Michigan's Supercharged Smallmouths
October 04, 2010
Not many people in our state go fishing for smallmouth bass, which is unusual because most Michiganders love a good fight. You can discover the battle in a bronzeback on these waters. (June 2006)
Smallmouths never have seemed to get much attention from Upper Peninsula residents.
"The locals don't focus much on the lakes with smallmouths in them," offered Department of Natural Resources' Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Bill Ziegler. "Those lakes tend to be clearwater lakes, and the fish in them tend to be deeper. We actually have a lot of good smallmouth lakes, though."
It could be possible that in many of the western U.P.'s best smallmouth lakes, anglers don't even realize the fish are there.
"Iron County's Ottawa Lake is kind of a unique situation," Ziegler said. "The lake was a pretty good smallmouth lake to begin with. Beginning in 2005, the USFWS started doing a study on the rusty crayfish population in the lake, and the lake is going to be open to catch-and-release fishing only. So, bass that are already in the lake will have the chance to get much bigger."
According to Gloria Luckey of Luckey's Sport Shop on Iron River, Ottawa Lake already has some very respectable smallies in it.
"Ottawa Lake has some pretty good natural reproduction in it, so you're likely to catch a variety of different-sized bass," Luckey said, "but smallmouths in the 5-pound range aren't uncommon."
Ottawa Lake is located just west of Iron River off Ottawa Lake Road. Covering some 590 acres, Ottawa Lake has depths to 90 feet and is home to some decent populations of lake trout and walleyes, in addition to the smallmouths. The bass tend to relate to the subtle contours that exemplify the lake. Working jigs and live bait on light line in the 10- to 40-foot depths can be very productive. Sight-fishing for bass when they are actively spawning in June and July can be challenging and exciting.
There is a public boat launch located on the southeast corner. For more information, contact Luckey's Sport Shop at (906) 265-5339.
"Smoky Lake is another lake that has a very viable smallmouth population," claimed Ziegler. Located on the Wisconsin-Michigan border, a small portion of Smoky Lake's 590 acres lies within the state of Wisconsin. The boat launch on Smoky Lake is actually located in Wisconsin off Highway 17 and is suitable for smaller watercraft.
The maximum depth of Smoky Lake is 60 feet, but it features a lot of irregular contours and humps that are smallmouth magnets. Try either side of the point on the east side of the lake. Just south of the point is a series of humps and depressions that concentrate summer bass. Another hotspot is just a little farther south in the middle of the lake where a hump rises up from 30 feet of water. A well-defined weedline along the west shore is another place to prospect. A very clear lake, anglers will do well to use light, clear line with small tubes and crankbaits.
For information on motels, restaurants, and amenities in the Iron River area, contact the Iron County Tourism Council at (906) 265-3822, or online at www.tryiron.org.
"Lake Antoine is another very good smallmouth lake that has good size structure," Ziegler said. Lake Antoine's walleyes get most of the attention from local anglers, but the lake has quietly developed into one of the U.P.'s premier smallmouth waters.
Once considered better for largemouth bass than smallmouths, 748-acre Lake Antoine has undergone a transformation that Ziegler said is becoming more common in lakes across the U.P. "Smallmouths now dominate many U.P. bass lakes," Ziegler stated. Ziegler said this has come about because of good recruitment in recent years as a result of ideal spawning conditions and voluntary catch-and-release.
Prime locations to prospect for smallmouths on Lake Antoine are on the south side along the sloping contours off the island, around a hump halfway between the island and the senior citizens park, on the north side off a couple of points there and along the manmade spawning bar right off the boat launch on the northwest side. Dragging jigs with either live bait or plastics is usually all that's needed. Expect plenty of bass in the 1 1/2- to 3-pound range, and bronzebacks topping 4 pounds are plentiful.
For more information on lodging, accommodations and amenities in the Western U.P., contact the Western Upper Peninsula Convention & Visitors Bureau at (906) 932-4850, or online at www.westernup.com.
LITTLE & BIG BAYS DE NOC
You really can't mention Michigan smallmouths and not mention the U.P.'s Little and Big Bays de Noc.
"Both of the Bays de Noc have amazing smallmouth fisheries," said Mike Herman, Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor and avid smallmouth angler. "They are far and away the best smallmouth fisheries that we have in this area. I think the fact that the bays are such a huge body of water intimidates people. That and the fact that everyone is walleye crazy."
