Over the years, I have encountered several anglers who have as much fun jigging through a hole in the ice as they do casting from a boat. A few of these anglers include Mitch Johnson from Montague, Jesse Singleton from North Muskegon and Mark Martin from Twin Lake. Johnson owns and operates Johnson’s Great Outdoors, a sporting goods store in Montague. Johnson also fishes the FLW Walleye Circuit and knows a few things about putting walleyes in the boat and on the ice.
Photo by Tracy Breen.
Johnson grew up in Michigan and helped operate a sporting goods store from the time he was a young teenager. Growing up in the sporting goods industry, he quickly caught on to the type of ice-fishing tactics that work best and which lakes consistently produced fish.
Johnson has fished all over the state of Michigan and enjoys fishing Lake Cadillac when the lake first freezes over.
“Cadillac is usually cold enough that ice typically forms on the lake sometimes several weeks before I can fish the lake here around my home,” he explained.
Johnson largely targets panfish like bluegills but also enjoys catching crappies.
“We always fish close to town on the west end of the lake not far from shore, but there are a lot of good places to fish,” he said. “We usually use 4-foot rods with K&E jigs.
“During the early season, shortly after the ice forms, we can get away using large jigs. As the season progresses and the ice thickens, we usually switch to smaller jigs because there are more anglers fishing and the fish start to get more finicky. I normally fish with wax worms, spikes or wigglers.”
According to Johnson, early morning is when most anglers hit the ice on Lake Cadillac, but he said anglers who stick with it for most of the day are rewarded with more action.
“Early in the morning, anglers are usually out in force and typically jig very close to the bottom,” he explained. “Once the fish stop biting, many anglers go home for the day. One of the reasons panfish stop biting is because as the day progresses, they move up and are often suspended several feet off the bottom. They have not left, they just moved up. To find the fish, anglers need to move up their presentation and try again. When I find them again, I usually start catching them right away.”
Lake Cadillac can be accessed via the downtown dock and the city boat launch. Next to Lake Cadillac is Lake Mitchell, which is also a popular ice-fishing lake. While in the area, it may be worth your time to fish both lakes. Schafer’s Bait and Sporting Goods is conveniently located between the two lakes. They can be reached at (231) 775-7085. Contact the Cadillac Visitors Bureau at (800) 225-2537 or online at www.cadillacmichigan.com for more information.
Another lake Johnson enjoys fishing is called Mud Lake. It is close to his home and located east of Rothbury in Oceana County. This lake is relatively small but offers consistent fishing action all winter.
“The lake is only 15 or 20 acres in size, but it is a great place for pan-fishing that is close to Muskegon, Whitehall and Montague,” he said. “When we fish it when the ice first forms, we catch good-sized bluegills. During the late afternoon and early evening, we often find fish about 6 feet off the bottom. As the season progresses, the lake receives a lot of fishing pressure. We still catch fish, but we notice that during the middle of the season until we stop fishing the fish we catch are often smaller.”
Photo by Tracy Breen.
Mud Lake can be accessed on the south side of the lake where a small ramp is located. Most of the best fishing, according to Johnson, is on the other side.
“Most of the fishing on Mud Lake is done on the north side. I prefer the northeast corner for panfish,” he explained. One problem with Mud Lake is the large number of springs that can cause trouble for anglers.
“I enjoy fishing the lake, but I am always on the lookout for soft ice,” he said. “The springs in the lake cause some thin spots, even when there is lots of cold weather and the ice is very thick on most of the lake. Anglers need to be careful.”
If you need to know about ice conditions or are looking for bait, call Johnson’s Great Outdoors in Montague at (231) 893-6688. For lodging information, call White Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 879-9702 or visit www.whitelake.org.
Jesse Singleton from North Muskegon is a die-hard angler who ice-fishes all over the state for a variety of fish, including panfish and northern pike. He said Portage Lake, just north of Manistee, offers several species of fish. The lake often freezes early in the season, making it a sure bet for anglers who want to catch a variety of species.
