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Bass Fishing Michigan Smallmouth Bass

Michigan’s Trophy Smallmouth Bass Factories

by Mike Gnatkowski   |  June 17th, 2017 0

These Michigan waters produce smallmouth bass in numbers, and big ones too…even state records.

By Mike Gnatkowski

Michigan’s smallmouth bass record stood for more than 100 years — until recently. The previous record was caught in 1906, weighed 9.25 pounds and was 27.25 inches in length. And that impressive record was shattered twice in one year!

Michigan smallmouth bass

The Michigan state record for smallmouth bass has been broken twice in 2015. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Greg Gasiciel of Rhodes caught a 9.33-pound, 24.5-inch giant in October of 2015 from Long Lake. The record didn’t stand very long as Robert Bruce Kraemer of Treasure Island, Fla., busted the record with a 23.1-inch, 9.98-pound behemoth he caught in the Indian River.

It’s worth noting that the new record smallies were considerably shorter, as well as heavier, than the longstanding record, which provides some insights into the rotund, record-book bass that northeast Michigan waters are producing.

“There’s been a series of events that have come together to produce the type of bass we’re seeing,” shared senior fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski, who works out of the Gaylord district DNR office. “One thing is bass fishing has just gotten more popular, I’d say, in just the last five years. I don’t know if it’s word of mouth, increased exposure via TV shows or what, but people now are really tuning in on the smallmouth fishing up here. And why not? There aren’t that many places where you can go around the country and catch 4- and 5-pound smallmouths consistently.

“Other factors I think you can point to is zebra mussels, gobies and rusty crayfish,” theorized Cwalinski. “Zebra mussels have had a tremendous effect on water clarity, and smallmouths are sight predators. Increased water clarity favors them. Places like Burt and Mullet lakes now have gobies in them. Gobies occupy the same niche as smallmouths. They are bottom dwellers and are a new food source for smallmouths. Rusty crayfish are another one. You didn’t have those food sources 15 to 20 years ago so the bass are now utilizing those food sources and getting bigger because of that.”

“Catch-and-release has undoubtedly impacted smallmouth populations positively, too,” said Cwalinski. “I’m pretty sure if smallmouths tasted like walleyes the populations would be much smaller. Smallmouths are just kind of taking over. There’s evidence that smallmouths just outcompete walleyes. It’s something we’re going to have to look at in the coming years.”

Cwalinski said that Mullet, Burt, Charlevoix, Grand, Long and Hubbard are the top producers of numbers and big bass of the northeast Michigan lakes, but all lakes in the region have some good smallmouths.

“Black Lake doesn’t have gobies so it’s inferior to some of the others, but it’s still good,” Cwalinski said. “Densities in Grand and Long lakes are not as high. There’s not as many big fish there, but there’s still some.”

HUBBARD LAKE

Located in Alcona County, 8,850-acre Hubbard Lake has had a reputation in the past for producing jumbo perch and lots of eating-sized walleyes, which is why its smallmouths have been overlooked until recently. Most of the bass in the past were taken incidentally to anglers trolling or drifting for walleyes. Both species like similar habitat on Hubbard. Though not excessively deep for a lake of its size, much of Hubbard Lake is relatively deep with little shallow water. Smallmouths can be found spawning early in the season in east and south bays. Later in the summer, schools of marauding smallmouths can be found cruising shoreline dropoffs in 10 to 30 feet of water off Doctor’s, Churchill, and Hardwood points. The bass will average 2 to 4 pounds, but Master Angler-sized fish are taken every year.

Hubbard’s smallies can be caught using multiple baits and techniques. Hopping something along the bottom that looks like a crayfish will get eaten. The same applies to deep-diving crankbaits. A white spinnerbait can be a good search lure.

To try your hand at catching some of Hubbard Lake’s trophy smallmouths, contact Matt Muszynski at Throwing Bait Guide Service 989-590-3276. For information on resorts, campgrounds and bait shops on Hubbard Lake, contact the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau at 989-354-4181, or visitalpena.com.

GRAND LAKE

Located in southeast Presque Isle County, 5,660-acre Grand Lake is a real sleeper for not only its numbers of smallmouths, but big fish, too. “Smallmouths were very abundant in Grand Lake the last time we surveyed it,” offered Cwalinski. “We found lots of fish in the 14- to 18-inch range.” During the survey, more than half of the smallmouths collected were of legal size. Grand Lake is located just about halfway between Alpena and Rogers City.

Finding smallmouths on Grand Lake isn’t difficult; they’re everywhere, but they seem to be most concentrated around several large islands that exemplify the lake. Try around the perimeter of Grand, Brown or Macombers islands where the bottom slopes from 5 to 15 feet. Another known smallmouth hotspot is off Whiskey Point and Whiskey Bay on the south end of the lake, especially in the spring. Black Bass Bay is another place worth checking out, if nothing else just because of the  inviting name.

Grand Lake smallies aren’t too picky. A hodgepodge of crankbaits in crayfish colors, goby-colored tubes, and scent-enhanced plastics will fool the lake’s bass. The best time is right after the season opens when the bronzebacks are still in the shallows. Later, when bass scatter to deeper water, pitching deep-diving crankbaits in the 20- to 30-foot depths is a good way to locate active schools of fish.

For tackle, fishing reports, and maps, contact Clem’s Bait & Tackle in Alpena at 989-354-2070. The best access on Grand Lake is located on the southeast corner of the lake off CR 405.

BEAVER LAKE 

Alpena County’s 665-acre Beaver Lake is not difficult to read. The lake is bowl-shaped with a 70-foot hole in the center and sloping contours along the edges — all of which hold smallmouths. The lack of structure concentrates bass in the lake. A good place to look is near fish shelters that have been placed along the lake’s eastern shore in 10 to 30 feet of water.

