Small Waters Hold Great Michigan Bass


This is the tale of two good Michigan bass that yours truly caught on consecutive August days two weeks ago. It proves the point that if you want to catch big bass, you’re often better off targeting smaller, weedy waters.

I’m talking about those natural lakes formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago—the ones that are big enough for the occasional jet ski, but too small for many bass tournaments. Places where bass don’t get targeted a whole lot, especially by meat fishermen. Lakes of about 100 to 200 acres—and Michigan is full of them. Two of them—Brownwood in Van Buren County and Pipestone in Berrien County—are close to my home, and are within short trailering distance.

I picked up Ben Bowater and his son Benjamin at their home early in the morning a fortnight ago, with Brownwood Lake as the chosen venue. Ben is my church pastor, and we’d been trying to get on the water together for about three years. Although Michigan has had one of the most beautiful summers ever, the day we had chosen was just plain nasty.

Temps were in the low 60s, and wind was blowing hard out of the north. Precipitation might not have been measurable, but the misting almost-rain was the kind that immediately penetrated our light clothing. If it weren’t for pedaling the foot-powered Hobie kayaks to troll around in the relentless wind, we might have experienced hypothermia.

The author's five-pound Brownwood Lake bass. Image by Ben Bowater.
The author’s five-pound Brownwood Lake bass. Image by Ben Bowater.

Pastor Ben was hoping to catch a mess of bluegills for a family fish fry, so we started by trolling for panfish. Each of us baited a small hook with a live wax worm and weighted the line with a couple of split shot. This went into a rod holder on one side of the kayaks, while a rod with a diving crankbait went in the holder on the opposite side.

And the fish, possibly chilled into semi-dormancy, wanted neither bait nor diving plug for a long while. Pastor Ben finally broke the ice (almost literally) with a redear sunfish deemed unworthy of a fillet knife, while Benjamin and I stayed fishless. I eventually caught a too-small bluegill on the bait rig, but soon thereafter, my luck changed. Just as I was going over a weedbed in about 16 feet of water, the rod trolling a diminutive No. 5 perch-colored Shad Rap balsa crankbait bowed deeply and the reel squealed as a big fish yanked line and made the drag squawk. It was a beaut of a largemouth, easily five pounds, clean, green, and with a big belly. Pastor Ben took a picture and I released it.

We fished a little while longer, but the weather finally got the best of us, and we ended our excursion right after Benjamin landed a bass of 12 inches or so.

The next day, summer was back to beautiful and I met my longtime fishing buddy Josh Crosby at a restaurant in St. Joseph, Michigan.

I’ve been fishing with Josh Crosby of Lansing, Illinois since he was six years old. His dad is a cousin of a former co-worker who arranged the first trip, and we’ve gotten together for a trip or two almost every year since. Most of them have been on Lake Michigan for salmon, but this time we’d be targeting largemouth, reportedly big largemouth, at Pipestone Lake.

We were both psyched, since at breakfast I’d relayed some intelligence I’d collected about the lake from my friend who first told me about it. Two weeks ago, my buddy said, he’d fished a tournament with 15 boats, and caught a four-pound, seven-ounce bass on his first cast. He said the day went downhill for him and his partner from there, but the winner had weighed five fish that totaled more than 19 pounds. That’s an impressive bag for Southwest Michigan, the fish averaging nearly four pounds apiece.

Josh Crosby holds a three-pound largemouth for photos at Pipestone Lake. Image by Dave Mull.
Josh Crosby holds a three-pound largemouth for photos at Pipestone Lake. Image by Dave Mull.

“It can be one of the best lakes for catching a big fish anywhere around here,” my friend had told me. “But it can also be a lake where you really have to work for them. When they’re off, they are off.” He added that it’s a great lake for success with crankbaits and jigs, noting the fish often hang along a pronounced weed edge.

When we started pedaling the Hobies, we saw that most of the 110-acre lake’s shoreline has thick weedbeds out to about 10 feet of depth, and after that, the lake bottom appeared void of vegetation.

After about three hours in which our only fish was a tiny crappie that Josh caught, we also neared the conclusion that the bass were “off,” as my friend had put it.

We threw a wide range of lures at them and I had a couple of bites but no hook-ups on a new favorite rig, a Freedom Tackle Hydra, to which I added a bass-colored, soft-plastic swimbait. The Hydra is a minnow head-shaped, painted piece of lead with a corkscrew hook attachment. When you rig a swimbait on the hook, the pivot-point where the hook attaches to the Hydra gives the whole presentation extra swimming action. It was a good lure to pull through the shallow weeds without hanging up, and then letting sink quickly just beyond the edge of the weeds.

Finally, I felt a solid strike and what felt like a good fish stayed hooked. The largemouth put up a fine fight, jumping once before I led him into my landing net. It was about three pounds and Josh held it for a few pictures before he released it.

Not a lunker, but decent, and the solid fish turned out to be the only bass of the day. We quit at 2 p.m. after about five hours of hard fishing.

For great late-summer bass fishing, it pays to do a little scouting and find lakes with non-state public access. Chances are good you’ll find your own big bass honey hole.

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