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Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing by sight

Many times I have tried to catch a fish that I could see. I don’t think I have ever been successful. Usually clear water leads to fish being hyper aware of your presence causing them to be too spooked to strike. This all changed when I visited Michigan last week. Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing by sight is a unique and almost guaranteed way to catch fish, but the conditions and timing have to be right.

Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing

Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing – A male smallmouth protecting the eggs – Photo courtesy of Sport Fish Michigan

First of all, you need a lake like Long Lake that is crystal clear. Secondly, it has to be in the spring when the smallmouth are spawning. The females will lay their eggs on gravel beds and the males hover over them and fiercely protect the spot. All you need to do is cast over the bed and reel it over the nesting site and the bass will strike. It is usually the male, but sometimes the female can be caught too.

Long Lake Traverse City

Beautiful crystal clear Long Lake was the scene of some great Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing

Arrival for Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing

I arrived at Long Lake in the morning to an absolute picture perfect day. Midwest springs can be iffy, especially for a place so far north as Traverse City, but we could not ask for a better day. It was not even windy when we began as Long Lake was like glass. Waiting for me at the dock was Captain Ben Wolfe, and I jumped in and the adventure began.

Traverse City Long Lake

Captain Wolfe is ready to take me out for some Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing

Captain Wolfe explained the method of Traverse City smallmouth bass sight fishing and instructed me on the best way to cast. If you are far away from the bed you can just overhead cast directly over the bed. If you are close you can just nudge the lure slightly over the bed by swinging the lure like a pendulum and then letting go of the bail at the end of the arc, which sends the lure directly over the spot as long as you have it lined up right.

Smallmouth bass fishing Michigan

Captain Wolfe has extraordinary eyesight – Here he is pointing where I need to cast for some Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing success

An amazingly successful day with Traverse City Bass Fishing Guide Service

It did not take us long to find a suitable bass to catch. The water was as clear as a patch of ocean in the Caribbean and through our polarized glasses we were able to find a male bass swimming on guard over a gravel bed. It took me about ten to fifteen minutes to get the cast right and then I missed the fish strikes the first couple of times he hit, but I eventually got the lure in the right place and BAM, FISH ON!

I excitedly reeled in keeping my rod tip up and let the bass tire as he fought while I slowly brought him in. Soon he was by the side of the boat, and Captain Wolfe reached over and grabbed his lip and my first fish was secured. It was a beautiful tiger striped smallmouth bass. I would estimate it weighed between 2-3 pounds.

GoPro fishing Traverse City

Fighting a smallmouth while Captain Wolfe gets into position to assist

Smallmouth bass

The result of the above GoPro video

Catching beautiful smallies

I was so excited because smallmouth bass are so much fun to catch, but to catch quality fish like this I usually have to go all the way to Canada and then paddle for 30 miles into the interior of Quetico or the Boundary Waters. It was so great to catch such a beautiful fish and only have to drive five hours north from Chicago.

Smallmouth bass Michigan

Smallmouth are beautiful fish

The pattern repeated itself over and over again the rest of the afternoon. The method is practically a sure fire success. Since the reason the bass was striking was for protection, fisherman do not need to worry about what color lure or what lure has the best action that will trick the fish into thinking it is food. Also, if the bass strikes and misses the lure, usually that will scare a fish from hitting the bait again; however, in this case it is likely to catch the fish on the next cast. They will even be more mad the next time your lure comes through his bed. Captain Wolfe likens this method to provoking the drunk guy at the bar.

Long Lake Michigan

The scene of Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing with Sport Fish Michigan in Long Lake

Sight fishing techniques

Sometimes the male will be caught on the first cast if you direct the lure in the right area. Other times it is a cat and mouse game or a chess match that can take several casts and several misses until success takes place. I think there was only one bass that we gave up on because he was too spooked to strike, so we drifted about ten feet until another bass was spotted.

It is important to get the lure down at the bottom of the lake and drag it directly through the bed. We used a heavy sinker and then floated a little jig behind it. Once you are in the target zone you can keep the lure there and jig. This serves to piss them off even more. Long Lake has a sandy bottom, so there is no worries about getting your lure stuck between a rock. It could get stuck on a log, but we only lost one lure the whole day and this was due to a terrible cast on my part. We did lose a few of the rubber worms from bass strikes, but it only takes a second to re-jig.