Tube jigs and crayfish imitations danced around the cribs will tempt smallies to 6 pounds. Crankbaits that imitate crayfish are good, too. A steady dropoff along the west shore directly across from the boat launch is particularly good. Breaks and weed edges on the north end of Beaver Lake concentrate bass, too.

For details on bait shops, lodging and amenities in the area, contact the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau at 989-354-4181, or visitalpena.com.

DOUGLAS LAKE 

In spite of Douglas Lake’s smallmouth potential, it’s one of those lakes that anglers drive right by headed for the U.P. or more famous venues. “Douglas Lake has plenty of smallmouths in it that will top 20 inches,” said fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski. “Douglas Lake also has good natural reproduction and recruitment.”

Douglas Lake is not your typical northern Michigan smallmouth lake though. Much of it is relatively shallow, averaging only 12 feet, but it has holes that plunge to 80 feet and the surrounding contours provide ideal smallmouth structure. The east side of the lake seems to be the most productive for smallmouths. Try the 10- to 30- foot contours in North and South Fishtails bays. The best fishing usually is early in the season when the bass are still in the shallows around bedding areas and the weeds aren’t yet a problem. Try the deeper structure off Sedge, Stony and Bentley points during the summer months, and on the west side of Pells Island. A boat launch is located there off Douglas Lake Road.

The bass in Douglas Lake aren’t picky. They’ll smack a surface lure, lambaste a crankbait, and engulf a properly present tube. When they do, hold on. For more information on Douglas Lake smallmouths, contact Young’s Bait & Party Store in Alanson at 231-548-5286.

BURT LAKE

This is known as one of Michigan’s premier inland walleye lakes. Smallmouths generally take a back seat to walleyes in the minds of most Burt Lake anglers. Anglers who do pursue smallmouths on the sprawling 17,000-acre lake will find not only good numbers of bass, but also fish up to 6 pounds and bigger.

Look to the shallows of Burt Lake when the bass season opens. Spawning bass can be found in Maple and Bullhead bays and in coves along the shoreline.

Once spawning is completed, the bass quickly retreat to shadow the available structure found in the lake. Structure is at a premium in Burt Lake, and so bass can be extremely concentrated. Look for summer smallies along the contours and dropoffs found along the east side of the lake near Colonial, Dagwell, Cedar and Greenman points. The sloping dropoff found off Burt Lake State Park can be productive, too.

Burt Lake has a huge population of crayfish and a variety of minnows that provide forage for the bass population. Aquatic insects also are seasonally abundant. The diversity of forage found in Burt Lake means that just about any lure will work at one time or another. The trick is to pick the right one at the right time. Jigs, crankbaits and spinnerbaits all have their day.

For information on area bait shops, motels and campgrounds contact the Cheboygan Area Tourist Bureau at 800-968-3302, or cheboygan.com.

LAKE CHARLEVOIX 

17,260-acre Lake Charlevoix is one of more than a dozen northern Michigan lakes that Chris Noffsinger will fish in any given summer, and he admits it’s one of the most consistent. “All of the lakes up here are phenomenal for monster smallmouths, but Lake Charlevoix has an edge because it’s connected to Lake Michigan. There’s a lot of movement between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan that most people don’t realize.”

Noffsinger said that he caught a bass last year in Lake Charlevoix that was tagged at Waugoshance Point. That’s about 90 miles. Great Lakes smallmouths will migrate to follow baitfish and to spawn if necessary. “It’s almost like they’re pelagic fish,” offered Noffsinger.

Fishing on Lake Charlevoix follows similar patterns to other northern Michigan lakes. “Fishing on Charlevoix is about the same as it is on any of the other lakes,” said Noffsinger. “There are seasonal patterns. We use more jerkbaits in the spring and more tube and drop-shotting rigs in the summer because it’s easier to get them deep.” Noffsinger said he relies more on spinnerbaits on Lake Charlevoix than other lakes. He favors spinnerbaits in white, chartreuse, double chartreuse, and a white/purple pattern that does a good job of imitating alewives.

The two arms of Lake Charlevoix represent two totally different fisheries. “The south arm is shallow whereas the main lake is deep. The fishing in the south arm picks up earlier, but it gets more fishing pressure,” he said.

Noffsinger said that bass in Lake Charlevoix run about the same size as Traverse Bay. “Your average fish are going to be 2 to 4 pounds, but fish up to 7 pounds are common.”

For more information on Lake Charlevoix, contact the Michigan DNR field office in Traverse City at
231-922-5280.

DEEP DROPPING FOR FALL SMALLMOUTHS

It’s common knowledge that some of the best fishing for trophy Great Lakes smallmouths takes place in late fall and early winter when pods of smallies set up housekeeping adjacent to isolated structure in deep water.

The bass are highly concentrated, sometimes difficult to locate and relatively lethargic, but the rewards are bronzebacks that will tip the scale from 3 1/2 to 5 pounds consistently, and the chances for latching onto a real trophy nudging 7 pounds or more are very real.

The traditional way of targeting these bass was with jigging spoons and blade baits, but savvy anglers are discovering that deep drop-shotting is a surefire technique for late-season smallies and that tactic has replaced the hardware.

“You know deep drop-shotting really works all year long,” claimed accomplished smallmouth guide Jerry Gostenik (greatlakesbass.com). “The method is so effective that it’s replacing the tube jig as the most productive technique for Great Lakes smallmouths. It’s so effective because of the vertical presentation and it just seems to generate more bites and more hookups. I use it almost exclusively now when targeting late-season bass on Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair and other places.”

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