May 01, 2015

If you like to fish for bass, you’d better hook up the boat and head to one of the numerous lakes in Michigan that feature thriving bass fisheries. In northern Michigan, there are several lakes that are rated as some of the best in country for smallmouth bass. Largemouth bass have been taking over some northern Michigan lakes. Walleye anglers aren’t happy, but bass aficionados are grinning from ear to ear.

Kent, Cass and Pontiac Lakes

There are a lot of great bass lakes in southeast not named St. Clair. “I would have to say that Kent Lake is one of the best in southeast Michigan for both largemouth and smallmouth,” stated Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. “You’ll find good-sized examples of both species. The lakes tends to get pretty weedy later in the summer, so late spring and early summer is the easiest time to fish it.”

Access is good to 1,000-acre Kent Lake via Kensington Metro Park. The lake is one of the state’s busiest with regards to fishing pressure, but there are numerous coves and bays where anglers can find a spot all to themselves. The bays and coves tend to get very weedy in the summer, so they’re great places to pitch a jig, slither a frog or call up a largemouth on buzz bait. Kent Lake has been known to produce bucketmouths in excess of 7 pounds. Smallmouth are more likely to be found along the old river channel and amongst the riprap along I-96.

“Pontiac Lake is another lake in the area that is good for numbers of largemouths,” claimed Braunscheidel. Look at a map of 585-acre Pontiac Lake and you’ll see that it has an abundance of weed beds and stumps that provide perfect largemouth bass habitat. An impoundment of the Huron River, a steady flow of water and nutrients produces excellent numbers of bass and fish to 5 pounds on occasion. Shallow-water techniques excel on the lake, although you can find depths to 30 feet on the lake’s east end. That is a good place to concentrate your efforts during late summer.

For details on bass lake in southeast Michigan contact the Lake Erie Management Unit of the MDNR at 313-396-6890.

Fletcher Pond, Grand and Hubbard Lakes

Alpena County’s 9,000-acre Fletcher Pond is an anomaly. It’s a shallow, stump-filled largemouth factory in an area that is famous for its deep, clear cold lakes. Created in 1931, the backwater of the Upper South Branch of the Thunder Bay River is one of Michigan’s most steady producers of trophy largemouths.

The author caught this chunky smallmouth on Lake St. Clair last year.

“Fletcher’s largemouth population holds up pretty well in spite of the fact that it’s so shallow,” suggested North Lake Huron Management Unit Fisheries Supervisor Dave Borgeson. “Flowing water prevents winter kill and bass survive very well in the reservoir.” If you’re a bass angler taking a long, hard look at Fletcher Pond, it will have you drooling. It’s shallow, weedy, filled with stumps and screams “Largemouths!” The entire lake is a great place to chuck spinner baits, skim buzz baits or dance weedless plastics.

The main river channel is a focus on Fletcher Pond, especially on the east end, but bass can be found anywhere in the weed mats and timber. You won’t find any water deeper than 8 feet and the myriad of stumps keeps high-speed boating in check. Polarized glasses are a necessity to spot subtle structure that holds fish.

Grand and Hubbard lakes are gaining a reputation for being some of the top waters for smallmouths in the state. “Hubbard is really good for smallmouths,” claimed Borgeson, “and Grand Lake has some really nice smallmouths in it and good numbers. You’ll find a lot of bass in the 14- 18-inch range all the way up to 21 or 22 inches. The smallmouths there are under fished because most people want walleyes.”

8,850-Acre Hubbard Lake’s smallmouth have gained in popularity since the lake was featured on a bass fishing show this past year, but its smallmouths still received relatively little pressure. Known bass hangouts include Doctor’s Point, along the contours found off Hardwood Point and in the 10- to 30-foot drop-offs found in South Bay.

