We talk to Chris King Outdoors in this interview. Chris is an avid Michigan bass fisherman. We discuss his favorite Michigan waters to fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as his favorite baits to use.
How long have you been fishing?
I began fishing when I was just a young boy in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s in rural Mid-Michigan rivers and streams. I was very fortunate to have parents that loved being on the water. Whether they were fishing or not, they were always teaching about taking care of nature in general. There is something special about canoeing backwoods rivers, where no man can be found for several miles!
I had the adventurer bug really young. Fishing was always more on my end than my father’s but he loved to get me out there. I would do the rest.
I started out as a lot of young kids did with push button Zebco rods, rode my bike down to the local river and caught anything from brook trout, to bluegill and smallmouth bass. I would stay there way past sundown, against my mothers will. I would spend every free moment I had practicing casting, re-organizing lures, reading BASSMASTER magazine, watching the great old fishing shows like Bill Dance and Roland Martin.
I continued to hone my skills and learn new techniques through my school years. I eventually moved up to baitcasters and spinning reels by the time I was 7 or so. Many years have flown past and now I am a father myself and even more than ever head over heels into fishing.
I spend the vast majority of my time on the water chasing smallmouth and largemouth bass, filming and sharing those adventures with all sorts of fishing nuts across the country. I compete in a lot of local level tournaments, but am making my first run at fishing the FLW BFL Michigan Division this season as a co-angler. It is a huge step for me, but one that I have been ready for my whole life.
What are your favorite Michigan waters to target largemouth bass?
I have a few favorites that setup with the conditions in every anglers favor, no matter how much fishing pressure there has been. My top 5 inland lakes for Largemouth would have to be, in no particular order:
#5 – Martini Chain of Lakes, Barryton, Michigan – This body of water is enormous, with 7 different lakes connecting via channels. It is diverse with natural forage, large uninhabited sections of land surround every lake offering abundant wildlife and scenery to fit any fishing show. There is no shortage of big bass here either. From lake to lake, you’re able to navigate and find feeding fish in any condition. This place is a topwater fisherman’s dream.
#4 – Gun Lake, “Yankee Springs Recreational Area”, Kalamazoo, MI – Gun Lake is one of my favorites because of the ample opportunities to fish different styles and catch huge bass at any end of the lake. Finesse fishing there in the summer can be some of the highest numbers of largemouth you’ll catch all year, with days well over 50 fish in the boat. The Yankee Springs area has several small lakes within a few miles of each other that all have big largemouth bass.
#3 – Fletcher’s Floodwaters, Alpena, Michigan – This place is an anglers dream, a 9,000 acre, man made lake, filled with Master Angler sized largemouth. The highest numbers of Master Angler sized Largemouth in the state have been recorded here over the years. It’s full of stumps, which big fish absolutely love to live around.
#2 – Wixom Lake, Beaverton, Michigan- This huge lake is full of giant bass of both species and hosts many large tournaments every year, for a good reason. You can easily find your personal best on this lake. With more water than the average angler could cover in a day, it has it all.
#1- Sugar Springs, Gladwin,Michigan – If I had to put one at the top, it would be this one. There are some magical days on this lake where you can catch 25lbs in your best 5 largemouth and catch over 50 plus fish in the same day. And that’s no fluke. It consistently produces giant bass and high numbers day after day. Another popular stop on the larger local tournament circuits. You can literally spend the entire day fishing this lake and continually find new fish to catch. It’s got a variety of cover and more jig targets than you can count.
You also appear to love catching Michigan smallies. What are your favorite waters to target smallmouth?
I love fishing for inland smallmouth so much. It’s addictive. Once you’ve hooked into a 5 plus pound smallie your rod is about to go through the fight of it’s life. If I had to put a few bodies of water into that favorite category for me, I would have to use the same approach as I would with my favorite largemouth lakes and give you a top 5 in no particular order.
#5 – Houghton Lake, Roscommon, Michigan – This giant of a lake holds every species you can imagine, including big smallmouth bass. Dropshoting around weedbeds far off shore can produce some enormous lake smallmouth in the heat of the summer.
#4- Lake Winyah, Alpena, Michigan – An inlet of Lake Huron, this lake fills with huge smallmouth on the river side that will destroy any jig or tube thrown at them. You can find giant largemouth up the lake as well, which is where I prefer to launch my bass boat due to ample parking for trailers. This place is an anglers dream, with scenery straight out of a BASSMASTER Magazine!
