Fishing 'The Bay'By Steve Huber - April 1, 1999
What many people don't realize is that there is a fantastic "cool water" fishery and that's it's easily accessable. You have to keep a sharp eye on the weather but it is fishable from most angler's boats. Caution is definately the watchword here as the "Bay" can and does whip up fast. There is quite a population of large walleye, as well as northern pike, but what intrigued me the most was the smallmouth bass fishing. You see, Chequomegon Bay, near Ashland, Wisconsin is chock full of 17" to 22" smallmouth bass.
This water is being managed for trophy fish, pike under 26" are to be released and only one per day is allowed to be kept. The smallmouth season is catch and release only until the third Saturday in June and then only one fish is allowed and that MUST BE OVER 22 INCHES!! That's right, 22 inches, we're talking about releasing 5 pound fish!! But don't despair, when we were there, we caught so many big bass that we didn't even mind slipping 4 pounders over the side. Where else can you go and have a legitimate shot at a 6 to 8 pound smallmouth?
The first time we fished the "Bay", it was much shallower than we expected it, much of the water is in the five to ten foot depth range. Along much of the shoreline, you'll have to go 100 yards or more from shore before you'll find water deeper than 3 feet. There are several rivers that flow into the bay, carrying red clay and silt, making the water darker than I would have thought. Casting, trolling and live bait rigging all work here. It doesn't matter what type of fishing you prefer, if you take an intelligent approach to this water, you'll catch fish. Spinnerbaits, especially silver and chartreuse seem to work well, as do smelt imitating twitch baits.
In the spring, the fish will be shallow, scattered and very catchable. 3 to 5 pound bass abound and I guarantee you, when conditions are right, your arms will wear out before the fish stop. It isn't unusual to catch 100 to 150 smallies in a day! It's a topwater fanatic's paradise. Even though much of the water is colored, it is still clear enough for sight fishing. Rebel Pop R's, standard Rapalas and Zara Spooks work well. What a thrill to watch a hog smallie stalk your lure and blow up on it!! But when a front hits, you'll have to back out and work for them a little bit.
If you can find deeper water with cover, you'll find the bass. In this area, it's not hard to find. Around Ashland, there are numerous pilings, leftover from the days when ore freighters plied these waters. Talk about ready-made fish structure. The water is deep, with the necessary protection that the bass desire. It is simple to work a Lindy Rig along the pilings, keeping an eye on the locator. Slowly work the boat along these edges and if a concentration of fish is noted, vertical jig it with a simple round head jig and Berkely Power Grub. The smallies really like this combo and you'll pick up the bonus walleye.
We've fished this water in several different weather patterns and we've done well each and every time. There is a long boulder/rubble breakwall in water that ranges from 12 to 28 feet. Cast spinnerbaits up against the rocks and work them out. Smallies love to hide in the cracks and shoot out, slamming the lure. Twitched crankbaits work here too. At each end, the water seems to drop off into a hole, at these points, a jig/live bait or Power Grub combo works well as does a dragged Lindy Rig. Along the sides of the breakwall, there are large weedbeds that the northern pike love to hide in. Again, a spinnerbait worked over the tops of the weeds will reward you with a savage strike. The size of the pike here is unbelieveable!! I had one on that I know was in the twenty pound class that got off at the side of the boat and 15 minutes later, I had a strike from a pike in the 48 inch range, we're talking a pike that is pushing 30 pounds!! I was speechless (which for me is saying a lot), with trembling knees, I reeled in a spinnerbait that had been mauled into a stainless steel knot. I might just go back this summer with my musky tackle and concentrate on big "gators".
Speaking of tackle, standard walleye/bass tackle will handle most everything that you'll run into, just make sure that the line is fresh and the drag works. Believe me, with these smallmouth, the drag on your reel will definately get a work out. These guys just never give up.
So give Chequomegon Bay a try this year, just remember, The Bay is not forgiving, watch the weather and at the first sign of heavy wind or storms, get the &*$^% off the water.
If you try "The Bay", or would like to...give me a call or an e-mail, I'd like to hear from you.
Until next time, see ya.