Michigan’s climate varies greatly from north to south. Winter comes early in the western U.P. In the northern tier of U.P. counties, it’s possible to be ice-fishing by Thanksgiving. Conversely, in the southern Lower Peninsula, it’s normally well after the first of the year before you have safe ice, and some years the ice can be iffy all winter. The beauty of the state of Michigan is that if you’re willing to travel a little, you can find some great ice-fishing for a variety of species.
Following are some can’t-miss destinations that you’ll want to add to your ice-fishing itinerary this winter.
IRON COUNTY LAKES
Winter comes early to Iron County and some of the best opportunities for catching walleyes are on first ice. Smaller lakes in this region are the first to freeze and produce a hot first-ice bite.
“Chicagon Lake is one of the better walleye and perch lakes in the area,” claimed Iron County resident and outdoor writer Robert “Dock” Stupp. Chicagon Lake is one of Stupp’s favorite winter venues because it is a steady producer of eatin’-sized and larger walleyes and jumbo perch.
Chicagon Lake receives regular stockings of walleyes. The 1,100-acre lake also has plenty of flats, dropoffs and contours, which offer perfect walleye habitat and depths to 115 feet. “You can count on the walleye schools congregating about midway down the lake on the west shore after first ice,” said Stupp.
The first safe ice finds walleyes foraging on flats in water as shallow as a couple of feet. Later, Stupp advised, work the contours found off Midsummer’s Point, off the public access at Pentoga Park on the south end, and along a dropoff that tapers from 10 to 60 feet along the east shore.
A bonus on Chicagon Lake is sizable yellow perch that can be caught right along with the walleyes. It’s not uncommon for the perch to top 12 inches. The walleyes will range from barely legal up to 5 or 6 pounds. A slip-bobber with a lively shiner minnow will fool both.
“Winter is the best time to fish Lake Emily,” stated Stupp. “The lake gets very weedy in the summer, so winter is the best time to target the walleyes there.”
Not an exceptionally large lake at 320 acres, Lake Emily freezes quickly and can produce excellent fishing by early December. The Iron County lake has a reputation for a hot shallow-water bite. “I’ve caught walleyes there in as little as 3 or 4 feet of water and there’s a chance for a real trophy there,” claimed Stupp.
Stupp said that ‘eyes in the 29- to 30-inch range are not unheard of and there’s good size structure in Lake Emily due to consistent plants.
First ice finds hot action on both ends of the lake in 5 to 20 feet of water. Locate subtle structure that walleyes patrol. Later in the winter, look for walleyes clustered in a hole that dips to 32 feet off the boat launch on the east side of the lake and off a point that extends from the west side. Stupp claims that Lake Emily walleyes are suckers for a minnow pinned to a leadhead jig.
Don’t look to Iron County’s Iron Lake as a place to catch trophy walleyes. But if you’re interested in securing the main ingredients of a fish fry, check out this 396-acre lake. “You’re not going to catch a lot of big walleyes on Iron Lake,” offered Stupp. “They’ll be mostly eating-sized ‘eyes and you can catch a lot of them. You won’t find too many over 20 inches.”
You won’t have to go too far to find them either. Stupp claims that right off the boat landing is a hotspot on first ice. Walleyes can be found cruising the 10- to 20-foot contours and will move into water as shallow as 5 feet in the evenings. Later in the winter, follow the walleye schools to the south end of the lake where you can find water in excess of 45 feet. A nice piece of structure extends along the east shoreline there and you can intercept walleye schools working the break. A simple leadhead jig and minnow usually does the trick, but tip-ups take their fair share of ‘eyes.
For more information on central U.P. lakes, contact the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the Michigan DNRE at (906) 875-6622.
LITTLE BAY DE NOC
The main draw for anglers on Little Bay De Noc is walleyes, but you’re just as likely to catch big northern pike, whitefish, burbot or jumbo yellow perch. “You really never know what you’re going to catch when you’re fishing on the reefs,” said Bay De Noc guide and resort owner Kevin Lee.
The obvious winter draw for anglers on Bay De Noc is walleyes. “The reefs are good areas to look for walleyes, especially on first ice, but as the winter goes on, the walleyes tend to move to the west and deeper water,” said Lee. Most of the walleye action on the mid-lake reefs is early and late in the day. Other species tend to remain active during the mid-day hours, filling in the slow time when the walleyes are dormant.
“We’ve taken some big northerns in the middle of the day on tip-ups,” claimed Bay De Nov regular Ron Hanna. Pike in excess of 20 pounds are not unheard of here. Prime pike locations are off Saunders Point, in Nelson’s Bay and on the flats off Black George Creek on the south side. Big suckers or golden shiners interest the biggest northerns.
“Every once in a while you can get into some jumbo perch too,” said Hanna. Using a slip-bobber with some lively shiners or a smaller Swedish Pimple sweetened with a minnow will tempt neutral mid-day walleyes and jumbo perch. The perch routinely top a foot in length and it’s not uncommon to take a bucketful once you locate an active school.
Proven perch hangouts include reefs between Butlers Island and the Oil Tank, the mid-lake reefs off Kipling, and off the east end river mouths, especially on last ice. Whitefish are an added bonus that will bite the same types of bait and lures as the perch and walleyes. Few fishermen target the whitefish, but they are a welcome bonus and great eating.
Burbot is another Bay De Noc specie that few take advantage of. “You can catch them all over the bay at night,” said Lee, “but no one really fishes for them.” Several species of trout add to the mix.
“I’m expecting the walleye fishing this winter to be phenomenal,” predicted Lee. “We’ve had a huge year-class of walleyes out there this summer that are anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inch short. Those fish wi
ll be legal size by winter.”
For more information on Bay De Noc ice-fishing, contact Sall-Mar Resort at (906) 553-4850 or go online at www.sallmarresort.net.
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