Ten years ago you couldn't legally fish for bass during April, but that didn't mean that anglers weren't doing it. You could tell the guys in their bass boats working the backs of coves and stump fields throwing plastics and spinnerbaits on warm spring days weren't after panfish. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources offered a limited catch-and-release season for a couple of years to basically squelch complaints about anglers fishing for and targeting bass in the spring.
The limited catch-and-release season was so popular that in 2015 the Michigan DNR went one step further and allowed year-round catch-and-immediate-release bass fishing. It only made sense. This left only three states — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Maine — with closed seasons on bass at some point during the year.
Studies have shown that 90 percent of bass anglers release their fish anyway. There is limited harvest of bass, even when the catch-and-keep season is open from the Saturday before Memorial Day until the end of the year. More and more bass aficionados are seeing this as an opportunity to get on the water earlier in the season to take advantage of the spring bite without harming the resource.
Following are some topnotch Michigan bass waters that fish very well in April and throughout the summer.
LAKE ST. CLAIR
Michigan's premier smallmouth bass fishery, Lake St. Clair may have more bass in it than ever before. That said, it also has more anglers trying to catch them than ever before. With all the publicity and notoriety Lake St. Clair smallmouths have gained in recent years, anglers from across the country come to the Detroit area to sample the lake's great bass fishing.
One way to beat the crowds is to take advantage of the early catch-and-release season. Even then you won't be alone. Bass are in the shallows then and are feeding heavily. Good locations to prospect include marina walls and rock piers off the mile roads that warm up quickly and attract baitfish early in the season. Spinnerbaits are good for covering water then. Once you find a concentration of bronzebacks, switch to finesse techniques using wacky worms or flukes. It's also pretty hard to beat a tube anytime of the year on Lake St. Clair.
The catch-and-keep season for bass on Lake St. Clair opens later than on other Michigan waters. On Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River and on the Detroit River, the season is the third Saturday in June through Dec. 31. For all other waters, including the Great Lakes, the season is the Saturday before Memorial Day through Dec. 31.
The shallow reaches of southern Michigan lakes, like Oakland County's Pontiac Lake and Lake Orion, Kent Lake and Lake Fenton, quickly absorb the warm spring sunshine and jumpstart a bass' metabolism. Hungry after a long winter's fast, largemouths head in toward shallow, south-facing bays and coves with dark bottoms. Panfish and baitfish gravitate to the tepid water and bass take advantage of it. Fish slowly and methodically with mini worms and stickbaits to give lethargic bass a chance to eat. Crankbaits can produce late in the day when the water has reached its maximum daily temperature.
Shallow, stump-filled 585-acre Pontiac Lake is one of Michigan's premier largemouth lakes and fishes very well during early spring. With most of the lake shallower than 10 feet, Pontiac Lake warms quickly. The lake has a myriad of islands that provide lots of edges that largemouths prefer for ambush points. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, Texas-rigged plastics all produce, but the most exciting fishing occurs when using topwater lures like Zara Spooks. The weedy west end of the lake is good early in the season before the weeds reach the surface.
Lake Orion has a myriad of coves and bays that suck up spring sunshine, attracting baitfish and marauding schools of bass before the lilacs bloom. Like many other Oakland County lakes, Lake Orion is a big-bass producer. The lake is unique because it has a land-locked population of alewives that the bass key on. Because of that, it's imperative that you locate the bait to catch fish on Lake Orion. Once you find bait, it's important to match the color of the baitfish. Spinnerbaits with touches of blue or green excel. Crankbaits in shad or white usually do the trick. Once weeds grow too thick to run crankbaits, switch to Yamamoto grubs, which are versatile baits for largemouths.
Located within the community of Lake Orion, 470-acre Lake Orion sees a fair amount of fishing pressure. The lake is ringed with homes, but its irregular shoreline and maze of coves, islands, bays and contours supports an impressive number of bass.
Smallmouths are predominant on Cass Lake, but you'll find largemouths too, and you can catch both on consecutive casts. Look for bass in the skinny water along the weedy edges of Dollar Bay, Back and Garundegut bays.
Thousand-acre Kent Lake is one of southern Michigan's most popular metroparks, and the lake receives heavy pressure, but you'll find less competition in May. Look for largemouths to be cruising the shallows in 4 to 6 feet of water along the golf course on the southwest side of the lake.
For more information on fishing in Great Detroit's Metroparks visit metroparks.com.
Many diehard Michigan bass anglers would rate Lake Fenton as good a place as any to catch a really nice largemouth. Each spring there's a surprising number of eyebrow-raising largemouths that come from Lake Fenton.
Located in Genesee County just north of the town of Fenton, 845-acre Lake Fenton has an irregular shoreline that features lots of coves and bays, breaks and points, both emergent and submerged vegetation and excellent water quality. Although boating traffic on the lake is heavy in the summer, there are enough nooks and crannies where anglers can get away. One such hiding spot is Crane's Cove on the west side of Lake Fenton, where some of the lake's biggest largemouths reside. Bucketmouths topping 6 pounds are taken there every year. Other hotspots include the narrows on the south end of the lake and weedlines along the lake's west side. The entire lake offers excellent largemouth habitat though.
