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Bigmouths Of The Northwoods

Bigmouths Of The Northwoods

Bassers will have no trouble finding a place to fish in the Northwoods. There are countless lakes with good largemouth populations that see little if any pressure. (July 2008)

Photo by Ron Sinfelt.

Michigan's Northwoods offer quality largemouth bass angling with largemouth bass being more abundant than the average basser realizes. From natural lakes, reservoirs and tiny potholes, most waters sprout some sort of largemouth fishery. Largemouths respond to a variety of presentations; that is part of their popularity. Whether you fish with plastics, crankbaits or topwaters, you can usually find a largemouth to cooperate. Each lake has its own personality, so anglers should refine their presentations. On most Northern lakes, largemouth bass are underfished. However, I would like to stress that most Northern bass fisheries are fragile and catch-and-release should be practiced to ensure quality fisheries remain intact.

The 15-lake Cisco Chain is located about 13 miles southwest of Watersmeet. Tom Schwankee of Wilderness Bay Guide Service said, "The Cisco Chain has quality largemouth bass and they are underfished, with other species getting all the pressure." Lakes with good largemouth populations include Big Africa, Little Africa, Thousand Island and Cisco.

Because of their smaller size, Big Africa and Little Africa lakes are the first to see hot largemouth action. Schwankee said after the season opens, largemouths are in shallow water presenting a good topwater bite that may continue through summer. By midsummer, however, he relies on plastics.

The clearwater 1,000-acre Thousand Island Lake, takes a bit longer to warm. Schwankee said there is a good spinnerbait bite in the back bays at the north end of the lake. If the spinnerbait bite slows during the day, switch to plastics. Like Thousand Island Lake, Cisco Lake also has a good spinnerbait bite in the back bays. Being a shallower lake than Thousand Island, Cisco warms faster and is less affected by cold fronts.

With most anglers pursuing walleyes, smallmouths and muskies, you will have this prime water all to yourself. The fact that you have a chain of lakes with different lake types allows you to find active largemouths under different weather conditions. For more information on fishing the Cisco Chain, call Tom Schwankee at Wilderness Bay Guide Service, (906) 358-4319.

I have pursued both largemouth and smallmouth bass throughout North America and besides catching plenty of nice bass, I have encountered some interesting waters.


One of the most interesting places I have fished is the Prickett Dam Backwater, an 810-acre reservoir on the Sturgeon River 12 miles southwest of Baraga. I stumbled onto it one July day when I was blown off Portage Lake. Needless to say, after catching several dandy largemouths, I returned many times.

The reservoir has steep, heavily wooded shorelines that are completely undeveloped and owned by the power company. A boat landing is located on the west-central end of the lake off Forest Road 193.

Because of abundant weed growth and wood cover, some bassers may have trouble getting started. I haven't found high concentrations of largemouths in any one spot, so be prepared to keep moving. After the season opens, concentrate on the south end of the reservoir. Some largemouths remain shallow throughout the summer, but the larger bass either hold along the weedlines or relate to the deep wood. They do, however, move into the weeds to feed. When that occurs, be prepared for a good topwater bite. Try a weedless frog in the weeds and a Zara Spook on the edge.

Both spinnerbaits and crankbaits produce equally. When fishing a chartreuse spinnerbait, make sure you fish over the weeds and along the weedline. Bumping the wood with minnow imitation crankbaits won't produce high numbers of bass, but this presentation will catch a hawg. Another option for fishing the wood is to rig a soft-plastic jerkbait, wacky style, and pitch it tight to the wood. White, chartreuse and watermelon/red jerkbaits work best in the stained water. In fall, use deep-diving crankbaits and concentrate on the main-lake points. For more information, contact the Baraga County Chamber of Commerce at (906) 353-8808 or online at

When the Menominee River comes to mind, anglers think of big smallmouths. However, sections of the Menominee offer quality largemouth fishing. One such place is the Twin Falls Flowage in Dickinson County.

