Memorial Day Weekend offers great fishing in West Michigan

The transition from spring to summer marks some of the best fishing of the year for a variety of species in local waters. With mild weather in the forecast, it should be a pleasant weekend for a family bank fishing trip or an excursion onto the big lake.

Inland lakes and backwaters along major rivers provide good fishing for bluegill. Sight fishing for bluegill over their dish-shaped nests is popular on sandy flats with moderate weed growth. Bluegill begin spawning when water temperatures reach 65˚F. If the main body of your favorite lake is still a bit cool, check shallow bays for bluegill bedding activity or fish with small jigs or live bait in five to ten feet of water. 

Bass season opens on Saturday, and a variety of options are available for largemouth and smallmouth bass. Both species feed heavily at this time of year and fall for a variety of lures. Look for largemouth bass in shallow weeds that become denser as summer progresses. Large rivers can also be productive for bass at this time of year. Fish shad-imitating crank baits near steep banks or on flats where baitfish activity is observed for fast action. Smallmouth bass prefer current and/or rocks. Goby-imitating tube jigs fished near bridges or rip rap can be deadly in river mouth areas.  

Other warm water species begin their pre-spawn feeding binge as water warms into the high 60s. Channel catfish are active all day long in muddy rivers like the Grand, Kalamazoo, and St. Joseph. While most people think of catfish as bottom feeders that prefer stinky concoctions of cheese and liver, they are opportunistic omnivores that can be surprisingly aggressive at this time of year. Freshly dead fish, minnows, shrimp, and nightcrawler harnesses are all effective. Deep holes with moderate current are most productive.

Carp and freshwater drum can provide fast action and big fish for young anglers and old. Stillfishing with canned corn is a sure way to hook carp at this time of year as they gather near shallow spawning flats and creek mouths. Freshwater drum, also known as sheepshead, are more aggressive than carp and regularly bite lures including crankbaits, spoons, and jigs intended for bass or walleye. Look for drum along piers and over hard bottoms in river mouth lakes.

Steelhead are done spawning in most rivers, but a few can still be found in the Muskegon river and other cold rivers farther to the north.  Several species of redhorse suckers are also spawning in similar areas, and drifting egg patterns can produce a mixed bag of redhorse, stream-dwelling brown and rainbow trout, and the occasional steelhead.

Fishing trout and salmon in Lake Michigan is another option this weekend. Fishing has been good to great in St. Joseph, Saugatuck, Holland, and Grand Haven. Chinook salmon are running larger than expected for this time of year with 18-20 pound fish being caught in good numbers. 

Check the Coastwatch site from Michigan State University Extension for surface temperatures and contact a local tackle shop for the latest report before planning a trip on the big lake. The nearshore marine forecast from the National Weather Service is also necessary to ensure a safe day on the water.

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