. The back bays and channels that are dredge cuts off the main lake warm up quickly. These areas serve not only as spawning locations but places where you'll find bass soaking up the warmth, particularly on colder days.

"The Albright Shores area and Muddy Bay are good spring spots to try," Baker said. "If the water is cold, I'd go with plastics. If the water is quite cold, the bass will come up right along the shoreline to find that little bit of warmth. When the water warms up is when to try crankbaits, spinnerbaits and, later on in the summer, a jig-and-pig."

Stumps, weedbeds, river channels and shallow water abound, making Wixom an excellent choice for visiting anglers. But the water can be clear or stained -- a fact anglers need to keep in mind when planning their trip.

Access is off Dundas Road on the north shoreline of the lower branch of the lake. For more information, contact the Southern Lake Huron Management's Bay City office at (989) 684-9141. Call the Midland County Visitor's Bureau at 1-888-464-3526.

MUSKEGON LAKE

"I'd have to say the bass fishing on Muskegon Lake is excellent," said Rich O'Neal, fisheries biologist with the Central Lake Michigan Management's Muskegon office. "Muskegon is one of the best bass lakes in my district. It's a productive lake with a big river system flowing in and an influx of water moving in from Lake Michigan through the channel. The whole lake is good for largemouths,

and it doesn't seem to matter where you are out there. Just target wherever you find structure and weedbeds."

Muskegon Lake's catch-and-release restriction that had been in effect will probably be terminated this year, according to O'Neal. He pointed out that the special regulation was no longer needed. The last creel census in 2002 showed 4,219 largemouth bass were caught and released while only 118 were harvested. The angler survey showed that less than two hours were required to catch a bass, which is a pretty good catch rate. Combining the sampled smallmouth bass with the largemouth bass, over 2,000 fish were released during the survey.

Anglers will land some good-sized bass this year, and a few will go over 5 pounds. Tournaments are a common sight on Muskegon and another indication the fishing is good. O'Neal pointed out that fishing pressure is heavy, and it does affect the bass angling but not enough to move it from his top-of-the-line bass fishery list.


Muskegon Lake's catch-and-release restriction that had been in effect will probably be terminated this year, according to O'Neal. He pointed out that the special regulation was no longer needed. The last creel census in 2002 showed 4,219 largemouth bass were caught and released while only 118 were harvested.
 

Muskegon Lake is located in Muskegon County, a stone's throw from Lake Michigan. The lake covers 4,150 acres, with boating access from several launch sites on the west, south and east sides of the lake. For more information, contact the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 788-6798. Travel information is available from the Muskegon County Visitor's Bureau at 1-800-250-9283.

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Looking for some of Michigan's biggest largemouth bass? These are the waters offering an excellent chance at landing a lunker of a lifetime this season!

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