Where should you go for some great Michigan smallmouth bass fishing? Try any of these hotspots.
Michigan’s bass season opens in June for catch and keep, but you can catch and release bass all year.
Michigan Game & Fish asked outdoor writer and Michigan bass expert Louie Stout of Jones to name his top five bass lakes for the month of June. Stout has lived in Michigan all his life and posts tournament reports from lakes all over the state on his website at michianaoutdoorsnews.com, and his Facebook page at facebook.com/louie.stout. That puts him in a good position to know what’s going on in our state’s bass waters.
“On all of these lakes in June, the bass primarily will be in shallow water in the pre-spawn, spawn or post-spawn modes, depending on water temperature and the area of the lake where you fish,” Stout explains. “June’s a great time to bass fish in Michigan.”
1. Lake St. Clair
“Lake St. Clair is the best bass lake in Michigan and probably the best in the nation for catching numbers of smallmouths,” Stout says. “Big, wide, open Lake St. Clair has a catch-and-keep season that doesn’t open until the third Saturday in June. However, you can fish Lake St. Clair in the southeastern corner of Michigan for bass all year, photograph and then release the fish.”
Stout mentions that Lake St. Clair is shallow, except in some of the channels. You can see freighter ships from Lake Huron going to Lake Erie, because you can go through Lake St. Clair into the Detroit River and on into Lake Erie. You’ll primarily be fishing shallow water, and catching 50 bass a day isn’t uncommon. You may catch 100 bass with the average weighing 3 to 4 pounds, although some 6-pound bass have been caught.
2. Burt and Mullett Lakes
“Although Burt and Mullett are two, separate, large lakes, they’re joined by a channel,” Stout explains. “You won’t catch numbers of smallmouths here, but the average size of the smallmouths you catch should be larger. The wind can come up on these lakes unexpectedly, with Lake Erie on one side and Lake Huron on the other. Both Burt and Mullett are deeper than Lake St Clair.
“In the last few years, Mullett has seemed to be a better bass lake, but Burt is where I caught my biggest smallmouth ever that weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces. To catch bass at Burt and Mullett, pinpoint the rocks. Although a lot of sand is in these lakes, numbers of the points have boulders or gravel on them, where you’ll find smallmouths.”
3. Lake Charlevoix
Many Michigan bass fishermen consider Lake Charlevoix the best smallmouth bass lake in the state.
“Lake Charlevoix has two big arms, and map study definitely will pay off there, by finding the biggest flats in this lake,” Stout reports. “When you start fishing those flats, look for scattered wood on the bottom. Many years ago this area was timbered. Some logs fell off barges, and now are on the lake’s bottom. The smallmouths will bed right against those underwater logs, because there’s not much cover in this lake.”
On one of Stout’s best Lake Charlevoix trips, he spotted a small twig above the water. His partner and he cast toward that twig, catching 20 smallmouths there.
Because the wind blows almost every day, you can’t see very deep into the water, although Lake Charlevoix is a very clear lake. You may be able to see the bottom at 20 feet sometimes. Stout recommends you look for rocky areas and patches of grass and cast to them for smallmouths. Be sure to get a tight grip on your rod.
“Stand up on the front of the boat, and look ahead for any dark spots on the bottom that you can make long casts to,” Stout says, noting that those maybe smallmouths. “Cast a 1/4- or a 1/2-ounce football head jig or a wobble head jig.
“One Lake Charlevoix angler I talked to said he caught numbers of small smallmouths – 2 to 2 1/2 pounds each — on tube jigs. He then caught 4- to 4 1/2-pound smallmouths using a small creature bait and a small crawfish or a Biffle bug on the back of a wobble head jig. The wobble head or football jig came through the rocks better than other styles of jig heads.”
4. Grand Traverse Bay
“This very large bay comes off Lake Michigan near Traverse City,” and produces some of the largest smallmouths in the state, with 7-pounders not uncommon and a few 8-pounders caught,” Stout mentions. “During June, your opportunity to catch a 5-pound-plus smallmouth is really good.”
Look for reeds where the smallmouths will bed. Choose days to fish when the wind is not blowing so hard that you can’t get out on the lake for smallmouth success.
