TRAVERSE CITY — Chris Noffsinger set the hook, then skated a 14-inch smallmouth bass to the boat.
“We could catch 100 like this, 12 to 14 inches, if we were to go up into the shallows,” said Noffsinger, whose 21-foot Nitro was rocking on the waves in Grand Traverse Bay in 14 feet of water. “We could catch them until our arms are sore. But there have been some better fish out here.”
He was right; just minutes later, I set the hook on a fish in the three-pound class.
Noffsinger, who guides bass anglers here and on inland waters in the area, has built a national reputation for catching good smallmouths. He and his clients have caught 11 that weighed better than six pounds so far this season and one over seven, he said.
“The big ones have been a little harder to come by lately, though,” he noted.
That figures. Post-spawn, the big ones seem to almost disappear until fall. But there’s a world of two- to four-pounders out here and, for the most part, they are fat, feisty and willing.
We were fishing with tubes along swatches of sand grass in the ultra-clear water of Grand Traverse Bay, a body of water that has long been known for lake trout and whitefish, but has been getting increasing attention as a smallmouth bass hot spot in recent years. The pumpkin-colored tubes we were using, Noffsinger said, are the best bet for what’s going on — a goby bite.
“They’re feeding on gobies big time,” said Noffsinger. “We went from a jerk-bait bite to a goby bite pretty quick this year.”
Noffsinger, 38, has been a professional angler almost his whole life. He started out working as a mate on charter boats as a young teen and, except for a stint in the army, has been at it non-stop. He’s attracted his share of attention on the bass-fishing scene since he switched over from salmonids about eight years ago.