Matt Johnson Outdoors The Quest for Chequamegon Bay Bronzebacks
Matt Johnson Outdoors
By: Jim Hudson
When I hear people talk about fishing for smallmouth bass, I can almost bet they will bring up the opportunity awaiting a bass fanatic here on my home water of Chequamegon Bay. And when they pop the question… “Is the smallmouth fishing really that good on Lake Superior?” Where after I tell them the answer, I can immediately see them start to ponder to themselves, “How fast can I make it up there?”. Already wanting to lay their hands on one of the many world class smallmouths this fishery has to offer.
Located on the far southwest side of Lake Superior, Chequamegon Bay is known as a premier location for the bass enthusiast, but not all know the opportunities that await them when it comes to fishing these heavyweights of the smallmouth world on a year round basis. Be it spring, summer, fall, or winter these fish will always be willing to give you a fight of your life. The fight in these huge open water smallies is not explainable, it just has to be experienced for one to know. Not everywhere do you find a body of water that has a 22 inch minimum size limit for smallmouths and where you will be tangling with fish that will average 17 to 18 inches but look enormously bigger because of how fat they are.
Most people embark on their quest during the spring months, where fishing is regulated as catch and release only starting with the opener of the Wisconsin hook and line season where catch and release applies to these fish until mid-June. At this time, anglers from across the nation set out to fish the thousands of smallmouths that make their annual spawning migration into the shallow waters of the Sand Cut and the Kakagon Slough. Starting at the end of April, these fish will start to move into the shallows, and as the season opens, people will be able to catch a number of fish each day, but fishing is usually at its best by mid-May and into June. During this time, an angler can almost bet he or she will run into pre- spawn, spawning, and post-spawn fish where one can incorporate all types of techniques to entice one of the many bass into the boat. The mainstay for lures will run the gauntlet through your tackle box and your rod selection, letting you choose from: jerk baits, tubes, worms, spinner baits, top water, bass poppers and streamers for the fly fisherman, live bait, and the list goes on and on. Huge catch numbers are seen during this time of year along with huge numbers of other anglers but one can always find a spot out of the way of other anglers to find a few fish. Then as June ends and July begins, fishing will start to taper off in these areas and we start to see fish showing up on different structural elements found throughout the bay.
As the water temperature rises into the summer period, a person will not have to look very far to find these now hungry fish. At first glance, a novice to Chequamegon could be overwhelmed by the enormous amount of water, but he or she just needs to arm themselves with a quality map to locate many of the obvious structural elements that will hold fish throughout the summer. By searching rock piles, main lake humps, drop-offs, weed beds, wood, and shoreline cover a person shouldn’t have any problem catching a few smallies. And just like the spring season, a person can employ a wide range of techniques to get bit. Arm yourself with the right presentation for the structure and depth you will be fishing and watch as these brutes take you airborne time and time again. You can’t go wrong with fishing crankbaits, a jig and twister tail combination, a wide array of plastic presentations, and or a live bait presentation. One thing is for sure during this time of year, the fish will be hungry and will fight you tooth or nail for your lure. So hold on!
So after battling these bruiser smallmouths throughout the spring and summer, what’s next you ask? It’s trophy bass time people! Fall fishing is what I would consider the best time for a person to lay their hands on a real trophy fish out of Chequamegon. Now don’t get me wrong, anytime of the year these fish will be big, but after all the time they spend gorging themselves on the abundant amount of prey this lake has to offer them, these fish will be at their prime in the fall. As the air and water temperatures start to decrease, the fish will start to move off into deeper water nearby the structure you found them in the summer. But don’t overlook taking a few casts into the structure, as a few of these pigs still might be wandering around looking for a meal. And in the fall, on those prime fishing days, big baits can’t be beat for landing these bass, but if the weather turns to the worse, a person might have to finesse the fish into taking a presentation. Typical fall bait choices would be large suspending crankbaits, large plastic swimbaits, jigs tipped with big sucker minnows, along with a wide array of other bait choices we have at our disposal. And when the weather turns cool and nasty, down size your presentations or move to live bait techniques. So don’t rule out Chequamegon for early or late fall bass action, as you never know when you will hook into one of those smallies that all bass fisherman dream about.
And as the weather turns colder and you start to re-live the many battles you had with these bronze beasts throughout the year, ice begins to form across this great stretch of water and quickly the hard water season is upon us. Throughout this late fall season and into the winter season, we will see another huge movement in these fish. Where schools upon schools move to wintering areas, calling these spots home again until the ice leaves and they make their journey back to their spawning grounds. So break out the ice equipment, as we have another chance to search out these smallies that call Chequamegon home. And for the ice angler, this should peak your interest, as there is not many places you can travel to have a chance at icing smallmouth bass on a consistent basis. For the ice season, a person can start their search in and around the Ashland area, concentrating on depths from 18 to 25 feet on sandy bottoms where staying mobile is key to catching multiple fish. An angler wanting to catch these fish should be willing to cut multiple holes and jump hole to hole searching out the active fish. Along with being mobile, being armed with quality electronics such as a flasher, an angler will be able to target these fish with more consistency. For baits, jigging spoons and horizontal type jigs top the list for preferred presentations. But just as any fish through the ice, these smallies can become finicky and you may need to add a minnow head to the treble of your spoon, some type of plastic or wax worms to your jig, or switch to a lively lake shiner on a jig or plain hook giving you just enough edge to lure these pesky smallies into giving you the fight you crave. This time of the year will not always produce a lot of fish caught, but still it is another opportunity for a bass fanatic to get their fill on these big Chequamegon Bay bronzebacks.
And as winter wears on, we will see the season close during the first part of March. Where I again get to talk to many individuals about the smallies that roam Chequamegon Bay, sharing my recollections of years past, where then they will be able to begin their “Quest for Chequamegon Bay Bronzebacks”.