Our state has an abundance of lakes ideally suited to largemouth bass. You can guarantee getting your string stretched on these waters.
Photo by Bryan Hendricks
By Mike Gnatkowski
One of the most underutilized game-fish species in Michigan is the smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass probably aren't far behind.
Both species have a die-hard following of serious anglers, but the average fishermen would rather catch panfish. Panfish are easier to catch, more readily available, don't require a bunch of fancy tackle or a boat, and they taste better. That doesn't mean that bass, and in particular largemouth bass, aren't a challenge and fun to catch. Nothing could be further from the truth! It just means that many anglers tend to be "consumptive-orientated," which just means there's more bass for everyone else to catch.
Smallmouth bass tend to be more common and widespread in Michigan than largemouths. You can find smallies in rivers, impoundments, Great Lakes bays and large inland lakes. Largemouths tend to have more-specific habitat requirements. They like shallower, weedy bodies of water that feature a lot of structure. Fortunately for largemouth fans, Michigan has an abundance of lakes ideally suited to largemouths.
Following is a sampling of largemouth bass waters that you'll want to try this season.
ARBUTUS LAKE "I would have to say that Arbutus Lake in Grand Traverse County is one of the better largemouth lakes in our region," said Central Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "Arbutus has a large population of largemouths, and a lot of them are undersized, but there are some big bass in it, too."
Arbutus Lake, at 395 acres, is actually a chain of five lakes and is located southeast of Traverse City. The lakes range from 31 to 150 acres and feature a lot of fingers, coves and bays, and that shallow, weedy habitat that largemouths love. Anglers refer to the chain as Lake No. 1, Lake No. 2, etc., with Lake No. 5 seeing the most fishing pressure because of easy access. Lake No. 2 is the largest and reaches depths of up to 45 feet. The lake features a lot of weedlines and points that offer ideal largemouth lairs.
The best time to fish for bucketmouths on Arbutus Lake is right after the season opens, especially on shallower lakes No. 1 and No. 5. The bass then can be found frequenting the shallows either during the spawn or just after. Later, the bass retreat to the deep structure found in the other three lakes. Largemouths in excess of 6 pounds are available, though the average will be closer to 2 pounds. Many are taken on topwater baits fished right in the weeds, although later in the year, jig-and-pig combinations and plastics can be used to coax the bigger fish to bite when positioned near structure.
A township-owned boat launch is a popular place to access Lake No. 2. Public access can also be gained at sites on lakes No. 4 and 5. One boon to bass anglers is that water-skiing and high-speed boating are limited on lakes No. 2, 3 and 4, and prohibited on lakes No. 1 and 5.
For more information on lodging and accommodations in the Traverse City area, contact the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 947-5075 or on the Web at www.tcchamber.org.
LAKE MITCHELL "Lake Mitchell has a lot of everything, but the lake is pretty well known for its largemouths," said fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "Mitchell has excellent largemouth bass habitat - shallow, weedy - and there are plenty of good-sized largemouths in it."
Actually, most of Mitchell's 2,580 acres would seem better suited to largemouth bass than smallmouths. Few spots in the lake are over 20 feet deep and weeds engulf the lake during the summer. Ideal largemouth habitat, right? But smallmouths outnumber largemouths in Lake Mitchell by a 2-to-1 ratio. There are plenty of both and some of the biggest bass are largemouths.
Key to catching largemouths in Mitchell is to probe the weeds. Flip lizards or worms into the holes in the weed mats. Drag white or yellow spinnerbaits along the weed edges and indentations. On warm, calm evenings, topwater lures can be fun. Get too far from the weeds or over hard-bottomed areas and you'll catch smallmouths. Most anglers like that kind of problem.
Anglers can get on Lake Mitchell at a U.S.F.S. campground on the southwest side of the lake near Big Cove, which is a great early-season largemouth hangout. Another launch is located right across from Mitchell State Park off M-115.
For fishing reports and hot lures, contact Pilgrim's Village and Resort at (231) 775-5412. You can get information on motels and amenities in the area by contacting the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 775-9776 or on the Web at www.cadillacmichigan.com.
HAMLIN LAKE Mason County's Hamlin Lake has a reputation for producing a lot of walleyes and big bluegills. Most don't think of it as a good largemouth bass lake. They're making a big mistake.