#3-Hubbard Lake, Alpena, MI – Another amazing northern Michigan lake filled to the brim with big smallmouth. This place is a stop for Pro’s on the MLF Tour for a great reason, its loaded with pigs.
#2-The Pine River, Alma, Michigan – This river has gotten a bad rap over the years due to high levels of ecoli via upstream farming operations, but the river is full of giant smallmouth and largemouth bass. I caught my personal best smallmouth here weighing 5.6lbs in the fall of 2016. It’s not out of the ordinary to find a 20+lb bag of smallmouth here and the fish are very healthy despite the “warnings”.
#1 The Titabawasee River, Midland, Michigan – As far as numbers and size go, this place takes the cake! Personal bests lay just around the corner all the time, with two rivers joining together and flowing towards Lake Huron, giant smallmouth are abundant and always very eager to feed. Many of YouTube videos have been filmed there. It can be a seasonal body of water, meaning spring and fall are by far the best time to target smallmouth there as the fish tend to leave that stretch of water throughout the summer and return in the early fall to feed.
One thing that really impresses me is how versatile of an angler you are. So I want to focus questions on various techniques that you use. I love your black Rebel Pop R. That bait looks like it has provided you a lot of great fishing. Black is a unique color. When do you throw it?
I like how you noticed that Pop-R color. That is, in my opinion, the most under rated color on the market. Therefore, you rarely ever seen a straight black lure, let alone a topwater lure.
I am hear to tell you, on cloudy days when the fish are able to see long distances without sunlight interference, that black Pop-R is like a magnet for them. They cannot resist striking aggressively at it. I discovered that was going to be one of the best baits I had ever owned right after I received it as part of the gifts you receive with being a BASSMASTER Member. That particular color is an exclusive color and can’t be bought in stores.
I change the hooks once a year on it, and I have caught so many bass on cloudy days that it is now starting to wear the black paint right off the back. Custom painted black top water lures are the way to go on cloudy days, until the rest of the lure making world catches on.
The key to working a Pop-R is casting it in the right spot. So many times they will strike it right when it hits the water. Long casts adjacent to weedlines and cover such as docks and bridges are the highest percentage casting spots to target. But some fish take a few looks at a bait to get aggressive enough to strike at it. On windy days take your time and work it slowly. Multiple casts to the same target can be effective.
Which Evilution baits are your favorites to throw?
I really take a liking to the Wicked RS Spinner Bait and the Finesse Jigs. Both are made with quality Mustad hooks and hand made right here in the USA. After a few smallmouth, a spinnerbait can get pretty torn up and bent but not these. They are durable and take a beating.
The Finesse jigs are a bad little lure too. I love to pair these up with a small profile craw trailer like a YUM Craw Papi trimmed down to match smaller profile cold water crawfish. That little finesse jig shines in the fall when they want a craw bait but don’t want a larger profile like I would throw during the spring and summer months. The keys to both of these baits is matching the forage that the fish are feeding on, such as perch, bluegill, baitfish, gobies or crawfish.
You did a video on fishing the Ned Rig. The video covers a lot. What do you consider the three most important things that anglers need to know about fishing a Ned Rig?
I would have to say the first thing would be slowing down, this bait is slow and methodical. It doesn’t take much to lift the jig off of the bottom with such small finesse size jig heads. They are lightweight. But if fished with straight fluorocarbon or braid with a fluorocarbon leader they are very sensitive baits, so you feel the lightest bites. Taking your time is key.
The second most important thing would be using buoyant plastics such as the Zman TRD Worms, that are designed to stand vertical once under water. That presentation resembles various forage that smallmouth and largemouth both cannot resist. Other plastics can be effective but not to the degree that bouyant plastics are.
The third most important thing and maybe the most important overall is hookset. These hooks are tiny, ranging from sizes like 1/16 to 1/8 oz sizes. Meaning they lack the ability to absorb violent hooksets. The method best for hooking and landing Ned Rig bass, is to just simply lifting the rod and leaning backwards into the fish. The fish will eat the jig with the hook facing towards the top of it’s mouth 90% of the time. Once you lean back into that bite…they are hooked. Make sure you have your drag set loose as you need as much play as you can get to feather the bigger bass into the boat.
Do you have any favorite Ned Rig baits or jig heads?
I love the orignial Zman lineup of Ned Rig Jigs AKA Shroomz. The Shroomz come in a few different colors and multiple sizes. They tend to get worn out after a while and lose their strength.
