Everyone thinks of Lake Michigan as being a place to go for salmon and trout. It truly is the number one destination in northeastern Illinois for perch, that’s for sure. But only a few seem to consider going on Lake Michigan for smallmouth bass. Lake Michigan is really an untapped fishery when it comes to smallies and you should consider giving it a try at least once.
The Illinois shorelines of Lake Michigan stretch from Wisconsin to Indiana and it really doesn’t matter where you fish. You will find smallmouth bass just about everywhere along the rocky shores.
But one of my favorite places to fish is just outside of downtown Chicago. What a spectacular view you have of the city’s lakefront. With all the skyscrapers, the traffic, and joggers, it’s easy to loose your concentration on the fishing. But yet, when that first smallie hooks up at the end of the line, you forget all about that. You'll find yourself getting into the some of the best urban fishing in the country.
Most all of the lakefront downtown has rock, wood or concrete walls. These areas are full of crayfish and they’re the main forage for the smallies. Crays will be in the rocks or the cracks of the walls. A little wave action will push these crustaceans into places were the smallies can get to them.
Along the walls, toss crayfish plastics, jigs with twister tails, tubes or beaver baits right up to and along the edges of them. Let the bait fall straight down so it looks like a crayfish that fell out of a crack and is falling to the bottom. Smallies will jump on them during the slow drop.
Let your line hang loose so the bait falls vertically. If the line is tight, the bait will swing back toward your boat and away from the wall and out of the strike zone. Once the bait reaches the bottom, just quickly crank it in because once it is away from the wall. The fish in most instances will not go after it when it’s 3 or 4 feet away from the vertical structure.
Plastics are the most productive baits for Chicago’s downtown lakefront. Crankbaits can be used, however try to keep your retrieve close and parallel to the walls as possible.
If you come upon some wood pilings, fish around them too. Where walls meet in a corner, be them inside or outside corners, fish up tight to them as well. Where wood and concrete meet, place your baits there as those gaping joints are the home of crays.
On the rocky breakwalls off shore, get your bait to the edge of the rock and drag is slowly across the bottom. Your bait should look like a crawfish coming out of the rocks to the open sandy bottom of the lake. Once your bait is a few feet off the rocks, bring it in and cast again.
Colors for baits can be critical. Dark greens and browns will work the best. Sometimes you may need to have some glitter in the plastic to give it a little something extra. Red glitter works well in the spring and silvers and golds work well later on in the season on bright or cloudy days respectively.
Early spring is good for smallies. And although you may think that June is a bit late for good smallmouth bass fishing, it really isn’t. Lake Michigan is traditionally cooler than the other inland lakes. Water on the shore side of breakwalls will be a bit warmer than that on the lake side. So you may find that sometimes that the fish will be congregated on one side of the wall instead of the other.
Access to the lakefront can be from any of the Chicago park district harbors. You can learn more about the Chicago harbors by visiting www.ChicagoHarbors.info. Access is also available from the south suburbs with a long run from the Alsip or Worth ramps on the CalumetRiver. Run west to the Sanitary and Ship Canal, then east to the Chicago River and through downtown Chicago and the Chicago River locks. This is a long run but doable for a full day of fishing.
The ramps in Alsip and Worth going east will get you to the O’Brian Locks. It’s about a 12 mile run then another 7 to the lake front. Fishing the 95th Street reciprocal area is also good for smallies.
Needless to say we have to watch the weather when heading out on Lake Michigan in the smaller boats. Rough weather will make it impossible to fish the shorelines safely and effectively, but there will be plenty of days where fishing in this urban setting will be just spectacular.
Remember this when heading out to the lakefront to fish for smallmouth bass. You don’t need a lot of tackle. A variety of plastics will do just fine. Working jigs with twister tails, crays, beaver baits or grubs will catch fish. Tubes dropped along walls will get that reaction strike because you tricked the smallie in thinking that a crayfish has fallen out of the cracks.
Look for changing structure because this is where the fish hang out to wait for food to come their way. Hunt a little bit for the smallies and you definitely will find them.
Many of the diehard smallmouth bass anglers who fish the Chicago lakefront are confident that the new state record smallie is out there waiting for them. Many anglers have come very close and this could be the time where a new record could be caught. If you’ve never fished for smallies here before, now is the time to give it a try. Whether you catch one or two or a dozen or more, you’ll surely agree that with the Chicago lakefront just down the road and that makes great fishing is not that far away.