"Hamlin Lake would be one of those lakes that I'd have to consider as one of the better lakes for largemouths in the unit, especially the upper lake," said Tonello. "Last time that we surveyed it we captured 112 largemouths and the majority of those were over 14 inches."
Hamlin Lake, at 5,000 acres, is made up of Lower and Upper lakes. The Lower Lake is sandy with depths up to 80 feet; the Upper Lake is shallow and weedy. Guess where the most largemouths bass are? Anglers can launch at Victory Park or Wilson Park on Upper Hamlin Lake. Much of the Upper Lake is undeveloped along the shore, and anglers will find plenty of shoreline along which they can flip, pitch and chug. Pay special attention to remnant stumps and logs. Early in the season, anglers can sight-fish for bedding fish. As weed growth increases, anglers do better with topwater lures and spinnerbaits. Bucketmouths in the 3- to 5-pound range are common. Hamlin is popular with the bass clubs and several tournaments are held on the lake each year.
For fishing reports, lures and lake maps, contact Just Fishin' at (231) 845-5206. Information on rental cottages and campsites can be had by contacting the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-542-4600 or on the Web at www.ludingtoncvb.com.
MANISTEE LAKE "Manistee Lake is kind of a sleeper for largemouths," said Central Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Tom Rozich. "There are all kinds of fish
in the lake, but there are also lots of largemouths. The lake has cattails, weeds and pilings that offer perfect largemouth bass habitat, too."
The 930-acre Manistee County lake has a reputation for producing excellent fishing for pike, walleyes, trout and salmon. Few people think about the bass, although bass tournaments are held on the lake each year. Smallmouths dominate the bass population in Manistee Lake. But start probing around the weeds, dropoffs and structure and you'll be pleasantly surprised by the number and size of the largemouths. Bucketmouths pushing 5 pounds are routine.
The best location for largemouths on Manistee Lake is anywhere you can find weeds and structure. One hotspot is off Penny Park in East Lake. Cattail marsh, points and pilings are plentiful along the shoreline there and anglers working the structure will find plenty of largemouths in residence. The best tactic is to cover water using a white or chartreuse spinnerbait. Anglers can launch their rigs right at Penny Park. Another launch is located across the lake at Arthur Street. A third ramp is available near the Village of Stronach on the lake's south end.
For more details on Manistee Lake's largemouth bass population, contact the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit of the DNR at (231) 775-9727. For information on bait shops, restaurants and motels in Manistee, contact the Manistee County Chamber of Commerce at (231) 723-2575 or on the Web at www.manisteecountychamber.com.
GUN LAKE If you were to describe the perfect largemouth bass lake, you probably would come up with something pretty similar to Barry County's Gun Lake. The lake features a lot of humps, flats, weeds, dropoffs, islands and other structure that largemouth bass thrive in. Combine this with the fact that the lake covers more than 2,680 acres and has excellent public access, and you can see why fisheries managers and bass anglers rate it as one of the best in the state for big largemouths.
Although Gun Lake has plenty of largemouths, they can be difficult to catch at times. Early in the season, look for the bass to be cruising the warming shallows around Yankee Island and in Bairds Cove, Robbins Bay and Pickerel Cove. Try probing the many canals and boat docks, too. Later in the summer, the bass retreat to deeper water and structure. Finesse tactics are required then, and bass usually can be found in tight schools in deep water. Find one and you're likely to find more. Light line and jigs are the ticket.
Boats can be launched at Murphy's Point in Yankee Springs State Recreation Area or at a county ramp off Marsh Road on the southwest side of Gun Lake. For park hours, contact the Yankee Springs Recreation Area at (616) 795-9081.
COLDWATER LAKE Branch County's 1,610-acre Coldwater Lake is one of a series of lakes that includes Marble, East Long, Archer and Middle. All are topnotch largemouth bass lakes.
"Coldwater Lake is one lake that I'd have to rate as one of the better largemouth lakes in southern Michigan," said Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Jay Wesley. "Coldwater has excellent largemouth habitat. The lake sees a fair amount of fishing pressure, especially from out-of-state anglers, but there are still some nice bass in it."
Most of the bass coming from the Coldwater Chain will measure 14 inches up to about 18 inches, but there are bigger fish caught every year up to 6 pounds.