I have been sampling around with different Ned Rig jig heads and have found a few that I am starting to like. One is made by Mustad called the Grip Pin Jig Head Mushroom. A very stout Mustad hook and very sharp to keep punching through time after time.
And another I have recently found is made by Phoenix Lure Co. It is very similar to both of the other two but has a very strong bait keeper that I have been impressed with its durability. All are affordable and available online.
As far as favorite baits, I prefer the TRD Wormz and Tubez by Zman Company. They are designed to mimic baitfish, crawfish and more. They last for so long with the durable Elaztech plastic they use. I can make a package of TRD worms last for hundreds of hungry smallmouth. So they are very cost effective baits.
My favorite colors are natural colors in clear water, such as watermelon red flake or browns and oranges. In dirty or muddy water I will use two tone laminates with chartreuse belly, that gets the smallmouths attention quickly. They will feed aggressively on those colors.
Talk to us about your favorite swim jig.
I own many different brands but I really am taking a liking to the 2K Jigs Deposit Swim Jig in the past few years. This bad boy packs a punch and looks so realistic swimming through the water that fish cannot resist it.
I have lost count of all the fish this jig has put in the boat for me. Being it is so versatile, it can be matched up with different trailers like a Gambler Flapping Daddy, a Rage Swimmer, a Keitech swimbait, a ZOOM Fat Albert Grub or a Yamamoto Swim Senko.
Swim jigs for me are most effective during the spawn. When that silent ambushing jig swims past a bed, those big girls go crazy. But they are very useful anytime the bass are feeding on baitfish, or brim. Early mornings during the summer months can also be very effective for swimbaits as bass are up shallow pushing baitfish.
Finally, I must ask you about throwing frogs.
I have many lakes and rivers that I prefer a topwater frog on during the summer months for a number of reasons. The bass don’t always know that what I am throwing is a frog per se. A lot of times, they just see something on the surface and instinctively eat it.
Case in point, I use hollow belly frogs off shore all the time during the summer months and more than a half mile off shore sometimes. There are no frogs swimming that far out. But I use that same approach that I would up shallow near the shore with that same frog.
For the past several years I have used Medium Heavy, fast action bait caster rods paired with a high speed 7.0:1 or faster reel for winching those fish out of the slop. But a Heavy power rod is more appropriate if you’re fishing very heavy cover.
As far as line goes, I use nothing but 50 to 65lb braided line. With no need for stealthiness braid allows for long casts, sharp quick hooksets and extreme durability in the heaviest cover.
I love the River 2 Sea series of frogs and several other brands but my favorite is the Booyah Pad Crasher Series. They are durable, cost effective, and come in a variety of colors and patterns. I usually only use green, black, brown, yellow and white, but the most important part is the belly color. I try to use frogs with a yellow, white or orange belly. With so many forage species that it resembles, keeping natural colors is crucial. Keep it simple with frogs.
Now you can only throw one of the above baits during the entire 2018 open water season. Which one are you picking?
I would have to choose the Pop-R with so many sizes and colors to match forage available. They catch every species you can think of. Being 95% of the time I am bass fishing, they are key in my boat. I can throw them around docks, over submerged weed beds, rip rap walls, over stumps, etc. If there is an aggressive fish in that small area they will come up and inhale that bad boy.
I always have a variety of baits ready but the Pop-R and Spooks always come out first from spring until fall. If I can locate feeding fish on the Pop-R I will also keep a squarebill handy for those fish that want to chase bait but don’t want to commit to the surface. If fish are missing, I keep a soft plastic tube ready to pitch in behind a missed strike, one-two punch.
Who are your current sponsors and Pro Staff companies?
I currently am Pro Staff for Evilution Lures, Skoll Gear, Drophook App, and RAH Tackle Company. I am sponsored by Cowboy Coffee Chew Co. I strive to always better myself within the fishing community and as a tournament angler. Each company that I work with is one that is respected in the fishing community and produce quality products. I am always striving to reach for my goals of obtaining some bigger named sponsors. That is something that comes with hard work and dedication, both of which I am ready and willing to do to chase the dream!
Two things added to my fishing bucket list after this interview: 1) fish Michigan and 2) find a black Pop-R. For now, I will be following Chris King Outdoors on YouTube. Thanks Chris for adding these things to my bucket list and a fantastic interview.
Meet another Skoll Angler: Fishing with Ontario’s David Umpherson