Plenty of panfish in Lake County’s Big Bass Lake
Panfish populations are thriving in Lake County’s Big Bass Lake. Just don’t expect to catch many namesakes. The lake is loaded with small bass under 14 inches, but big bass are tough to come by.
“Big Bass Lake remains an excellent destination for anglers, particularly those with an interest in panfish. Angler reports for those species remain positive,” wrote DNR fisheries biologist Mark Tonello in a report following a 2018 survey of the fishery in Big Bass
“Other than largemouth bass, the 2018 MDNR fisheries survey of Big Bass Lake found healthy fish populations. Good numbers of keeper sized bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, black crappie and yellow perch are available and growth rates for those species were above average.”
In an effort to reduce the bass population and, hopefully, grow a few bigger fish, the DNR dropped the minimum size limit to 10 inches.
“Since largemouth bass in Big Bass Lake rarely grow to 14 inches, the 10-inch minimum size limit allows anglers the opportunity to harvest the smaller bass for human consumption. The regulation has been popular with anglers,” Tonello wrote.
If the size structure wasn’t bad enough, largemouth bass virus (LMBV) has also been found in the bass population on Big Bass Lake. Although LMBV has been known to cause fish kills in some lakes, none have been reported in Big Bass and the virus is not known to infect humans.
“It is incumbent upon anglers to help slow or stop the spread of largemouth bass virus,” Tonello said. “In particular, anglers can help by not illegally transporting fish from one lake to another.”
Big Bass Lake is located in northwest Lake County about 12 miles north of the town of Baldwin. It covers 290 acres and features a maximum depth of 45 feet. The lake has an irregular shape with lots of points, bays, islands and sunken islands, as well as plenty of drop-offs and aquatic vegetation.
It’s one of the better lakes in this area as far as structure. Aquatic vegetation is abundant, especially in the shallow areas. Unfortunately that vegetation includes invasive Eurasian milfoil. The local lake association, under a DNR permit, conducts aquatic nuisance weed treatments annually to keep the milfoil in check.
The only drawback to fishing the lake is that the shoreline is developed with homes and cottages and most of the homeowners also own a boat. The lake receives a lot of recreational use.
The good news for anglers is that high speed boating is restricted to between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. so there is some quiet time for anglers.
Management practices on Big Bass Lake date back to the late 1920s. Bluegills, perch, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass were stocked in Big Bass between 1929 and 1944. Since then, only fathead minnows have been stocked in the lake, and those have come from the Big and Little Bass Lake Association.
In the most recent DNR survey of the lake, biologists found lots of bass, although most were undersized. There were good numbers of bluegills, perch and pike, and fair numbers of crappies, sunfish and rock bass.
Bluegill was the most abundant species captured in the DNR nets in the 2018 survey. They ranged up to 10 inches and averaged 5.4. The survey also found good numbers of largemouths, again they only reached 14 inches and averaged just 10. There were good numbers of yellow perch up to 12 inches with an average of 7.3.
The nets also turned up decent numbers of black crappies to 13 inches (averaged 8.7), rock bass up to 10 (averaged 6.3), and pumpkinseed sunfish to 7 (averaged 6).
There were light numbers of northern pike up to 28 inches.
“Although northern pike were not well represented in the 2018 survey, angler reports indicate a viable fishery in the lake, with some very large northern pike present,” Tonello wrote. “Northern pike are often pursued in the winter through the ice by spear fishers and anglers fishing with tip ups.”
According to the DNR’s Master Angler records, since 2012 two bluegills from Big Bass Lake that meet MA requirements have been registered – 10.25 inches and 11.50 inches.
Local anglers target the northeast end of the lake for panfish throughout the year. Wax worms, leaf worms and crickets produce good results on the bluegills and sunfish while the perch and crappies are fond of minnows and wigglers.
For pike, anglers troll crankbaits or spinners along the weedbeds in the southeast corner of the lake. In the winter, pike anglers set tip-ups baited with sucker minnows along the drop-offs.
Bass can be caught all over the lake on soft plastics, crankbaits and top-water presentations. Live bait including crawlers, minnows and leeches are also great options.
Public access to Big Bass Lake is available through a DNR boat launch located on the southwestern lobe of the lake. The site has a hard surface boat launch with one skid pier, a pit toilet, and parking for 10 vehicles and trailers. Aside from the DNR access site, riparian land ownership on Big Bass Lake, including the islands, is private.
— Bill Parker
Big Bass Lake
Nearest town Sable
Surface water area 290 acres
Maximum depth 45 feet
Water clarity Clear
Fish species present:
Black crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, yellow perch, northern pike, yellow bullhead, brown bullhead.
DNR district fisheries office (231) 775-9727, the DNR web site www.michigan.gov/dnr, Ed’s Sport Shop, (231) 745-4974.