You won't really get an appreciation for the quantity and quality of largemouth bass fishing in Michigan until you sample it. Topnotch bass lakes lie close to where you live, and many of them are capable of producing trophy bass. (May 2009)
The Great Lakes State has such great fishing opportunities that some species tend to be ignored. Take largemouth bass, for example.
Michigan's best bass fishing takes place where weedbeds are prolific. Lake Mitchell has an abundance of this prime largemouth habitat, evidenced by a typical bass taken on a topwater stick bait over the weeds by Greg Ellison of Taylor.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.
Michigan holds some truly outstanding bass-fishing opportunities, but it seems not too many anglers take advantage of them. Michigan anglers, in general, just seem to be trout, salmon and walleye crazy.
So, you won't really get an appreciation for the quantity and quality of largemouth bass fishing in Michigan until you sample it.
Mason County's Hamlin Lake is know for its big bluegills and a respectable walleye population. I know, because I lived on the 5,000-acre lake for 20 years. What I didn't realize until recently was what a tremendous largemouth bass population Hamlin Lake holds. To be honest, I never fished for them. What I discovered, however, is there are oodles of largemouths in the lake between 15 and 20 inches, and the chance for landing a trophy bass is good. Bass topping 5 pounds are not uncommon.
Hamlin Lake has great bass habitat. The upper lake tends to be fairly weedy and shallow and is a good bet for largemouths in the spring and early summer. The lower lake has more structure and depth, but there's plenty of great largemouth habitat there, too.
The fishing technique that works so well for many bass anglers (walleye and bluegill fishermen, too) on Hamlin is to simply drift with night crawlers or leeches on two snelled hooks and a sinker on the bottom. It was simple. Oftentimes, the bass were coming two at a time on one rod. We caught plenty of bass right through the summer on these rigs, but serious bass fanatics tell me that white spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs tipped with plastics can take bass off those flats and weed edges, too.
Bass anglers access the upper Hamlin Lake at Victory and Wilson parks. The lower lake is reached via North Bayou Resort, at the end of the road at Dune View Street, at South Bayou and at Ludington State Park. For lake maps, live bait and accommodations, contact North Bayou Resort & Marina in Luddington at (231) 845-5820, or online at www.nbayou.com.
"Arbutus Lake has a large population of largemouth bass, and a lot of them are undersized, but there are some big bass in the lake, too," said fisheries biologist Mark Tonello of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Central Lake Michigan Management Unit. "I would have to say that Arbutus Lake is one of the better largemouth bass lakes in the region."
Located in Grand Traverse County, 395-acre Arbutus Lake is actually a chain of five lakes located southwest of Traverse City. The lakes range from 31 to 150 acres in size, and all of them hold excellent largemouth bass habitat. Relatively shallow, the lakes are filled with coves and bays, fingers of land, laydowns, stumps, downed timber and weedlines.
Anglers generally refer to the lakes as Lake 1 through Lake 5. Lake 5 attracts the most fishing pressure because of anglers' easy access to the lake. Lake Two is the deepest -- 45 feet -- in the chain. It offers a lot of prime largemouth lairs.
Because Arbutus Lake is fairly shallow, it fishes best early in the season before the weeds have had much chance to grow. That's especially true on lakes 1 and 5.
Opening day in May usually finds springtime bass on their beds or patrolling the shallows near the beds. Either way, they're suckers for a plastic worm or a jig-and-pig danced enticingly near the beds. Topwater baits draw their share of attention from Hamlin largemouths, and once bass retreat to the deeper structure, soft-plastic baits excel. In any case, weedless lures are preferred once the vegetation gets thick. You'll catch plenty of largemouths in the 1 1/2- to 3-pound range, and the chance for a 6-pound trophy is real.
Hamlin's bass anglers will also enjoy the limitations on the water that control water-skiing, private watercrafts and high-speed boating. Operating restrictions for these activities are in place on lakes 2, 3 and 4, while these activities are prohibited on lakes 1 and 5. It's a rare treat to be able to fish unmolested these days.
Public boat launches are in place on lakes 2, 4 and 5. For information on lodging and accommodations in the area, contact the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 947-5075, or online at www.tcchamber. org.
Lake Mitchell is one of those "everything" lakes, and it's an especially good bass-fishing lake.
"Lake Mitchell has excellent largemouth bass habitat -- shallow, weedy -- and there are plenty of good-sized largemouths in it," Tonello said.
