Searching for smallmouth on Elk and Skegemog

Dave Mull holds a smallmouth bass that was caught on Elk Lake on Thursday.

Hopefully, none of my neighbors in Southern Michigan will be offended when I say this, but Northern Michigan is just so nice and so different.

The light through the atmosphere seems to make everything brighter and clearer than one sees around the southern tier of counties.

I mentioned my envy to Dave Rose, a longtime friend who grew up on the shores of Elk Lake.

Dave took me around to look at different areas of Elk and Skegemog Lake on Thursday, which is attached through short narrows.

Now a full-time outdoor writer and health coach (he helped me lost 60 pounds since January and lost 130 himself), Dave has done a lot of guiding on the two lakes.

I needed to get some quick information before the Michigan Kayak Trail State Championship. As you read this on Sunday morning, yours truly will be bobbing around on either Elk or Skegemog in my Old Town Predator in the second day of the event, hopefully catching bass. Big bass.

First place includes cash, a new kayak, and some other sponsor products totaling about $4,500 in value.

It would be nice to win that.

The two lakes are not far from Traverse City and several nearby towns offer accommodations. I found a room at the North Country American Inn – not exactly a five-star hotel – but quiet and comfortable.

My roommate is Dustin Murguia, a school teacher from Forest Park, Illinois, who is one of the best anglers on our MKT circuit.

He has won two Hobie kayaks as part of first-place prizes: one in the 2017 championship and the other in the Grand River event earlier the same year.

I figured between Rose showing me some areas and spending time with Dustin, perhaps absorbing some extra fishing ability through osmosis or something, I should be in good shape for the tournament. 

Elk and Skegemog are known in bass circles for producing lots of big smallmouth bass. Friends of mine have been coming up here in the fall for many years, returning with tales of giants.

Dustin already confirmed that giants exist in his first day on Elk Thursday. When I called him on my way up (it’s slightly less than three hours straight up U.S. 131 from Kalamazoo) he said he’d caught 93 inches worth of smallies for five fish—almost a 19-inch average.

A little later I got a text alert and saw it was from Dustin. 

“Dude,” it read. “I shattered my personal best. This may be close to 7.5 pounds.”

That was followed by a selfie that showed him holding a true monster of a smallmouth. The fact Dustin came to a lake he’d never seen before and caught a fish like that on his first day was simply amazing.

I met Dave Rose at the same ramp on Skegemog where Dustin had launched and we took off in his 17-foot MirroCraft boat.

The first destination was through the narrows and into Elk and on to the other side. Here, Dave said, was an area that had patches of rock, some scattered weed beds, and submerged logs.

It was one of his favorite areas to take clients and on his first cast with a drop-shot rig, he showed why by catching a small smallmouth.

Easing us along a large flat in about 9 feet of water, he alternated between the drop-shot worm and a crankbait.

He connected again with a bigger smallmouth of about 14 inches, and just as I was about to change the pink Ned Rig I was throwing, I felt a tug and quickly landed a fish of about 12 inches.

Those three would be the only ones we would catch as Dave showed me some other areas with wood and rock, noting which ones had been particularly productive for clients.

Whether or not I do well in the tournament, Elk and Skegemog are lakes I want to come back to.

Maybe I’ll catch a beast like Dustin’s, but certainly, I’ll enjoy the two lovely lakes and the Northern Michigan light that makes them even more beautiful.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at