Herman said catching a couple dozen bass that will average 14 to 15 inches -- with a few 18-inch-plus trophies thrown in -- is no big deal. Herman said two things make the bays such an incredible smallmouth venue: the lack of fishing pressure for bass and a newfound source of food, which are the gobies.
"The bass are just gorging on the gobies. For that reason, it's pretty hard to beat a motor-oil or pumpkinseed-colored tube jig for the bass," suggested Herman. "You're matching the hatch."
Herman said the best bass fishing on the Bays de Noc occurs in early to mid-June. Waters are warming then, bass are active and they are in the shallows around spawning structure. Some anglers fish for bass during midday when the walleye fishing slows, but for the most part, smallmouths are not targeted, especially on Big Bay de Noc.
Little Bay de Noc has better access, and as the name implies, it is a smaller body of water to deal with. The smallies concentrate in the early season off gravel shoals near the mouths of rivers that enter the bay, like the Rapid, Ford, Tacoosh and Days. June is prime time for spanking the smallmouths here. Later, the bass retreat to deep water and relate to points near Kipling and around Hunters and Saunders points. The rocky substrate is home to the smallmouth's two favorite delicacies -- crayfish and gobies. A tube jig skittered, hopped and manipulated across the bottom does a good job of imitating both. Good access to the b
ay can be found at Kipling, off Saunders and Hunters points, and near Rapid River.
Big Bay de Noc is an underutilized and underfished body of water for smallmouths. Some of the best bass fishing is on the west side of the bay. Prevailing winds usually mean calm waters in this area. Anglers can launch at Ogontz Bay or near Wisley Bay to sample the absolutely untapped bass fishing this bay offers.
For more information on lodging, bait shops, guides and accommodations in the area, contact the Delta County Tourism & Convention Bureau at (906) 786-2192, or online at www.deltami.org /a>.
"Grand Lake near Alpena is by far one of our best smallmouth bass lakes," said Tim Cwalinski, fisheries biologist for the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit of the DNR. "These fish are underfished, but people are starting to catch on to them as quality fish." Cwalinski indicated that Grand Lake is loaded with smallies in the 14- to 18-inch range, and bass to 21 inches aren't unusual.
At 5,660 acres, Grand Lake offers anglers plenty of room to roam and plenty of fish-attracting structure. Like many lakes, smallmouths on Grand take a back seat to many of the more popular game-fish species, including walleyes, pike and yellow perch. But don't let that fool you. The lake is loaded with chunky bronzebacks.
A prime early-season location for smallies up to 5 pounds is on the east side of the lake near a cluster of islands. Working the contours around the islands with tube jigs, spinnerbaits and crankbaits can be very productive. In the summer, the bass retreat to the bountiful structure that exemplifies Grand Lake. Smallies love the rocks and boulders that can be found throughout the lake, but good locations are off Macombers Point, Grand Point and off Whiskey Point. Drifting with leeches or minnows will not only keep you into the bass, but you're also likely to catch a smorgasbord of other species.
For live bait, tackle and fishing maps, contact Buck's Bait & Tackle at (989) 595-2121. For information on lodging and accommodations in the area, contact the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-425-7362 or online at www.alpena.net.
"The smallmouth population on Burt Lake is second to none," Cwalinski stated. "There are bass in the lake up to 23 inches, and plenty of 13- to 19-inch fish based on our most recent spring survey. Again, harvest is minimal."
Michigan's fourth-largest inland lake, Burt sprawls over more than 17,000 acres. It lacks a lot of defined structure and weedbeds, so finding subtle nuances that attract smallies is critical. Many of the points that jut out into the lake are good locations to look for bronzebacks. Try the 10- to 20-foot contours and dropoffs found off Greenman, Cedar, Dagwell and Colonial points. A good dropoff to try is right off the boat ramp on the south end. One of the few places to find weeds is in Maple Bay. The shallows there are good to hunt for foraging bass as the lake warms in spring.
Like smallmouths anywhere, Burt Lake smallies love crayfish. The lake also contains a variety of minnow species. Because of the diverse forage base, a variety of lures will fool Burt Lake smallmouths. Jigs, crankbaits, stick baits and spinnerbaits all produce at times. Live bait is a reliable backup.
For live bait, tackle and fishing reports, contact Young's Bait & Party Store at (231) 548-5286. For more information on resorts, campgrounds and amenities in the area, contact the Cheboygan Area Tourist Bureau at 1-800-968-3302, or online at www.cheboygan.com.
"Intermediate Lake is definitely one of the better smallmouth lakes in northwest Michigan, if not the entire state," stated Dave Rose of Wild Fishing Guide Service. "There is just a ton of bass in the lake in the 2- to 3-pound range, and fish topping 6 pounds are not uncommon."
