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Michigan's Super Smallmouth Waters

Michigan's Super Smallmouth Waters

Our state's best places to fish for smallmouth bass come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want a great day on the water, go to one of these honeyholes.

By Mike Gnatkowski

Michigan smallmouth bass waters come in all shapes and sizes. The spunky brown bass are very adaptive. They reside in just about every kind of water you can think of, from expansive Great Lakes bays to large and small natural lakes to free-flowing rivers and impoundments.

Most serious anglers who target smallmouth bass practice catch-and-release. That means that most quality smallmouth waters in Michigan have some trophy bass in them, as well as good numbers of smallies.

Following is a selection of smallmouth waters that are sure to produce the kind of action Michigan anglers have become accustomed to.

"One lake that is a sleeper for smallmouth that most people don't think of is Lake Gogebic," said Department of Natural Resources Baraga fisheries biologist Vern Nurenburg. "Anglers think of Gogebic as a walleye and perch lake, but there are some really nice smallmouths in the lake and few people fish for them."

Located in western Ontonagon and Gogebic counties, 12,800-acre Lake Gogebic not only has good numbers of smallies, but good-sized bass, too.

"We get lots of bass in the 15- to 18-inch range," said Ron Montie of Nine Pines Resort. "Occasionally, we'll get a bass in the 21- to 22-inch range that will weigh 4 1/2 to 5 pounds. The bass here are sort of like the perch - short and fat."


Montie said that one of the best times for smallmouths on Gogebic is in late May and early June when the bass are in 2 to 3 feet of water during the pre-spawn and spawn. He said that pitching a little black jig into the shallows usually produces plenty of action from feisty smallmouths. After the spawn, the bass retreat to the 6- to 8-foot depths where crayfish-colored baits and lures excel. During mid to late summer look for smallmouths tucked into the distinct weedlines, poised near rockpiles or suspended out from dropoffs that characterize the lake. Using slip-bobbers suspending leeches, minnows or crawlers along the edges is likely to fool both walleyes and smallmouths then.

Anglers with their own rigs can launch at public accesses on the north end of the lake near Bergland and at a site on the southwest side. For bait, tackle, lodging and guide service, contact Nine Pines Resort at (906) 842-3361 or on the Web at

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Mirror Lake, at only 83 acres, is located in Porcupine Mountains State Park in Ontonagon County. Despite the lake's remoteness, Mirror Lake receives a fair amount of fishing pressure. Hikers make the trek into the lake in search of the brook trout and splake that are stocked in the lake. What many anglers don't know, according to Vern Nurenburg, is that Mirror Lake is a first-rate smallmouth lake, too.

Ironically, a problem that limits the trout fishing in Mirror Lake is what makes the smallmouth fishing so good. Mirror Lake is infested with rough fish, like white suckers and creek chubs, plus a host of minnow species that includes sticklebacks, fatheads, shiners and black-nosed dace. These species compete directly with the trout for food, but the lake's smallmouths thrive on them.

Another reason Mirror Lake's bass fishing is so good is that the lake is entirely catch-and-release for smallmouths. Like Lake of the Clouds, which is another topnotch smallmouth lake in the park, Mirror Lake's smallies are infested with yellow grubs that make the bass unappealing to eat. Rather than have anglers kill the bass only to throw them away later, fisheries managers figured it would be better to not allow anglers to keep bass. The result has produced a spectacular smallmouth fishery. It's not uncommon to land 20 to 30 smallmouths per day that will average 2 to 4 pounds.

Porcupine Mountains State Park offers plenty of campsites and other amenities. Contact the park office at (906) 885-5275 for details on special fishing regulations and seasons.

"Another lake that has an excellent smallmouth population is Lake Medora in Keweenaw County," advised Nurenburg. "We surveyed Lake Medora last fall looking for small walleyes. We found walleyes, but we also found very good numbers of smallmouths, and they were good-sized, too." Nurenburg added that the majority of anglers fishing Lake Medora are after walleyes. Few anglers bother with the smallmouths.

The best time to fish 695-acre Lake Medora is right after the season opens. Bass are in the shallows then, tending beds, and can be goaded into striking a variety of offerings. Jigs twitched seductively near the beds are often more than the protective smallmouths can stand. Good locations are on the west side of the lake between the outlets of Meadow Lake and Gull Lake creeks. A collection of small islands and shoals on the lake's east side is productive, too. In the summer, work the 10- to 15- foot dropoffs drifting with Fuzz-E-Grub jigs or crankbaits. The lake also produces blinding hatches of mayflies during the summer months, which brings bass to the surface and makes it a bonanza for flyfishers.