With few spots on the lake deeper than 20 feet, most of Lake Mitchell's 2,580 acres holds bass habitat. Weeds engulf the lake in the summer, making it seem perfect for largemouths, but smallmouth bass outnumber largemouths 2-to-1. Still, some of the biggest bass coming from Mitchell are largemouths. Fish topping 5 pounds are common.
Successful anglers targeting largemouths on Lake Mitchell know how to fish the prolific weedbeds. Pitchin' and flippin' into the holes in the weeds is a proven technique. Cover the water quickly, plunking plastic worms or lizards into the open pockets in the weeds and hold on. White spinnerbaits can be productive when worked parallel to the weedbeds. And on calm evenings and mornings, topwater baits can provoke explosive strikes over the weeds. Get away from the weeds and you'll catch smallmouths. That's the kind of problem bass anglers like to have!
The shallow coves on Mitchell's west side of the lake hold good largemouths early in the season. As the lake warms and weeds start to grow, the bass spread out and can be found just about anywhere. Blind Island and some structure found along the northeast and north sides of the lake are worth checking out.
Modern boat launches are situated on the west side of the Lake Mitchell, near Big Cove and across from Mitchell State Park.
For lake maps, fishing reports, bait and tackle, call Pilgrim's Village and Resort in Cadillac at
(231) 775-5412. Information on other amenities and accommodations in the area is available by contacting the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce in Cadillac at (231) 775-9776 or online at www.cadillacmichigan.com.
If you were to conjure up the perfect bass lake, you'd probably summon up something pretty similar to Gun Lake. The 2,680-acre lake located in Barry County holds islands, weedlines, humps, flats, dropoffs, docks and other structure largemouths love. Gun Lake has plenty of forage for bass to fatten up on, too.
"I would have to believe that Gun Lake is one of the top largemouth bass lakes in the state," said fisheries biologist Jay Wesley of the MDNR's Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit.
Despite this great environment, Gun Lake largemouths are difficult to catch at times. They tend to move a great deal throughout the season. Early in the year, look to the shallows around Yankee Island and in Bairds Cove, Robbins Bay and Pickerel Cove. Look for bass in the shallow canals that warm up first and in shoreline structure under docks and boat moorings.
As waters warm during the summer, the bass retreat to deep-water humps and dropoffs. Finesse fishing with light line and smaller jigs are the ticket then. Deep-water bass on Gun Lake often are tightly schooled. Find one school and you're likely to find a whole bunch of them. Schooling bass generally weigh from 1 to 3 pounds, but you can pluck the occasional 5- or 6-pounder from the pack.
Angler access to Gun Lake is excellent. Boat ramps are located at Yankee Springs State Recreation Area and at a county launch site off Marsh Road on the southwest side of the lake. For park hours and other information, contact the Yankee Springs Recreation Area in Middleville at (269) 795-9081.
Covering about 1,000 surface acres, Kalamazoo County's Austin Lake is not a huge lake, but it gives up some big largemouths across its shallow territory. The bass -- 7-pound giants are not unheard of, and 4- and 5-pound bass are routine -- bulk up on bluegills, chubs and small perch found in the lake, which has few spots deeper than 15 feet.
"Austin Lake fishes best early in the season before the weeds take over," said MDNR fisheries biologist Jim Dexter. "The bass can be found just about anywhere because of the weeds."
Austin Lake's shallow, weedy environment limits many bass anglers' techniques to little more than plunking baits in the openings in the weeds. Experts recommend pitching small 3-inch K&E Rival worms into the holes. Where you can find the room, topwater baits, such as the Rapala Floating Minnow and the Rebel Pop R, bring explosive strikes when twitched across the open pockets.
For maps, fishing reports and tackle, contact D&R Sport Center in Kalamazoo at (269) 372-2277.
Branch County's Coldwater Lake is one of a series of lakes that includes Marble, East Long, Archer and Middle lakes. Covering 1,610 surface acres, Coldwater is the best bass lake in the chain.
"Coldwater Lake is one lake that I'd have to rate as one of the better largemouth lakes in southern Michigan," said the MDNR's Jay Wesley. "Despite the pressure Coldwater Lake gets from out-of-state anglers, there are still some very nice bass in it. It has excellent largemouth habitat."
With the variety of bass habitat Coldwater Lake supports, anglers on the hunt for largemouths can fish just about anyway they want -- working structure, weedbeds and dropoffs. The average bass on Coldwater measures from 14 to 18 inches, but bucketmouths topping 6 pounds are caught from the lake every year.