Also called Central Lake, 1,520-acre Intermediate Lake is part of the Bellaire Chain of lakes. The lake has a maximum depth of 20 feet, so just about anywhere can be a smallmouth hotspot. The lake features plenty of stumps, brush and logs that can be smallmouth magnets. Rose said anglers who know how to use their electronics to find structure and then work it with finesse lures have the best success. Jigs adorned with plastic, tubes or pork fished enticingly close to cover will trip a smallmouth's trigger. On calm, quiet mornings and evenings before the powerboats and personal watercraft get on the water, topwater lures can bring up smallies from the depths. Using a twitch-and-pause retrieve can produce explosive strikes. Slow-rolling white or chartreuse spinnerbaits is another option.
The 5- to 10-foot contours on the south end are good places to prospect for bass right after the season opener. Later in the summer, bass set up housekeeping along the lake's 10- to 20-foot contours, especially those that have cover close by. Try along Recreation, Deepwater and One Mile points. Get out early or wait until the boat traffic clears for the best fishing.
To sample Intermediate Lake's hot smallmouth action, contact Dave Rose at Wild Fishing Guide Service at (231) 276-9874, or online at www.wildfishing.com.
PERE MARQUETTE LAKE
It never ceases to amaze me how good the smallmouth fishing is on Mason County's Pere Marquette Lake, and how few people take advantage of it. Pere Marquette is a smallmouth nirvana with tons of cover, an unlimited forage base and little fishing pressure. It would not surprise me if the new state-record smallmouth came from PM Lake. A few springs ago, a friend of mine was trolling for brown trout when a big smallie grabbed his stick bait. The bass measured 26 1/2 inches and weighed about 9 pounds, which is very close to the Michigan record! I'm convinced there are bigger bass there.
Pere Marquette Lake smallmouths can pick and choose what they want to eat. The lake has seasonal abundances of shad and alewives, and supports native populations of emerald and spot-tailed shiners. The bottom is loaded with crawfish, and with the proliferation of gobies, PM smallmouths have a veritable smorgasbord from which to choose. That could be the biggest problem for anglers. The bass have a lot to eat.
Structure abounds in this 554-acre lake. There are pilings, rocks, docks, breakwalls and more. All of them attract bass. Peter Copeyan Park is a good starting point. Use your electronics to locate underwater structure, and your eyes to spot the obvious. Both will hold fish. You can jig, cast, troll, still-fish or anything in between. Hotspots are off the Sand Docks, along the Dow Chemical breakwall, along the slab docks near Father Pere Marquette Memorial Park, along the pilings near the car ferry Badger and in the channel leading to Lake Michigan. Expect plenty of bass in the 2- to 5-pound range, and the chance for a state record is always present.
For maps, lures and fishing reports, contact Captain Chuck's Great Outdoors at (231) 843-4458.
MONA & MACATAWA LAKES
"We really don't have the inland smallmouth lakes like they do in the rest of the state," admitted Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jay Wesley. "Two of the perennial favorites are always Gun and Gull lakes, but a couple of drowned river-mouth lakes, Mona and Macatawa, have been giving up some huge smallmouths. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a new state record come from one of them."
One of the reasons both Mona and Macatawa lakes are smallmouth hotbeds is that they are infested with gobies, and the bass are feasting on the little critters. That combined with the fact that most people are after panfish on Mona Lake and walleyes on Lake Mac, the smallmouths in both lakes see little fishing pressure.
Mona Lake, at 695 acres, really doesn't see much fishing pressure for any species. Anglers tend to speed right by the lake headed for Muskegon or White lakes. They're missing some great bass fishing if they do. Look for plenty of smallies up to 5 pounds on either side of the Merrill Bailey Bridge, and along the northwest shore where a number of small creeks enter the lake. Right off the boat ramp on the north side is a smallmouth hotspot, too.
Ottawa County's 1,780-acre Lake Macatawa gets a yearly dose of walleye fingerlings or fry, and anglers forget about its great smallmouth fishing. The few that target Lake Mac smallies swear by tube jigs. The docks and structure along the south shore features prime smallmouth habitat. Bass in the 5-pound range will raise few eyebrows.
For information on Mona Lake and Lake Macatawa smallmouths, contact American Tackle Outfitters at (616) 392-6688.
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If you're a Michigan angler who likes fighting smallmouth bass, give these waters a try. You may think you've died and went to heaven.