Fall Fishing in Michigan
September 07, 2011
There's no shortage of hotspots for fall fishing in Michigan. Game fish are beefing up for the long winter months ahead and as a result, anglers are enjoying some of the best fishing of the year.
Here's a look at a number of seasonal fishing destinations for our favorite game fish — ones that you should put on your angling calendar this fall!
The Grand River mouth may be one of the most overlooked largemouth bass fisheries in the state. That might be due to the fact that small-boat access is limited, or perhaps just because anglers are missing a great opportunity by focusing their efforts elsewhere.
The shallow waters of the bayous and backwaters provide outstanding largemouth bass habitat. Fish the flooded timber, abundant submerged vegetation and docks.
Many of these bass seldom see artificial baits and so a good day on the water can easily mean catching a dozen bass or more.
The Lloyds and Pottawatomie bayous in the lower Grand River are top producers. The Spring Lake bayou is the place to look for lunkers.
Launch ramps are on Lloyd's Bayou, Spring Lake, Bruce Bayou, Robinson Park, 120th Avenue and at the Grand Haven City Marina.
The bass angling is good as far upstream as Eaton and Ionia counties where fish in the 14- to 18-inch range are plentiful. A boat launch is available at the Weber Dam in Portland. Small boats can put in at bridge crossings, dams, and a roadside park in Lyons.
For additional information contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment at (269) 685-6851 or Lakeview Marine & Tackle in Grand Haven at (616) 842-2770.
Kent Lake is one of the state's most heavily fished lakes but is still one of Michigan's top bass producers for both smallmouths and largemouths.
"This is a popular bass fishery," said fisheries biologist Jim Francis. "The latest creel survey was in 2007 and showed much higher catch rates than back in the '80s."
Smallmouths easily top 3 pounds. Kent has the highest potential for producing trophy-class fish in the region and the numbers are good.
The lake averages 12 feet deep with 36-foot depths on the southwestern end. There's a lot of vegetation, rock riprap, seawalls and woody habitat.
Kent Lake covers 1,000 acres in Kensington Metro Park just north of Interstate 96 about four miles southwest of Milford in Livingston and Oakland counties.
Handicapped-accessible fishing piers and boat launches are available. There are seasonal park entrance and launch fees. For additional information, contact the Michigan DNRE at (734) 953-0241 or Kensington Metropark at 1-800-477-3178.
The first spot to zero in on for big northerns is Fletcher Floodwaters. This 8,970-acre impoundment in Alpena and Montmorency counties has a history of producing huge numbers of water wolves and tremendous numbers of fish in the trophy class.
"September and October are good times to go after pike, especially in Fletcher," said fisheries management biologist Tim Cwalinski. "This lake is shallow and warms up in the summer months and the pike are sluggish. Once the water temperatures start to cool, the pike fishing picks up."
And pick up it does. Fish in the 30-inch range aren't uncommon, with an occasional monster pulled from the hundreds of acres of stumpfields and scattered weedbeds. Most of the lake is no deeper than 6 feet but the old winding riverbed offers deeper water.
A public launch is located on the north side of the lake off Jack's Landing road.
For more information, contact the DNRE at (989) 732-3541, Jack's Landing at (989) 742-4370, or Brown's North Shore Resort at (989) 742-4166.
Lake Mitchell is a good spot for numbers. This lake really shines when the ice is on but those same fish are already gorging themselves in September.
"Lake Mitchell is definitely one of the top northern pike lakes in this management area," said fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "It's a numbers fishery with lots of fish below the 24-inch minimum length, but 10- and 15-pound fish are caught every year along with the occasional 20-pounder."
Bryan Richards of Schafer's Sports caught a 38-inch, 18.5-pounder a few years ago.
Look for combinations of various types of cover rather than shooting for just one spot on the lake. Lake Mitchell is shallow and features sandbars, 8- to 10-foot depths, coves and shallow weedbeds.
Mitchell Lake covers 2,580 acres in Wexford County. For more information call the DNRE at (231) 775-9727 or Schafer's Sports at (231) 775-7085 in Cadillac.
Capital City anglers have Lake Lansing right in their back yard. The shoreline is where most of the action is found as the water is starting to cool. Check the outside edges of weedbeds, wood structure, and sandbars. A productive sandbar extends past the boat club from the northeastern end of the lake out into 12-foot depths.
Bluegills tend to drop into deeper water during periods of unstable weather. The Ingham County Parks System dredged a boat lane around the perimeter of the lake about 100 feet offshore. That channel isn't on the lake maps but it presents a nearly continuous depth break that holds bluegills.
