Top 10 Bass Lakes: A Travel Guide to Lake St. Clair

2. Lake St. Clair, Michigan

[430 square miles]
Ranking St. Clair behind the St. Lawrence River was practically a flip-of-the-coin decision. Both fisheries are beyond fabulous for trophy smallmouth bass. Alabama’s Bill Weidler won a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament here in July 2020 with 86 pounds, 7 ounces of smallies. Sixty-two limits over 20 pounds were weighed in during the event.

Incredibly, St. Clair produces terrific fishing year after year despite onerous fishing pressure. Metropolitan Detroit borders the lake’s entire western shoreline, and throngs of anglers take an easy half-day drive to get here from several other large cities. If St. Clair is too rough for safe boating, you can fish protected canals and bays for the abundant largemouth.

High pressure. High stakes and high weigh-in numbers have become hallmarks of Lake St. Clair. Straddling the U.S.-Canada border in the shadow of Detroit, the waterway sometimes dubbed the “Sixth Great Lake,” is home to an astonishing number of elite quality smallmouth. When Bassmaster surveyed the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, a study of 83 tournaments concluded that more than 1,000 of the 6,582 bass weighed clocked in at over four pounds.

In July of 2022, a high school bass fishing team clinched a win with 27-13 in a single day, and a collegiate team took home a win the following week with a single day total of 24-3. Long known as a prolific place to throw drop-shots, Ned rigs, tubes, jerkbaits and swimbaits, anglers should have no trouble boating big bass on St. Clair. But with immediate access to one of America’s most culturally abundant cities and the tranquil nature of the lake’s Canadian shores, there’s a bounty of option for travelers waiting beyond the waters edge.

Parks, museums and outdoor adventure

Anglers could spend a week exploring the captivating museums of Detroit and still barely scratch the surface. This is the city that gave the world the automobile and topped the charts with soul. Do yourself a favor on your next trip to Lake St. Clair and save a day on the backend to indulge in some of these captivating curations.

At the Henry Ford Museum, anglers can take a deep dive into America’s change makers while seeing pages from the history books unfurl in real life. The museum houses George Washington’s Revolutionary War camp bed, Abraham Lincoln’s rocking chair, John F. Kennedy’s limousine, the Montgomery city bus made famous by Rosa Parks, a working assembly line where F-150 pickup trucks are made and rides in a Model T.

The Motown Museum is an essential visit for music fans captivated by the rags-to-riches story of the world’s most famous record label. Started in 1959 with an $800 loan, the Motown records went on to produce iconic works from the likes of Stevie Wonder to Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Rick James, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. The bungalow that became Motown Records is brimming with music memorabilia from its heyday along with interactive exhibits that give visitors the chance to sing along in Studio A.

Dive into the maritime history of Detroit at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. Located on Belle Isle, the museum features 16,000 square feet of exhibits highlighting the Great Lakes and Detroit River. Headlined by the bow anchor of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, the museum houses one of the largest collections of scale model ships in the world, alongside interactive exhibits that put visitors behind the wheel of a Great Lakes steamer pilot house and even includes a vintage, golden age smoking lounge pulled from the SS City of Detroit III.

10 miles away, The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History houses a breathtaking array of 35,000 artifacts celebrating African American history and culture. The museum merges photography, music and visual art into a collage of storytelling exhibits that showcase the triumphs and tragedies of African Americans.

St. Clair offers bass anglers an unusual opportunity to see the lake as mariners might have in the age of sail. The Lake St. Clair Sailing School offers sunset and moonrise sailing cruises ranging from two to three hours in length. The school is located near Lake St. Clair Metropark Nature Center.

Searching for a paddle? Simple Adventures offers kayak and SUP rentals from locations on Belle Isle and the Metropark as well as a tranquil birding canoe tour with the Detroit Audubon Society at Phoenix Lake, just 30 minutes from downtown.

Lodging, camping and resort life

While St. Clair benefits from an abundance of entertainment thanks to its direct connection to Detroit, anglers may feel more at home towing a boat outside of the bustling city itself. Thankfully, a slew of quality lakeside options keep the stress of city driving to a minimum while providing a place to stow the boat when exploring Detroit’s incredible mix of neighborhoods, museums and restaurants.

Northpointe Shores RV Resort on Anchor Bay is a prime example. This well-manicured RV park features 35 paved campsites with full hookups and a marine with a private boat launch alongside a bath house, wifi and laundry facilities. The resort also offers waterfront cottage rentals for anglers who prefer stationary building foundations to wheels.

Nearby Bouvier Bridge Marina & RV Resort is home to 45 full-service campsites, fire pits and a heated pool within a mile of the Michigan DNR boat launch.

Private home rentals are abundant on Lake St. Clair, making sites like Airbnb and VRBO excellent resources for locating your own landing spot. The Cottage at Lake Saint Clair features a protected dock located right against the backyard, views of St. Johns Marsh and comfortable bedrooms for four make this private rental a reasonable option for groups.

Closer to the city, Castaways on the Lake houses its own sea wall and outdoor dining deck in a three bedroom house big enough for most tournament travelers. The private listing features a mega-sized concrete parking pad big enough to hold a pair of bass boats and benefits from quick, easy access to an abundance of restaurants closer to Detroit itself.

Eats and treats

Known for its lively atmosphere and Cajun-inspired dishes, Fishbone’s in St. Clair Shores offers a succulent blackened redfish seared to create a crispy crust, and served with a zesty creole sauce.

Wyandontte’s Little Pierogi & Crepe Kitchen specializes in Eastern European comfort food in a charming setting. Try their signature pierogi platter, featuring a variety of pillowy pierogies stuffed with classic fillings like potato and cheese, served with caramelized onions and sour cream.

Belle Isle Pizza has your deep dish fix with a delectable menu of pies ranging from bbq chicken pizza with ricotta bbq sauce, chives and caramelized onions to an in-house spin on a meat lovers and a veggie-friendly spinach artichoke pie.

Sandwich lovers can belly up to an acclaimed St. Clair Reuben at Nautical Deli. A block from the waterfront in St. Clair Shores, the Nautical Deli dishes out sandwiches and soups—including a pick two combo—that pair well with house made Greek and lakeshore salads.

Dine on the lake at Watermark Bar & Grille, where diablo burgers, pesto chicken flat breads and pomade lobster mac n’ cheese take center stage on a menu best served with a lakeside breeze. In summer months, the Watermark’s patio is a go-to spot for sunset hangs by St. Clair.

Score the catch of a lifetime? At St. Clair, monster smallmouth are not unheard of, and a well-earned treat could be in order for a personal best. Consider hot-footing into Detroit for Grey Ghost. Wedged between Brush Park and Midtown, this upscale new American eatery named for the most notorious rum running pirate on the Detroit River specializes in craft cocktails, exquisite steaks and savory plates like short rib dumplings brimming with rhubarb, bone marrow and jalapeño.