Got your spots lined up for opening day of Michigan bass fishing? If not, try one or more of these great locations.
The last Saturday in May in not as significant a date to Michigan anglers as it once was. Michigan bass anglers used to wait with great anticipation for that date, knowing it coincided with bass activity levels spiking, rotund females moving into the shallows to bed, and opening day of our bass season.
Like most states, Michigan has adopted a catch-and-release season that allows bass fanatics to target bass year ’round. Most bass anglers don’t kill the bass they catch anyway, and so the opportunity to get on the water as soon as the ice is gone is a major opportunity. Some fishermen, especially out-of-state anglers, like to catch and eat bass. Either way, the end of May signals it’s time to hit the water if your goal is to enjoy some frantic action on Michigan’s premier bass lakes.
EASTERN UPPER PENINSULA
Eastern Lake Superior Management Unit fisheries biologist Cory Kovacs didn’t have any trouble coming up with some top-quality destinations that anglers can target on opening day in the eastern Upper Peninsula. See if you agree with his choices.
Twin Lakes, Luce County
Even though Twin Lakes is a relatively small lake at 103 acres, it produces big-time bass action.
“Twin Lakes, near Newberry, has been a popular destination for bass fishing for years,” said Kovacs. “This fishery offers a great opportunity to catch fish greater than 14 inches. Surveys conducted in 2016 targeting largemouth bass showed 26 percent of the total catch was greater than legal size, and 19 percent were legal in 2017.
“Vegetation in the nearshore areas creates many edges and excellent fish cover. Bluegills are the predominant panfish, with varying sizes offering a dependable source of forage. A very nice improved boat launch is located off M-28 on the west lake, which has accessible launching and vault toilets.”
Made up of two basins, the East Basin reaches depths of 34 feet and the West Basin reaches 61 feet. Inflowing and outgoing creeks are good spots to prospect.
Look to the shallows when the season opens. Sight-fishing can be exceptional then.
Au Train Basin, Alger County
“Au Train Basin is a 1,400-acre impoundment of the Au Train River and provides an excellent opportunity for smallmouth bass,” said Kovacs. “Submerged timber, rockpiles, vegetation, and various creek mouths entering the impoundment make for a very diverse fishing experience. Walleyes and northern pike are present here too, which could offer some table fare for those seeking some for camp.”
An improved ramp is available at the state forest campground on the northwestern shoreline. Prime opening-day haunts for smallies include Buck Bay off the inlet of Buck Creek, and a point just to the west of the bay. Anywhere you see boulders or rocks is likely to hold smallmouths.
WESTERN UPPER PENINSULA
“We have so many quality bass fishing spots it will be hard to just pick a couple,” said fisheries biologist Mark Mylchreest. “And now with opportunity for fishing them all year, we get to experience some of the pre-spawn fishing for early season fish.”
Lake Antoine, Dickinson County
“Lake Antoine, 748 acres, was surveyed in 2014 and had very good populations of both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass with fish up to 19 inches captured for both species,” stated Mylchreest. “The east portion of the lake is best for smallmouths and west side has better habitat for largemouth bass. It’s uncommon to have a lake that fishes so well for both species. Thirty-four percent of the largemouths were over 14 inches and 37 percent of smallmouths were over 14 inches.”
Largemouth aficionados would do well to target a hump that comes up to 5 feet on the west side and a small island on the south end of the lake. The entire west shoreline where it tapers from 5 feet to 15 feet holds largemouths. Smallies frequent the deeper ledge on the east side where the water reaches 20 feet.
Quick Tip: Keep It Simple
Ottawa Lake, Iron County
“551-acre Lake Ottawa is a clear lake with an excellent smallmouth bass fishery and catch-and-release regulations to help with rusty crayfish control,” said Mylchreest. “Ottawa Lake has a small campground on it and is not developed so it has a highly aesthetic atmosphere. This lake is deep and clear so the fish spawn slightly later.”
Fish structures installed years ago along the southeast, southwest and north shorelines in 5 to 10 feet of water are still a draw for smallies. Another hotspot is an L-shaped rock structure off the old Iron River Township Park on the northeast corner of the lake.
Menominee River, Menominee County
Rocks, rapids and impoundments on the river are a virtual smallmouth nirvana. Add the fact that it has outstanding public access and the scenic beauty of the area and you could make a good claim that this is Michigan’s premier smallmouth river.
“The Lower Menominee River has impoundments and stretches of river that are excellent for smallmouth bass fishing,” shared Mark Mylchreest. “The river is scenic with several campgrounds and boat launches along the river corridor to allow public access.”
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Most of the property along the river is owned by Wisconsin Electric Power Company. “Chalk Hills Impoundment is a good place to start and expand out to other areas of the river,” advised Mylchreest.
The river’s food base is one reason the bass do so well. Rocks are covered with the exoskeletons of giant stoneflies, crayfish are everywhere, and minnows boil the calm pools. Jigs are a hands-down favorite because they imitate the bottom-dwelling forge and they are inexpensive.
Lakes Cadillac/Mitchell, Wexford County
“Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell would be a great choice for opening day,” stated fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. “Mitchell is loaded with largemouths, with good numbers of fish from 14 to 19 inches. It isn’t really a trophy fishery; more of a numbers game. Cadillac has more of a mix of largies and smallies, but again, good numbers.”