5. The Torch Chain
Located near Traverse City, this chain of lakes is made up of big and little lakes that run for 75 miles, with the primary lakes, Elk Lake, Torch Lake and Lake Skegemog, plus Intermediate Lake and Lake Bellaire. The Torch River runs from Elk Lake to Lake Skegemog into Lake Bellaire and Torch Lake.
“These lakes are each different,” Stout reports. “Torch Lake has blue water as clear as a swimming pool. Lake Skegemog is relatively shallow with dingier water than Intermediate Lake and Lake Bellaire, which are smaller lakes.
“If the wind’s too high on the big and deep Elk or Torch lakes, you can escape the wind by fishing one of the smaller lakes. I prefer to fish the shallower water of Lake Skegemog. Lake Bellaire has many big bass in it, and I fish there to escape the wind. Other lakes are within this chain too.
“The bass in Torch Lake will spawn down at 20 feet deep, so, most anglers fish the dropshot rig. On Lake Bellaire, I’ll fish a tube bait where I see dark spots in the water and catch smallmouths.”
SIX BEST BAITS FOR JUNE BASS
According to Stout, these lures will be best for all five lakes when targeting smallmouths.
“Spinnerbaits are my No.1 choice when fishing Lake St Clair and most of the other lakes,” Stout explains. “Even if the smallmouths are on the bed, if you run a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce chartreuse and white spinnerbait over the bed, they’ll probably take it. The spinnerbait covers a lot of water in the 2- to 8-foot depth where most of the smallmouths are in June.”
2. Tube Baits
“You can’t go wrong fishing a tube bait on any of these lakes I’ve named, particularly a green pumpkin, a watermelon-colored, green or brown tube with a jighead inside the tube and the hook exposed,” Stout reports. “I like a 3/16-ounce jig, but depending on the wind, you may have to go up to a 3/4-ounce weight. The wind always will be blowing on these big, open bodies of water.”
If the bass are on the bed, Stout suggests that you cast the jig out and drag it slowly along the bottom. “On most of these lakes, gobies scoot along the bottom and are the primary forage, as well as crayfish and perch, for smallmouths.”
“Because the water still will be cold in June, a jerkbait is a lure that can produce fish,” Stout says. “The KVD Jerkbaits in the shad and perch colors can be very productive. Muskies, northern pikes, walleyes and big smallmouths may take that jerkbait away from you.”
4. Dropshot Rigs
“The dropshot rig also can be a good producer, especially if the bass are on the bed,” Stout reports. “Cast a dropshot rig out with a finesse worm, a Roboworm, or a Strike King KVD Half Shell in the goby or green pumpkin colors to catch those big spawners.”
If the bass are in the pre-spawn mode when you’re fishing, Stout recommends fishing crankbaits. “The crankbait enables the bass fisherman to cover a lot of water. You may want to keep your trolling motor in the water and on, and chunk and wind until you hit those schools of smallmouth. I like crankbaits that run 3 to 6 feet deep in sexy shad and perch colors.”
Stout says not to leave home without plenty of jigs, especially later in June for post-spawn bass. “If you’re fishing an area with a spinnerbait and catch a few smallmouths, fish back through that same area with a slow-moving 1/2-ounce jig to catch nonaggressive bass. I like the Strike King Structure Jig in the blue craw color with a blue craw trailer.”
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THE BEST LINES FOR MICHIGAN BASSIN’
“All these lakes have zebra mussels that will damage your line,” Stout emphasizes. “Constantly check your line to make sure it’s not frayed. Fish a spinnerbait on 17-pound-test line, and with crankbaits, 10- to 12-pound-test line may be best, if you can get your lure down to the depth you want to fish.
“But when I’m fishing tube baits, I’ll fish them on a spinning reel with 10-pound-test braided line like Power Pro. Then I’ll add a fluorocarbon leader as long as my rod in either 8- or 10-pound-test. One of the advantages of fishing braided line on spinning reels is that you can make very long casts with it and feel the bites better, since braided line has little stretch. The long fluorocarbon leader also makes the line less visible and gives the tube more natural action.”