If Michigan didn’t have such great fishing for trout, salmon and walleyes, then its smallmouth bass would be king. Brown bass take a backseat to some of the more glamorous species because Michigan’s anglers are consumption oriented, meaning they like to eat fish. Trout, salmon and walleyes are better eating than bass.
But when it comes to tugging at the end of the line, smallmouths don’t take a backseat to any fish. That’s why smallmouths have a very loyal following in Michigan. Fact is, Michigan is home to some topflight smallmouth bass fishing venues, considered to be among the best in the world. There are places where you can routinely catch trophy-sized bass and some where you can catch incredible numbers. There are even a few where you can do both.
Following is a look at Michigan smallmouth bassin’ venues you’ll surely want to sample this summer.
Finding structure is the key to finding smallmouths on Lake Erie. Where you find it, you’re likely to find concentrations of bass, but even then you won’t find the numbers that you’ll find on Lake St. Clair. Smallmouth fishing in the Michigan waters of Lake Erie is not like reef fishing in Ohio waters. The Michigan waters of Lake Erie lack the structure you find in Ohio waters. Smallmouths anywhere are rock-oriented because that’s where their preferred foods live, mainly crawfish and gobies. You’ll find excellent smallmouth fishing around the islands near the mouth of the Detroit River like Grosse Isle, Stony and Sugar, but for the most part, smallmouths are going to be concentrated where you find current or structure out in the lake.
Smallmouths on Lake Erie tend to run a bit larger on the average than their Lake St. Clair counterparts. “Size might be a function of density and fishing pressure,” offered Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. “If there’s not much fishing pressure, the bass tend to grow bigger and live to an older age. Probably 95 percent of the fishing pressure on Lake Erie is geared toward perch and walleyes.”
Even anglers who do fish for smallmouths don’t kill many. Studies show that anglers fishing for bass keep fewer than 8 percent of the fish they catch.
“Tournament weights were as big as they have ever been on Lake Erie last season,” declared professional angler and guide Gerry Gostenik. “It just goes to show you what a great fishery Lake Erie really is.”
Gostenik said that during the typical bass tournament on Lake Erie you need a 20-pound stringer to break the Top 20 positions, and to win a 150-boat tournament you’ll need to have 25-pounds-plus in your livewell.
Fishing gets hot on Lake Erie during the pre-spawn. “It’s not uncommon to have 100-fish days in April and May,” said Gostenik.
The bass are pigging out then and just beginning to think about spawning. “The bass can be very concentrated then, grouped up, relating to subtle structure and chowing down,” offered Gostenik. Spawning takes place at various times of the year in Lake Erie. “Personally, I’ve caught bass that have been spawning in late July or early August.”
Post-spawn bass take a couple of weeks to recuperate. The smallies are less aggressive then and not above capitalizing on an easy meal. This post-spawn funk often coincides with prolific mayfly hatches that bass take advantage of. Gostenik said pick the right day, and it’s the one time during the year when you can enjoy exciting topwater action on Lake Erie.
Fishing remains consistent through the summer on Lake Erie until early fall when smallmouths begin a pilgrimage back into the shallows for one last feeding binge before winter. It’s a great time for catching both numbers and trophy fish. Fall bass have one thing on their mind — eating. Smallmouths over 5 pounds are common, with bronzebacks over 7 pounds not unheard of then. A prime location is off the mouth of the Raisin River where rocks and mussel beds hold gobies that attract smallmouths.
Gostenik said drop-shotting produces the most consistent results. “Drop-shotting is better than jigging with the tube,” claimed Gostenik. “Drop-shotting keeps the bait in the strike zone by offering a goby imitation right above the mussel beds. It’s like ringing the dinner bell to a smallmouth and there’s no hesitation when the bass decides it’s something good to eat.”
Michigan waters make up a relatively small portion of Lake Erie, but it boasts great bass habitat. Anglers will find good access at Lake Erie Metropark, Point Moulliee State Game Area, at Sterling State Park, near the mouth of the Raisin River, at Bolles Harbor, at Otter Creek and at Luna Pier.
To learn how to use the drop-shotting technique to catch Lake Erie smallmouths, contact Gerry Gostenik at (313) 319-0100, or at www.greatlakesbassfishing.com.
LAKE ST. CLAIR
Many people don’t like zebra mussels. Art Ferguson III isn’t one of them. “Zebra mussels have made the fishing even better on Lake St. Clair,” claimed guide and bass pro Ferguson. “The smallmouth fishing on Lake St. Clair has never been better.”
Ferguson claims it’s largely due to the zebra mussels. He routinely guides clients to 50- to 100-fish days and the bass average 2 to 4 pounds.
The infiltration of exotic zebra mussels into the Great Lakes system has caused dramatic environmental changes that have benefited smallmouths. The mussels filter tiny particles in the water, which has made Lake St. Clair even clearer. With more light penetration, aquatic plants have blossomed and expanded. This explosion of vegetation has created new habitat for aquatic insects, baitfish and bass. Add that to the abundance of crayfish and gobies that smallmouths have to eat and you can see the bass have a virtual smorgasbord to pick from.