Largemouth bass Traverse City

Always nice to catch multiple species of fish – Here is a nice largemouth bass caught casting and reeling in

We took a break from the smallmouth fishing and casted towards shore with a rubber jig with lively tail action. After a couple casts, I hooked onto a largemouth bass. It was about the same size as the smallmouth. This was one of the best days of fishing I have ever had. I reeled in about seven to eight smallmouths and one largemouth bass.

Traverse City Long Lake

Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing

On the ethics of the fishing method

You might be thinking it a little unethical to catch the male bass protecting the eggs of the female, but we exercised catch and release. The bass was back on his perch in a matter of minutes after de-hooking him and taking a quick picture. If you try this method on Lake Michigan, gobies might steal the eggs in the interim, but there are no aggressive predators for the eggs in the inland lakes, so this is not a problem here.

Above video compliments of the Sport Fish Michigan YouTube channel

Beautiful day on Long Lake

Long Lake is also known for walleyes. Usually they are best caught at night, but Captain Wolfe knew of a drop off where they sometimes strike during the day. We trolled but did not have any luck. There would be no hat trick of fish on this trip. While we were trolling, Captain Wolfe spotted another smallmouth on a bed. I casted over the spot and soon had my last beautiful fish of the day. A great way to end a successful day of fishing.

Loon take off

Loon take off on Long Lake

Even if I had not caught one fish, I would have enjoyed my time on Long Lake. We saw one loon and heard them several times throughout the day, which just added to the serene northwoods adventure. Bald eagles are also often spotted here although we did not see one on this day.

GoPro fishing

The GoPro camera has the best clarity for showing how clear Long Lake is

Highly recommend Traverse City Bass Fishing Guide Services

Captain Wolfe runs a great outfit that is completely customer focused. No need to bring any equipment. Traverse City Bass Fishing Guide Service takes care of the poles, the lures, the boat, and even has a cooler full of water and gatorade. Captain Wolfe also had an extra pair of polarized sunglasses as mine were not of the best quality. I would highly recommend this service if you are looking for a guide.

My time in Traverse City, Michigan was partly sponsored by the Traverse City Tourism Bureau. I was provided a complimentary place to stay and complimentary tours, but I thoroughly enjoyed the city, the fishing, the food, and the tours. The thoughts, photos, opinions, love of Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing, and the adventure are purely my own.

Adventure on!

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31 Responses to Traverse City smallmouth bass fishing by sight

  1. Ken June 5, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    Dang! That looks awesome. I do most of my fishing from shore or kayak. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been bass fishing like that. Epic.

    • Traveling Ted June 5, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

      Hello Ken,

      It definitely was a unique experience. I was really pleased how much Traverse City had to offer on the fishing front. So many different options.

  2. Ms. "V" June 8, 2016 at 6:05 pm #

    These videos are very exciting. Thanks Ted. I liked the view from under the water too. 🙂

    • Traveling Ted August 27, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

      Sorry I missed this comment Ms. V. The owner of the fishing guide service is a fellow GoPro guru. He actually created his own mount for the camera that he weighs down and then drops on the bottom of the lake to capture the video. Pretty amazing.

  3. Luke June 13, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    Nice story Ted, if you are ever in northern Minnesota, check out Lake Mille Lacs for some more trophy smallmouth action. The lake is on fire! Not literally, of course, but people are catchign personal bests every weekend up there 🙂
    Luke recently posted..Ultimate Guide to Drop Shot Fishing

    • Traveling Ted June 27, 2016 at 10:01 pm #

      Hi Luke,

      I might have to check that action out sometime.

      Thanks!

  4. Dean August 21, 2016 at 8:50 am #

    Looks awesome! If I ever make it to Michigan I will have to try that lake. The water looks so clear. If you ever visit Texas you should try Lake Whitney. It has some great smallie fishing.

    • Traveling Ted August 27, 2016 at 3:56 pm #

      Thanks Dean,

      I love Texas, so I would love to check that lake out on my next visit.

  5. James Dutreaux August 24, 2016 at 12:54 am #

    Great story! Super inspiring. I’ve never heard of walleyes being caught in the daytime. I’m going to get out on my kayak right now. Ted, do you know of any good kayaking areas in Southern California? Thanks for the great post!
    James Dutreaux recently posted..What’s The Best Future Beach Kayak For You?

