Yooper BassYooper Bass Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) bass don’t get nearly the attention from bass anglers as they deserve, but for a diehard bass angler, it is finned nirvana.
By Mike Gnatkowski
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) bass don’t get nearly the attention from bass anglers as they deserve, but there are signs that is changing. There is little doubt that the unrelenting barrage of bass shows broadcast on television has raised the curiosity level of anglers interested in giving UP bass a shot. Having a major B.A.S.S. tournament on Bays De Noc didn’t hurt either. Out-of-state bass fanatics are sitting up and taking notice of UP’s bass fishing potential. Boat ramps are seeing increasing number of out-of-state trailers as word gets out about the UP’s varied and untapped bass fishing.
UP bass waters typically come in two general types – floodings, backwaters and shallow impoundments that are largemouth havens and deep, clear, rocky lakes that are more conducive to producing smallmouth bass. For a diehard bass angler, it is finned nirvana.
Below is a sampling of UP waters that will get you started in your search.
Bay De Nocs
Smallmouth bass in Big and Little Bay De Nocs were not targeted much and are mainly caught by accident when walleye fishing or sought as a backup when the walleyes are not cooperating. More serious bass anglers, though, are taking notice of the tremendous bass angling opportunities the area provides.
Smallmouth fanatic Joe Balog of Millennium Promotions Inc. (www.mpromoinc.com) has fished just about every major smallmouth venue in the Wolverine State and participated in several Bassmaster Elite tournaments on Bays De Noc. He’d be the first to tell you that fishing there is not like most other bass honey holes.
“There’s a big difference between the Bays De Noc and say Lake St. Clair,” he offered. “For one thing, there are fewer fish per acre than in someplace like Lake St. Clair. There are tremendous areas of dead water. You can go days without seeing a smallmouth if you’re not in the right area.”
Balog said that Bays De Noc food sources are much more limited so bass will go where the food is even if that means 100 feet of water. “There are times of the year where bass are going to suspend over deep water shadowing pelagic schools of baitfish. When they’re doing that, they’re almost impossible to find. Obvious structure may not hold any fish then,” he said.
But in May, June and July, Bay De Noc smallmouths are in very predictable places. They’re concentrated in the shallows to spawn.”
“You need to fish shallow,” said Balog. “There’s always a shallow population of bass. We’re talking in eight feet of water or less. Reeds hold a lot of fish. You need to power fish with jerk baits, swim baits, spinner baits and lipless crankbaits. You’ll catch a lot of 3- to 4-pounders that way, but not a lot of giants.”
For maps, lodging and tackle contact Sall-Mar Resort at www.sallmarresort.com or call 906-553-4850.
Prickett Dam Backwaters
“There’s a lot of good bass fishing on this end of the UP,” claimed Western Lake Superior Management Unit Fisheries Supervisor George Madison. “There are so many good ones it’s hard to name to just a few. From Marquette west you’re going to have more gravel shoaled lakes and consequently more smallmouths.” But on the other hand, there are backwaters like Prickett Dam Backwaters, Shakey Lakes and Gene’s Pond to the east that offer ideal largemouth bass habitat. Smallmouths abound in the backwaters of the Menominee River.
One of those classic largemouth waters is Prickett Dam Backwaters. “Prickett Dam Backwaters has a lot of woody structure, standing timber, laydowns and stumps that makes it ideal largemouth habitat,” Madison said. “It’s just a fun place to fish.” Because it’s relatively shallow and filled with stumps, it’s not a place for high-powered bass boats and jets skis.
Because of the impoundment’s woody nature, it’s best to throw semi-weedless lures, like spinnerbaits, Slug-Gos, Texas-rigged worms, churn a buzz bait on the surface or risk contributing a bunch of tackle to the Fish Gods. There is a launch site on the west side of the impoundment.
Lake Independence is famous as being home to the state record yellow perch, giving up gargantuan pike to ice-anglers and producing walleyes on a consistent basis, but smallmouths? The lake is proof that Yoopers have largely ignored bass until recently.
