Hunting Down Michigan's Hottest Ice-Fishing

Hunting Down Michigan's Hottest Ice-Fishing

From walleyes to panfish to pike, the action on these waters will take up all your spare time this winter! (December 2005)

A hotspot for winter walleyes on Lac Vieux Desert is near Draper, Near and Duck islands.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski

Michigan ice-anglers could not have ordered more perfect weather for the 2004-2005 season. Mid-December brought frigid temperatures and little snow, which made for ideal early-season conditions. With an initial seal of clear, hard ice, ice-anglers enjoyed some great first-ice action that continued through much of the winter.

What are the prospects for this season? Well, only Mother Nature knows that, but given a little cold weather and subfreezing temperatures come this December, ice-anglers are sure to enjoy a banner year at these locations for everything from walleyes to panfish to pike.

CISCO LAKES CHAIN

If there's one place where you're sure to have good ice in December, it's in the western Upper Peninsula. Winter usually sets in there about mid-November. Cisco Lake is one of 15 lakes in the chain and is located in Gogebic County about 13 miles southwest of Watersmeet.

"Some of the best ice-fishing of the year on the Cisco Lakes Chain is on first ice in early December and again just before the walleye season closes in February," said Jerry Pitts of Cisco Lake Resort. "Some of the hottest first-ice action takes place on the east side of the lake near the islands."

With the deepest water in the lake being a little over 20 feet, fishing for most species on Cisco Lake is a shallow-water proposition. "On first ice you'll find just about everything in 6 to 8 feet of water," claimed Pitts.

Walleyes will average 2 pounds but can top 8 or 10 pounds. They are taken on tip-ups with minnows or by jigging with lures like Swedish Pimples. The walleyes gradually move deeper as the winter progresses.

Cisco Lake gives up some surprisingly good perch. Yellowbellies topping 13 inches are not uncommon, and 8- to 10-inch perch are common. Try wigglers in the 15- to 20-foot depths near the center of the lake for the most consistent perch action. Cisco Lake also produces a consistent winter fishery for other panfish species as well. Look for hand-sized bluegills and sunfish near the eastside islands and near the outer islands on the southwest side. Larva works best. Crappies are becoming increasingly common, and specks in the 12- to 14-inch-class are routine. Like most, Cisco's slab crappies can't resist a lively shiner minnow.

Ice-anglers can gain access to Cisco Lake at a public access on the northeast corner of the lake. Jerry Pitts said he maintains an access to the lake at the resort and has several cabins that are available to ice-anglers. For more information, contact Cisco Lake Resort at (906) 358-4305 or online at

www.ciscolakeresort.com.

THOUSAND ISLAND LAKE

Another lake in the Cisco Lakes Chain that produces excellent ice-fishing opportunities is Thousand Island. Typical of the lakes in the chain, 1,020-acre Thousand Island Lake has just that -- a lot of islands that provide ideal fish habitat.

One hotspot, according to Jerry Pitts of Cisco Lakes Resort, is just off of the outlet to Cisco Lake near Boy Scout Island. Walleyes patrol the 5- to 25-foot dropoff there. Another prime winter walleye area is near the cluster of islands in the middle of the lake. Key is to keep moving and punch a lot of holes until you find the schools. Tip-ups with lively shiner minnows or jigging spoons take most walleyes. Most will average 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, but 'eyes up to 8 pounds are not uncommon.

Thousand Island Lake also is home to jumbo perch. Try the contours along the east side of the lake and in the deep water of the main basin. Most of the jumbos come on wigglers or minnows, and perch topping 12 inches are common. The shallows are also home to some respectable bluegills and crappies. The panfish grow to respectable sizes because Thousand Island has a healthy predator population that keeps panfish numbers in check. First ice especially produces many 'gills to 9 inches, and crappies that will average a foot.

For more information, contact the DNR's Western Lake Superior Management Unit at (906) 353-6651. Information on lodging in the area can be had by contacting the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association at 1-800-562-7134 or online at

www.uptravel.com.

LAC VIEUX DESERT

Lac Vieux Desert is another western U.P. lake that Jerry Pitts rated as one of the best for ice-fishing. The 4,300-acre mass straddles the Michigan/Wisconsin border with about 1,800 acres of it being in Michigan. Lac Vieux Desert has a reputation for producing plenty of big muskies during the fall, but the lake is also home to some very nice walleyes, perch, pike and crappies. Winter is one of the best times for a mixed-bag catch.

A hotspot for a smorgasbord is near Draper, Near and Duck islands. Located on the east side of the lake, the water drops quickly from 5 to 20 feet around the islands, and is a prime area for walleyes, perch and big northerns. Pike can also be found cruising the 10- to 20-foot contours of the main basin. Tip-ups baited with big shiners, suckers or dead smelt take the biggest pike. The dropoff directly off Duck Point is a good spot for walleyes and jumbo perch. Early in the season a prime location is off the public access in Misery Bay. Live bait works best for walleyes. Some of the biggest perch are taken on good-sized shiners intended for 'eyes.

