Our Best Bets For Bucketmouths

Our Best Bets For Bucketmouths

There are many ways to catch largemouths, and many Michigan waters on which to do so. But if it's big bass you're after, bring your entire bag of tricks to these lakes. (May 2007)

A calm evening is the perfect time to work a surface lure to catch largemouth bass on many Michigan lakes.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

One of the appeals of fishing for largemouth bass is the variety of ways you can catch them.

The challenge is to input all the variables into your brain and formulate a plan of attack. You need to consider the type of structure you'll be fishing, the time of the year, the attitude of the bass, fishing pressure and recreational boating pressure. Put it all together, and there are plenty of Michigan lakes where you can catch some big largemouth bass.

Following is a selection of Michigan lakes where you'll want to have your entire bag of largemouth bass tricks ready to go.

PAW PAW LAKE

"Paw Paw Lake near Coloma is an excellent largemouth lake that sees a fair amount of fishing pressure from the bass clubs and the locals," stated Randy Van Dam of D&R Sports Center in Kalamazoo. "The lake offers a lot of variety when it comes to largemouths. It varies seasonally, but you can fish deep weedlines, breaks, classic points and it's a great dock lake."

Paw Paw Lake has a maximum depth of 90 feet and its irregular shape provides plenty of nooks and crannies where bass anglers can escape. The 857-acre lake is very accessible, with public access sites on the east and west shores. Once on the lake, you can catch bass just about anywhere and by any means.

A productive summer pattern is to work the deep weeds in 17 to 20 feet of water with crankbaits and jigs. There are many docks that hold largemouths throughout the year, too. Try pitching your favorite jig or plastic combination for some exciting shallow-water action. Points also are a big draw on Paw Paw Lake. The shallows right off the boat launch on the east end are a prime early-summer location.

"It's the kind of lake where you can catch 'em all over," Van Dam said.

One unusual feature of Paw Paw Lake is that it has a landlocked population of alewives that the bass love.

While most of the bucketmouths will average 2 to 3 pounds, fish in the 5-pound range are not uncommon. Although Paw Paw Lake sees a fair amount of boating activity, you can often find the lake's largemouths in relatively shallow water because it is usually stained. A variety of spinnerbaits, plastics and crankbaits will produce on Paw Paw.

For information on accommodations, bait shops and amenities near Paw Paw Lake, contact the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council at (269) 925-6301 or online at SWMichigan.org

GULL LAKE

"Gull Lake was managed as a trout and salmon lake for years, and they pretty much eliminated the smelt and a lot of the other forage fish," claimed Van Dam. "We had some pretty decent bass fishing in Gull Lake back then, but it just seemed to get worse and worse. Now that the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has scrapped the trout and salmon program, the smelt numbers have exploded. The bass have come back big time, but it's a very different fishery."

Gull Lake is in Kalamazoo and Barry counties. Gull is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in southern Michigan, and its 2,050 acres have exceptional water quality. That is one reason it supports a myriad of fish species. Besides coldwater species like brown trout, rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon, Gull Lake boasts a thriving warmwater species community as well.

"Gull Lake used to produce a lot of 2- to 3-pound bass," Van Dam said, "but now, 4- and 5-pound bass are not uncommon."

Van Dam said the bass thrive on the baitfish populations in the lake, as well as panfish and crawfish. Catching them, though, isn't always an easy proposition. Cover is at a premium in Gull Lake's deep basin. Find weeds and you'll find game fish. Subtle points and sloping dropoffs that feature patches of submergent vegetation are natural draws. Look for bucketmouths along the southeast side of the lake where you find weeds in 10 to 30 feet of water, but they can be as deep as 60 feet at times. Another prime location is northwest of Island Park. Stumps, weeds and an irregular bottom in the northwest corner of the lake are attractive to spring largemouths.

