Who knew? TC turns out to be great bass-fishing country!


Chris Noffsinger shows off a little “living proof” of  Traverse City’s world-class smallmouth fishery.

 Now THIS is more like it! Sunshine, warms breezes and people getting out to enjoy the water. Especially fishermen, who’ve been wading out into the bay for the last few weeks, but now don’t look nearly so uncomfortable…

I’ve been thinking about fishing a lot lately – especially bass fishing. Because Traverse City has (or used to have) a little secret of its own. While anglers have long known this as  a great spot for steelhead, coho and walleye, as well as some of the best fly-fishing in the Midwest — avid bass fishermen are starting to discover that Traverse City is also home to some huge smallmouth.

With the clear, blue waters of Lake Michigan and scores of crystalline inland lakes just a short cast from our quaint shops, gourmet restaurants and sugar-sand beaches, Traverse City is rapidly gaining fame among serious bass anglers and their families as the ideal venue for the fishing trip of a lifetime.

Grand Traverse Bay and the inland lakes near Traverse City are the favorite smallmouth bass waters of  Kevin VanDam, who just won the 2011 Bass Masters Classic and is regarded as the best competitive bass fisherman on the planet. Legendary bass angler Hank Parker, host of the popular TV show Hank Parker’s Outdoor Magazine on the Versus network, just finished airing two shows here – one on the Bay, the other at a nearby inland lake.

“The fishing was beyond my wildest expectations,” Parker said. “Not only did we boat dozens of big smallmouth bass — I personally caught the biggest smallmouth of my fishing career, a whopper that topped seven pounds. I could actually see the fish hit my lure in the crystal-clear water, an experience I’ll never forget!”

Like Parker, veteran Bassmaster Magazine writer and photographer Don Wirth has fished all of America’s premier bass venues, and calls Traverse City “the best place in the U.S. right now to catch a trophy smallmouth bass.” Wirth comes to Traverse City each year to do one of his popular “Day on the Lake” articles with a pro angler.

“Compared to most trophy fishing destinations, the waters near Traverse City receive relatively light bass fishing pressure, and the sheer number of big fish that populate the area’s lakes staggers the imagination,” Wirth said. “Unlike other Great Lakes smallmouth venues that may be unfishable on windy days, Traverse City has an enormous number of nearby waters to choose from, so you can always find a great place close by to wet your line regardless of weather conditions.”

Local bass guide Capt. Chris Noffsinger, who has garnered a national reputation in the fishing media for putting his clients on big bass, said the bass fishing in Traverse City is “awesome” from the last Sunday in April, when Michigan’s catch and release season opens, through late fall. For Grand Traverse Bay, he recommends a full-sized, tournament-style bass or walleye boat equipped with a GPS, though the nearby inland lakes can be fished safely and comfortably from a midsized boat.

“It’s also exciting to explore the area’s countless small inland lakes in a kayak or canoe,” he added. “Most of the bass in these pristine waters have never seen a lure.”

Prespawn smallmouth action can be fast and furious right after the catch and release opener, Noffsinger said. “The water temperature is generally in the 40s then, with the big females staging on offshore dropoffs and breaklines, waiting for the water to warm a few degrees before moving onto adjacent shallow flats,” he said. “They’ll bust Gulp minnows on drop shot rigs, suspending jerkbaits and twister tail grubs.”

The smallmouth spawn occurs in stages, he said, and the amazing clarity of the water means unbelievable sight fishing.

“You’ll see big smallmouth bedding in our bays and inland lakes from May through July,” he said. “Wear Polarized sunglasses while slowly cruising the edges of sand flats under trolling motor power, and you’ll often spot scores of monster smallmouth on their nests. Bedding fish will gobble up a tube bait or small jig without hesitation. If the wind kicks up a chop on the surface, preventing you from seeing bedding fish clearly, cast a spinnerbait across spawning flats and slow-roll it back to the boat – chances are a big bronzeback will crush it.”

Summer bass patterns in the Traverse City area vary from lake to lake. “On clear smallmouth lakes, dragging a drop shot rig around deep rockpiles and humps can pay off big,” said Noffsinger. “Summer is also prime time to catch a fat largemouth bass on weedy inland lakes. Crawling a weedless frog across the tops of lily pads or ripping a Rat-L-Trap along a deep weedline can result in a savage reaction strike from a potbellied lunker.”

Fall brings some of the fastest bass action of the year to the Traverse City region, Noffsinger has found. “Those big smallmouth will be packing in the groceries in anticipation of the cold winter ahead. Dragging a tube bait along a steep dropoff will usually get your string stretched by a hard-pulling smallie.”

Michigan fishing licenses are available online at www.mdnr-elicense.com. And since Traverse City boasts over 80 motels and resorts, it’s easy to find comfortable and affordable lodging with ample parking room for your trailered boat. There are plenty of boat launches close to town, so you can get in and out of the water quickly.

For more tips, check out Chris Noffsinger’s web site at www.northernadventuresfishing.com.  For information about Traverse City’s many attractions, and for help with lodging and dining choices, log onto www.traversecity.com or call (800) TRAVERSE.


About mikelovestc

These days, I’m the media relations guy for the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, but before that I spent 25 years as a reporter and columnist at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, a job that frequently took me out into the most remote backroads, forests, beaches and islands of the beautiful Grand Traverse Region. My strategy was pretty simple — just drive, paddle, ski or walk until you’re certain you’re lost, and then find somebody to talk to. It was a great job! I never intended to live in Traverse City. I grew up in Grand Rapids, spent four years in the Coast Guard in places like Miami Beach, Monterey and San Francisco, and when I finally graduated from college I took a summer job at the Miami Herald. To my surprise, I discovered I didn’t like the tropics nearly as much as I thought I would — and when the Record-Eagle offered me a job I took it, figuring I’d put in a year or two and head off to someplace like Seattle or Portland. What I discovered very quickly is that this place gets to you in a variety of unexpected ways. The beaches here are as lovely as anyplace else I’ve ever been, the weather is mild all year round — warm enough for swimming in September and cold enough for skiing in December — and just about the time you’re getting tired of one season you get another one every bit as pleasant. The people are laid-back and friendly, the music and arts scene is awesome, and the place still hasn’t gotten so sophisticated that a guy like me feels out of place.
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