Gordon Lightfoot's ballad about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald directed anglers to Lake Michigan, where "islands and bays are for sportsmen." But better guidance comes from Freshwater Fishing Hall of Famer Mark Fisher, a smallmouth bass fanatic who has fished throughout the northern tier of states:"If you wanted to plan your smallmouth trip of a lifetime and had a month to do it, you would start in Sturgeon Bay in May and move north to Escanaba Bay in June. There is no guarantee in fishing, but 50-fish days are common with fish over 6 pounds mixed in. Seven pounders are there." Here's the where and the how for Escanaba.
Shallow-water, sight-fishing opportunities abound on the rock and sand reefs south and west of Ford River and off Peninsula Point. "Cast to the small black spots on the reefs—they're smallies," advised Fisher. "If you see a solo fish, it probably won't bite. If you see two, expect 'fish on.' If you see three or more, get ready for a brawl. It can get silly! With two or more anglers, time your casts to keep them biting. When they quit biting, get on the trolling motor until you see more fish."
A variety of presentations will work on the reefs—2 to 4 inch tubes, boot-tail grubs, waking baits like a Rapala Waking Minnow, and topwaters all catch fish. On the soft baits, any variation on green pumpkin is good. But the "must have" is 1/16 ounce brown or black marabou jigs. "You can't put a lure in the water without a smallie knowing it. The slow fall of the marabou jig allows the bass to find and kill the intruder," Fisher said.
If the fish aren't active on the reefs, fish the steep shorelines, docks, or the breaks into deep water around the reefs. "The wonderful thing about Escanaba is that simple fishing savvy catches fish. If it looks like it should hold a smallie, it probably does," explained the enthusiastic Hall of Famer. Jerkbaits, like a Rapala X Rap, will attract smallmouths from considerable depths and pull brown bass from under docks; deeper crankbaits like Rapala DT 10 and DT 16 are effective on the deeper ledges. And in the clear water, you can watch the fish hit.
Sage wisdom: play the weather, and use your trailer. Bay de Noc basically runs north-south. Land provides some shelter from north and northwest winds. There are some small bays where you can launch and stay out of the wind.
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