The Bass Angler Sportsman Society (BASS) puts together a list each year of the country’s top 100 bass lakes and reservoirs. Michigan’s Lake St. Clair is a regular on the list. Lake St. Clair has been pegged as the top lake in the country for bass fishing in the past and typically makes the top five in any given year. It’s hands down one of the best destinations for both numbers and quality of smallmouth bass in the country. What makes it even more astounding is Lake St. Clair is in the backyard of millions of anglers.
Changes that have taken place over the last couple of decades have enhanced Lake St. Clair’s smallmouth bass population. The gloom and doom once prophesied for the lake after exotic invaders like zebra mussels and gobies were found in the lake never materialized. In fact, experts now have to agree the invasive species are the reason Lake St. Clair smallmouth are doing so well.
Zebra mussels filter the water and consequently make Lake St. Clair much clearer. With more light penetration, weed growth increased, and weeds can now be found in deeper water. Weeds are the foundation of the food chain. Insects colonize the weeds. The insects provide increased amounts of forage for baitfish and panfish and the food chain explodes.
Another ingredient for the Lake St. Clair smallmouth explosion was the round goby invasion. Gobies came into the system via ship ballast water like the zebra mussel. It was originally thought that gobies would adversely impact the entire ecosystem, but exactly the opposite happened. Gobies flourished for a time, but their population has now leveled off. In the meantime, they have provided a new food source for bass and other game fish. Initially, gobies overwhelmed native darter and sculpin species, but those species have rebounded, providing more forage than ever for smallies. Native emerald and spot-tailed shiners are also flourishing.
With the explosion in smallmouth numbers has come increased popularity. Boat launches around Lake St. Clair are crowded with trailers from all over the country. Local anglers are not happy about it, but it comes with the territory when you’re one of the top destinations in the country for smallmouths.
I get to fish for several different species of fish over the course of a year, but my favorite are the trips I make to Lake St. Clair to fish for smallmouths. Few fish pull like a smallmouth and the fact you’re casting and hooking the fish makes it even more fun. The fact you can catch them in a number of different ways keeps things interesting.
Two years ago, I joined friend and bass pro Scott Dobson on a Lake St. Clair smallmouth excursion. We got on the water at first light and caught bass until the sun set. It was a long, rewarding day. Because Lake St. Clair bass feed on minnows, crayfish, gobies, insects, perch and just about anything else they can swallow, they can be caught using various techniques and methods. One of the easiest and most productive might be casting swimbaits. You simply cast the bait out and reel. It’s that simple. The paddle tail on the swimbait vibrates and wiggles like a live minnow and St. Clair smallmouths love ’em. Silver, white and pearl are good colors, but I’m not sure we found a color the bass didn’t eat. Swimbaits are a no-brainer for clients who are less experienced.
Dobson’s preferred brand of swimbait is one manufactured by Keitech (https://www.keitechusa.com/keitech-swimbaits/. The lure has an attractive shimmy and is scent enhanced. Dobson had just gotten a shipment of the swimbaits and when we opened his garage door, it smelled like a shrimp boat had unloaded its cargo on the floor.
Tube baits have always been a go-to lure on Lake St. Clair because they imitate many things. In pearl and white colors, tubes can imitate minnows. Dark colors dragged along the bottom simulate gobies and crayfish. There’s really no wrong way of fishing them. You can hop, drag, or swim a tube and catch bass.
Flukes work well on St. Clair smallmouths when they are in the shallows chasing minnows or spawning. Their darting, erratic movement can trigger reluctant bass. Flukes are versatile, too. You can use them when drop shotting, you can fish them on a Texas-rig or Carolina-rig or plunk it on a bed and jiggle it like a shaky worm. Either way, it’s a must have bait for Lake St. Clair brown bass.
Crankbaits have a place on Lake St. Clair, too. Cranks are great searching lures when you want to cover water. Like all bass aficionados, Dobson has a half dozen rods rigged at any time, and it always amazes me when he’ll suddenly pick up a rod with a crankbait and commence to fling it and almost immediately be into a bass. I’m not sure if he saw minnows on the surface or a particularly inviting edge, but a rod with a crankbait is always at the ready.
Crankbaits are a broad category that includes shorter crankbaits that best imitate crayfish and longer, slender stickbaits or jerkbaits that look like a minnow. The longer jerkbaits can be burned to get deep or fished on a stop-and-go retrieve.
Because the fishing on Lake St. Clair is so good, it’s a great place to try baits that you’re not familiar with or maybe have never fished. I’d never caught a fish on a Ned rig until the last trip. Not only did I catch bass on the Ned rig, but also a few bonus walleye.
Another bait I’d never heard of is called a spy bait. It’s kind of shaped like a jerkbait, but with a propeller on the front. The spy bait suspends and can be worked with erratic jerks and twitches. Not surprisingly, it caught Lake St. Clair bass, too.
Because of Lake St. Clair’s relatively shallow depth, bass can be found just about everywhere in the lake. Known smallmouth hotspots are off the mile roads in the Metropolitan Beach area as well as off the St. Clair River channels and everywhere in between.
Dobson is busy fishing a couple of tournaments, but when he returns, I’m looking forward to joining him and getting my Lake St. Clair smallmouth fix.