Not all of Gull Lake's largemouths relate to structure. Pods of bass can be found suspended over open water where they shadow schools of baitfish. Covering water is the best way to make contact with these fish. Trolling may not be the preferred method of catching largemouths, but some Gull Lake anglers make big catches of bass by using Dipsey Divers. Honest! Others use light line and tackle to finesse fish with small jigs.

For information on Gull Lake's bass population, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the DNR at (616) 685-6851.

PINE LAKE

"Barry County's Pine Lake is known for its big crappies, but it is very good for largemouths as well," Van Dam claimed. "There's lots of structure that largemouths like. And because there are four different lakes, there are subtle differences from lake to lake."

With a maximum depth of 34 feet and covering some 660 acres, Pine Lake has no shortage of places for bass to hide. It has defined weedlines in deep water, pad fields, reed flats, bays, coves, points, islands, cabbage beds and docks. All of them are likely locations to find largemouths. Hitting on a pattern is key. Deep water is always a refuge for largemouths in the summer.

"We catch a lot of fish by drop-shotting in the summer in 18 to 20 feet of water," suggested Van Dam. "In general, Pine Lake fishes very well in the summer. There are bays and coves where you can get away from the traffic that always produce fish."

Most bucketmouths on Pine Lake will run 2 to 3 pounds, but trophies pushing 7 pounds are not unheard of.

For information on Pine Lake and other southwestern Michigan bass lakes, contact D&R Sports Center at (269) 372-2277, or online at DandrsSports.com

COLDWATER LAKE

"I would have to rate Coldwater Lake as one of the better largemouth lakes in our unit," stated Jay Wesley, Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor. "Coldwater Lake sees a lot of fishing pressure from out-of-state anglers, but it has excellent large

mouth habitat and good numbers of bass."

Coldwater Lake, at 1,610 acres, is in Branch County, and is one in a series of lakes that includes Marble, Middle, Bartholomew, Loon and East Long. Coldwater is the biggest lake in the chain. Though managed primarily for walleyes, Coldwater Lake gives up plenty of largemouths up to 6 pounds.

Largemouths can be found throughout Coldwater Lake, but several areas produce consistent action at certain times of the year. An area on the south end known as Shawnee Shoals is a good location to look for spawning bass when the season opens in late May. Post-spawn bass then fan out around some humps found there throughout the summer months. A well-defined weedline in 10 to 20 feet of water off Canada Shores is a prime hangout for summer bass. Drop-shotting along the weed edge is a hot tactic. Chucking a spinnerbait is a good way to entice largemouths from the weedflats and structure found off the southeast corner of Lyopawa Island. A flat called "The Kettles" is a steady producer of bucketmouths for those who like to fish Texas-rigged worms or Carolina-rigged lizards. A hump straight out from the boat launch on the northwest side of the lake is exactly the kind of spot you'll want to target for summer bass.

For information on cottages, bait shops and campgrounds in the area, contact the Coldwater-Branch County Chamber of Commerce at (517) 278-5985 or online at Branch-County.com

RANDALL LAKE

Branch County's 513-acre Randall Lake is actually three lakes in one. Commonly referred to as Randall Lake, it is actually made up of Cemetery, North and Randall lakes, but it is impossible to tell where one lake ends and another begins. Bass know no boundaries, and inhabit all of them. You won't find many lunker largemouths in Randall, but you will find plenty of bass.

You won't have to go far to find good bassin' on Randall Lake. A series of humps right out from the boat ramp is a good location for largemouths. Try topwater baits here early and late in the day. Heavy weeds, humps and a prominent breakline in the northeast corner of Randall Lake make this a can't-miss spot for bucketmouths. Spinnerbaits are a good bet when the bass are active. Slow down and crawl a jig or Texas-rigged worm if the bass are more finicky. Zara Spooks and Pop-Rs produce exciting topwater action when the lake is calm.

A horseshoe-shaped bar on the west shore of North Lake concentrates summer bass. Weeds are the key, but any wood you can find in the water is worth checking out.

