Michigan anglers look forward to the opening days of the season much like deer hunters do. The opening weekend of largemouth and smallmouth bass season brings a lot of people to the water hoping to tie into a bucket mouth or bronzeback. With an early catch-and-release season, anglers now have more opportunities to put fish in the boat.
1. Know your seasons
For 2015, there are some important dates to keep in mind for bass fishing in Michigan. A catch and immediate release season is open on Lower Peninsula waters from April 25 through May 22. For Upper Peninsula anglers, those dates are May 15 through May 22. For anglers on Lake St. Clair, the Saint Clair River, and the Detroit River, the catch and release period goes from April 25 to June 19. The catch and keep season opens May 23 (June 20 on the St. Clair waterways and Detroit River) and runs until December 31. This is to protect the fishery, but also open some opportunities for exciting fishing action. Before you go fishing, however, double check the season dates, as there is the chance of late changes according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website.
2. Find some bass, will ya?
You can find bass in just about every lake in Michigan and quite a few of the rivers. In April, May, and June, look for shallow points and areas of bedding activity. As the water warms, bass move in for spawning and then tend to stick around for a while recovering and feeding actively. The earliest bass will be moving toward those areas of the lake that will both warm and oxygenate the quickest. If you don’t know the body of water, use a chart, electronics gear (fish finders), or even just your eyes.
3. Remember, water quality is key
The old saying that April showers brings May flowers may be true, but rain in April leading up to the catch and release season opener is vital to doing a few things that are important to your success. As the ice melts, fresh rain not only replenishes the amount of water that is lost to winter evaporation, but it also helps kick in the spring inversion. As a lake sits under ice, the oxygen levels drop as plants die and decay. As the fresh water falls on the lake, it mixes with the open water at the surface and this fresher, denser water sinks, pushing the oxygen-deprived water to the surface.
Fish need oxygen-rich water to be active and for spawning activities. If there isn’t much rainfall in the weeks leading up to the opener, you have to change your tactics. Fishing slower, finesse-type baits like jigs and live bait is the way to catch lethargic, pre-spawn bass.
4. Turn up the heat
Temperature is even more important to catching bass. There are two major factors in water temperature in the spring—the aforementioned rain, and sunlight from the length of the days. Once that water gets up around 50 degrees and there is ample water and oxygen in the water, bass will spawn. Largemouth bass will move into the weedy, shallow areas to bed, while smallmouths will look for rocky flats. The optimal temp for bass to spawn is 60 degrees.
Michigan’s season is traditionally set to try and be just behind the spawning run to give the population stability. Of course, that is in a normal year, which we haven’t had in a while. The new catch and release season gives anglers the enjoyment of getting in on the pre-spawn action.
5. Bring the baits
There are so many killer bass baits out there that it gets kind of overwhelming at times. During the early part of the season, and after the fish are coming out of the lethargic winter period, they can be very aggressive. You can cover a lot of water with spinnerbaits. Take a few different colors along. For murky water, try chartreuse or white. For clear water, variations of white with other colors or metallics work well, as do black spinnerbaits.
Stickbaits work well imitating injured bait fish. The biggest buzz this year is with Rapala’s new Shadow Rap baits that can be fished on the surface, suspending, and so much more. They look great and do a lot, so you can bet there will be one tied onto one of my rods on my first trip out.
When the water surface is calm, using surface baits like poppers and prop baits is a ton of fun. It is the kind of slow presentation that works so well for early-season fish ,and the strikes can be aggressive. If you haven’t gotten into surface baits before, try them.
One of my favorite tactics for early bass is to walk an artificial worm or crawdad toward a bed, if I can see a fish still on or near it. If the fish are off the beds, I’ll bounce it over the edges of the newly growing weed beds. A sensitive rod with braided or fluorocarbon line works well for this type of fishing.
Make sure you’re aware of the Michigan fishing license structure. There is now just one license that is good for all species of fish and all waters in Michigan. There’s also some big news for out-of-state anglers looking to travel to the Great Lake State for some non-resident fishing action: the annual license fee for you has decreased in price over last year. Disabled veterans and active military can enjoy fishing for free with no license fees. One- and three-day licenses are also available. The most important thing is that you get out and enjoy Michigan’s bass and other fishing opportunities this year.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.