Southerners typically lay claim to the sport of bass fishing. And although its rise in popularity corresponded to the water projects that created Southern reservoirs in the 20th century, the origins of the modern sport — catching America’s favorite game fish on artificial lures — can be traced to James Heddon, who in the waning days of the 19th century was sitting on the banks of the Dowagiac River whittling when a bass inhaled a chunk of wood that hit the water after flying off the stick he was carving. The bulb went off; within a couple of years, James Heddon was commercially carving wooden fishing lures. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although the Heddon Co. was ultimately absorbed by a larger fishing tackle conglomerate — one headquartered in the South — it still produces some of the most popular top-water lures in bass fishing. Michigan, too, has been gaining momentum as a bass-fishing destination over the last several decades. Not only is our state water-wealthy, but it boasts excellent populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Bass can be found from border to border in Michigan’s lakes, rivers and impoundments, though some of the best bass fishing is found in the near-shore areas of the Great Lakes and associated waters. Here are five of the best Great Lakes bass fisheries in Michigan — and therefore, anywhere:
Lake St. Clair: This Great lakes connecting water, fed by the St. Clair River, drained by the Detroit River and shared between Michigan and Ontario, is world-famous for its outstanding smallmouth bass fishing. There are good numbers of largemouths, too. At 430 square miles, St. Clair can handle a ton of fishing pressure, which it gets: In spring, it’s not at all unusual to see boats from a dozen different states working the shallow flats. Almost entirely ideal bass habitat, it averages 11 feet deep. Lake St. Clair was named the best bass lake in America a few years back by Bassmasters magazine, the bass angler’s bible.
Saginaw Bay: Not as popular nationally but every bit as good a bass fishery, Saginaw Bay has probably surpassed St. Clair among in-the-know bass anglers. Known for producing big numbers of big smallmouths, this 1,143-square-mile bay on Lake Huron is a tougher nut to crack than St. Clair. It has more deep water, but when anglers find the fish, they are often rewarded with memorable catches. Although it can get rough in high winds, anglers can retreat to the Saginaw River and still fish when it’s blowing.
Grand Traverse Bay: Both arms of this 32-mile-long, 10-mile-wide bay offer excellent bass fishing, though there is so much deep water you generally don’t have to get far offshore to find bass. The bay is becoming a popular destination for television fishing shows because catching good numbers of nice smallmouths is fairly common.
Little Bay de Noc: A sort of backwater area to northern Lake Michigan’s larger Green Bay, Little Bay has been a well-kept smallmouth bass fishing secret. But when the Bass Angler Sportsman Society brought its tournament trail here a couple of years ago, the word got out. The professional anglers said the fishery is every bit as good as anywhere else they fish.
Les Cheneaux Islands: This group of 36 islands and its associated canals and protected bays is the best-kept secret in Michigan bass fishing. Although better known for perch or herring fishing, ask a knowledgeable bass angler about the Cedarville area and all you’re likely to get is a smile. ≈
Bob Gwizdz is an award-winning outdoor writer who works for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Au Sable River Dream
Josh Greenberg, author and owner of Gates Au Sable Lodge, one of Michigan’s iconic trout fishing outfitters. – By Bob Gwizdz
Michigan’s Oldest Fishing Lodge
Michigan’s oldest fishing lodge continues to please with its tasteful and rustic environs. // Photography courtesy Barothy Lodge
By Bob Gwizdz