For information on campgrounds, bait shops and other amenities in the area, contact the Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce at (906) 482-5240.

"The Sturgeon River below Prickett Dam Backwater has some really good smallmouths in it, but not many people fish for them," claimed Nurenburg. The reason is twofold: many anglers are "consumptive orientated" and would rather target other species; and much of the Sturgeon River is wild, remote and difficult to access. Most anglers ignore the river's excellent smallmouth fishing.

The best public access is off M-38 west of Baraga in Baraga County. There are numerous road ends where the adventurous type with GPS in hand can find secluded fishing. The river features huge, sand-bottomed holes, boulders and rock ledges that are home to smallmouths that will push 4 pounds. Live bait, jigs and spinners work best for the bass during the heat of summer.

For more information on Sturgeon River smallmouths, contact the DNR's Baraga field office at (906) 353-9651.

While few anglers know about the tremendous smallmouth fishing available in the Sturgeon River, the same is not true of the Menominee River. Michigan anglers are aware that the Menominee River is full of chunky smallmouths. They just don't bother with th

em. Most Upper Peninsula anglers would prefer to catch trout or walleyes or perch - something they can eat.

Straddling the Wisconsin-Michigan line, the mighty Menominee meanders more than 100 miles but is interrupted by 10 hydroelectric dams. Smallmouths inhabit the ponds created by the dams, but more take up residence where the Menominee reverts to a more riverine environment between dams. Try from the Sturgeon Falls Dam to Chalk Hills Dam, from White Rapids Dam to Grand Rapids Dam and from Grand Rapids Dam to Upper Scott Flowage. The river between dams features rapids, boulders, eddies, logs and pools that team with minnows, aquatic insects and crayfish - perfect bass fodder.

The Menominee's smallies are chunky, healthy fish that pull like the devil. Fish in the 4-pound range are common. Bass topping 6 pounds aren't unheard of. Because the bass have a variety of forage from which to choose, you can use an assortment of methods and lures to fool them. Live bait, artificial lures and flies all take their share of the bronze-colored bass. Jigs are a favorite because they imitate a variety of smallmouth forage, are inexpensive and get down quickly in the Menominee's swift current.

For more information on Menominee River smallmouths, contact the Crystal Falls office of the DNR at (906) 875-6622. For guide service, call Mike Mladenik at (715) 854-2055.

While Little Bay de Noc has a well-deserved reputation as one of our state's top walleye destinations, its abundant smallmouths go nearly unnoticed. Most anglers catch Bay de Noc smallies incidentally while fishing for walleyes, or they target them during the middle of the day when the walleyes aren't biting.

"The increased water clarity has made walleye fishing more of a night fishery," said fisheries biologist George Madison, "so more anglers are targeting smallmouths during the day."

Anglers fishing around the bass opener will find smallmouths clustered near gravel shoals off the mouth of the Rapid, Ford, Tacoosh and Days rivers. Later in the summer, the bass spread out over the 12- to 18-foot flats and off points out from Kipling, and off Hunters and Saunders points. According to Madison, bass in the 3- to 5-pound range are common.

Madison said that there is plenty of forage in Bay de Noc for smallmouths, but their favorite is crayfish. Because of this, it's pretty hard to beat crayfish imitations, like tube jigs, when targeting smallies. Use quick, erratic retrieves with a pumpkinseed-colored tube near bottom and the smallmouths will jump all over it.

To sample Bay de Noc's fantastic smallmouth fishery, contact Bay Shore Resort at (906) 428-9687 or on the Web at

"Nothing's changed!" was fisheries biologist Jim Dexter's reply when I asked him about smallmouths in the Kalamazoo River. "We still have a ton of smallmouths in the Kalamazoo. You're not going to catch many 20-inchers, but there are lots of 10- to 14-inch fish and they're great fun."

Dexter said the stretch of the Kalamazoo from the city of Kalamazoo to Allegan is perfect smallmouth habitat - gravel, rocks, boulders, riffles and pools. One reason the K-zoo's smallmouth population has boomed is because of all the contaminants that are in the river. There are restrictions that limit it to a catch-and-release fishery. Dexter said that might be one reason why the bass don't get too big either. But what the K-zoo bass lack in size, they more than make up for in numbers and spunk.