The defined weedlines along the south shore of Cemetery Lake is a perfect spot to chuck a spinnerbait and cover water.

For more information, contact the Coldwater-Branch County Chamber of Commerce at (517) 278-5985 or online at Branch-County

LAKE ORION

Oakland County's Lake Orion is located in the middle of suburbia, but it's still a topnotch bass lake. In fact, it is one of the better lakes in southeast Michigan.

"White is always a good color on Lake Orion," claimed Kelly Bridgewater of KD Outdoors in Waterford.

Bridgewater justified her claim on the fact that Lake Orion has a land-locked population of alewives that the bass key on. Lures with white on them seem to match the alewives. Find the baitfish, and you'll find bass. This forage allows largemouths in Lake Orion to grow to chunky proportions. Three- to 4-pound bucketmouths are common on Lake Orion, and 7-pounders aren't unheard of.

There's no lack of structure on 470-acre Lake Orion. It doesn't have much woody cover, with the exception of a bay on the south side of the lake. Twitch a stick bait on the surface here or bump the stumps with a spinnerbait and you are likely to encounter some very nice bass.

Like most southern Michigan lakes that allow it, recreational boaters churn Lake Orion to a froth on weekends, but you can avoid them and find some good bass in the coves and back bays located on the west side of the lake. The main body of the lake is a maze of humps and sloping contours that provide ideal bass structure. Early in the season before the weeds reach the surface is a good time to cast spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Later, work buzzbaits or twitch surface lures over the weedtops.

For more information on Lake Orion largemouths, contact KD Outdoors at (248) 666-7799.

LAKE FENTON

You won't find many lakes in Genesee County, but 845-acre Lake Fenton is about as good as they get for largemouths. Lake Fenton has excellent water quality, depth, structure and vegetation -- everything a bass needs.

Look for largemouths on the south end of Lake Fenton when the season opens. This shallow end of the lake warms quickly, and spawning bass seek out the warm water. As the bass fan out after the spawn, look for mid-lake flats and submergent vegetation off Log Cabin Point and Case Island to attract plenty of bucketmouths. Bass topping 5 pounds are not uncommon. Drag a Carolina-rigged lizard or worm for best results. Summer finds bass schools in surprisingly deep water off points on the north end, and drop-shotting is a proven tactic then. When in doubt, find some thick weeds, let a spinnerbait flutter into the openings, and hold on.

For maps, tackle and information on Lake Fenton, contact the Flint Gander Mountain store at (810) 230-1212.

FLETCHER FLOODWATER

There aren't many northern Michigan lakes that are ideally suited to largemouth bass. Fletcher Floodwater, also known as Fletcher Pond, is one of them. There are many people who claim that this could be the best largemouth lake in Michigan.

The deepest water on Fletcher is only 7 or 8 feet, mainly along the old river channel. The rest of the lake is one big stumpfield, and bass can be found just about anywhere in it.

Key is to cover water on this 9,000-acre impoundment and keep your lure out of the weeds. Watching a big bucketmouth explode on a Pop R, Zara Spook or Rapala is about as much fun as it can get. The topwater stuff works best early in the season before the weeds get too thick. Plopping a Texas-rigged lizard into holes in the weed mats can be dynamite later in the summer. Spinnerbaits in chartreuse or white are killer when you "bump the stumps," which triggers foraging largemouths.

"There may not be a lake in Michigan that produces more 5-pound largemouths," claimed Dean Robinson of Jack's Landing. Bass pushing 7 pounds are caught every year.

More consistent water levels in recent years have helped bass spawning success, and boost numbers of bluegills and sunfish -- a favorite forage of Fletcher largemouths.

For bait, tackle and information on Fletcher Pond, contact Jack's Landing at (989) 742-4370. For information on lodging, attractions and other amenities in the area, contact the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-425-7362 or onl

ine at Alpena.net

* * *

Largemouth bass anglers may be in the minority in Michigan, but they don't mind. That way, they have some great fishing all to themselves!

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