April showers may very well bring May flowers, but in Michigan the month also brings great angling action. Spring is in full swing in our state by the time May rolls around. The weather is more consistent, the snow has finally melted, waters are warming and angling opportunities abound.
Following are some can’t-miss Michigan angling opportunities that you’ll want to mark on your May fishing calendar.
SOUTHEAST MICHIGAN PANFISH
May is prime time for panfish. Bluegills and sunfish move shallow in May as near-shore waters warm and the fish prepare for spawning. Panfish also move shallow to feed. Minnows migrate to the tepid shallows, insects become active and the whole food chain explodes. Southeast Michigan is blessed with an abundance of great panfish lakes that anglers will want to target in May.
"One of our better lakes at that time of year is Union Lake in Oakland County," claimed Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. "Union Lake is known for its big bluegills and one of the best times to target them is in May when they move shallow."
Braunscheidel added that some very nice crappies exist in Union Lake. The crappies probably will have already spawned by May, but they can be found in deeper water off points on the west and south sides of the lake. Crappies topping a foot are common, but they average 10 inches.
Big, orange-breasted ‘gills can be found staging early in the month on the dropoffs found on the east and north sides of the lake. The bluegills are likely to be tightly schooled, so you might want to drift and try a variety of depths until you make contact. Once the spawn begins, bluegills will converge on the shallows in the southeast and southwest ends of the lake. The shallow fish typically get hammered so don’t be afraid to try water from 15 to 20 feet where some of the biggest bluegills spawn. Fishing is simple. Usually a No. 10 gold Aberdeen hook, a split shot and half a nightcrawler are all you need.
Union Lake, at 465-acres, is located southwest of Pontiac near the town of Union Lake. Anglers will find public access off Union Lake Road on the west side of the lake.
"The Portage Lake Chain has decent panfish fishing throughout, but Strawberry Lake is one that stands out when it comes to big bluegills," suggested Braunscheidel.
At 257 acres, Strawberry Lake is part of the Portage Lake chain that traverses Washtenaw and Livingston counties. The chain includes Zuckey, Gallagher, Whitewood, Base Line and Big Portage. Getting to Strawberry Lake is not easy. Access can be gained via a private marina on Zuckey Lake that charges a fee, or at a public site on Big Portage Lake that requires a boat ride of several miles, but panfish fanatics will tell you it’s worth it.
Strawberry Lake has a very limited littoral zone and sharp dropoffs, which means spawning panfish can be very concentrated where you find shallow water. Look to the northeast shore of the lake, which is shallow and receives an inordinate amount of spring sunshine. There are also several mid-lake humps that rise to within a couple of feet of the surface. That’s where spawning panfish congregate. Near the lake outlet is another panfishing hotspot.
Strawberry Lake is located in south-central Livingston County fives miles east of Pinckney.
In 2006, the then Michigan Department of Natural Resources made pre-season fishing for bass legal. Bass zealots had been jumping the gun for years, but everyone just turned their heads. The official catch-and-release season gave even more anglers the opportunity to take advantage of some of the best bassin’ of the year.
Three of Michigan’s most popular catch-and-release lakes are located in Oakland County and May is prime time. You’ll want to visit Kent, Pontiac and Cass lakes early in the spring if you’re a bass fishing fan. "We see a lot of interest in the catch-and-release season, especially on Kent Lake," claimed Braunscheidel. "In fact, some of the biggest fish of the season are caught then."
Thousand-acre Kent Lake routinely produces 4- to 6-pound largemouths and the occasional 7-pounder. While Pontiac and Cass lakes don’t produce bass as big as Kent does, they have healthy populations for great early-season fun. If it’s variety you want, Cass Lake has smallmouths; Pontiac has largemouths; Kent Lake has both.
For more information on great May fishing opportunities in southeast Michigan, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit of the MDNRE at (248) 359-9040.
ST. JOE SALMONIDS
The tepid waters of southern Lake Michigan attract a hodgepodge of trout and salmon off Port St. Joe in May. Salmonids congregate there to feed before migrating farther north as the summer progresses. May produces hot big-lake action for a variety of species off that port.
"The fishing has been pretty good out of St. Joe the last couple of springs," said Capt. Russ Clark who runs his 36-foot Tiara Seahawk out of the port. "We don’t get the packs of alewives off the pier heads and river mouths like we use to, but there’s still some good fishing to be had."
Clark said there’s still some shoreline fishing early in the month for browns and Cohos, but by mid-May, captains start heading northwest out of the port. "We usually start shallow and then just troll toward deeper water — as deep as 240 feet," said Clark. "You need to cover all the bases when fishing out of St. Joe in the spring."
Clark said the fish could be almost anywhere in the water column, regardless of the water depth, from the surface to 80 feet or more. That means pulling out all the stops. Clark uses surface lines, divers, downriggers and lead-core line pulling spoons for a smorgasbord of trout and salmon that includes lake trout, steelheads, Coho and Chinook salmon. The salmonids are gorging on a smorgasbord of alewives, gobies and freshwater shrimp.
To sample St. Joe’s hot spring fishing, contact Captain Russ Clark at (269) 429-6110 or go online at www.fishseahawk.com.
BLACK RIVER BROOK TROUT
By May, northern Michigan rivers are getting lower, clearer and warmer. It’s the perfect time to catch trout on the Lower Peninsula’s premier brook trout stream, the Black
Early in the month there still may be some lingering snow banks in the woods, and the water will still be pretty cold. Bait-fishing excels then. Fish slowly and deliberately, giving the trout plenty of time to make up their minds. As you get farther into May, warming waters will spur hatches, like the Hendrickson mayfly and Little Black Caddis, which will get trout looking up. There is a steady procession of hatches to look forward to in May. Hardware fishermen can catch their share of brookies, up to 16 inches, by casting Panther Martin and Double Loon spinners into the tail of runs, near logs and under the overhanging tag alders that exemplify the Black.
