Lake St. Clair Bass Fishing Essentials
Updated: Mar 31
In this post I'll answer some of the more important questions that will help you to be successful if you're just starting out fishing for smallmouth bass on Lake St Clair. I'll share some tidbits from fifty years experience fishing the Lake and pass them on to you so you can have an exciting and rewarding trip, be it your first year or your fiftieth.
Lake St Clair has been called one of the top smallmouth bass sport fisheries in the world. The Lake has many qualities that put it in this category; plenty of fish, accessibility, proximity to major population centers and easily navigable waters.
So here are some of the many questions that I've been asked over the years with regards to bass fishing on Lake St Clair.
Q: The Lake is so big! How am I going to figure out where to go?
A: Lake St Clair smallmouth movement follows a cycle based on sunlight and water temperature. This cycle repeats every year. Join one of the many Lake St Clair fishing forums to get a boatload of tips. I also recommend calling the Lakeshore Fishing Report Line every week (586-777-7008. It usually updates weekly). The main fishing action of the new season starts when the fish are in their pre-spawn phase. Boating anglers converge along the shoreline of the "mile roads" anywhere from the Selfridge DNR launch ramp at the foot of M59 all the way to 11 mile road and even further south. This usually heats up starting in early May but is dependent on water temperature. As the fish complete their spawning cycle they tend to scatter to the summer feeding grounds adjacent to channels in the Lake St Clair delta or along the many scattered weed beds at the breaks of shallow water flats. The fish will often chase baitfish up on the flats and this type of fishing can be very productive in the fall.
Q: When is bass fishing season?
A: The Catch and Immediate Release season is open all year. Even though you can eat smallmouth (more on that later), most of the anglers practice this method and I strongly suggest it. The Possession Season (5 fish) always starts on the third Saturday in June which is June 17 for 2023 and closes on December 31. Don't forget that the minimum possession size is 14" for Lake St Clair.
Q: What type of boat do you need to fish for bass?
A: The answer is simple. One that can take most of the conditions that Lake St Clair can throw at it. A very common misconception is that you need a "bass boat" to enjoy the same success as the tournament anglers. This is patently false. Some of the greatest bass anglers of Lake St Clair history had boats that you would typically associate with partying at Gull Island. They had twin V8's, heads, huge live wells and lots of rod storage nooks and crannies. My dad guided for smallmouth with a 28' custom built Mayea Craft that was used specifically for bass fishing. On the other end of the spectrum, on lay down flat days or in the sheltered bays and coves or among the St Clair flats, kayakers are just as adept at catching smallmouth as any other boating angler on the Lake.
Q: Do I need and expensive fish finder to fish for bass?
A: Not required, but it comes in handy when looking for structure or cover. Early in the season I use it to find new rock piles that are scattered along the Mile roads. Side scanning really does the trick for this. Of course a GPS is indispensable to mark productive spots. Smallmouth bass exhibit site fidelity in that they will return to certain structure year after year. Spots that my dad and uncles found and marked in the 1950's while guiding are still productive for me today. These are scattered all over the Lake and can be car, boat and even airplane wrecks.
Q: What type of rod and reel do I need to bass fish?
A: I have over a dozen rods for bass fishing on Lake St. Clair and the one thing they have in common is that they are all 7'. Most of them are bait casters, but I have spinning rigs for those who struggle with bait casting reels. The rods are in the 6lb to 10lb class. I like a little more backbone than you might be accustomed to. The reason is that, quite often, a visitor in the form of a musky will show up and won't turn down the opportunity of a passing meal. They're fun on light tackle, even though bite offs are common with the 8lb to 10lb test line that I use.
Q: What type of line should I use for bass fishing?
A: I use braid for my early pre spawn fishing with tubes or swim bait. As the season moves into the summer I switch to mono if I am using live bait. I like the stretch associated with mono, especially with a fast action rod.
Q: What is the best live bait for bass fishing?
A: Shiners. Simple as that. As a kid I spent evenings netting crayfish in the ditches and creeks back in the country for my dad, but that was a rarity and only done if shiners weren't available or there was a local tournament coming up. The bigger crayfish attracted bigger bass. No surprise there. Most of the tackle shops along the U.S. side of the Lake carry shiners in season.
Q: What artificial bait is best for bass fishing?
A: Pretty simple for Lake St Clair. Soft plastics are hard to beat. Tubes and swim baits 3" to 4" long are my go to baits in the spring. Plastic worms work well for drop shotting in the summer months.
Q: Can you fly fish for bass on Lake St. Clair?
A: Absolutely! The flats and sandbars surrounding the Lake St. Clair offer excellent fly fishing for smallmouth bass. The most popular setup is a 6 or 7 weight rod paired with a comparable reel. I happen to carry an 8 weight St Croix on board. It's a size bigger than most bass fly fishers use but I like it when I fish in the Florida Keys for bonefish, so it's a dual use setup for me. My go to fly for smallmouth is a Clouser minnow since it imitates a shiner, one of the smallmouths top food source in the Lake.
Q: What is the best water temperature to fish for bass?
A: There is tons of data and lots of material written about this. I recommend reading the In Fisherman Hand Book of Strategies series for Smallmouth to get a real good handle on this topic. Lake St Clair pretty much follows the generic Great Lakes cycle. Keep in mind that relating water temps to calendar months and days can be challenging, especially in the spring due to the mild winters of late and the associated lack of ice cover.
Q: Is smallmouth bass good to eat? A: It's not my favorite. It's hard to beat walleye and perch for table fare. With that said I recall guiding an annual tournament at a local sportsmen's club and the "Champions Dinner" afterward featured some of that day's catch. A local chef from a restaurant in Detroit was invited to prepare the meal and I recall him coming into the fish house as I was cleaning fish and he insisted that I cut out the mud line and slice each filet on both sides to very near the same size. I have to admit that was the best bass meal that I'd ever eaten. (No slight meant to my mom or grandma who probably cooked more bass than what most local anglers have caught on Lake St Clair.)
Q: What is the impact of weather on bass fishing?
A: While sunlight plays a big part since bass are mainly sight feeders during the day, you should learn to read the barometer forecast for the coming week. The smallmouth bite almost always turns on at signs of an impeding weather change and it's is driven by falling barometric pressure. This is, of course, a generality. I've caught fish during the "dog days" of summer while fighting off bugs on a dead calm day with a big high pressure system lurking around the Great Lakes. Once a front passes and the baro starts to rise, the smallmouth bite can shut down for a day or so, but if you are persistent you can usually find some feeders somewhere.
In concluding, I hope that helps answer some of the questions that you might have if you're just starting out bass fishing Lake St Clair. Feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com if you have a more specific question or would like to book a charter.