Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com
When Jack Link's Major League Fishing officials announced plans to visit the Alpena, Michigan, area for the 2014 General Tire Summit Cup, some fishing fans might have been puzzled at the choice.
Not Jere Johnston, a 51-year-old Michigan man who has spent much of his life combing the Great Lake State's best smallmouth bass waters.
When he heard that the 24 MLF pros were coming to northeastern Michigan, specifically, to the 8,850-acre Hubbard Lake where the Elimination Rounds will be contested, Johnston was all smiles.
"I live in Shelbyville now, but I grew up in Alpena and still visit the area and its fisheries every chance I get," said Johnston. "I still love the area and its fishing, and Hubbard Lake is one of the premiere lakes in that area."
“If you're going to win a tournament on Hubbard, you better bring a sack to the scales that is 20 pounds or better.”
The longtime angler says that one of the reasons Hubbard is so good is because it doesn't get a lot of pressure.
"Because of where it is located, it's kind of off most angler's radar screens," said Johnston. "It's just not touched by a lot of tournament pressure being a small lake outside of a small town in northeastern Michigan."
If Hubbard doesn't get much attention from anglers, it is due mostly to its remote location, not the quality of fish that the lake produces.
"It's not uncommon to go out there and catch a lot of good fish," said Johnston. "You'll see a lot of fish average 2 1/2 pounds on up towards the five-pound mark.
"And that's not an exception either; you can catch fish of that size pretty consistently on Hubbard," he added.
Jere Johnson, of Shelbyville, Michigan, shows off the caliber of bronzebacks the Alpena area has to offer.
"On the tournaments that are held there, the big fish are almost always five pounds or better. Threes and fours are very common."
"If you're going to win a tournament on Hubbard, you better bring a sack to the scales that is 20 pounds or better."
Johnston says that part of Hubbard's high quality is due to the lack of angling pressure and the lack of bass being harvested from the lake.
But he also believes that another part of the high quality equation is due to the lake's good habitat and the abundant forage that is present.
"Hubbard is a really nice, ultra clear lake with a ton of structure in it," he said. "It's got plenty of rocks, boulders, wood, grass, shallow flats and deep ledges."
That means that there are plenty of features that anglers can find fish relating to.
And when they find those fish, chances are that they're active and hungry, usually feeding on the lake's primary food source.
"You discover the lake's primary food source as soon as you step on dock," laughed Johnston. "These smallmouth bass primarily feed on crawdads."
"To be honest, there are so many of them - millions of them - that the lake bottom literally seems to crawl. It's really unique."
While crawfish are on top of the food chain at Hubbard, Johnston says that there is no shortage of baitfish and prey species either. He says that small yellow perch, bluegills, crappie, small fingerling walleye and green shiners make up the baitfish portion of the lake's forage base.
How does an angler effectively fish the lake?
"In the spring, you can't go wrong with a crawdad bait," said Johnston. "I'll often throw out a crawdad imitation - usually a Sweet Beaver - and drag it very slowly. I'll even catch fish by dragging the bait very slowly as the wind slowly pushes the boat along."
In addition to his preferred crawfish style baits, Johnston also will fish a spinnerbait or a Strike King jerkbait during the springtime.
How good can the fishing be at this time of year? "I've seen a seven-plus come out of Hubbard at that time of the year and I've caught a six-plus in the spring while I was fishing a green pumpkin Xtreme tube," said Johnston.
During the summer months, Johnston will throw a variety of baits at Hubbard's big smallmouths. His lure choices will range from a Wacky rig, to a Pop-R or Zara Spook topwater, to a spinnerbait, to a tube bait or even back to the tried and tested soft plastic crawdad.
"As for lure colors, I tend to stay with the natural green and brown shades that match the crawdads and yellow perch," he said. "But I also like to throw a white or a white-chartreuse spinnerbait with colored blades that mimics some of the other baitfish in the lake."
When the weather and water begin to cool with the arrival of autumn, Johnston focuses on topwater baits and jerkbaits fished in the shallows. If the fish aren't active there, he'll back off a bit and throw a Strike King Series 4 or 5 crankbait.
"I will also throw a crankbait at times in the summer months, but I like it better in the fall," said Johnston. "It seems to draw more strikes for me in the fall since I get it into deeper water and bounce it off the top of grass or wood."
What crankbait colors does the angler like to use on Hubbard? "I like the KVD Sexy Shad color along with other natural perch looking colors," said Johnston.
Out of the various seasons mentioned above, which is Johnston's favorite to fish?
Like a true Great Lakes region angler, he likes them all, including ice fishing during the winter months. But if forced to choose, the Michigan angler will settle on the month of May during the catch-and-release season for bass after ice-out has occurred.
"The best day I ever had on Hubbard was in early May while I was fishing with my buddy Brian Nowland," said Johnston. "We fished the whole day, worked the same water over and over again, and caught nearly 30 fish with not a one of them weighing less than two pounds."
Johnston says that he primarily threw a jerkbait that day and caught a half-dozen fish or more that weighed five pounds or better.
"It was the most amazing thing being able to go into some of these little pockets on the lake and throw a jerkbait in there and hook a four- or five-pounder," he said. "We'd fight it to the boat and see four or five more swimming with it while they tried to take the bait away."
That wolf-pack phenomena is something that Johnston sees frequently on Hubbard.
"A wolf pack is a school of smallmouths; where there is one on Hubbard, there is often going to be several more. If you hook a fish, it pays to fish that same area some more."
Johnston points to a wolf-pack experience he had a few months ago as proof.
"I had a five pounder that I caught earlier this year and when I got her to the boat, she had five more swimming around her trying to take the bait out of her mouth."
Johnston says that because of that wolf-pack nature of the bronzeback, when he hooks a smallmouth and sees the presence of other fish, he'll slow down and throw a different presentation.
"If I've caught a smallmouth on a reaction bait, I'll most often go to a tube and work the area well," he said. "Then I'll work the area over again with a faster bait and then go back over it again with a slower bait."
Does this vacuuming technique work?
"Yeah, you can pull 10 to 15 fish sometimes from a stretch of water that is only 50 feet long," said Johnston. "And sometimes you can find a honey hole where you can catch even more because they are just stacked up on a structural feature like a trough."
When an angler finds such a sweet spot on Hubbard, Johnston says that it is bass angling at its finest.
"The battle that ensues when you catch a single smallmouth is incredible," he said. "It's not just a tug-of-war like you can get with a good largemouth.
"It's more of a running battle with the fish going under the boat, going into the air with crazy acrobatics, and the fish just not giving up very easy.
"And when you can get into a group of these fish - which is very easy to do on Hubbard - it's just about as good as bass fishing can get."
Which is something that the 24 Major League Fishing pros visiting the Alpena area will soon find out.
Because when it comes to good fishing, relatively unknown or not, Hubbard Lake has got big smallmouth bass game.
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