“I enjoy fishing the dropoffs on the northeast side,” he said. “It drops off quite quickly and it is a great place to catch bluegills. I usually use wax worms and spikes on a small jig.
“Accessing the northeast side of the lake is extremely easy, thanks to a nearby public boat launch. My buddies and I were also able to catch a lot of pike while we were panfishing on the north side of the lake. We experienced great success with sucker minnows and tip-ups. Our average pike was 26 inches long, a nice size pike that is great for eating.”
Anglers who enjoy catching large perch will be happy fishing Portage Lake.
“On the west side of the lake, almost in the center and not far from the Lake Michigan Channel, you can find lots of perch in about 50 feet of water. I find wigglers and minnows work best on the perch,” Singleton advised.
For more information, call Zajac’s Bait and Tackle at (231) 723-5750. For lodging information, contact Benzie County Visitors Bureau at (800) 882-5801 or online at www.visitbenzie.com.
Muskegon Lake is one of Singleton’s favorite lakes to consistently catch fish through the ice.
“One of the best places to catch bluegills on Muskegon Lake is in front of Snug Harbor, near the state park,” Singleton said. “I usually park at the Weber Road launch and walk out about a quarter mile and catch a lot of fish in about 10 feet of water. In addition to bluegills, I often catch perch.”
His favorite rigs include wax worms, spikes, wigglers and a teardrop jig. Singleton enjoys fishing Muskegon Lake first thing in the morning or at dark.
“The fish seem to be most active at sunrise or sunset. The fishing seems to slow down during the middle of the day,” Singleton noted. During the prime times in the morning and evening, he regularly catches 7- and 8-inch bluegills, which are the perfect size for the frying pan.
Catching pike on Muskegon Lake is also common. When Singleton focuses his efforts on northerns, he parks on the north side of the lake at Second Street and uses tip-ups to put pike on the ice.
“Anywhere on the lake where you can find a substantial dropoff, you can typically find pike,” he said. “I usually fish in about 15 feet of water. In addition to Second Street, the mouth of Bear Lake channel is another prime location. Jigging for walleyes in front of Second Street is great because of the structure and slab wood that is submerged.”
There are two bait shops on Muskegon Lake. Both are near easy access points. Angler Archer is on the north side, near the state park and may be reached at (231) 744-5992. On the south side, you will find Shoreline Service Bait & Tackle, which can be reached at (231) 759-7254. For lodging information, call Muskegon County Visitors Bureau at (800) 250-9283 or online at www.visitmuskegon.org.
BIG BLUE LAKE
Singleton also fishes Big Blue Lake in northern Muskegon County in the winter. It is known as a super-clean lake. A large portion of the land bordering the lake is owned by the Boy Scouts, which helps keep development at bay. The lack of development helps keep the lake in pristine condition. Singleton’s favorite place to fish on Blue Lake is Turtle Bay. The bay is known for being crystal-clear and offers bluegill fishing through the ice and great crappie fishing.
“I like using demon glows and minnows for crappies when I fish Turtle Bay,” he said. “I seem to catch more crappies there than almost any other lake in the area. I fish in about 20 feet of water at different times throughout the season. The crappie bite is consistent, regardless of when I fish the bay.”
Singleton said crappies are always there, but sometimes he has to work a little to find them.
“I usually drill a dozen holes at the beginning of the day and fish each hole until I find fish. Another option is using a Vexlar or an Aqua-View,” Singleton added.
One of the best places to access Big Blue Lake is on the southeast shore of the lake at Blue Lake Park. There is plenty of parking at this location. For lodging information, call Muskegon County Visitors Bureau at (800) 250-9283 or at www.visitmuskegon.org.
Professional walleye angler Mark Martin fishes across the country and said one of his favorite places to fish for panfish is Hamlin Lake in Mason County.
“This lake gets ice relatively early in the season and offers great fishing for panfish. The bluegills are very large,” Martin explained. His favorite area on the lake is the small bays and cuts on the northeast side of the lake.
“When fishing this lake for panfish, I prefer using light limber rods with a 1-pound-test line and a spring bobber so I can be more versatile as the fish move up and down in the water column,” Martin added.