With the variety of habitat that the Coldwater Chain offers, largemouth aficionados can pitch, flip and twitch to their heart's content, but they'd better do it early and late in the day. The entire chain sees intense boat traffic, and anglers will have the best success when traffic is at a minimum. Dark, rainy days are perfect. Other days, try to work the back of bays and coves that boats tend to avoid. Another option during the peak summer season is to work the deeper water or fish after dark.
For more information on Gun, Coldwater and other southwest Michigan bass lakes, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the DNR at (616) 685-6851. To find out about motels, bait shops and attractions near Coldwater Lake, contact the Coldwater-Branch County Chamber of Commerce at (517) 278-5985 or on the Web at www.discover-mi.com.
LAKE FENTON "If you're looking to catch a really nice largemouth I'd have to rate Lake Fenton as good a place as any," said Kelly Bridgewater of KD Outdoors in Highland. "There's a surprising number of really good 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 a lot of coves and bays, breaks and points, both emergent and submerged vegetation, and excellent water quality. Although boating traffic on the lake is heavy, 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. But the entire lake offers excellent largemouth habitat.
Bridgewater rated worms and spinnerbaits as two of her favorite lures on Lake Fenton. Weedless rigs are often 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 on the Web at www.fentonchamber.org.
LAKE ORION Like Lake Fenton, Bridgewater rated Oakland County's Lake Orion as a big-bass producer.
"Lake Orion is kind of unusual because it has a land-locked population of alewives that the bass key on," said Bridgewater. Because of this, Bridgewater stated, 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." Crankbaits in shad or white usually do the trick. Once weeds grow too thick for anglers to run crankbaits, Bridgewater advised switching to Yamamoto grubs, which are versatile bait 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.
For lake maps and up-to-date fishing reports, contact KD Outdoors at (248) 666-7799.
RUSH LAKE Northern Lake Michigan fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski rated Montmorency County's Rush Lake as one of the best lakes for big largemouths in his district.
"Recent surveys indicated that Rush Lake has a pretty healthy largemouth population," said Cwalinski. Fisheries surveys found that of the 66 bass collected, 48 percent were of legal size, with some topping 20 inches. Rush Lake has a healthy and diverse fish community, which provides plenty of forage for largemouths. Typical of most good largemouth lakes, Rush Lake has an abundance of aquatic vegetation in the form of broadleaf pondweed, coontail, lilies, elodea and milfoil.
Rush Lake, at 384 acres, is within the Mackinaw State Forest and is located in northeast Montmorency County. The lake is composed of two basins formed by the North Branch of the Thunder Bay River: the deeper, longer southern basin and a long, shallow northern basin. Maximum depth is 33 feet and the average depth is closer to 6 feet. Anglers can access the lake on the south end off CR-624.
For more information on Rush Lake's largemouths, contact the Northern Lake Michigan Management of the DNR at (989) 732-3541.
FLETCHER FLOODWATER It would be pretty hard to write an article about largemouth bass in Michigan and not include Fletcher Floodwater. Many claim that it's the best bass lake in our state. Not only does Fletcher produce very good numbers of bass, but no lake can match the number of big largemouths it pumps out.
"You'd be hard-pressed to find a better largemouth lake in Michigan," said Dean Robinson of Jack's Landing.
Formed by the South Branch of the Thunder Bay River, Fletcher Floodwater (also known as Fletcher Pond) is bass nirvana - shallow, weedy, filled with stumps and timber. Every inch of it is great largemouth habitat. Bass grow quickly on a diet of panfish and baitfish. The bass are chunky and grow above the state average. Bucketmouths topping 7 pounds have been taken from the lake and 5-pounders don't raise much of a stir.
With all the obstacles if your lure gets very far under the surface, you're likely to loose it in Fletcher. Topwater lures are good choices, especially later in the summer. Early in the summer, white spinnerbaits are dynamite. Fish can often still be found on the beds in June when the season opens. Robinson advised anglers to release the spawners to help protect the great fish the lake has.
To sample Fletcher Floodwater's great bass fishing, contact Dean Robinson at Jack's Landing (989) 742-4370.
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Now, there are many other good largemouth bass lakes in Michigan, but you can definitely get your string stretched on these waters. Enjoy!
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