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Published: Friday, 6/28/2013

Lake St. Clair called America’s best bass haven

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

The formula is simple: make a list, and then get ready for the critics. Call something “the best,” “the worst,” “the greatest,” “the most important,” or “the anything” and then step back because here come the volleys.

It works that way in fishing too. Bassmaster Magazine recently published its second annual list of the top 100 bass lakes in the country, and then watched the Web sites, chat rooms, and comment sections explode with the second-guessers, naysayers, and armchair anglers.

Lake St. Clair, about 60 miles north of Toledo, was rated No. 1. Lake Erie is No. 5 on the list. The rest of the top 10, and a good chunk of the overall list, is made up of lakes from the warm weather states such as Florida, Texas, and California.

To all those southern fishermen, St. Clair might seem like a puzzling choice, so a number of them voiced their dissent over the selection. But to the anglers from this region who have made it their home court for bass fishing, St. Clair gets a rousing vote of approval.

Kevin VanDam, the Kalamazoo native widely recognized as one of the superstars of the professional bass fishing ranks, concurs that Lake St. Clair, shared by Michigan and Ontario, belongs in its lofty location on the list.

“In my opinion, there is no better place in the world to catch huge numbers of huge smallmouth,” VanDam told Bassmaster.

Bass pro Ish Monroe, an Ann Arbor native who recently made a stop in the Toledo area to hold a clinic at Jann’s Netcraft, said St. Clair holds a treasure trove of largemouth bass as well, but they often get overlooked because of the world-class scale of the smallmouth on hand.

“St. Clair has a mostly untouched largemouth fishery,” Monroe said in Bassmaster. “There are more 2 to 4-pounders in this lake than you can shake a stick at, and nobody messes with them because the smallmouth are so fun to catch.”

Bowling Green angler Eric Klotz, who won the top prize among the nonprofessional anglers in last summer’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake St. Clair, said the magazine got it right.

“If I was making the list, I’d make the same choice they did,” Klotz said. “In terms of numbers of bass and the size of the fish, it has to be one of the best lakes anywhere. The smallmouth fishing is phenomenal, and the largemouth bass fishing is very good, but probably underutilized. But the fish are definitely there.”

Klotz has the hard evidence to support those words, since he registered nine fish in last year’s tournament whose total weight was just over 38 pounds. On the final day of the event, Klotz weighed in three Lake St. Clair smallmouth that went a collective 14 pounds and three ounces, with one of the bronzebacks pushing five pounds.

Lake St. Clair, which is connected to Lake Huron to the north by the St. Clair River, and to Lake Erie to the south by the Detroit River, is shallow and nutrient-rich. It averages around 10-feet in depth, with a maximum depth of just 21 feet outside the dredged shipping channel.

French explorers are believed to have discovered the lake around 1679 and named it after Saint Claire of Assisi, but some historical accounts claim the lake is named for General Arthur St. Clair, the first governor of the Northwest Territory.

The lake is about 430 square miles, with a huge delta in its northeast quadrant. The Michigan side is extensively developed with the northern Detroit suburbs, while the Canadian side is home to large wetlands areas, the Walpole Indian Reservation, and a considerable amount of agriculture.

Lake St. Clair’s fame as a world-class fishery will certainly get a boost from the No. 1 ranking by Bassmaster. Bassmaster Magazine is a publication from the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS), which has been around nearly half a century and has an international membership of more than half a million.

Bassmaster used a combination of scientific data and expert opinions, along with a poll of its membership, to arrive at its Top 100 list. The organization consulted with state agencies on catch rates, population studies, and stocking schedules for the public fisheries those entities manage. The preliminary list compiled from that study was then passed along to BASS officials and conservation directors so they could rank the waters regarding how they produced in recent tournaments.

After a panel of Bassmaster Elite Series pros, outdoors writers, and industry professionals fine-tuned the list, more than 3,500 BASS members submitted their rankings of lakes in their home regions, and the finished product resulted.

Lake Erie was the only Ohio water to make the list. Michigan checked in several times, with Lake St. Clair, Erie, Lake Michigan, Lake Charlevoix, and Burt Lake. Last year’s No. 1 bass lake, Falcon Lake in Texas, dropped to No. 7 this time around.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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