One problem bass anglers contend with at Coldwater Lake is the popularity of the lake among other recreational users. High-speed boat traffic, water skiing and private watercraft can make fishing difficult. Fishermen do well getting on the water very early or very late in the day. Bass fishing can be exceptional on dark, dreary, damp days when recreational boat numbers are unusually low. Coldwater Lake bass anglers will also fish at night to avoid boat traffic.
For more information on bass fishing at Coldwater Lake and other southern Michigan lakes, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the MDNR at (269) 685-6851. For information on amenities and accommodations in the area, contact the Branch County Chamber of Commerce in Coldwater at (517) 278-5985, or online at www.branch-county.com.
"Cass Lake is one lake I'd have to pick if you are talking about the best largemouth lakes in this area," said fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel of the MDNR's Lake Erie Management Unit.
Oakland County is pockmarked with hundreds of lakes, but 1,280-acre Cass Lake is one that seems to consistently pump out good numbers of chunky bass. You'll find a lot of bass in the 2- to 3-pound range in Cass Lake. Though rare, bucketmouths in the 5- to 6-pound class are possible.
Key to catching largemouths on Cass Lake, especially early in the season, is to work the back bays. These sites warm up first and give boating anglers the chance to avoid the ever-present recreational boat traffic. Once away from the traffic, bass anglers do well to concentrate on docks, weeds and structure. Prime locations are located off Marshbank Park, Mud Bay and in the area referred to as "The Gut" in Cole's Bay.
When the bass bite on Cass Lake is aggressive, it's hard to beat a white or chartreuse spinnerbait. Spinnerbaits are great searching tools and excel when bass are in the mood to jump on something as it passes by.
If the fish are less aggressive, finesse presentations work best. Plastic worms and jig-and-pig combinations in purple, black, blue and motor oil are best for these slower presentations. The idea is to slowly crawl the lures along the bottom until a bass recognizes it as something good to eat.
When the weather's right -- calm, dark, dreary days -- topwater action, can be spectacular. Under gray skies on days like these, try Rebel Pop Rs and Heddon's Zara Spooks.
Anglers find good access to Cass Lake via Dodge No. 4 State Park in Waterford. For more information and park hours, call (248) 666-1020. For fishing reports, bait and tackle, contact KD Outdoors in Waterford at (248) 666-7799.
During the most recent MDNR creel survey at Cass Lake, almost half of the bass collected were of legal size and some measured a whopping 20 inches, said fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski of the MDNR's Northern Lake Huron Management Unit. That's a good largemouth, but many anglers believe there are bass bigger than that in the lake.
Typical of Michigan's good largemouth bass fishing lakes, Rush Lake holds a diverse and healthy fish community, including plenty of forage fish for largemouths. Aquatic vegetation, such as broadleaf pondweed, elodea, coontail and milfoil, is present, giving the lake's prolific baitfish popu
lation a place to hide and bass a place to ambush them.
Covering just more than 384 surface acres, Rush Lake is not a large lake. Situated in the Mackinaw State Forest, the lake features a long, deep southern basin and a long, shallow north basin. Its maximum depth is 33 feet, but the lake averages closer to 6 feet deep -- perfect for largemouths and shallow presentations.
The lake's access site is located on its south end off Country Road 624.
For more information on fishing for largemouth bass at Rush Lake, contact the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit of the MDNR at (989) 732-3541.
Schoolcraft County's Thunder Lake on Michigan's Upper Peninsula holds a reputation for producing some slab crappies, but what many people don't know is that the lake has its fair share of lunker largemouths swimming in it, too.
"Thunder Lake is a very good largemouth lake," said fisheries biologist Chuck Bassett of the Hiawatha National Forest. "During recent surveys, we found very good numbers of largemouths in the 14- to 20-inch range."
Most U.P. lakes are not fertile enough to produce consistent largemouth bass fishing. Thunder Lake is an exception, with individual fish tipping the 5-pound mark. At 340 acres big, it's a shallow impoundment with few spots more than 20 feet deep, which makes it perfect for bass. Emergent vegetation covers the lake during most of the summer providing cover and hunting grounds for largemouths. And there is some structure in the form of pine stumps along the east shore that attracts bass, too.
For more information, call the Manistique Tourism Council in Manistique at (906) 341-6954.
North, south, east and west, outstanding largemouth bass fishing is found all across Michigan. This spring, take a break from your traditional fishing trips for trout, salmon and walleyes. You'll be surprised, really, on what you'll find -- and what you've been missing -- in fishing for largemouth bass in the Great Lakes State.