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By Wesley Stanley
Michigan. Known for the cold weather, the Great Lakes, and beautiful sights. It is also a bass fisherman’s paradise, especially for trophy smallmouth. The following are the Top 5 Lakes for smallmouth bass fishing in the state, in no particular order.
Located in the absolute ideal spot, Lake St. Clair boasts great smallmouth bass fishing and a prime locale. The picturesque lake has Lake Huron to the North and Lake Erie to the South. It is 6-miles northeast of downtown Detroit. With 430 square miles of freshwater, 160 miles of shoreline, and an average depth of only 11 feet, Lake St. Clair is nationally known for the size and number of smallmouth bass.
There are 22 boat launches around Lake St. Clair, 7 of which are DNR ramps. Its proximity to downtown Detroit makes it ideal for overnight trips. It also makes it a great destination for family trips, with plenty of options for those who don’t want to fish. The lake itself has a variety of shops and attractions on or near the lake. There are also many charters available.
The lake has an extensive delta system, fed by Lake Huron through the St. Clair River in its northeastern section and into Lake Erie to the south through the Detroit River. This makes the retention time around 7 days on average and provides a constant influx of fresh nutrients for the fish.
Fisherman report averaging around 40-60 bass on good days, usually between 3- and 5-pounds, especially from late April to mid-May when the females are feeding prior to the spawn. Another good time to catch large numbers is between September and October. The fish are moving to the shallow waters as the temperatures drop and foraging in the Detroit River, which is perfect for when the lake winds make fishing difficult. May through September requires more work to find the fish and lure them out, as they tend to go to deeper water. Shallow water fishing during this time usually results in largemouth bass, especially near cover like docks, logs, and grass. It is during this time that knowing the fish’s food sources and patterns help to land the biggest and most bass of either variety.
The most success is found with tube bait using the drift and drag technique. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, swimbaits, live bait, and rattletraps are also great options. The fishing on Lake St. Clair does require the fisherman to learn the fish and their habits to be successful. The numbers of trophy bass caught are increasing on the lake as fisherman learn how to fish it.
Looking for a trophy smallmouth? Look no further than Grand Traverse Bay! The Bay is relatively overlooked in favor of the larger lakes and mainly fished for steelehead, walleye, and coho salmon. This makes landing the biggest smallmouths around a possibility. There have been reports of trophy bass reaching over 7 pounds.
Traverse City, located at the southern end of the Bay, has a great variety of activities, from lighthouses and shopping to parks and landmarks, in addition to many more. The location also makes it accessible to many other activities with a short drive. This makes it ideal for families. The beaches surrounding the lake are great for swimming and relaxing.
The bay is located off Lake Michigan and is 32 miles long, 10 miles wide, and 620 feet deep in spots. It is split into 2 arms by the Old Mission Peninsula, which provides many different types of fishing spots. It also makes the bay ideal for fishing during times when fishing on the bigger lakes is impossible. Kayaks and canoes do better in the smaller waterways. There are numerous guide services, charters, and rentals around the bay. There are 3 boat ramps on Old Mission Peninsula, as well as several others located around the lake.
Trolling works best on Grand Traverse, especially May through July when the fish are bedding in the shallows. Tube bait and jigs work best during this time. Drop-shot rigs and worms are also perfect choices during the summer when fishing around rock piles. During the pre-spawn season, fishing drop offs with drop-shot rigs will usually land the big females.
Want to fish one of the best lakes in the country? Lake Charlevoix was voted the second best lake in America in 2012. It is widely known for being the best lake in the state, with miles of pristine beaches, million dollar homes, a shallow ledge around the entire 56-miles of shoreline, and amazing views. There’s shopping, parks, plenty of sights, nightlife, museums, and a plethora of other activities to take part in around the lake. It is also within driving distance of many more options.
Fishing is perfect. With a southern arm averaging 58 feet deep, a main basin averaging 122 feet deep, and a total area of 17,200 acres, there are plenty of options to choose from. Bass range in size, averaging between 3- and 5-pounds. The lake also has a variety of habitats, but the bass are generally found in the shallower waters. This concentrates the fish, as there’s relatively few shallow areas. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, tube baits, and jerk baits are perfect for this lake.
Trolling works great on Lake Charlevoix. May to June it is best to find the dropoffs and fish there. July and August, it depends on the time of day. Mid-day, the fish are deeper, but morning and evening the fish are more likely found in the shallows. Smallmouth Bass prefer structure so fishing near boulders, docks, trees, rocks, and pretty much any other type of structure works great.
Mullett Lake averages about 35- feet deep and is 17,360 acres. Burt Lake is around 17,120 acres and averages at 73-feet deep. They are connected by the Indian River. It is part of the Inland Waterway and an outdoor enthusiast’s dream!
Mullett and Burt Lakes are located within a short drive of many cities, including Traverse City and Mackinac Island. There are numerous attractions for the family, including the state park on Burt Lake, complete with a beach. There are over 300 campsites located on 400 acres, with 4 bathhouses. There’s a hiking trail and pier with a boat launch. The pier is great for catching smallmouths. There are several golf courses, rafting/kayaking, gorgeous scenery, and power- and pedal-boating, in addition to the great fishing.
Burt Lake is known for the monster smallmouths, while Mullet is known for the numbers. Most fisherman find better luck fishing at night, trolling around the lakes, especially Mullett, to catch the most. Burt Lake fishermen find that crankbaits, nightcrawlers, and tube jigs land the biggest smallmouth.
The two lakes provide the ideal habitat for smallmouth bass. They provide the perfect mixture of cover and flow of nutrients in certain areas so it is important to find these areas and fish there. Fishing on the dropoffs also works well, especially when using multiple types of bait to attract the fish that may prefer different types of bait.
The largest drainage basin in Michigan, Saginaw Bay, is located on Lake Huron. It is 1,143 square miles, with 240 miles of shoreline. The Bay is features activities such as boating, fishing, water trail, swimming, a DNR visitor’s center, camping, wildlife areas and parks, and shopping, as well as the Bavarian village of Frankenmuth.
Saginaw Bay is mainly known for its walleye fishery. It is one of the most productive and fertile fisheries in the Great Lakes, although the ecosystem became unbalanced with a decline in predator species. In recent years, the ecosystem has begun to reestablish its balance and the numbers of top predators, including smallmouth have increased as the water clarity increases. This was due to strict restrictions placed on the top predators such as walleye and perch.
It is perfect for bass, which are not restricted despite restrictions still being in place on some species. The Bay north of the Pinconning River mouth is great for largemouth bass. North Island and Heisterman Island are the best for smallmouth. Areas of the shoreline with reeds are top bass fishing spots. Spinnerbaits, Rapalas, jig baits, and live baits are perfect for the Bay. There are many reefs that are in the Bay and perfect cover for the smallmouths. It is another place where knowing the fish and their habits enables the fisherman to find and land plenty of fish.
Wesley Stanley blogs about bass fishing at bassfishermansguide.com. When he’s not writing an article about fishing, he’s enjoying the sport firsthand on the water.