Summer's Best Bets for Michigan Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Summer's Best Bets for Michigan Smallmouth Bass Fishing
Typical Lake Erie smallmouths, like the one shown here by Gerry Gostenik, run larger than those from Lake St. Clair, but St. Clair produces better numbers of fish. Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

If Michigan didn't have such great fishing for trout, salmon and walleyes, then its smallmouth bass would be king. Brown bass take a backseat to some of the more glamorous species because Michigan's anglers are consumption oriented, meaning they like to eat fish. Trout, salmon and walleyes are better eating than bass.


But when it comes to tugging at the end of the line, smallmouths don't take a backseat to any fish. That's why smallmouths have a very loyal following in Michigan. Fact is, Michigan is home to some topflight smallmouth bass fishing venues, considered to be among the best in the world. There are places where you can routinely catch trophy-sized bass and some where you can catch incredible numbers. There are even a few where you can do both.



Following is a look at Michigan smallmouth bassin' venues you'll surely want to sample this summer.

LAKE ERIE


Finding structure is the key to finding smallmouths on Lake Erie. Where you find it, you're likely to find concentrations of bass, but even then you won't find the numbers that you'll find on Lake St. Clair. Smallmouth fishing in the Michigan waters of Lake Erie is not like reef fishing in Ohio waters. The Michigan waters of Lake Erie lack the structure you find in Ohio waters. Smallmouths anywhere are rock-oriented because that's where their preferred foods live, mainly crawfish and gobies. You'll find excellent smallmouth fishing around the islands near the mouth of the Detroit River like Grosse Isle, Stony and Sugar, but for the most part, smallmouths are going to be concentrated where you find current or structure out in the lake.

Smallmouths on Lake Erie tend to run a bit larger on the average than their Lake St. Clair counterparts. "Size might be a function of density and fishing pressure," offered Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. "If there's not much fishing pressure, the bass tend to grow bigger and live to an older age. Probably 95 percent of the fishing pressure on Lake Erie is geared toward perch and walleyes."


Even anglers who do fish for smallmouths don't kill many. Studies show that anglers fishing for bass keep fewer than 8 percent of the fish they catch.

"Tournament weights were as big as they have ever been on Lake Erie last season," declared professional angler and guide Gerry Gostenik. "It just goes to show you what a great fishery Lake Erie really is."

Gostenik said that during the typical bass tournament on Lake Erie you need a 20-pound stringer to break the Top 20 positions, and to win a 150-boat tournament you'll need to have 25-pounds-plus in your livewell.

Fishing gets hot on Lake Erie during the pre-spawn. "It's not uncommon to have 100-fish days in April and May," said Gostenik.

The bass are pigging out then and just beginning to think about spawning. "The bass can be very concentrated then, grouped up, relating to subtle structure and chowing down," offered Gostenik. Spawning takes place at various times of the year in Lake Erie. "Personally, I've caught bass that have been spawning in late July or early August."

Post-spawn bass take a couple of weeks to recuperate. The smallies are less aggressive then and not above capitalizing on an easy meal. This post-spawn funk often coincides with prolific mayfly hatches that bass take advantage of. Gostenik said pick the right day, and it's the one time during the year when you can enjoy exciting topwater action on Lake Erie.

Fishing remains consistent through the summer on Lake Erie until early fall when smallmouths begin a pilgrimage back into the shallows for one last feeding binge before winter. It's a great time for catching both numbers and trophy fish. Fall bass have one thing on their mind — eating. Smallmouths over 5 pounds are common, with bronzebacks over 7 pounds not unheard of then. A prime location is off the mouth of the Raisin River where rocks and mussel beds hold gobies that attract smallmouths.

Gostenik said drop-shotting produces the most consistent results. "Drop-shotting is better than jigging with the tube," claimed Gostenik. "Drop-shotting keeps the bait in the strike zone by offering a goby imitation right above the mussel beds. It's like ringing the dinner bell to a smallmouth and there's no hesitation when the bass decides it's something good to eat."