Dexter said that just about any lure will work on the river's smallmouths - it's just a question of how many you want to lose. Dexter said it's pretty hard to beat a 3/8- or 1/4-ounce black or motor oil-colored jig. They imitate the crayfish that the bass feed on and they're inexpensive. Floating Rapalas and spinners will work, too.

The best fishing usually takes place during the heat of the summer. Dexter said there is a unique opportunity for flyfishers then during a mayfly hatch called "the white fly." Bass go berserk when the flies are hatching. The best stretch of the river for fly-fishing is near the town of Marshall.

For more details on the Kalamazoo River's fabulous smallmouth fishery, contact the DNR's Plainwell office at (616) 685-6851.

Professional bass angler Gerry Gostenik said that he'd rate Oakland County's Cass Lake as one of the best smallmouth lakes in southeast Michigan. That's a pretty tall claim considering the multitude of lakes in the area.

"One of the best times to fish Cass Lake is during the early season," claimed Gostenik. "The bass are likely to be really bunched up and deep in April. Look for them stacked up on the ends of points or on the turns in the weedline. The best way to catch these fish is with jigging spoon." Gostenik advocated using a lift-and-drop technique and to watch your line for subtle takes. Cass Lake is open to early catch-and-release bass fishing.

As the water warms, Cass Lake smallies head for the shallows to spawn in May. Use a spinnerbait or buzzbait to call up bass located over flats during the pre-spawn. Once the bass get on the beds, finesse-fishing with tubes can be challenging and exciting. Expect to catch plenty of smallies in the 2- to 4-pound range.

Anglers can access Cass Lake via Dodge No. 4 State Park. There is an excellent launch there with picnic and bathroom facilities. The park is very popular, so plan on getting there early. Contact the park via the Pontiac Lake Recreation Area at (248) 682-7323.

Changes that have taken place on Lake St. Clair over the past decade have resulted in an explosion in smallmouth numbers in the lake. While bass numbers have now leveled off somewhat, Lake St. Clair still is home to one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in the world. Even so, the bass are no pushovers.

"The locations where you find the bass changes from year to year," observed Gerry Gostenik. "Last year, the best fishing was off Stony Point on the Canadian side. I don't know why, but the fish held over the 12- to 18-foot flats there all summer."

One place that has produced consistent bassing the past few years, and is overlooked by many anglers, is in the deep waters of the St. Clair River and the channels that feed Lake St. Clair.

"The fishing there is mainly during midsummer," said Gostenik. "You're fishing 20 to 40 feet of water with 1/2-ounce tube jigs. I've fished as deep as 60 feet. Smoke and green are the best colors. The trick is to let them down to bottom and allow them to drag. I use 10-pound monofilament and just keep the jig near bottom. You'll catch a ton of fish in the 2- to 4-pound range. My best day we landed five fish that weighted 25 pounds. And there's not many guys doing it."

July and August produce the hottest fishing. The season fo

r smallmouths on Lake St. Clair opens the third Saturday in June.

The area between Huron Metro Park, at 16-Mile Rd., down to 9-Mile Road produces consistent summer angling, too. Drifting with native spot-tailed shiners along the edges of weedbeds in 10 to 15 feet of water produces a lot of smallies, plus a variety of other species.

For lake maps, bait and tackle, contact Lakeside Fishing Shop at (586) 777-7003 or on the Web at

Oakland County's Kent Lake has always been a great place to catch lunker largemouths, but in recent years, according to Gerry Gostenik, the lake's smallmouths have begun to steal the show.

"I would say that the bass population in Kent Lake is now about 60/40 smallmouths," claimed Gostenik. "There's still some really good largemouths in the lake, but the smallmouths seemed to have benefited most from the clearer water as a result of the zebra mussels. There seems to be more gravel now along the old river channel and it is solid beds when the bass are spawning. The smallmouths seem to really be reproducing well."

Gostenik said he's landed and released as many as 65 bass in a single day on Kent Lake! The biggest will be around 3 1/2 pounds, but there are a lot of 2-pounders.

Prime places to key on for Kent Lake's smallmouths are along the twisting river channel, near points with access to deep water and along the riprap along Interstate 96. Largemouths are more prevalent in the back of bays and around the many islands in the 1,000-acre lake.

To sample Kent Lake's exciting smallmouth fishing and other bass venues in southeast Michigan, contact Gerry Gostenik at (313) 277-8002 or on the Web at

* * *
Michigan has no shortage of topnotch smallmouth waters. Now it's up to you to get out and get in on the action.

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