Lake Lansing covers 452 acres. The seasonal boat ramp is in Lake Lansing Park North off East Lake Drive in Haslett. For more information call the DNRE at (269) 685-6851, or Dick's Sport Shop at (517) 853-0400.
Crappie fishing across the southern Lower Peninsula isn't what it used to be. That's according to fisheries biologist Jeffrey Braunscheidel. Crappie numbers are down in most lakes and no one knows why for certain. But there is still good fishing for slabs.
"We aren't sure why there's a decline in the fishery but the tendency for folks to remove trees from the water is probably a factor," said Braunscheidel. "Crappie love downed trees and flooded stumpfields but boaters and swimmers don't. Lowering lake levels in the winter and not refilling them by the crappie spawn doesn't help either."
With the bad news out of the way, there are still positive developments.
Stony Creek Reservoir gives slab anglers a good shot at quality crappie angling this fall. The state record white crappie weighed in at 3 pounds 6 ounces six years ago. Even though other lakes in the region are suffering a decline, crappie are still doing well in Stony. The numbers aren't exceptionally high but fish in the 12- to 14-inch range are available to anglers who target them. Surprisingly, the fishing pressure on Stony Creek Reservoir isn't great. Minnows tipping fluorescent jigs are the main attraction there.
The habitat in Stony Creek Reservoir is good with fish shelters on the point located north of the ramp on the west shore and plenty of submerged stumps. Stony Creek covers 497 acres northeast of Rochester in Macomb and Oakland counties. The boat ramp is on the southeast end of the lake and there is a 10-mph speed limit on the water.
Call the DNRE at (248) 359-9040 or the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority at 1-800-477-2757.
Holloway Reservoir is the place to check for channel cats. The lake is generally overlooked as a catfish haven and the 29- to 30-inch fish that are pulled out of the lake make you wonder why.
Channel cat metabolism slows but doesn't stop as water temperatures cool. Traditional stinkbaits, chicken liver, nightcrawlers, and homemade baits catch catfish right up to first ice.
Catfish hang out in deeper water until low light and then move shallow to forage for minnows, insects, and other delicacies. Stinkbaits, shrimp, chicken livers, and cut fish catch their share of cats in the turbid waters of the Flint River and the reservoir.
Holloway is accessed on Stanley Road from the Tubes area, via the Mt. Morris Road Bridge, and the Zemmer and Hanmann Road. Holloway Reservoir Park charges a seasonal fee.
The lake covers 1,973 acres in Genesee County. The Walleye Pike Boat Launch is located on Henderson off Stanley Road. About a mile east of that intersection is a parking lot where walk-on access is allowed.
Call the DNRE at (810) 245-1250, the Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission at (800) 648-7275, or the Bait Masters shop at (810) 736-1444.
River fishing throughout Michigan is productive long after catfishermen decide to call it quits for the winter. The key to fishing rivers, both large and small, during the early fall is patience.
"The Maple is a slow moving river and often surprises people with what's present," said fisheries biologist Amy Harrington.
Channel cats and flatheads are found throughout the river. Look for scour holes, tangled branches, submerged and emergent vegetation, bridge pilings, and deepwater cut-outs. The river is always in a state of flux with ever-changing conditions. Good cat-catching locations change with the water level, turbidity, and the temperatures.
The Maple River flows through Clinton, Ionia, Gratiot and Shiawassee counties before reaching the Grand River at Muir.
For more information, contact the DNRE at (616) 784-1808.
Walleye guide and seminar leader Lance Valentine has several years' experience on the bay chasing big walleyes.
"The biggest challenge in the fall is finding the walleyes," said Valentine. "The first thing to remember is that you don't put a bait in the water until you find the fish. Use a sonar and go up on plane until you see them. That's when you start fishing."
Valentine's guided trips put clients onto fish in the 18- to 26-inch bracket. Most fish are from 2 to 6 pounds, but an occasional 7- to 8-pounder breaks the surface.
"These walleyes aren't as big as Lake Erie fish but there are some big ones out there," said Valentine.
According to Valentine, bait selection isn't as important as finding the fish. Put a bait in front of them and they'll hit it.
An important change Valentine has observed over the last few years has been the tendency of bigger fish to stay out over the flats in the fall months rather than going up into river systems. Walleyes relate to the gravel and rocky bottom areas that are scattered over the sandy flats.
Call the DNRE at (989) 684-9141 for more information. Contact Lance Valentine at (810) 240-2317 to book a trip or attend a seminar.
Lake Michigamme offers an excellent fall walleye bonanza for anglers who prefer fishing waters smaller than Saginaw Bay.