Worms and spinnerbaits are two steady producers on Lake Fenton. Weedless rigs often are necessary when bass get pushed into the really thick stuff. Early season seems to produce the best fishing.
For information on bait shops, accommodations and amenities in the Fenton area, contact the Fenton Area Chamber of Commerce at 810-629-5447 or at fentonchamber.org.
Although Calhoun County's 628-acre Duck Lake is largely developed, its marshy perimeter and thick, lush weedbeds provide ideal habitat for big bucketmouths. "I'd have to rate Duck Lake as one of the better largemouth lakes in southern Michigan," said Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jay Wesley.
Located just north of Albion, Duck Lake features sloping dropoffs, weed edges, sunken islands and shallow coves where bass anglers can practice just about any technique they'd like. For those who like to flip, there are plenty of boat docks, swimming rafts and moored boats that anglers can probe for bass that will occasionally top 5 pounds. Look for bass to be patrolling the weed edges in 10 to 15 feet of water during summer months.
There is a public access on the northwest side of Duck Lake off Monroe Road. The ramp is very shallow and can't accommodate larger boats. For information on lodging, amenities and bait shops in the area, contact the Greater Albion Chamber of Commerce at 517-629-5533 or at albionmi.net.
Paw Paw Lake
Berrien County's Paw Paw Lake is another southwest Michigan lake that Jay Wesley rated as one of the better lakes for catching big largemouths. "Paw Paw Lake has a lot of coves and shallow water that is ideal largemouth habitat," said Wesley. Wesley said the southwest corner could be particularly good early in the season.
One unique feature of 857-acre Paw Paw Lake is that the lake was once connected to the Paw Paw River. Because of flooding problems, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blocked off the channel that led to the river. As a result, Paw Paw Lake has a landlocked population of alewives that provides a unique food source for the resident largemouths. Bucketmouths pushing 4 pounds are not uncommon.
Located near the town of Watervliet, Paw Paw Lake has two public accesses, one on the east side of the lake and the other on the west side. For information on bait shops, cottages and other accommodations in the area, contact the Southwest Michigan Tourist Council at 269-925-6301 or at swmichigan.org.
Base Line Lake
"Base Line Lake in Allegan County is another lake that has a good population of largemouths," stated Jay Wesley. Located just south of the town of Allegan near the Allegan-Van Buren County line, 175-acre Base Line Lake is known for giving up its share of lunker bass. During the most recent survey, fisheries personnel found largemouths up to 20 inches, plenty of bass over 14 inches and lots of younger fish in the 10- to 12-inch range. Wesley said he gets good reports from anglers who fish the lake for largemouths.
There is a public access on the northwest side of the lake. From there, anglers can work the canals and docks on the north side of the lake that are known largemouth hangouts. Other hotspots include where Carpenter Drain enters on the south side of the lake or where Base Line Creek exits the lake on the east side. With a maximum depth of 44 feet, bass often retreat to deeper water during the summer months.
For more details on resorts, motels and tackle stores in the area contact the Allegan County Tourist & Recreation Council at 888-4-ALLEGAN or
Many of Michigan's best bass waters are located in the northeast part of the state. It's likely the bass have always been there, but it's just recently that the bass fishing fraternity has taken note. The Michigan smallmouth record was broken twice in the last year with fish taken from waters in the northeast part of the state that has helped focus attention on the region. Many anglers that use to be walleye crazy are now taking advantage of the hot smallmouth fisheries there.
Lakes like Hubbard, Beaver, Grand, and Long always have had decent smallmouth populations, but now more anglers are learning about it. There's more interest in bass fishing than ever before and anglers are seeking out these unpublicized gems. Big lakes in northeast Michigan, like Mullet, Black and Burt — where anglers once targeted walleyes and perch — are now attracting anglers content to catch hard-fighting smallies.
WEEDING OUT WEEDLINES
Locating dense stands of vegetation is key to locating lunker bass during much of the year, especially largemouths. You can find rotund bronzebacks taking up residence in forests of cabbage in 14 to 18 feet of water, but it's largemouths that really take a shine to weeds.
Vast jungles of summertime weeds make for an imposing puzzle, but just keep in mind that all of it is potentially ideal habitat. Early in the spring through summer, emerging weeds and edges are focal points of bass activity. Capitalizing on the weed connection requires figuring out the types of weeds present that bass are favoring and then formulating a weedline pattern that takes into account preferred locations.
Early in the year, the hotspot is likely to be the inside edge. Post-spawn bass will gravitate toward thicker stands of vegetation as summer arrives, to belly up to the dinner table. Later, schools of bass will be patrolling the outside edge. Where the bass are located in this process determines your success in the weeds.