July 01, 2015

Legendary fisheries have developed in East Grand Traverse Bay, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River

System and in many lakes and

rivers. World-class smallie fishing

is available in Michigan and

bronzeback are eager to slam a

variety of presentations. This

is beyond a doubt one of


Across the Great Lakes state the smallmouth population is on the rise and anglers are finding fast-paced fishin’ fun from early spring until ice up. Michigan is fast molding into a leading smallmouth bass state yielding 100 fish days and trophies topping 6 pounds on any given cast.

Jigs tipped with live bait, crawdad imitation plastics, tubes and pork can provide fast-paced fishing fun and hefty catches. Author photos

Smallie behemoths were taken last year in the bass-rich East Grand Traverse Bay while anglers shrugged off the chill of a brutally cold winter. May water temperatures were just 38 degrees when the Ranger dodged ice flows and the day barely hit high temperatures in the 40s. Still, crystal clear cold water yielded a five pound bass limit weighing 30 pounds to a duo of anglers who used jerkbaits and tubes in 1-8 ft. depths. The biggest was a whopping 7-pound 2-ounce giant!

Fishing friend Brandon Conner zipped along the Lake Michigan beach in a fast-moving Skeeter boat and ran from Muskegon to Pentwater in an effort to ambush a huge school of smallies crammed at the pier head. He used umbrella rigs by Yum and Booyah with Money Minnows or Teaser Rigs and trailing twister tail to fire’ em up. On his first cast he drilled a pair of five pounders and eventually boated around 40 smallies. The long run was worthwhile and he placed at the top on the board at days end. His largest smallie pushed the scales just over 6 pounds.

Lake St. Clair angler Tommy Wilson is a smallmouth fishing nut. He loves to set up on the edge of huge weed beds and work the edges with spinner baits jerkbaits and craw tubes. He runs far from shore, locating smallie hideouts and enters them into his Lowrance Gen2 fish finder. His goal is to pinpoint several hotspots and return any given day when conditions are ideal. “It’s not unusual to land several smallies over the 6-pound mark. I love the way they aggressively smack presentations, take to the air like a Polaris missile on the hook set and dive into the weeds as line melts off the reel drag,” he explains. “We are living in the golden age for bronzeback because St. Clair is simply a huge smallmouth fish factory,” says Wilson. “And this fishery is producing bigger bass than ever. Some think the rise in bass is due to skyrocketing goby numbers or perhaps extended growing seasons but some anglers feel we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg for smallie numbers on St. Clair.”

It’s not surprising that many Michigan fishermen are on a quest to land a world-class brown bass. The list of likely locations to take an impressive fish keeps growing, Charity Islands, Mitchell’s Bay, Alpena sand bar. Many of Michigan’s top monster smallie hotspots are the Great Lakes and connecting waterways where giants grow to impressive proportions from feeding on high protein diets of shad, alewife, goby, smelt, Johnny darters and other forage minnows. Big water smallies grow faster than the average northern-strain smallmouth because of the abundance of food. Fact is, most of Michigan’s Great Lakes shoreline is ideal habitat for producing giant smallies and with the increasing goby forage fish, smallies are finding abundant food. Michigan’s Great Lakes are experiencing a bronzeback boom. Some predict 8-pound giants are soon to become common catches in the Wolverine state.

I like floating the Grand River near Lansing on a warm day when insects are hatching and smallies go on a feeding spree. The boat glides silently along the river bank as I approach a deep run full of fish. The first cast with a Rapala produces a savage strike and a fun-filled day of casting and catching begins. Once in a while all hell breaks loose when you stick a five pounder but most of the smallies are smaller, eager to bite almost any presentation and the action is non-stop. The ease at which numbers of smallies can be had in the region is impressive. The fish tend to gather in deeper holes and structure holding forage minnows and an abundance of bass food. This is an overlooked fishery and the same holds true for a long list of Michigan Rivers: St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, Grand River, Muskegon, Tittabawassee, Saginaw, Cass, Flint and many more. If you want to sample these fisheries, plan an outing soon.

Michigan’s smallie populations have benefited from what some biologist refer to as perfect environmental conditions. Zebra mussels have increased water clarity, the average mean water temperature has increased, and the fast-increasing numbers of gobies provide infinite supply of easy to catch food. Michigan’s smallie numbers are very strong, ever increasing and I think the peak is yet to come.

Population increase in Lake Erie is stumbling because of pollution. Remember the algae bloom in the 1960’s that shut down Erie? Well, the same problem has returned and officials are doing nothing to stop the pollution. Last summer Erie’s western basin was so thick with green algae that smallies could not survive and beaches were closed to swimming. The culprit is sewage from Detroit and Toledo in addition to crop land chemicals draining into Erie. Detroit does not remove nutrients from sewage and the City has a permit from Lansing to dump UNLIMITED raw sewage. So, every time it rains the Detroit River is filled with untreated sewage from the city. The explosion of nitrates and phosphates from the Detroit and Maumee Rivers has catapulted the ecosystem’s fertility. Soon the pollution will ruin Lake Erie’s splendid perch, smallie and walleye fisheries. In the next few years you can expect Lake Erie’s western basin sport fisheries to totally collapse and rough fish will take over. Gee, DNR, are you going to continue to sit on your thumbs and do nothing or begin the much needed restoration of these valuable fisheries?

If I had to pick one location for a new state record it would be East Grand Traverse Bay. Last summer I pounded fish at the mouth of Yuba Creek where it drains into east Bay and swirls around boulder-size rocks. This used to be one of my secret steelhead/brown trout locations but with the decline of Great Lakes trout/salmon the habitat now supports a strong population of impressive smallies. But on the other hand record-size smallies are caught on a daily basis from the vast waters of Lake St. Clair and there is a good chance 8-pound smallies will be caught there on a regular basis.

Smallmouth bass are super bass and catching them is no big deal. Some anglers prefer spinnerbaits with flashing blades and tantalizing trailer offerings. These fish are aggressive and smash metal willow blades that flash gold or silver, brightly colored shirts and shad-looking trailers. Others like to cast jerkbaits like YoZuri minnow, Jerkmaster, Megabass, Bagley Shad, Smithwick G-Finish Rouge, Berkley Flicker Minnow, Rapala and more. Working tube jigs has long been a productive tactic for catching smallies. Some anglers like swimbaits, others go for crawfish plastics, fat grubs with twister tails or plastic tubes. During the dog days of summer try casting shallow running cranks like Livetarget Baitball, Rapala Scatter Rap, and Strike King Pro Model 1.5, Lucky Craft, Storm Silent, Rebel Wee R and more.

Because they are aggressive, fish anglers should practice catch and release to protect adult spawning fish and promote the valuable fishery resource. Keep in mind the big bass numbers will suffer if you continually harvest large trophy fish. Fishing for smallies in Michigan is a sweet deal and if you want the population to grow handle them with care, release them at boatside, immediately. If you want to record the catch, have your smart phone or camera ready, hold the bass by the bottom lip and get snapshots quickly and release the fish unharmed. Taking photos is a sure-fire way to remember the catch forever, which can make landing a lunker fish even more sweet.