Big Bass Biting Bayside
Not Just A Clever Alliteration
I am sure you have seen the huge bass that were registered in the two annual bass tournaments that have just concluded, the Sturgeon Bay Bass Tournament and the Sturgeon Bay Open Bass Tournament. For the last several weeks Green Bay from Chaudoir's Dock to Gills Rock has been dotted with pro anglers and pro wannabes flying around in metal-flake Rangers with 300HP outboards and dual Power Poles hovering from their transoms. This is one of the reasons I have avoided fishing bass until these big tourneys were over. They do catch some huge bass, however. The SBBT on the weekend of May 11 & 12th registered many five and six pound fish with the winning team averaging almost 3 pounds for their 20 fish total. Impressive, but it pales by comparison to the SBOBT a week later. The average weight of fish registered was over 4-pounds with many teams bringing in 6 and 7 pounders. But the "Big Daddy" bass was a humongous smallmouth bass weighing in at 8.78 pounds. That's less then four ounces short of the Wisconsin state record. It is only a matter of time when that record, which has stood since 1950, will fall to a Door County smallmouth.
With the pre-spawn females engorged with egg masses and looking for warm water and food, some of the heaviest fish of the year are out there just waiting to be hauled in by committed anglers. You may not get a large number of fish, but what you do catch will be heavy. This is the time to catch a personal best. I typically catch the largest bass I catch all year during this early bite. Now that the big tournaments have passed, I began targeting smallmouth bass this week on an outing with former student and colleague, Steve. I did pick up a couple of nice smallies (17" & 18") a couple of weeks ago while trolling for browns. Although it is always fun to boat a nice smallmouth, some of the thrill is lost when dragging in the bass off a planer board with heavy tackle. The same fish on a light-medium spinning rod and 6-pound test line is a whole different animal.
Steve and I fished Sawyer Harbor off Potawatomi State Park, usually a place you can find warm water. When targeting these early season fish, the formula is pretty well known. Find the warmest water in the area, which this time of year is often shallow bays with dark bottoms. You also want to take the longest cast that you can to avoid spooking the fish with the boat. Often these fish can be spotted in schools swimming in the shallow water but they will scatter quickly if disturbed. I tend to use small Gobie-type tube jigs but other anglers use swim baits or suspending minnow lures. Bass will hit a wide variety of lures, but the presentation must be rrrreeeeeaaaaalllllyyyyyy slow. Even if you think you are fishing slow enough, slow down. This style of fishing will test your patience, particularly if you are not getting hits. More often than not, bass will hit the lure when it is not moving at all. I caught two fish when I had set the rod down to use my cell phone. Steve and I ended up boating only about eight fish in an afternoon's fishing, but we lost several others due to the fact that it was difficult to tell when fish hit the lure. Many times they would just swim away with the lure and all you would see is the line move. What we lacked in numbers we made up for in size with the average fish being 17" including a 20" beauty coming in at 4.7 pounds.
Later in the week I fished the northern Door with even better results. One sunny afternoon Paul and I headed over to the bayside to find some smallmouth. This time of year, the afternoon bite is often better then in the morning because the water warms up and you don't have worry about the boat traffic that you do in the middle of summer. Fishing warm shallow bays using long casts with glacially slow retrieves produced about twenty smallmouth in a few of hours including nine over 17". It was a nice afternoon of fishing and the first time all year I have been able to fish in short sleeves. I am confident this bite will last for a while as the spawning period approaches. I plan to make regular forays all along the northern Door shoreline in the next several weeks.
An update on the Baileys Harbor Marina dredging: the dredging operations have begun, as witnessed by the big yellow digger perched on top of the huge barge in the marina basin. Harbormaster Mark informs me that the marina will still be available for launching, mooring and fueling. A channel has been cleared for boats to exit the marina. Just be careful as you move past the dredging operations. The dredging should be done in a week or so.
I want to send a special shout-out and thank you to Jimmy, owner of Chaudoir's Dock Restaurant and Marina near Brussels. This bar and restaurant is located next to the county boat launch. After a morning of not catching walleyes last Monday, Steve and I hauled the Pamela Ann out and planned to catch a bite to eat and a beer. Pulling up to Chaudoir's Dock, we were disappointed when we realized that is was closed on Mondays, as many places are this time of the year. We started to walk away when a guy (turned out to be Jimmy) sticks his head out of the door and yells, "Hey, guys, come on in!" "But you're closed", I intoned. Jimmy replies, "No problem, I'll cook you up something". So this guy, on his day off, leads us through the kitchen to the bar, serves us a couple of beers and then fires up the grill and makes us some fantastic burgers. It was just me, Steve, Jimmy and his wife. We had a great conversation and a fun time. Thanks Jimmy. You are truly a great guy and I will be back next time I am anywhere in the area. Maybe next time I will actually catch a walleye.
Tight Lines, Bruce
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