Start with jigs tipped with minnows in the 20-foot depths at the break. In the evening, cast crankbaits in the river mouths and along the shoreline. Ciscoes come up on the rocky points in low light and the bigger 'eyes follow them.
The most recent survey is a few years old and showed a tremendous catch rate by anglers between April and September. During that timeframe, anglers caught 2,326 walleyes at an average size of 16.3 inches. The longest fish sampled measured more than 30 inches.
A public boat ramp is off Brown Road near the Maple Ridge Resort. Lake Michigamme covers 4,292 acres in Baraga and Marquette counties.
For additional information, call DNRE at (906) 353-6651, Maple Ridge Resort in Michigamme at (906) 323-6334, or Van Riper State Park at (906) 339-4461.
Lake trout are the draw to Grand Traverse Bay this time of the year. Both East and West bays are primed for lakers.
The area is under the MM4 lake trout management unit. Starting this year, the minimum size limit on lakers is 20 inches and the maximum is 25 inches. Only one trout over 25 inches can be taken daily. The open season is from January 1 through September 30.
"Trolling stickbaits, spoons on downriggers, or spoons on four to six colors of lead work well," said biologist Seites. "Anglers can either troll or jig as the cooler temperatures bring the lakers up into the shallow water, and warm temperatures send them back offshore."
East Bay anglers fish in front of Yuba, the Dock Road boat launch, and Elk Rapids. In West Bay the mouth of the Boardman River, the dropoff along the western shoreline, and the gravel pit and dropoff along the peninsula side are the best bets.
Call the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727 for more information.
The Leland area is a great spot to target lakers in the 9- to 10-pound class, with 40-pounders thrown into the mix. Trout show a definite preference for temperatures of 45 to 55 degrees. Find that spot in the water column and you're on the fish.
Cowbells and peanut-type baits work well.
Leelanau County is in the Michigan DNRE's MM-5 Lake Trout Management Unit.
The public launch is in Leland and requires a fee. Additional information is available from the DNRE at (231) 788-6798 or Crandell Charters at (231) 271-3643.
Last but not least, a muskie trip should be on the fall itinerary.
According to fisheries biologist Jim Francis, DNRE studies show that the more industrious muskie anglers on Hudson Lake can expect to catch between 40 and 50 fish a year, though only a few reaching the 42-inch minimum length. The DNRE uses Hudson as a broodstock lake and maintains an artificially high density of muskies. Currently, the population of muskellunge in Hudson numbers about 3 fish for every 2 surface-acres of water and offers excellent chances of connecting with fish.
In 2009 a total of 124 muskies were sampled by the DNRE; they ranged from 26 inches to 52.5 inches in length. The average-sized fish measured nearly 36 inches, and 12 of those fish exceeded the 42-inch minimum length restriction.
Longtime muskie hunter Fred Lederer trolls a bait on Lake Hudson whenever he gets the chance. His choice of baits and tactics has developed from his many hours spent on the water.
"Choose your bait colors based on the conditions," said Lederer. "Bring a big spinnerbait right through the weeds or over the weed tops. Use black baits for night fishing since black contrasts with the moonlight, and topwater baits for overcast conditions to create a lot of noise and splash."
Lederer likes to keep a bait in the prop wash about 6 feet behind the boat. For some reason, he has found, the violently wobbling bait in the wash gets hit frequently. The beach and southwest of the campground and boat ramp are top spots to try.
The lake averages 10 feet with a maximum depth of 30 feet. The entire lake is under a no-wake speed limit restriction and the ramp is off M-156 north of Medina Road.
Lake Hudson covers 502 acres in the Lake Hudson Recreation Area eight miles east of the city of Hudson on M-156 in Lenawee County. For additional information, contact the DNRE at (734) 953-0241.
Black Lake is another top fall spot for muskie hunters.
"Black Lake is the No. 1 muskie lake around here," said fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski. "There are 50- to 52-inch fish and some of the biggest muskies I've ever seen have come out of this system."
The abundant weeds are perfect for casting big muskie crankbaits and in-line spinners. Dropoffs into deep water hold an occasional muskie but the northern end's submerged vegetation and scattered humps are the most productive areas.
Boat ramps are in the Onaway State Park and off Eisins Trail Road. Access from the Black River is on the east side of Gaynard Road and northwest of the Alverno dam off Orchard Beach Road. The Black River Marina offers boating access to both the lake and river.
Black Lake covers 10,130 acres in Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties.
Call the DNRE at (989) 732-3541 or the Black River Marina at (231) 625-2500.