Michigan waters make up a relatively small portion of Lake Erie, but it boasts great bass habitat. Anglers will find good access at Lake Erie Metropark, Point Moulliee State Game Area, at Sterling State Park, near the mouth of the Raisin River, at Bolles Harbor, at Otter Creek and at Luna Pier.

To learn how to use the drop-shotting technique to catch Lake Erie smallmouths, contact Gerry Gostenik at (313) 319-0100, or at www.greatlakesbassfishing.com.

LAKE ST. CLAIR

Many people don't like zebra mussels. Art Ferguson III isn't one of them. "Zebra mussels have made the fishing even better on Lake St. Clair," claimed guide and bass pro Ferguson. "The smallmouth fishing on Lake St. Clair has never been better."

Ferguson claims it's largely due to the zebra mussels. He routinely guides clients to 50- to 100-fish days and the bass average 2 to 4 pounds.

The infiltration of exotic zebra mussels into the Great Lakes system has caused dramatic environmental changes that have benefited smallmouths. The mussels filter tiny particles in the water, which has made Lake St. Clair even clearer. With more light penetration, aquatic plants have blossomed and expanded. This explosion of vegetation has created new habitat for aquatic insects, baitfish and bass. Add that to the abundance of crayfish and gobies that smallmouths have to eat and you can see the bass have a virtual smorgasbord to pick from.

Pollution controls have improved Lake St. Clair's water quality, too. Combine all of the variables and you have the makings of a bass Nirvana.

Ferguson's go-to bait on Lake St. Clair is a tube jig. Two colors seem to produce best: pumpkinseed and silver glitter. Pumpkinseed mimics gobies and crayfish found in the lake. Silver glitter imitates shad and spot-tailed shiners. Ferguson has designed a complete line of soft baits offered at Provider Tackle (www.providertackle.com; 586-531-2821) that includes tubes, jigs and accessories for fishing Lake St. Clair.

"Tubes are really versatile," said Ferguson. "You can hop, skitter, rip and pop, or just drag a tube. It's a good way to cover water."

He prefers 3- to 4-inch models that are salt-impregnated. If conditions are right, twitching stickbaits in the surface can be a hoot. White or chartreuse spinnerbaits excel when searching. Drop-shotting with goby-imitating soft baits is great when bass are concentrated. Ferguson is prepared to do all of the above any day.

Productive locations on Lake St. Clair include the Middle Channel, Big Muscamoot Bay, the mouth of the Clinton River, the mouth of Little Muscamoot Bay, the islands off Long Point and Huron Point. A good launch is located at Metro Beach Metropark and smallmouths can be found from the park all the way to 9-Mile Road on the lake's east side, and along steep channels in the river.

To get a firsthand lesson on catching Lake St. Clair smallmouths, contact Art Ferguson III at (586) 531-2821, or online at www.artoffishing.com.

TITTABAWASSEE RIVER

It was 7 a.m. when the phone rang one morning last summer. I thought, "Who is calling me at this hour of the morning?"

"Gnat, what are you doing? It's Le Beau," came the voice on the other end. It was my friend in Michigan, Mike LeBlanc.

"Sleeping actually," came my dreamy reply.

"Sorry. I just thought about you 'cause I just landed about a 16- or 17-inch smallmouth. I thought I'd give you a call. That's about the 20th bass I've caught already this morning."

I was fully awake now and he definitely had my attention.

The Tittabawassee River might be the most underutilized smallmouth fishery in the entire state. The river is a buzz of activity the last Saturday of April when the walleye season opens, but the river sees few anglers during the rest of the year. Most don't realize the river is full of feisty smallmouth bass.

"Some of the best smallmouth fishing on the Tittabawassee is upstream of Midland," offered Southern Lake Huron Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jim Baker. "There's a lot more gravel and rock in that section of the river."

The river is much more conducive to boating downstream from the Midland Dam, although you still need to watch for pilings, stumps and rocks. That's exactly the kind of cover you should seek out during midsummer when the river fishing is best for smallmouths. The bass are concentrated in deep runs and pools near in-stream cover. The bass will jump on a variety of lures, including crankbaits, stickbaits, jigs, spinnerbaits, plastics and flies. Most of the bronzebacks will be less than 14 inches, with some weighing up to 4 pound.