“Last time we surveyed Lake Independence we found a lot of smallmouths and many of them were legal-sized fish,” Madison said. Look for jumbo smallies off the rocky west shoreline, near the north shore gravel bars that predominate there and contours along the eastern shoreline and the dam. Topwater lures can provide exciting action on calm mornings. Casting crank baits parallel to the drop-offs or hopping a tube jig down the slope will interest smallmouths that will average 14 to 18 inches.
For information on bait shops and accommodation in the Marquette area contact the Marquette CVB at www.travelmarquettemichigan.com or call 1-800-544-4321 / 906-228-7749.
Lake Ottawa in Iron County is proof that there is more bass fishing interest in the UP. The 550-acre lake has catch-and release regulations for bass and the regulations seem to be working. The Iron County lake sees a fair amount of pressure from anglers looking to get their hands on a trophy smallmouth.
Ottawa Lake is extremely clear and deep, so look for smallmouth in the shallows relating to old log cover that was installed by USFS long ago. The logs provide habitat and is home to the exotic rusty crayfish that these bass thrive on. The lake is a great place to sight-fish. Use polarized glasses and skirt the edges looking for spawning bass or logs. You can toss tubes, cast spinner baits or twitch a jerk bait on the surface. A good location to try is on the northeast corner of the lake where a remnant rock pile off the township park attracts lunker bass. A mud flat on the opposite end of the lake can be good, too.
Lake Gogebic and Lac Vieux Desert
Two other lakes that Madison mentioned for bass that are not known as bass lakes per se are Lake Gogebic and Lac Vieux Desert. Both are located in Gogebic County. 4,300-acre Lac Vieux Desert is a famous muskie venue that Michigan shares with Wisconsin. It has a long history of producing giant smallmouth often topping 5 pounds. Fishing is best in the spring before the weeds get too thick, but good bass can be caught throughout the season near Duck, Draper and Near islands on the lake’s east side, along the south shoreline and along the contours near the boat launch in Misery Bay on the north end of the lake. Most anglers concentrate on the walleye, muskie and panfish the lake is famous for.
The vast majority of anglers targeting 12,800-acre Lake Gogebic are there for the walleye and jumbo perch. But George Madison said it’s a good bet if you’re interested in trophy smallies. Hundreds of fish shelters are the key to locating the biggest smallies that will scare the heck out of 6 pounds. The shelters are marked by red diamond signs on the shoreline and are generally in 10 to 15 feet of water, which is perfect for bass. Bounce crank baits or tube jigs off the structures or cast minnow-tipped jigs.
For information on accommodations and amenities in the area contact visitgogebiccounty.com.
Relatively few people have heard of the Shakey Lakes chain in southwestern Menominee County. The chain of lakes includes Resort, Long, Becker’s, Bass, East and Baker’s lakes. To be fair, they could all have been called Bass Lake. Formed by the Shakey River, the lakes provide outstanding habitat for wood ducks, ring-neck ducks and largemouths. In the early fall, we were there for the ducks, but we ran into a group of anglers from Indiana who come up every year for the bass. Most years they did better on the bass than we did on the ducks.
The chain has downed timber, stumps, lily pads and weed beds that shout largemouth. There are secluded bays and coves where you probably won’t see another person all day. Largemouth bass up to 5 pounds are common.
Northern Lake Michigan
Drive along the northern shore of Lake Michigan west of the Straits of Mackinaw on US Highway 2 and look out at the lake and you can’t help but think smallmouth bass. On a map, you’ll see more than a half dozen shoals and reefs, several points and coves and places where more than a half dozens creeks and rivers enter the lake. Beaver Island, Hog Island, the Bays De Noc, Traverse Bay, Waugoshance Point are all know smallmouth destinations. Why not the stretch of shoreline between the Mackinaw Bridge and Naubinway?
“I’m sure there are some scattered smallmouths along the Lake Michigan shoreline,” theorized Darren Kramer. “There may even be some pockets of fish, but the question is access and wind.” You have to believe that reefs like Millecoquins, Fagan, Simmons, Pelkie and Naubinway located between Epoufette and Naubinway offer incredible smallmouth habitat. Pick the right day, and you might discover smallmouth nirvana.
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