The best brook trout fishing on the Black occurs upstream of Clark Road Bridge on both the East Branch and Main Stream. Both rivers average 20 to 40 feet wide, but overhanging brush makes them a challenge to fish. Prime access points on the East Branch are found at Shingle Mill Bridge and Barber Bridge. On the Main Stream, you can get on the water at Chandler Road, at Town Corner, Main River Bridge and at Clark Road.
For more details, contact Parrott’s Outpost at 1-800-733-0412 or online at www.parrottsoutpost.com.
TITTABAWASSEE RIVER WALLEYES
Saginaw Bay’s walleye population is booming and natural reproduction in the Saginaw River system is largely responsible. One of the most productive walleye spawning rivers in the Saginaw system is the Tittabawassee River. When we enjoy a cool, dry spring, the Tittabawassee River is loaded with walleyes; the season opens on the last Saturday in April. Savvy anglers avoid the opening weekend hoopla and wait until May to catch their share of ‘eyes.
Schools of spawning walleyes collect below the dam in Midland in March, do their thing and then drop back down the river. The post-spawn females leave fairly quickly, but the spunky males hang around for a while, especially if heavy rains or snow melt doesn’t flush them out of the river. Most of the walleyes will average 1 1/2 to 5 pounds, but larger fish are possible. The area from Freeland all the way to the river mouth at the Saginaw confluence can be good.
Tittabawassee River walleyes can be caught using a variety of methods. Many anglers vertical jig by slipping-the-current using 1/4-ounce leadhead jigs tipped with plastic or a nightcrawler. An alternative is to cast deep-diving crankbaits, which work very well on the river’s expansive flats. Anchoring or fishing from the bank with a slip sinker and a crawler injected with a little air can produce big catches, too.
Boaters can launch at Gordonville Road downstream from Midland, behind Gamm’s Hardware in Freeland, at Imerman Park, Center Street, and at Wick’s Park below the confluence of the Saginaw and Tittabawassee rivers.
For information on amenities and lodging, contact the Freeland COC at www.2chambers.com/freeland, or by calling (989) 695-6620.
SAGINAW BAY WALLEYES
Once walleyes finish spawning in the Saginaw River system they fan out into the shallows of Saginaw Bay. Hungry after their spawning ordeal, the ‘eyes go on a feeding binge of which anglers should take full advantage.
Two techniques produce the bulk of the walleyes in Saginaw Bay in May. Diehard night owls troll the shallow 4- to 10-foot depths at night pulling inline boards and big-bodied baits such as No. 18 Husky Jerks and Bombers. The stick baits imitate smelt and other baitfish that the walleyes are sure to be keying on.
Other anglers who keep normal hours catch limits of walleyes trolling with crawler harnesses in 6 to 12 feet of water along the reefs found in the bay. On the west side, try off the Saganing, Pinconning and Rifle bars and off Bay City State Park. On the east side target Thomas, Callahan and Duck reefs and the area known as "The Slot" between Sebewaing and Bayport.
The key is to troll super slow and to keep adding or subtracting weight until you hit on the right combination of depth and color. The ‘eyes will run from 2 to 8 pounds.
For fishing reports, bait and tackle, contact Frank’s Great Outdoors at (989) 697-5341 or go online at www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.
LITTLE BAY DE NOC WALLEYES
"The walleyes are usually relating to the river mouths when the season opens in Little Bay De Noc on May 15," said fishing guide Capt. Marty Papke. Schools of post-spawn walleyes collect off the shallow river mouths of the Whitefish, Days, Tacoosh and Rapids rivers on the north end of Little Bay De Noc. Walleyes that have spawned on the rocks and sand flats in the bay itself can still be found hanging around those area when the season opens.
Other walleyes that have already recuperated can be found staging near newly emerging weedbeds in the same area. A prime spring location is off the Stonington Peninsula where a 6- to 18-foot contour collects spring walleyes.
Trolling is a viable option, but Papke prefers a more hands-on approach. He employs a combination of jigging, rigging and casting, or dragging floating jigheads in May. The rigs get an assortment of live bait and scent-enhanced lures.
To sample the hot spring walleye fishing on Little Bay De Noc, contact Capt. Marty Papke at 1-800-708-2347 or online at www.littlebaydenoc.com.
Spring comes slowly to da U.P., hey. But by May, the ice has receded enough that early birds can get their boats in to sample the great spring fishing found along Lake Superior’s south shore.
Several species of trout and salmon are drawn to the shallows between Marquette and Munising in May. Numerous streams and rivers enter the big lake between the two towns and fishing pressure is nil. The water coming in from the rivers is much warmer than Lake Superior, thus attracting a plethora of game fish. A day’s catch might include native lake trout, planted Chinook salmon, naturally reproduced Cohos, brown trout, steelhead, pink salmon and even coaster brook trout.
The fishing is simple. Use small spoons and body baits behind in-line boards or off flat lines. No need for downriggers or divers. Simply work up and down the shoreline zigzagging between 6 and 12 or 15 feet. Onshore winds help stack up the warmer water near shore. If variety is the spice of the angling life, this is a must-do destination for May.
For information on lodging and accommodations, contact the Marquette Chamber of Commerce at www.2chambers.com/marquette, or call (906) 226-6591.
The month of May offers plenty of opportunities for Michigan anglers. The hardest part might be deciding which ones to take advantage of.