Now is the time to catch big pre-spawn smallmouth on the southern end of Lake Michigan. During April and May smallmouth move in to the shallows. Since there are no true contour lines on the sandy bottoms fish use breakwalls as “highways” to move from deep to shallow waters. Steel breakwalls are a surefire way to find fish in the spring––not only because smallmouth are using them as highways, but also the steel walls heat up from the suns rays, so fish relate to this structure.
The action in Indiana and Illinois is outstanding for numbers and bigger fish––most are 2 to 3 pounds, but 3 to 4 pounders are abundant, and a 5-pound bass like the one pictured can be caught occasionally, but are tough to find.
Bobby Bergren, Lake Michigan tournament angler and MidWest Outdoors contributor, has had success the past few weeks using a Jackall Rhythm Wave swimbait rigged on a jighead. Patience is the key right now––use a slow retrieve and creep the swimbait along the bottom and you will catch fish.
Other baits that produce fish this time of year are deep-diving jerkbaits, 6- to 10-foot divers in shad and perch colors. You can’t go wrong working a tube or gobie-imitators like a darter along the bottom. Smaller darters and tubes in the 3” range work best. Use a lighter jighead to fish with fewer snags. Best colors are green pumpkin with gold and purple flake and watermelon with gold flake.
Browns are abundant right now, but will move out by mid-May with the warming weather. Browns can be found in areas with current, whether it be the natural current around breakwalls or warmwater discharges.
Browns from 3 to 7 pounds are common, but there is always the opportunity to catch 7+ pounders. There are even occasional reports of anglers catching fish surpassing 10 pounds.
Ralph Steiger, full time charter captain, has had very successful days with multiple browns each trip and a lot of follow-ups. He has had most luck on Northland 4” white Impulse Grubs, rigged on a ¼-ounce jig head.
Bergren has had most success on shallow-diving jerkbaits. Look for jerkbaits that have loud rattles and an erratic side-to-side action. Most of his bites came while using a fast and steady cadence in his retrieve.
This has been a slow year for anglers using casting gear. Heavy north winds have pushed fish out deep and away from the muddy shores. Trollers are doing well using dodgers and flies. Red has been the hot color so far this year.