I’ve fished all over the Great Lakes, the northeastern U.S. and other great smallmouth fisheries, but this is the most dynamic and fertile lake in the country. When you consider all the seasons of the year, nothing can beat it for both numbers and quality of fish.
St. Clair has so much bait and habitat. There’s not one square inch of it that doesn’t support bass and other gamefish at some point during the fishing season.
It’s a shallow, grass-filled spawning nursery for everything that swims. It’s one of the best walleye and perch fisheries in Michigan and might be the best muskie fishery on the planet. It has a ton of pike and largemouth, and the salmon run into the rivers during the spring and fall.
I fished it for the first time when I was 16 years old during a Michigan B.A.S.S. Federation Tournament. Back then, we didn’t have GPS or good maps. You didn’t venture far offshore because the lake was so vast that if you did find a spot far away from the bank, you’d never be able to find it again.
The water clarity then was nothing like it is now. We all fished the rivers and bays or close to shore because our boats were 18 footers with 150 horse engines. Without the proper equipment, the lake was an intimidating body of water.
Despite all that, it still produced good numbers, but a good one-day stringer was 15 pounds. Today, 15 pounds is average or below average.
Environmental changes have made it so much better. It changed when the zebra mussels came in and cleared the water and then the gobies filtered in from nearby Lakes Huron and Erie, providing additional forage that really helped the smallies take off.
And with today’s equipment, the angler has so many other options. You have Lake Huron dumping in on the northern end and all that water funnels through rivers and off-shoot channels before filtering into the lake.
At the bottom of the lake you have the Detroit River that empties into the mouth of Lake Erie, another great smallmouth fishery.
Anglers have so many options. Chris Lane won at the mouth of Lake Huron when we were there two years ago, and Lake Erie often provides heavier weights for those who make the run. Limits caught from Huron and Erie typically run in the 20-pound-plus class, and that’s hard to do on St. Clair in a four-day event.
Although smallmouths dominate, you can’t rule out the largemouth fishery. Greg Hackney did well targeting largemouth the last time we were there, and this year the water is higher so it will expose anglers to more largemouth habitat.
Also, the last time we were there the smallmouth in St. Clair were skinny and no one really knows why. I haven’t been there for a while, but local tournament catches indicate the fishery is coming back.
I’ve never won a tournament there, although I have fished a handful of Bassmaster events on the lake. My best finish was second to Kim Stricker the first time we were there.
Although I know quite a bit about the lake, it’s one of those places that is so good and has so many fish in so many places that anyone has a chance to win. It also allows an angler to fish his strengths and not have to adapt to any unique pattern.
So, it’s going to be interesting and I promise you that the field is going to catch ‘em and have a lot of fun doing it.
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!