River smallmouth bass: catch the action.



Dan Gapen (left) and the author with two nice river smallmouth bass.


There are many great smallmouth bass streams in Michigan, and for the most part, they are under-fished. The sad truth is that people chase after salmon and trout in the Great Lakes, and these little gem-like streams are left untouched.

That could easily change this summer with high gas prices. People may start casting an angling eye toward bass rivers closer to home.

I well remember the upper Cass River years ago when I prowled it three or four times a year. I'd look for riffle water with deep holes or runs upstream or down, and a small sinking Rapala was dynamite. Cast the lure to the head of the deep hole, crank it hard to get it down and wiggling, and if a smallie was home, he'd jump on the lure as if it was his last chance for a good meal.

Sometimes it pays to return to past hotspots for smallmouth bass.

Then there is the Grand River downstream from Lansing. I floated it once several years ago with retired DNR fisheries biologist Ned Fogle, and he showed me a new hotspot. Beetle Spins and other small spinnerbaits, and crayfish imitations produced when worked slowly along bottom in the slow current. They turned on the fish.

Fogle caught one fish about four pounds, and I took another a bit smaller, but there was steady action most of the day. It was hot and bright, and we found the fish on the dark side of the big rocks. Any lure that landed nearby was fair game, and we danced with smallies all day.

The upper Flint River (upstream from Flint and Mott Lake) produces the occasional 4-pound smallmouth bass. I fished it years ago, and although it can be rather tough fishing in some areas, it has the capability of producing dandy bronzebacks.

Another Flint River hotspot can be found in the lower river, downstream from Montrose, where anglers can fish the rocks, and the deeper holes and runs. This stretch, downstream almost to Saginaw, also produces some great walleye fishing as well.

Great smallmouth bass rivers are found in both peninsulas.


One of my favorite rivers for smallmouth bass is the Thunder Bay, upstream from Alpena. It may not be the best river for smallmouth bass but it certainly has the potential to produce some big fish.

The last time I floated the river in a canoe, there was an assortment of Jig-a-Do, Beetle Spins, Crawfish-type lures and small spinners in my tackle arsenal. It didn't make too much difference what we used.

If the lure landed near a good fish, and we put the proper speed on the lure to bring out its action, they would hit. We caught fish to 4 1/2 pounds, and I lost a bigger fish on a belly-flopper jump.

The Muskegon River downstream from Croton Dam, especially in the rocky areas, may be one of the finest smallmouth rivers in the state. It's not uncommon, on an all-day float, to land 40 to 50 smallies. I've never caught one over four pounds here, and most of the fish will weigh about two pounds, but they smack a lure hard and jump often.

There are some seldom-fished hotspots on the St. Joseph River, upstream from Berrien Springs, where some dandy smallies live. They seem to see very few anglers or lures, and if you hit the right holes and runs, it's possible to find a brand of smallmouth action the likes of which few people have ever experienced.

Some great stream bass fishing can be found near Detroit.

The Detroit River is well-known for its smallmouth bass action, and I've caught them from Windmill Point down to Celeron Island at Lake Erie. A large number have been caught on the Michigan and Ontario sides. Good bets include near the Hiram Walker plant and the Cow Pasture area, and just upstream from the Ambassedeur Bridge along the Canadian shore.

Try the rip-rap near Joe Louis Arena, near Windmill Point, and downstream in the Trenton Channel on the American side. The fish are where you find them, and it pays to prospect different areas with various lures.

The Upper Peninsula offers wonderful bass fishing in many locations. Try the St. Marys River, Manistique River and Menominee River between the dams. The Ford River that empties into Lake Michigan southwest of Escanaba can be a good bet, as is the Whitefish River near Gladstone.

River smallies are grand game fish. They hit bait or lures hard, jump often, and once whipped, come in to be landed with fire in their eye. They are one of the state's most highly respected and overlooked game fish, and here's hoping you can give them a try this summer.

Hit it right, and you won't regret making this decision.

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Tags: ((Dave, Richey, Michigan, outdoors, smallmouth, bass, river, fishing, lures, local, hotspots, rocky, areas, holes))

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About Dave Richey Outdoors

Outdoor Writer/Photographer/Author/Book Dealer View all posts by Dave Richey Outdoors

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