For more information on access, contact the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit of the Michigan DNR at (989) 684-9141.

SAGINAW BAY

Saginaw Bay offers adventurous anglers great smallmouth action. They just might have to go a ways to find it. "Most of the really good smallmouth fishing is in the Outer Bay," said fisheries biologist Jim Baker. "Places like Tawas Bay, around the Charity Islands and off the tip of The Thumb, have exceptional smallmouth fishing."

A prerequisite for cashing in on the great bass action on The Bay is a seaworthy boat and keeping an eye on the weather. A run to the Charity Islands requires anglers to launch at Au Gres or Caseville to make the run to the middle of the bay.

"Most of the better fishing in the Bay takes place early in the season," offered Baker. Bass are moving toward the shallows then, preparing for the spawn and are highly concentrated. The north side of the Charity Islands can be a hotspot then. Fishing off The Thumb remains hot right through the summer. The area is a maze of rocks and boulders the size of two-bedroom houses. Boaters need to use caution. It's pretty hard to beat a twistertail jig or tube in these waters for bass that run up to 5 pounds.

For tackle, maps and fishing reports contact Frank's Great Outdoors at (989) 697-5341, or go online at www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.

LITTLE BAY DE NOC

There was a time when no one paid any attention to smallmouths on Little Bay De Noc. That's changed a little, but the fishing is still outstanding. Walleyes are still king on The Bay, but when the walleyes aren't cooperating anglers have discovered that the bass probably will.

Not only are there good numbers in Bay de Noc, but there also are some very respectable fish. Three- to 5-pounders are common, and the majority of anglers release those fish, being more interested in the tasty walleyes.

Bay de Noc smallmouths can be surprisingly hard to find in the spring. Most anglers are looking too shallow. Targeting the 12- to 18-foot depths can pay big dividends around the season opener. Later in the summer, anglers will have better luck targeting the flats. Bay De Noc smallmouths tend to move a lot so if you don't find them in one location, keep searching. Prime locations include south of the Escanaba River from the municipal dock to north of the old jet fuel terminal. In the upper Bay, try the shoals around Kipling and the Days River. The rocks and structure found off the mouth of the Ford River are good, too, especially in the spring.

For guides and lodging contact Sall-Mar Resort at (906) 553-4850, or go online at www.sallmarresort.net.

MENOMINEE RIVER

If you were to describe the perfect smallmouth river, you'd probably come up with something pretty close to the Menominee River on the Michigan-Wisconsin border. Between the dams the river is a series of pools, boulder-filled riffles and eddies that scream smallmouths. Much of the river is owned by power companies and offers public access, but the river's bass see little fishing pressure.

The best stretches for smallmouths are between Sturgeon Falls Dam and Chalk Hills Dam, from White Rapids Dam to Grand Rapids Dam, and from Grand Rapids Dam to Upper Scott Flowage. The mighty Menominee is a big river spanning 200 to 300 feet in places, but the river is wadeable if you are careful.

Bass have a plethora of food sources in the Menominee River that include minnows, aquatic insects and crayfish. Because of that, a variety of lures and techniques will work on brown bass up to 6 pounds.

For more information on Menominee River smallmouths, contact the DNR's Western Superior Management Unit at (906) 353-6651.

KALAMAZOO RIVER

The Kalamazoo River was once one of America's most polluted rivers. Now it might be one of the country's best smallmouth rivers. Tighter pollution controls to limit factory discharges and new wastewater treatment plants have cleaned up the river. Smallies find the river to their liking.

The stretch between Kalamazoo and Plainwell averages 70 to 100 feet wide and has pools and riffles featuring boulders, wood and gravel that make for perfect smallmouth hides. It's not uncommon to catch 100 bass during a hot summer day. The bass will jump on just about any spinner, crankbait or jig. Dark-colored tube jigs are the top producer.

Contact D&R Sports Center for tackle, baits and information on river access at 1-800-992-1520 or online at www.dandrsports.com.

You'd be hard-pressed to find better smallmouth fishing than what you'll find in the State of Michigan. Make it a point to give it a try this season.

Get Your Fish On.

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