Elk Lake, one of the largest inland lakes in northern Michigan, is an overlooked gem for trophy smallmouth. Carved out by glaciers eons ago, Elk looks remarkably like a Norwegian fjord. Its superclear water and dearth of shallow wood or weed cover may cause it to appear sterile to Bassmasters used to fishing murky reservoirs, but don't be disheartened by its extreme transparency. Time your trip right and you're likely to get your string stretched by a trophy-class smallmouth.
Dick Mericle of nearby Rapid City has fished Elk for 30 years, and has caught smallies up to 7 pounds here. "Elk is one of the best spring and fall smallmouth lakes in the upper Midwest, yet it receives only light bass fishing pressure," he says. "It contains a large smallmouth population with many 3- to 4-pounders, and provides an excellent shot at a much bigger fish."
Spring is prime time at Elk, Mericle advises. "In early May, smallmouth move up from deep water to stage on dropoffs with scattered rocks. Target drops from 6 to 14 feet with spinnerbaits, crankbaits and suspending jerkbaits, casting parallel to the ledge. In June, smallies can be seen spawning on shallow flats. They'll usually bed close to a rock or isolated grass patch, so cast a tube bait to any dark spot you see on the bottom."
In September, smallmouth stack up in the 15- to 30-foot zone and will strike spinnerbaits fished overhead and tube baits dragged along the bottom, Mericle says. In October and November, you'll have the lake to yourself: "Most area outdoorsmen are either deer or turkey hunting then."
Lake Skegemog, a much smaller and shallower lake with abundant weedbeds and copious amounts of submerged wood, connects to the south end of Elk. "Skegemog is a flooded cedar swamp," Mericle notes. "You'll catch smallmouth and largemouth here with spinnerbaits, square-billed crankbaits and tubes from spring through fall."
If you make a cast on either Elk or Skegemog and your line suddenly goes limp, it's probably been sheared off by a big musky, Mericle adds — toothy predators exceeding 50 pounds prowl both bodies of water.
Elk Lake Trip Check
Location: Both Elk Lake and connecting Lake Skegemog lie in Antrim and Kalkaska counties in the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan, near Elk Rapids. Launch your boat in Elk Lake at Whitewater Township Park off Elk Lake Road, or in Lake Skegemog on Baggs Road off U.S. Highway 72.
Lodging: Camelot Inn, Elk Rapids (800-761-4667, www.camelot-inn.com); Wandawood Resort (231-264-8122, www.wandawoodsresort.com). Camp at Whitewater Township Park (231-267-5091). For a great meal, try the Torch Riviera in Rapid City (231-322-4100) — the planked whitefish is to die for!
Local Info: Captain Chris Noffsinger, 231-620-7000, $325/five hours. For area tourism information, contact the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce at 800-626-7328 or www.elkrapidschamber.org. Gander Mountain in nearby Traverse City (231-929-5590) sells licenses and locally preferred lures.
Web Site: For a map of Elk Lake and more information on this fishery, go to http://www.fishweb.com/maps/antrim/elklake/index.html
7,730 - Number of surface acres that Elk Lake covers
192 - Maximum depth in feet of Elk Lake
26 - Maximum water clarity of Elk Lake during summer, measured in feet
29 - Maximum depth in feet of Lake Skegemog, which connects to Elk Lake via a shallow channel