Lake Missaukee, Missaukee County
“Lake Missaukee is another one that historically has been very good for bass,” said Tonello. “It has both largemouth and smallmouth, although the largemouths are much more abundant. The most recent survey was in 2004, but we still get very good reports. When you ice-fish for panfish on Missaukee, you typically catch a fair number of largemouths every trip. Makes for some interesting fights on the little panfish rods!”
With a maximum depth of 27 feet, bass can be found just about anywhere on Missaukee. The lake is a myriad of humps and holes that offer a plethora of bass habitat. Start right off the boat launch on Green Road on the south side of the lake.
“Fletcher Floodwaters is probably our best overall bass lake, known for big largemouth bass,” said Northern Lake Huron Management Unit fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski. “Eighteen- to 20-inch fish are not uncommon. It’s peaceful and a challenge to fish, and good all year around. Fish the vegetation edges and stumpfields.”
Weedless baits are a must on Fletcher. The lake is snag infested, which keeps high-speed boat traffic to a minimum.
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“Cheboygan County’s 17,260-acre Burt Lake provides excellent smallmouth bass fishing opportunities,” shared fisheries biologist Neal Godby. “A good number of legal smallmouths were captured in our 2015 survey of the lake, with fish up to 21 inches in total length present. Burt Lake has produced 40 Master Angler awards for smallmouths since 2000.”
Prime locations for opening day include Bullhead and Maple bays on the west side of the lake. East side points are good places to prospect.
St. Joseph River, St. Joseph County
“Smallmouth bass are present throughout most of the St. Joseph River,” said fisheries biologist Brain Gunderman. “Some of the best smallmouth bass fishing occurs in the reach between Mendon and Mottville. We completed a creel survey in this area in 2007.
“Catch rates were high. Master Angler caliber bass are rare, but fish up to 18 inches are common.
“Boaters should use caution as shallow riffles and logs create navigation hazards, especially under low-flow conditions. Bass tend to congregate near logjams, particularly in areas with deep water and gentle current.”
Lincoln Lake, Kent County
“Lincoln Lake was last surveyed in 2014. The survey actually targeted walleyes and was conducted in April (before the prime sampling period for largemouths),” said Gunderman. “Despite the survey timing, we caught good numbers of largemouth bass. There were a lot of fish in the 13- to 15-inch range and the largest fish we caught was 18 inches. Fish up to 25 inches have been reported from Lincoln Lake.
“Gun, Gull, and Austin lakes also support strong bass populations, but those lakes already get a lot of tournament fishing effort and are widely known.”
Fishing Tips from the Pros
Belleville Lake, Wayne County
“Belleville Lake is one of the largest lakes in Southeastern Michigan,” said Jeff Braunscheidel. “The lake has an abundant population of both largemouth and smallmouth bass. There is a very diverse fish community in the lake with both shad and gobies providing an excellent forage base for the bass. Largemouth bass tend to be found in the upper lake basin where there are lots of stumps and woody cover. Smallmouths will be found in the eastern basin where rocky shorelines and gravel bars provide their preferred habitats and food sources. There is a DNR boat launch in each lake basin.”
Kent Lake, Oakland County
“Kent Lake is located entirely within Kensington Metropark and has two boat launches with lots of parking,” shared Braunscheidel. “Both largemouth and smallmouth bass are present in good numbers with fish reaching 5 pounds or more. A recent survey netted over 70 largemouth bass with lots of legal-sized fish.”
Devils Lake, Lenawee County
“Devils Lake is one of the largest lakes in the area at 1,330 acres with a DNR boat launch and good-sized parking lot, said Braunscheidel. “A 2015 spring fish survey netted over 200 largemouth bass and 40 smallmouth bass, with more than half over the legal size limit of 14 inches.
“Devils Lake may have the highest density of bass of any inland lake in this part of the state. As such, it is subject to many tournaments and heavy fishing pressure, but still a worthwhile destination for the avid bass angler. An angler creel survey conducted in 2015 estimated over 20,000 bass were caught by anglers during the summer.”
Southern Lake Huron
“Most of the larger lakes in our management unit (Southern Lake Huron) get a ton of tournament pressure on the harvest season opener, and so instead of inland lakes I’m going to recommend three spots on Lake Huron,” offered biologist Jim Baker.
They are Tawas Bay, Saginaw Bay near Bay Port and around North and Heisterman Island, Lake Huron shoreline from Port Austin around the Tip of the Thumb to Port Hope.
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“All of these locations are very good for smallmouths around opening day,” said Jim Baker. “Soft-plastic baits and jigs with twistertails work. The Eagle Bay area, between Port Austin and Grindstone City, can be fished effectively with waders. Tawas Bay and Bay Port do require a boat. If the wind is from the north or northeast, the Tip of the Thumb is not good, but inside Tawas Point or the Bay Port area south of Sand Point (Wildfowl Bay) should still be fishable.
TACTICS FOR OPENING DAY
Look to the shallows for opening-day bass. The shallows are warmer than the rest of the lake, which attracts bass. Target the south-facing side of the lake where the water is likely to be the warmest.
Polarized sunglasses are a necessity for spotting bass in the shallows. Stealth is a must. Don’t go roaring into prime locations with the big motor. Instead, stop far away from the area you intend to fish and use the trolling motor to sneak in.
Better yet, use the wind to quietly drift you into position and use the trolling motor sparingly to reposition.