Smallmouth numbers are booming on Presque Isle County’s 5,660-acre Grand Lake. Target the east side of the lake off Whiskey Point and in apply named Black Bass Bay. Crankbaits in perch and fire tiger colors take smallmouth that will push 5 pounds on occasion. With few spots deeper than 25 feet, the whole lake is a smallmouth factory.

For more information on bass lakes in northeast Michigan contact the MDNR Gaylord Customer Service Center at 989-732-3541.

Lake Charlevoix, Lakes Leelanau,

Torch Lake and Walloon Lake

Traverse City Field Office fisheries management biologist Heather Hettinger said it’s pretty hard to beat lakes Charlevoix, Leelanau, Torch and Walloon when it comes to smallmouth bass. “The problem with my lakes with largemouth is that they are small, and can’t really handle all that much pressure. And truthfully, even my good largemouth lakes are pretty mediocre compared to others in the state. These bigger systems are much better at sustaining good populations of big smallies, even under pressure. My area of the state rules for smallies!” declared Hettinger.

17,260-acre Lake Charlevoix is a favorite of Michigan resident and famous bass pro Kevin VanDam for good reason. The lake is loaded with 3- to 5-pound smallmouths that produce great fishing all summer long and well into the fall. Prime locations include Hemingway Point, Horton Bay, the Advance area and around Whiting Park on the main lake. In the North Arm, concentrate on Oyster Bay, Two-Mile Point, the Depot Beach Area and the mouth of the Pine River channel. Jiggin’, slabbin’ and other techniques catch smallies in water in excess of 35 feet at times.

“Walloon Lake – this one has been a bit of a sleeper, but the past couple of years I have had some great reports,” claimed Hettinger. Most anglers don’t think of the deep, clear 4,320-acre Charlevoix County lake as a prime location for smallmouths, but they should. The smallmouth are concentrated in the relatively small amount of shallow water found on the lake and most anglers are concentrating on other species.

Hettinger rated both North and South Lakes Leelanau as exceptional smallmouth waters. Anglers should look for smallmouths in the 15 to 25-foot depths near the narrows between Brady and Warden points on deeper 2,950-acre North Lake Leelanau and anywhere your LCG indicates a ledge or drop-off extending from shore. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jigs all take their fare share of bass that will sometimes scare the heck out of 6 pounds.

5,730-acre South Lake Leelanau probably has the best smallmouth numbers of the two lakes. Concentrate on the south-end weed beds and gravel bars in Perrin’s and Weisler bays early in the season. Later in the summer, move out to 12 to 18 feet of water and concentrate on the inclines, irregular points and rocky substrate.

Smallmouths are fairly easy to find in Antrim County’s 18,770-acre Torch Lake. Just look to the shallow drop-offs. Most of Torch Lake is deep and cold so bass tend to concentrate in the warmest water found close to shore. Concentrate on south-facing shorelines in the spring and early summer where you find points, break lines and drop-offs.

For more information on northwest Michigan bass lakes contact the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Traverse City Field Office at 231-922-5280.

Green, Duck and Long Lakes

Whenever you’re fishing, it’s always good to have a back-up plan. If you’re targeting smallmouth bass in the Traverse City area, that’s not too difficult. There are more than a dozen great smallmouth waters in the Traverse City area and three- Green, Duck and Long lakes- are close enough that you can fish them all in a single day. You could walk from Green to Duck lakes and Long Lake is just across US-31. All are top-notch smallmouth lakes that produce good numbers of bass and fish of 5 pounds or more. All the lakes are similar in that they are crystal clear, right around 2,000 acres or so and have great fish habitat in the form of islands, rocky shoals, spits of gravel, sloping contours and deep water.

Green and Duck lakes feature two-story fisheries. Both lakes are planted annually with a potpourri if trout species that thrive in their deep recesses. Long Lake is more of a bass/walleye lake that has good numbers of both. Drift with a minnow on a jig or below a slip bobber and you’re likely to catch smallmouths and walleyes along with a few jumbo perch.

