St. Clair: The Mini-Great Lake

Metropolitan Detroit may not offer the kind of backdrop most anglers expect to see when catching bullish smallmouth, but Lake St. Clair is unique in a lot of ways.

 It's big, shallow and a popular playground for Detroit elitists who cavort around in their cigarette boats and huge cruisers. An occasional freighter may be seen chugging across the lake headed for the St. Clair or Detroit rivers that connect this lake to lakes Huron and Erie.

 Half the lake lies in Ontario, which means you'll have to buy a Canadian license to fish over there. Some of the backwaters around the North, South and Middle channels coming in from the St. Clair River on the northeast end of the lake require a Walpole Island Indian license.

 But the fishing throughout the system is nothing short of fabulous. Two- and 3-pounders are common, and 6- and 7-pound smallies are certainly possible. You'll catch largemouth, too, but the smallies outnumber them 2-to-1.

 "It's better now than when I won the BASS event here in 1994," says pro angler Kim Stricker. "It now takes a 4-pound average to win most tournaments."

 St. Clair also offers good walleye, perch and pike action and harbors some of the country's biggest muskies.

The bass eat the usual stuff, but the influx of non-native gobies from the neighboring Great Lakes now contributes to the lake's heavy-bellied smallmouth.

The bass season opens the third Saturday in June, at a time when the bass are just finishing up the spawn.

While the channels and the St. Clair River offer outstanding fishing during the late summer months, main lake waters can be equally awesome.

"For as much pressure as it gets, it amazes me how good the fishing has stayed," says local guide and former BASS tournament angler Gerry Gostenik. "People don't realize how many bass live around the weedbeds in the main lake."

Best baits? Gostenik says you can't go wrong with a green pumpkin tube. It catches them from spring through fall and in the channels and main lake.

 Lake St. Clair Trip Check

 Location: Known as "The Other Great Lake," St. Clair lies between lakes Huron and Erie and is bordered by metropolitan Detroit and Canada. The Department of Natural Resources-owned Harley Ensign boat launch is at the mouth of the Clinton River near Mount Clemens, Mich. Several others are available.

 Lodging: Nearby Roseville and Mount Clemens have an abundance of motels and restaurants. For camping, try Algonac State Park on the St. Clair River, 22 miles northeast of Interstate 94 (exit 243), 810-765-5605.

 Local Info: Lakeside Fishing Shop, 586-777-7003. Guide Gerry Gostenik ($350/8 hours), 313-319-0100.

 Web Site: Gostenik offers the best information about St. Clair fishing and other details on his Web site, www.greatlakesbassfishing.com. Elite angler Jon Bondy also guides there during the off-season. Visit his site at www.lakestclairfishing.com.

 Weighing in:

 450 — Square miles that this mini-Great Lake covers. At least half of it lies in Canada

 20 — The average number of quality smallmouth you can catch there in one day. On a good day, 50 or more are possible. The legal size limit is 14 inches

 23 — Approximate number of miles of fishable channels that connect the lake with the St. Clair River

 10 — In feet, the average depth of St. Clair. The deepest spot in the lake is 21 feet

 7 — The average speed in mph of the current flowing through channels from St. Clair River into the lake — and smallmouth love current

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