Michigan had been gaining ground nationally as a bass fishing destination in recent years—witness last year’s coronation of Lake St. Clair as the best bass lake in the country by Bassmaster magazine—but it’s a fact that the state boasts plenty of world-class bass fisheries that are still very much under the radar.
Need an example? Saginaw Bay.
Already well-known as one of the best walleye fisheries in the world, Saginaw Bay’s bass fishery is equally grand, perhaps even better.
“As far as quality goes, you can’t beat Saginaw Bay,” said Greg Sochocki, a local baker and bass angler who fishes around the state a good bit. “It’s not on the map and that’s fine by me. It’s an amazing fishery and it’s almost virgin water—it’s so easy to catch a five-pounder out there it’s almost unbelievable. That fishery just continues expanding, too; it keeps getting better all the time.”
Sochocki uses his own experience to illustrate; in his first tournament this year, Sochocki brought in a five-fish bag weighing in excess of 26 pounds. He finished fourth.
The truth is, Saginaw Bay’s bass fishery is no secret to Michigan bass fishermen. I know Lake St. Clair guides that occasionally make the trek upstate to the Bay just for grins. Would they travel that far if it wasn’t an outstanding fishery? In a word, no.
I caught up with Sochocki and his buddy Jaime Ayala recently for half day of bass fishing on the million-acre pond. Sochocki piloted his big Ranger some 10 miles off the western shore, lowered the trolling motor, and started fishing.
It took a little while to find some fish but once we did, they were all dandies. We never caught a fish that would have come close to needing a measuring board (i.e. 14 inches) and we had plenty in that four- to five-pound range.
“There are a series of reefs out here and if they’re not on one, just go to the next one,” Sochocki said. “You’ve just got to find the one that the food’s on that day.”
We fished in anywhere from six to 10 feet of water, throwing soft plastics (tubes, Flukes, and finesse worms on drop-shot rigs) at the boulders up on the reefs. The fish were hanging by the big rocks and were willing to bite if you could get the bait near them.
It’s was a windy, alternately sunny and overcast day. When the sun was up, it was fairly easy to spot the rocks. When it was overcast, however, Sochocki brought out a 3/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap and just started covering water to find fish (and he found more and better fish with the Rat-L-Trap than you might have guessed he would).
The difference between Saginaw Bay and Lake St. Clair, Sochocki said, is that at the better-known bass lake, there are fish just about everywhere. At Saginaw Bay, you have to find them. But when you do? Cha-ching.
“There are just a ton of giants on Saginaw Bay right now,” Sochocki said. “And it’s not just in the spring, it’s year-round. You have to do a little homework to find them, but they’re out there and you can catch them all summer long, all the way into November.
“And it’s not just the outer bay,” he continued. “There are plenty of places you can catch them in-shore. You’ve got to find some structure, some weeds or rock piles, but when you do…”
The most amazing part? We saw only one other bass boat out where we were fishing—granted you wouldn’t have wanted to go out there in a 16-foot aluminum—despite the outstanding action (on a Sunday!). We had it all to ourselves.
The wind got up, there was a significant drop in temperature and there was no mistaking what the wall of dark clouds heading our way meant. When Sochocki pronounced: “Let’s get out of here,” neither Ayala nor I objected.
“The thing about the Bay is it’s so big and it’s open to Lake Huron you’ve really got to watch it,” Sochocki said. “You can sink your boat out here – that’s been proven in the bass tournaments.”
Our run to shore saved us from getting a soaking, but the wind never quit and fishing was tough with waves breaking over the bow. We hung out on a shallow rock bar for a half hour or so, then called it a day, though Sochocki noted that we might have been able to catch more smallmouths and even some largemouths in the Au Gres River if we were so inclined. But after catching a passel of eye-popping smallmouths out on the reefs, it seemed almost anticlimactic to beat the banks.
As we left the Bay, Sochocki and I reminisced about how, 25 years ago, we’d spend a whole day throwing spinnerbaits in the shallow bays and be rewarded with big numbers of largemouths. Those fish are still there, he said. But nobody bothers with them because the smallmouth fishing these days is just that much better.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images by Bob Gwizdz