Long Lake can be tough to fish though because it has so much good structure. Bass can be widely scattered and the lake’s intense clarity make fish there spooky and they tend to hold deeper than normal. Look for smallies to be clustered in the shallows early in the season where rocks and shallow water soak up the spring sunshine. The brown bass remain shallow into July. Casting with tubes or pumpkinseed-colored twister tails is a proven technique. The same technique works well on the bass in Green and Duck lakes, too.

Lakes Cadillac & Mitchell

Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are often viewed by anglers as one and the same. Separated by a short canal (and M-115), the two lakes shared a common name historically – 2,580-acre Lake Mitchell was originally called Big Clam Lake, while 1,150-acre Lake Cadillac was called Little Clam Lake. “To some degree, they’re joined at the hip,” said Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Mark Tonello, who oversees the lakes. “They’re similar in a lot of ways. There are some differences, too, though the differences seem to have lessened over the years.”

The fish communities in both lakes have changed over the last couple of decades, becoming more homogenized. “They went from basically walleye/pike-dominant lakes that had some bass in them to now being viewed as bass lakes. Pike are still prevalent but walleyes are a smaller part of the fish community than they used to be and they no longer reproduce. We have to supplement them with stocking.” Tonello indicated that similar changes are taking place on Missaukee and Fife lakes where largemouth bass are becoming the predominate specie.

Tonello says what happened is a bit puzzling, but there are a few theories. “Largemouth bass have always been the dominant bass species on Lake Mitchell but in the last 20 years they have exploded,” Tonello said. “Twenty-five years ago, Lake Cadillac was virtually all smallmouth bass. Now we see largemouth have become more dominant — 60 percent largemouth, 40 percent smallmouth.”

Tonello said he suspects bass tournaments might have played a part in the change as many tournaments go out of a Lake Cadillac site and largemouth bass, often caught in Lake Mitchell, wind up getting released into Lake Cadillac.

“We also think it might be climate,” Tonello said. “A warmer climate probably favors a species like largemouth over walleye and smallmouth because a warmer climate favors more plant growth, which will benefit a weed-loving species like largemouth bass.”

“There’s some research coming out Minnesota and Wisconsin that’s showing the same phenomenon, where bass populations are exploding to the detriment of walleye,” he continued. “They believe largemouth bass have the ability to suppress walleye year-classes, likely through predation.”

A change in angler behavior – i.e. more catch-and-release fishing – probably benefits the bass population, too. “Twenty-five or 30 years ago, more people were keeping bass than they are today,” Tonello said. “But if you’re a tournament bass angler, you’ll absolutely love Mitchell and Cadillac because the bass fishing is terrific. Most boats in most tournaments limit out. There are a lot of two- to four-pound bass in those lakes.”

617-acre Fife Lake in Grand Traverse County has been considered one of northwest Michigan’s best lakes for walleye and smallmouth for years. Surveys conducted there in 2013 seem to indicate that largemouth bass are taking over there, too. Of particular concern in the Fife Lake survey was the absence of smaller fish. “Another trend from the 2013 survey was that fewer fish were caught overall than in 2001. This may have been due to colder water temperatures in the 2013 survey, which was conducted nearly a month earlier than the 2001 survey. Fewer panfish were caught in 2013, including only 83 bluegill compared to 547 in 2001. Also, only a handful of bluegill younger than age 5 were caught in 2013.”

“In contrast, the largemouth bass catch of 107 fish from the netting portion of the survey far eclipsed the 2001 catch of only 18 largemouth bass. It is possible that the increased largemouth bass population has affected the abundance of bluegill in Fife Lake,” wrote Tonello. A similar trend has been observed in Missaukee County’s 1,985-acre Lake Missaukee and Mason County’s 5,000-acre Hamlin Lake. If you’re a diehard bass fisherman, that’s good news. If you like to catch walleye and perch, the trend is disheartening.