Being boundary waters, Michigan anglers can take advantage of the early catch-and-release season. The key to not only catching pre-spawn largemouths, but largemouths throughout the year, is fishing the sloughs along the river. By early May, largemouths move into the muck-bottomed, stump-filled sloughs. Spinnerbaits and shallow-running crankbaits will catch active bass. If the bite is light, try a Texas-rigged soft-plastic jerkbait.

As summer progresses, a distinct weedline develops along the edge of the sloughs. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits will catch largemouths early and late in the day, but stick with plastics in the middle of the day. Bring a variety of tubes and jerkbaits and be prepared to fish the weed edges and the deep water at the edge of the sloughs. Never pass up any shoreline wood, especially if it is out of the current. For big largemouths, look for wood out of the current in 8 to 10 feet of water.

After Labor Day, largemouths really put on the feedbag. Plastics continue to catch fish, but I stick primarily with crankbaits, suspending jerkbaits and spinnerbaits. When choosing crankbaits, opt for minnow imitations instead of crayfish imitations. Don't be surprised if you catch a few big smallmouths too.

There is an excellent boat launch on the Wisconsin side of the river west of Iron Mountain off Hwy. 2. Although you launch in Wisconsin, a Michigan fishing license will do.

For more information, contact the Dickinson County Chamber of Commerce at (906) 774-2002 or

Many Northwoods trout lakes also offer warmwater fisheries, especially largemouth bass.

Dodge Lake and Island Lake in Schoolcraft County are typical trout lakes, so the largemouth bass fishery receives limited fishing pressure. Both lakes have a reputation for producing largemouths on surface baits after dark. Two prime areas are the marshes at the east end of Dodge Lake and the northwest end of Island Lake.

While the su

mmer topwater bite is good, you don't need to stay up all night to catch bass. There is a good early-morning bite that often lasts until midmorning followed by an evening bite.

However, due to the clear water and boat traffic, finesse presentations are in order. Try fishing a 4-inch finesse worm in black, pumpkin, pepper and watermelon around docks and wood. If the bass are in deep water, try a Carolina rig tipped with a lizard. In the fall, all boat traffic is gone and there is a good crankbait bite.

For more information, contact the Schoolcraft County Chamber of Commerce at (888) 819-7420 or go to

According to Michigan fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski, the 9,000-acre Fletcher Floodwater impoundment is as good as any largemouth bass fishery in the state. The weeds and stumps are also home to a variety of forage that contributes to an above-average growth rate. Impoundment depth averages 5 to 7 feet with the main river channel averaging 12 feet.

Dean Robinson from Jack's Landing said, "Not only can you catch numbers of largemouths here but big bass as well. This is one place where 20-inch largemouths are common." Robinson keeps records of bass tournaments and said the 2.5-pound bass average is excellent, especially for a Northwoods bass fishery. Besides great bass, Robinson also notes that this is strictly a fishing lake, so don't expect to see recreation boaters or personal watercraft.

A special early season opens on the last Saturday in April and runs until the season opener on Memorial Day weekend. This pre-spawn period is a perfect time to catch big largemouths. With the weeds not yet up, concentrate on the wood using a combination of spinnerbaits, plastics and topwater baits. Robinson suggests having all three baits rigged on different rods. By summer, the weeds thicken and Robinson relies on Texas-rigged plastic worms and salamanders. It is important to weight your plastics so they get down to the base of the weeds where the big bass hold. There is no need to be on the water at dawn since these bass bite throughout the day, although there may be a hot bite early and late in the day.

After Labor Day, the weeds begin to die and bass school up as they chase baitfish. Spinnerbaits are the bait of choice, especially for locating schooling bass. Once you locate them, other presentations will also work.

For more information on Fletcher Floodwater, contact Dean Robinson at Jack's Landing, (989) 742-4370.

