Wabasis Lake's bass better than expected

  Dave Mull photoJeff Gilliland was thrilled to catch this 20-inch largemouth Tuesday night at Wabasis Lake.

You could hear the howls of happy victory from the other side the 418-acre lake.

In the last few minutes of the three-hour kayak bass fishing competition Tuesday evening, Jeff Gilliland was whooping it up. He had just roped a 20-inch largemouth by ripping a 3/8-ounce chatterbait off the bottom in 25 feet of water.

“This is the biggest bass I’ve caught in a long time,” he told me as I eased over for some photos. “I thought it was a pike at first by the way he pulled out the drag. I was sure I was gonna lose him and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy and relieved to get a fish in the kayak.”

The fish ended up winning the $75 big fish pot and helped Gilliland to a third place finish among the 20 anglers who competed in the Tuesday night Topwater Series contest on Wabasis Lake.

I was among the competitors and finished a disappointing 10th place. Disappointing because the previous Saturday, Gilliland and I had caught a bunch of nice fish from this pretty lake, largely undeveloped and just northeast of Grand Rapids.

Matt Pyatt, a bowling ball of a bass angler whose accent immediately lets you know he’s originally from Tennessee, had little good to say about Wabasis Lake before we had our small kayak tournament there.

“This tournament is going to be a dink-fest,” Pyatt predicted several times, meaning anglers would only catch smallish bass. He lives in nearby Greenville, which gave credence to his prediction. “Every once in a while you get a big one.”

Pyatt leads the Topwater Series “Angler of the Year” race by virtue of finishing second place in four of the six weekly contests, including Tuesday’s tournament at Wabasis. I don’t know why he thought it would be a tournament dominated by barely legal fish of around 12 inches (legal to photograph and submit in our “Catch-Photo-Release” contests).

Wabasis produced the kind of bass action that made me want to go back soon. Saturday I’d caught an 18 incher, three 16 inchers, and several fish in the 14 to 15-inch range. None could have been considered dinks.

My problem Tuesday was getting the fifth keeper. I had caught four with a half hour left to go, but apparently was just in the wrong spot, a place void of keeper fish. One true, indisputable rule in fishing imparted to me by walleye pro Mike McClelland is “You can’t catch fish if they ain’t there.”

I apparently was fishing an area void of keeper bass.

Along with bass, the lake also has a good panfish fishery and also receives regular stockings of walleyes, making those a fairly common catch.

The lake is also loaded with northern pike. I encountered two on Tuesday night. The first was a small “hammer handle” that I netted and quickly released. The second was an impressive beast that came to the surface, agonizingly close to where I could net him. Inches away from my net, he bit through my line and swam away with what had been my most productive jig.

That just solidified my opinion that Wabasis is a wonderful place to fish.

Add in the clean, well-appointed campground in the Wabasis Lake Park and you’ve got the makings of a fishing vacation that you don’t have to drive far to enjoy.

To learn more about the camping opportunities, check out www.kentcountyparks.org/wabasislakecampground.

The Topwater tournaments cost just $30 to enter and feature a small group of anglers that exhibit the kind of camaraderie that prevails in kayak fishing. There are six more to go in the Topwater Series this summer. The next one is this Tuesday at Murray Lake, which is a clear deep piece of water just a little ways south of Wabasis.

If you’re interested in fishing one of these kayak tournaments, check out the Topwater Trail Series Presented by Berkley Facebook page.

Outdoors columnist Dave Mull lives in Paw Paw. Write to him at dave.sportfish.mull@gmail.com.