Since Martin is a walleye guy, he also enjoys fishing for walleyes on Hamlin Lake.
“I like fishing the water just before it narrows down and goes into Upper Hamlin Lake,” he said. “There are some humps in there and bottom structure that attracts walleyes. I also fish along the dropoff near the sand dunes in 20 to 40 feet of water. I like using jigging Rapalas or a minnow and a slip-bobber. Many anglers may think a slip-bobber with a minnow is an odd setup, but I find it more effective than a tip-up. It seems that with a tip-up, the finicky fish grab it and the weight on the line spooks the fish if the weight hits the bottom or the fish before they get a chance to take off with it. With a slip-bobber, I can set it up so the fish barely touch it and the bobber goes down and I set the hook. The slip-bobber is much more sensitive and works better on super-sensitive walleyes.”
Martin said early anglers can plan to catch pike in Lower Hamlin Lake during the first ice. They can expect more pike action in Upper Hamlin during the later part of the season. When fishing for pike or walleyes, Martin prefers having his rig about 14 feet down.
“Predators like walleyes and pike like looking up for prey when they are on the hunt,” Martin said. “There is a slight current in the narrows between the upper and lower lake and there always seems to be walleyes and pike in that area.”
When fishing Hamlin Lake, the best place to park is at Wilson Park. For bait and tackle, stop by Hamlin Grocery, or call them at (231) 843-2058. For lodging, contact the Visitors Bureau at (800) 542-4600. Hotels are abundant throughout the Ludington area and in the winter, hotels are empty. Finding a room at a reasonable price should be easy.
Anglers willing to take a road trip should consider ice-fishing on Lake Gogebic in the Upper Peninsula. Martin said out of all of the places he fishes, this is one of his favorites.
“Lake Gogebic has everything, including large perch, monster walleyes and pike. Last year, I caught the biggest perch I ever caught on that lake. It is not uncommon to catch perch that are 12 to 16 inches long consistently,” he exclaimed. “The problem with catching fish on Lake Gogebic is finding them. The lake is extremely long and the best way to find fish is to call a local lodge.
“Anglers should call Bear’s Nine Pine Resort or Smitty’s Walleye Lodge before they go. These two places always know where the fish are.”
Martin said typically the south and north ends of the lake are best for perch.
“Most people find pike and walleyes near the south end because a river feeds the south end of the lake and the fish hang in the current,” he said. “As a rule of thumb, first ice is best for walleyes and pike, and last ice is great for perch.”
Martin said on his last ice-fishing trip to Lake Gogebic, he was regularly catching pike in the 5- to 9-pound range. For lodging and fishing information, contact Smitty’s Walleye Lodge at (866) GO-GEBIC or www.walleye lodge.com, or the Nine Pines Resort at (906) 842-3361 or www.ninepines resort.com.
SAGINAW BAY ICE-FISHING SCHOOL
If walleyes are your favorite fish to catch, the best place to fish in the winter is Saginaw Bay. Over the last several years, the ice has been spotty. However, when the ice is good, the fishing is great. Most anglers fish the bay by using an ATV to access the best fishing spots, usually several miles offshore from Linwood. If you are interested in increasing your ice-angling skills, Martin teaches an ice-fishing school on Saginaw Bay every winter that is several days long. It includes seminars at Frank’s Great Outdoors along with one-on-one fishing with Mark Martin and his team of professional anglers.
“We put the school on to show people how to ice-fish more effectively and how to use electronics to catch more fish,” Martin said. “When they leave here after a few days of fishing, they have learned some of my techniques and will have a better understanding of how to use equipment including a Global Positioning System, Aqua-Vu camera and other fishing gadgets. Many anglers mark the places we fished on a GPS so they can come back to the same locations all winter.”
To learn more about Martin’s school, visit www.markmartins.net. If you need bait while fishing Saginaw Bay, call Frank’s Great Outdoors at (989) 697-5341. For lodging information, contact the Bay City Convention and Visitors Bureau at (989) 893-1222.