Lake Winyah, a 1,500-acre impoundment on the Thunder Bay River, is very similar to Fletcher Floodwater in that the impoundment is shallow, the water is stained and weeds and stumps are abundant.

The best time to fish is after the opener through early July before the weeds get too thick. Leave your crankbaits at home and bring along a selection of spinnerbaits. Largemouths are still catchable in the summer heat, but you'll need patience as you work the thick weeds.

Look for open pockets in the weeds. These open pockets may contain a stump and a few largemouths that will attack a weedless jig tipped with a plastic trailer or a Texas-rigged soft-plastic jerkbait. Buzzbaits are the most popular bait for many anglers in summer. Largemouths can strike a buzzbait anytime throughout the day, but they are deadliest early and late. The topwater bite can be especially hot on a warm, humid evening. However, don't count out fishing the weed edges with a spinnerbait or a Texas-rigged soft-plastic jerkbait.

Cwalinski recommends that bass anglers spend some time on Lake Winyah.

"With the exception of bass tournaments, the largemouth bass on Lake Winyah receive limited fishing pressure," Cwalinski said, adding that largemouths are common, but anglers may expect to catch smallmouths, walleyes and pike as well. Lake Winyah is located northwest of Alpena and there is a resort on the north end of the lake.

For more information, contact the Alpena Chamber of Commerce at (989) 345-4181 or view online at

Another good largemouth bass impoundment recommended by Cwalinski is the Tomahawk Creek Flooding, a 575-acre impoundment located on the Montmorency/Presque Isle county line east of State Highway 33. Largemouth bass are the dominant predator, although northern pike are also present. Growth rates are slightly below the state average, but there is excellent natural reproduction. The lake was surveyed in 2004 and most bass fell in the 10- to 15-inch range that Cwalinski said is typical. However, there are plenty of 16- to 18-inch bass present and a good number of fish over 20 inches.

If you like to fish weeds and wood, you will find a home. While spinnerbaits are the first choice of most anglers, don't get hooked on them. I am a firm believer that on many lakes the larger bass grow accustomed to seeing spinnerbaits and will only strike them when they are feeding. Sure, you can change colors, but that may not be enough. Minnow-style soft-plastic jerkbaits can be rigged weedless and worked slowly over the weeds. In recent years, there have been new innovations in weedless frogs and other surface baits that are perfect for a place like the Tomahawk Creek Flooding.

For anglers that prefer fishing from a small boat and like to explore, there is a small chain of lakes north of the flooding with good largemouth bass populations. Some of these lakes have campgrounds. For more information, contact the Onaway Chamber of Commerce at (800) 741-3685 or

Manistee, a 930-acre lake in Manistee County is best known for walleyes, pike and smallmouth bass in addition to coldwater species. However, an excellent largemouth bass population is present in both size and numbers.

The marsh on the north end of the lake where the Manistee River enters is a good place to start. Fish the shallows with a search bait like a spinnerbait. Typical largemouth colors, chartreuse, yellow and white, are good choices. If you are after larger bass, use tandem and willow-leaf blades. If you are fishing with a partner, make sure one of you is fishing a soft-plastic minnow-style jerkbait. If a largemouth boils at the spinnerbait or if you miss the fish, cast the jerkbait in the area. Big largemouths may not strike a spinnerbait twice, but they will hit a jerkbait. White and silver flake are the top jerkbait colors. In summer, look for a good topwater bite early and late in the day.

Pitching a jig tight to the pilings is another deadly tactic, but make sure you cover the piling efficiently. Small largemouths often hold high in the water column with the larger bass on the bottom.

Fall is the best time to catch a big largemouth from Manistee Lake. Baitfish school and the largemouths follow. Suspending jerkbaits and crankbaits have a great track reco

rd under these conditions.

For more information, contact the Manistee County Chamber of Commerce at (213) 723-2575 or at

Bassers should have no trouble finding a place to fish in the Northwoods. Countless other lakes offer good largemouth bass populations that see little pressure. So, get on the water and do some exploring.

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