    • Traveling Ted August 27, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

      Hi James,

      Sorry, but I am not very familiar with Southern California kayaking. Enjoy your paddle.

  6. Morgan September 27, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Awesome videos! It looks like you guys had a ton of fun out on the water and made some great catches. Good work, and thanks for sharing a bit of the experience with us!

  7. Rob November 4, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

    Killing setup – and I love the go pro on the body too for filming. What setup are you using for your reel?

    • Traveling Ted November 23, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

      Thanks Rob,

      I am not exactly sure Rob. It was a guided trip, so I just used what they provided me 🙂

  8. Robert November 27, 2016 at 4:25 am #

    Looks like an awesome day out Ted, actually looks very similar to a day we had recently. Though no “BAM FISH ON” for us 🙁

    • Traveling Ted December 3, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

      Hello Robert,

      It was a fantastic experience. Thank you.

  9. Williams December 19, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

    Sounds like a blast. I’ve sight-fished spawning largemouth before, but never smallies. If you’re in Chicago, you should make the trip up to the Chequamegon Bay sometime. The smallmouth fishing is ridiculous.

    • Traveling Ted December 26, 2016 at 7:41 pm #

      Hello Williams,

      I have never heard of this place. I will have to check it out. Thanks.

      Ted

  10. Diver S January 20, 2017 at 2:24 am #

    I really enjoyed these videos. I am amazed at the clarity of the water. You are right that it looks almost as clear as a Caribbean reef. I have a little GoPro like that for my diving adventures, but I have never gotten such clarity in any fresh water. Thanks for sharing!
    Diver S recently posted..To Paddle or To Pedal? – Native Slayer and Native Slayer Propel

    • Traveling Ted January 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

      Thanks Diver S,

      I live near Lake Michigan in Chicago, and I could not believe the clarity of the water in Michigan compared to here. It is like a different lake.

  11. Mark January 24, 2017 at 3:58 pm #

    So jealous, you guys live in smallmouth heaven! Great read man, just wish we had a few smallies here in SC.
    Mark recently posted..Top 10 Best Baitcast Reels Under $100

    • Traveling Ted January 30, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

      Thanks Mark,

      I am sure you make up for it with some lunker largemouths.

  12. Masood Rayan February 18, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    There are many places to fish for smallmouth bass in the great State of Michigan, but one of the very best is the Traverse City area.

    Not only is Traverse City’s smallmouth fishing world class, but the opportunities for recreation, dining, wineries and craft beer nearby are almost endless. From kids to adults, there is something for everyone here.

    • Traveling Ted February 19, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

      Hello Masood,

      I agree. I really enjoyed all aspects of my stay in Traverse City.

  13. Jason Roy April 6, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

    Nice and easy to follow. Thank you.

  14. Rayan May 3, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

    The fisheries here are so prolific for bass fishing, northern Michigan and the Traverse City area has been the focus of many national television shows and numerous magazine articles. Traverse City was ranked as the 3rd best fishing town in the country (Field & Stream; Feb. 2008) and in 2005, Fly Rod & Reel magazine listed Traverse as one of its “12 top Fly-Fishing Retirement Towns.”

    • Traveling Ted May 9, 2017 at 12:59 pm #

      I definitely need to go back and try out the fly fishing.

  15. Hayden June 30, 2017 at 2:57 pm #

    Man, those are some gorgeous bronze-backs. I live down south where largemouths are the main sport fish, so I love when spring comes around because that means the spawn is on and sight fishing is on. Looks like you had an awesome trip, thanks for sharing!

    • Traveling Ted July 3, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

      Thanks Hayden,

      It was a beautiful day and it was an awesome trip. You need to come north to catch some smallies.

  16. Eugene A. Price August 19, 2017 at 2:09 am #

    The wiper fight is what you came for. These fish take a fly in what was described by Dennis McKinney’s DOW Outdoor’s Journal article “Wiper Watch” as a U-turn fashion, which I completely agree with. The initial take is a hard thump, as if they hit it going 30 MPH in the opposite direction. Setting the hook should not be a problem as they tend to hook themselves.

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