A Bass Bonanza on the Saginaw Bay


I felt my bait stop dead and set the hook instinctively. But before my partner Bill Horton even noticed I’d hooked up, he let out a “there’s one.”

The fish came out of the water and Horton exclaimed, “It’s a smallmouth,” which was unusual as we’d been catching largemouth bass.

I hoisted my largemouth aboard and Horton, a 51-year-old autoworker/fishing guide, boated his smallie. It was quite the double.

We were fishing the cuts just inshore of Saginaw Bay. It was cold—40 degrees—when we put in that morning and neither Horton nor I was in all that big a hurry to run out into the great wide-open.

Truth be told, there didn’t seem to be a reason to do so. In the hour we spent fishing plastic worms and spinnerbaits in the cuts, we put a dozen nice bass—11 largemouths and a smallie—in the boat.

But as the sun gradually warmed the air, Horton couldn’t stand it anymore and we ran out into the Bay. He shut the outboard down in seven feet of water and started looking for rocks, which were not as visible as in years past.

Saginaw Bay is home to giant smallmouth bass.
Saginaw Bay is home to giant smallmouth bass.

“I’m guessing the water’s about a foot or so higher than last year,” said Horton, with whom I’ve shared a day or two a season on Saginaw Bay for the last three or four years. “Usually you can see the rocks out there.”

It didn’t take long for Horton to find rocks and he immediately connected with a stick worm (Senko) and brought in a smallmouth that was every bit of four pounds. Within a few casts, I connected on a similar one on a Texas-rigged creature bait (a Zoom Baby Brush Hog).

We kept after it for about 90 minutes, throwing at dark areas that indicated there were rock piles beneath us. We caught an even dozen—with at least four better than five pounds—before the wind got up and Horton decided we should get off the big water and head back into the cuts. Despite the quality smallmouths we were catching, Horton was just as happy to go back to the largemouths.

“There are so many good largemouths in this body of water you wouldn’t believe it,” said Horton. “They’re around here, you just have to hunt them down. But they’re not everywhere.

“The problem with the largemouths is you can’t get to them half the time because the water’s so shallow,” Horton continued. “If you wanted to wade up in the reeds, you can catch them one after another. But you can’t get a boat up in there. Personally, I’d like to see the water get up about another four feet like it was. If you can find those weed beds out in four or five feet of water, you can catch a lot of big largemouths.”

Horton was mostly a largemouth fisherman, as were most Saginaw Bay anglers, 25 years ago. But like other Bay bass anglers, he transitioned to the smallmouths as they became more available.

“The smallmouths are more accessible,” he said. “With the clear water from the zebra mussels and whatnot, they’ve become the dominant fish now. Since the water went down in’95 or ‘96, it’s been all about smallmouths.

Plastic worms produced nice largemouths around shallow vegetation.
Plastic worms produced nice largemouths around shallow vegetation.

“But you don’t catch them like this every time.”

I should think not. Our best five would have easily gone 25 pounds, maybe more, enough to win most tournaments in most places. But when we got back inshore, we found the largemouths weren’t quite as cooperative as they had been earlier (perhaps because they were all sore-mouthed as there were a handful of other boats fishing the area since we’d left).

But they were cooperative enough. Over the 90 minutes we fished, we boated seven more, six of them on plastic worms and one a spinnerbait (I switched to a spinnerbait a half-hour in, determined to catch one on it, though Horton was still hitting them pretty well on his purple plastic worm). When I finally got bit—a nice fish in the 2-1/2-pound class—we called it a day.

In about four hours of fishing on what started out as a brutally cold day that finally warmed into what May is supposed to be like around here, we boated 31 bass: 18 largemouths and 13 smallmouths. The smallest of our catch was well past the 14-inch mark on the measuring board. That’s good fishing.

Horton said the bass are a little behind schedule this year, just like spring. He started fishing on opening day of the catch-and-release season (the last Saturday of April) and it was a little slow.

“But we had ice on it about a week and half before,” he said. “We caught maybe 15.”

Since that time, the fishing has picked up. Horton expects there will be some big weights brought in during the early-season tournaments this year.

“Actually, I’m surprised we did as well as we did,” he said. “With bluebird skies after a cold front, the bass get kind of tight-lipped. We had a good day.”

You can reach Horton at (989) 397-5053.

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