6 Prime Walleye Lakes in Northern Michigan
June 13, 2018
These northern Wolverine State lakes offer a wide range of exciting walleye action this year.
Northern Michigan has a multitude of top-notch walleyes lakes that are well-known among the Wolverine State's angling fraternity. Places like South Lake Leelanau, Burt Lake and Houghton Lake are recognized as being some of the top walleye fisheries in the state.
But there are others that produce equally good fishing for walleyes, but are up-and-coming or are more popular for other species.
Following are some prime walleye fisheries in northern Michigan that need to be on your hit list this summer.
"Hubbard Lake is one of our best walleye lakes in northeastern Lower Peninsula," shared Northern Lake Huron Unit Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski. "A recent adult walleye population estimate conducted by our fisheries unit found an adult population of about 3.0 per acre, and that was likely a bit conservative. These are all wild fish."
Alcona County's 8,850-acre Hubbard Lake is kind of a morphologic hybrid of Burt and Mullet lakes, first class walleye fisheries in their own right. The fishery was predominantly a perch-fishing venue since the1980s and was famous for giving up the 15-inch jumbo yellow bellies.
But the Michigan Department of Natural Resources started planting walleyes in Hubbard from 1980 to 1991, and those plants have resulted in a burgeoning, self-sustaining population of walleyes. Although the walleyes are gaining more and more attention, the bulk of the fishing effort on Hubbard has traditionally been for perch and smallmouths.
The MDNR survey efforts estimated more than 36,000 adult walleyes in Hubbard Lake with a substantial number in the 15- to 21-inch size range. It's quite likely that the lake's walleye population has benefited greatly from zebra mussels that have made the water clearer, the infestation of gobies and the sustained perch population.
Hubbard has depths in excess of 70 feet, but the bulk of the walleye can be found in North, East and South bays or off Doctors, Churchill and Harwood points. There are boat launches on the east and south side of the lake.
During most of the year it's pretty hard to beat a crawler harness and a bottom bouncer for walleyes. The same rig will catch some of the lake's jumbo perch and smallies, too. Later in the summer some walleyes will suspend over deeper water. Planer boards pulling stickbaits and spoons behind Snap Weights or short lengths of lead core will catch walleyes then. Try 20 to 25 feet down over 40 feet of water.
For bait and tackle, contact Side Door Bait and Tackle at (989) 736-6418 or Blue Water Bait and Gifts at (989) 727-2700.
VAN ETTEN LAKE
Iosco County's 1,320-acre Van Etten Lake was always known as a place you could go and catch enough decent-sized perch for dinner. Those perch have also supported a pretty fair walleye fishery over the years.
"Van Etten Lake in Iosco County is another good walleye lake" shared Fisheries Biologist Tim Cwalinski. "The population is made up of both wild and stocked fish. Walleyes can grow a bit larger in there with the turbid and shallower water, river channel, and occasional migrants in and out of the lower Au Sable River. In fact, some of the walleye may likely be from Lake Huron. Fish up to 25 inches were collected in the 2010 survey. A nighttime electro-fishing session we conducted in fall of 2016 found a large number of older age groups, with legal-size fish quite common. Due to its proximity to the military base, there are some fish consumption advisories on walleye at Van Etten Lake, with reduced meals for walleye in the advisory, but fishing can be good."
Van Etten Lake is quite shallow with few places over 25 feet, but the in-flowing Pine River and out-flowing Van Etten Creek provide a steady flow of nutrients.
Walleyes can concentrate in very specific spots. Points found directly off the boat launch, the state forest campground and Air Force Beach on the lake's south side are prime locations to find schools of walleyes. An unnamed point just to the east of Air Force Beach has a hole off the end of it that reaches 33 feet. The walleyes relate to it, making a good spot to anchor and pitch jigs. Between Loud Island and the shoreline is a sharp contour, or pinch point, that can be exceptional.
Contact Iosco County at www.iosco.net for information on amenities, bait shops and things to see and do in the area.
"Lake Margrethe is a very good walleye fishery," Mark Tonello stated matter-of-factly.
"It was again stocked in 2017 with 40,353 spring fingerlings," the Central Michigan fisheries management biologist continued. "It struggled a few years back when we were forced to not stock due to the Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) disease issues, but it is definitely back now."
"The walleye population in Lake Margrethe also appears to be extremely healthy," Tonello said. "While a few walleye were present from non-stocking years, the vast majority were from year-classes where walleye were stocked. Therefore, the walleye fishery in Lake Margrethe appears to be heavily dependent on stocked fish. Although walleye were growing below the state average, the population is well balanced with individuals present from seven different year-classes. Nearly 80 percent of the walleye caught in the 2016 survey were of legal size (more than 15 inches). The somewhat slow growth exhibited by Lake Margrethe walleye should not be a cause for concern, as this phenomenon is common in walleye populations in Michigan inland lakes.
"Of particular interest is the large numbers of walleye from the 2006 and 2002 year-classes, both of which were stocked. Clearly the stocked walleye are surviving for many years."
