Many northern states are full of small, natural inland lakes. I grew up in an area of southeast Michigan that was absolutely full of them. I could drive any direction and be at a lake within five minutes. These lakes were often small, from a few hundred to a thousand acres or so. It was easy to cover whole lakes in a short period of time and fish didn’t have many places to hide. However, these lakes get a lot of pressure both from recreational and tournament fisherman, so the fish can get pretty educated. Here are a few tips and tricks from my time spent on those waters.
One of the biggest things to contend with on these bodies of water is boat traffic and how busy they can get in general. Oftentimes, you may have to make the most out of the morning or evening bite. Traditionally this may be considered as “topwater” time. This is an excellent and exciting way to catch some good fish. However, given the choice between picking up some topwater bites or heading out to where I know a school of fish is, I’ll choose the schoolers every time. Those fish are usually taking advantage of a feeding window and this presents a great time to catch a lot of bass really quickly. Basically during a peak feeding period, I want my bait around the greatest number of fish it possibly can be.
Back to that boat traffic I referenced earlier — keep a careful watch on what it does to the bite. Often it has some sort of an effect, whether it shuts down an area or really stirs the water up and helps the bite. I’ve seen certain areas in these lakes be real good in the morning, then go through a lull until the boat traffic picks up midday. I’ve also seen swimmers have an effect on the bite, and sometimes a drop-off adjacent to a swimming area can be dynamite if it is experiencing heavy use. However, that is only if it’s possible to fish productive water without casting into the swim buoys.
Any sort of current is usually a bass magnet on these fisheries in summertime. Any sort of connecting creek or river definitely warrants some exploring. The current provides highly oxygenated water and an easy place for bass to hide in ambush while food comes to them. Always keep an eye out for storm drains as they can have a deep spot directly below them. Bass congregate to these areas during or directly after a recent rain. Another one I’ve seen that is pretty uncommon is an artesian well. These wells constantly flow cold groundwater into the lake, providing bass and baitfish with some cooler, more comfortable temperatures.
One thing I’ve definitely narrowed it down to on these bodies of water during the summer is that the majority of the time big fish use either really shallow water, really thick cover, or relatively deep water. Starting with shallow water, I believe there are 2 factors that really attract big fish, other than things to eat. Mostly I’m targeting shallow docks, lily pad fields and floating scum mats because each provide excellent ambush points and refuge from the sun. Thick cover is pretty much the same deal, giving shadows to hide and a perfect ambush location. Some of the thick grass beds in these lakes will grow out to 15 feet or more. That makes it even more appealing to a bass.
Lastly, water deeper than 15 feet is typically related to some sort of feature like a point, hump, or saddle and has to have some sort of vegetation on it. Even if it’s just some sand grass down there, it makes all the difference in if fish will use the area compared to a bare mud bottom. Typically these areas are really easy to find, because when the bass are there, so are the big schools of bluegills. Bluegills and crawfish are the main forage species in these bodies of water, and in the warm summer months bass will always be found around a big pod of bluegill. I like to look for a “fuzzy” bottom with my depth finder. When I see that, combined with schools of bluegills and some big arches below, I know it is going to be fun! I can also investigate the situation with my FishSens underwater camera — it’s a big advantage when scouting for tournaments because I can see what is living there without actually hooking any fish.
If you are fortunate to live in an area with lots of small, productive fisheries around such as these, give these tips some thought and hopefully you will find success with them too.