Mike McKinstry, Feelfree pro and media star, has been fishing Lake St. Clair in Michigan since he was a kid. Even as a pro, he returns to his native water a few times a month. McKinstry has traveled the country, but he scored his biggest smallmouth in his own backyard, a 21-and-a-half inch mossback. With a wealth of great fishing, smallie savants will want to give Lake St. Clair a look.

Kayak Fishing Lake St. Clair

Driving through the industrial center of Detroit, a world-class fishing destination is the last thing on my mind. Covering 403 square miles, connecting Lake Erie and the Detroit River and bordering Canada and the United States, Lake St. Clair has an average depth of 11 feet and a maximum depth of only 27 feet, making it an ideal location for smallmouth bass. Trophy smallies grow to 20 inches and over five pounds, attracting anglers to the lake.

Mike McKinstry kayak fishing for bass on Lake St. Clair, Michigan
Land yourself some Motor City smallmouth. | Feature photo: Mike McKinstry

The largest freshwater delta in the Great Lakes produces clear water but vegetation is sparse, leaving large open areas of hard, sandy bottom smallmouth favor for chasing prey.

Tired of targeting trophy smallmouth? Turn your attention to walleye, perch, muskie, northern pike and largemouth bass. Whatever your fancy, you can find great fishing in sight of downtown Detroit.


Lakeside Fishing Shop for best lures and local information.

Where to Stay

Hampton Inn and Suites, Detroit/Chesterfield Turnpike, is a great value and close to Metro Park, one of the best launches.

Where to Eat

The Detroit Pepper Company, 17180 E Warren Ave. Takes its name from the don’t-miss stuffed pepper.

What Fish are Biting?

Smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, perch, rock bass, northern pike, muskie.

Lake St. Clair Fishing Season

April to November is open water with December to March reserved for ice fishing. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides the 2021 Fishing Season dates for various species.

All Rigged Up

For smallmouth bass, a seven-foot, medium-heavy FX Custom rod with a fast tip with a 300 Abu Garcia STX reel. Spool the reel with 12-pound Trilene fluorocarbon or 10-pound X9 Berkley braid and a 12-inch fluorocarbon leader.

Clear water and heavy fishing pressure dictate stealthy fluorocarbon line and life-like lures. A dark tube lure on a quarter- to 3/8-ounce jig is a go-to favorite. Ned rigs and Z-Man finesse baits in natural crawfish color are candy for big bass. Fish finesse jigs with a 3000-series spinning combo and 10-pound braided line.

Kayak Fishing Gear for Lake St. Clair

This is a big lake that has very rapid changes in weather with storms coming across from Canada. In a half-hour, I have seen weather go from perfectly calm and sunny to dangerous winds, white caps and overcast.

A larger kayak over 12 feet long and 34 inches wide provides stability to stay upright in heavy winds, waves and boat wakes. To fight moving water, a pedal drive will cover distance in any conditions. FeelFree’s Dorado with Overdrive motor and pedal system offers options for powering through the conditions.

Fishing Game Plan

A typical day on Lake St. Clair starts around 7 a.m. Launch at sun-up to catch the shallow water warming with the sunrise. Moving water and smooth, sandy bottom, expect to cover three to five miles looking for a drop off holding bass or panfish.

The best spots are subtle drop offs with sporadic structure where predators can ambush prey. Pack warm, dry clothes for a sudden weather change. Bring snacks and water for a long day out and have plenty of tackle since the toothy fish are bait thieves. Be ready for a fun day that may require patience between bites.

This article was first published in the Winter 2020 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

Land yourself some Motor City smallmouth. | Feature photo: Mike McKinstry



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