The survey also showed that Lake Margrethe has a healthy population of prey species that include mimic and blunt-nose minnows, sand and spot-tailed shiners, Iowa and Johnny darters, logperch and assorted panfish.
Crawford County's 1,930-acre Lake Margrethe has depth in excess of 60 feet and abrupt contours, particularly in the southern part of the basin. Prime walleye locations are off Big Bear and Little Bear points and along the contours found on the lake's east side. Early spring finds walleyes concentrated off Eagle Point on the north end of the lake. Pitching jigs tipped with a minnow or piece of crawler will tempt walleyes, plus a host of other species found in the lake. Slip bobbers and leeches are another good bet.
For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Skip's Sport Shop at (989) 348-7111.
"Manistee Lake in Manistee County is another good candidate for walleye," Fisheries Biologist Mark Tonello declared. "We don't stock it, but it gets lots of natural reproduction from the Big Manistee River. It is overlooked by most for walleye, since most anglers think salmon and steelhead.It seems to have gotten several good year classes recently, as we've gotten reports of anglers catching lots of 13- to 14-inch walleye. Anglers report doing well after the opener, fishing the channel between Manistee Lake and the harbor by floating with the current and jigging, Detroit River style. As with all walleye fisheries, the real gurus fish it after dark and do very well."
For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Tangled Tackle Company at (231) 887-4242.
Mason County's 5,300-acre Hamlin Lake has a good population of walleyes in it. They're just tough to catch for a couple reasons. For one, a lake the size of Hamlin can be a little imposing for first-time anglers. Where do you start looking?
Secondly, the structure on Hamlin Lake is very abrupt. You can be in 50 feet one second and 2 feet the next. Finding more gradual contours is the key.
And lastly, there's so many other species in Hamlin that it's tough sometimes to get your bait or lure past other species to target walleyes.
"We haven't been in Hamlin since 2010 and won't be in there anytime soon, unfortunately," said Tonello. "One of the reasons for conducting the 2010 survey of Hamlin Lake was to evaluate the walleye stocking program. Walleye have been regularly stocked in Hamlin since 1989, although there was a lull between 2006 and 2011. During that time, only limited walleye stocking was conducted in Michigan due to the threat of VHS. By 2011, walleye testing and rearing practices had been refined enough that the threat of stocking infected fish had subsided and stocking was resumed.
"While the walleye catch in the 2010 survey was not overly large at 37 fish, seven different year-classes were represented. Also, the walleye catch per unit effort in gill nets was 3.7 walleye per net per night, indicating a good abundance for an inland lake in Michigan. Of those seven year-classes found, four were years in which walleye were stocked, while three were not. The presence of fish from non-stocked year-classes indicates that low-level natural reproduction continues to occur in many years. While this is encouraging, the strongest year-class represented was the 2006 class, which had been stocked. Clearly, stocking continues to play a critical role in the walleye fishery. Therefore, the DNR should continue to work with the Mason County Walleye Association to stock walleye into Hamlin Lake on a regular basis.
"It is a decent walleye fishery, but again, those few who fish at night catch the majority of the fish," Tonello noted. "At 5,300 acres, I think it's probably tough for newbies to figure out, too."
Walleye move into the shallows under the cover of darkness. Targeting the 10- to 20-foot depths with in-line planers and stickbaits or crankbaits can be very productive for walleye that will average 2 to 6 pounds. Try along Ludington State Park on the northwest side of the lower lake and between the South and Middle bayous on the south end of the lake. Dragging live bait rigs with leeches can be productive in 15 to 30 feet of water off the dunes and east of The Narrows.
For bait, tackle, fishing reports and maps contact Captain Chucks II at (231) 843-4458.
LOWER HERRING LAKE
Benzie County's 450-acre Lower Herring Lake has a hodgepodge of species that includes trout and salmon, but walleye have become one of the more dominant species in recent years.
"In the November 2015 electro-fishing effort, the only species captured was walleye," Fisheries Biologist Mark Tonello said. "A total of 152 walleye from 4 to 20 inches were caught. The majority were fish that had been stocked in 2015, or were the result of natural reproduction. Six other-year classes were also represented. Age 0 and Age 1 walleye from this portion of the survey were growing 1/2 inch below the state average. The walleye that were stocked in Lower Herring Lake in 2015 were marked with oxytetracycline, which leaves a mark on skeleton structure of the fish, allowing researchers to determine whether a fish is stocked or of wild origin. Approximately 43 percent of the age 0 walleye caught in the November 2015 effort were marked and presumably stocked. The remainder were unmarked and presumably of wild origin."
If anything, the walleye population in Lower Herring Lake has gotten stronger since then.
Lower Herring Lake doesn't have any abrupt contour changes, so it's an ideal place to troll with bottom bouncers and crawlers or leeches. Try off the in-flow and out-flow of Herron Creek.
For more information on bait shops and amenities in the area contact the Benzie County Convention and Visitors Bureau at visitbenzie.com.