Lac Vieux Desert gives up some very respectable bluegills and black crappies, too. The panfish relate heavily to weeds. Locate weed edges that are still green. The panfish find food and protection there from the lake's bounty of predators. Larva is best for the bluegills. The biggest specks generally come on minnows, but spikes and wax worms excel at times. Try off the mouth of Slaughter Bay and Rice Bay.

For more information on lodging, amenities and bait shops in the area, contact the Western Upper Peninsula Convention & Visitor Bureau at (906) 932-4850 or online at

www.westernup.com.

BREVOORT LAKE

Mackinac County's 4,230-acre Brevoort Lake is one of those lakes where you really don't know what you're going to catch, but it has reputation for producing good walleyes, northern pike, bluegills and crappies for ice-anglers.

A hotspot in the winter is in the central portion of the lake where humps, rocks and an artificial reef attract winter 'eyes. Concentrate on the 10- to 20- foot contours and work toward the center

of the lake. Subtle humps and holes concentrate the walleyes. Use tip-ups or slip-bobbers and minnows during midday, and actively work jigging spoons and Jigging Rapalas in the evening.

"I wouldn't say that there are a lot of walleyes in the lake," said USFS fisheries biologist Chuck Bassett, "but there are some very nice walleyes. It would be a good place to go if you're looking for a trophy."

Ice-anglers make big catches of winter panfish and the occasional big pike in Boedne Bay. The area right off the public access features great structure and weeds that concentrate winter panfish. Black crappies topping a foot are common, and bluegills will average 7 to 9 inches. Other good spots for winter panfish are along the south shoreline dropoffs and either side of Fox and Long points. Just north of Christensens Bay is another hotspot for first-ice panfish.

Anglers can gain access to the ice off Brevoort Lake Road. For more info on accommodations, lodging and bait shops, contact the St. Ignace Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-338-6660 or

www.stignace.com.

BURT LAKE

Located in west-central Cheboygan County, 17,260-acre Burt Lake is one of Michigan's largest inland lakes. It sees a substantial amount of fishing pressure throughout the year, mainly for the lake's perch and walleyes.

"During our most recent survey we found walleyes from 6 to 29 inches, with the bulk of those fish in the 13- to 20-inch range," said Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Neal Godby. "We also found several good year-classes of yellow perch up to 14 inches."

Godby said that the DNR has not planted walleyes in Burt Lake in recent years, and that the lake is basically self-sustaining. Northern pike were also found to be fairly common, with specimens up to 38 inches, although the average fish was between 18 and 25 inches.

A hotspot for early-season walleyes and panfish is around the mouth of Maple and Bullhead bays. The Maple and Crooked rivers enter the lake there, and nearby weedbeds attract a variety of game-fish species. Walleyes can be caught along the 10- to 20-foot contours off Colonial and Kings points. Another first-ice hotspot is right off Burt Lake State Park on the south end of the lake. Later in the season, try the irregular contours along the east side between Dagwell and Cedar points, and off Greenman Point on the north end.

Perch can be caught during midwinter in the 30- to 50-foot depths in the center portion of the lake. Schools of perch roam the deeper water, and if an angler works at it, you can take a bucketful from 8 to 10 inches. Wigglers fished below a slip-bobber is a proven tactic. Minnows work, too.

Burt Lake also features an untapped winter fishery for steelhead and brown trout. It receives regular plants of both species. The steelhead run up the Sturgeon and Maple rivers in spring and fall, but few anglers pursue them in the winter.

For more information on bait shops, guides and accommodations, contact the Indian River Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-238-9325 or online at

www.irchamber.com.

MANISTEE LAKE

This Manistee Lake -- not to be confused with the Manistee Lake in the county of the same name -- is located in north-central Kalkaska County. The 860-acre lake's deepest spot is only 16 feet, but the outflow of the Manistee River and several creeks entering the lake ensure a steady supply of nutrients.

"Manistee Lake is a lot like Houghton Lake," said Gary Gile of Jack's Sport Shop in Kalkaska. "The lake is pretty featureless, so there's not much in the way of structure."

In spite of that fact, the lake gives up some slab crappies and jumbo perch. Gile said a hotspot for big specks is north of the public access on the east side where the bottom shelves from 10 to 16 feet. "The best time is right before dark," he said. "I usually fish one dead rod with a minnow on it and jig the other." Gile said crappies up to 14 inches are fairly common. The crappies tend to suspend, so a flasher can be a big help.

"There are some big perch in Manistee Lake, too," said Gile. He said that a 13-inch perch weighing nearly 2 pounds caught from Manistee Lake was currently leading the board at the sport shop. He said that ice-anglers fishing with big blue shiners for walleye routinely catch perch in the 13- to 14- inch range. Walleyes are an added bonus. Look for winter 'eyes in the north-central portion of the lake in 10 feet of water.

For live bait, tackle and lake maps, contact Jack's Sport Shop in Kalkaska at (231) 258-8892. For accommodations, contact the Kalkaska Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-487-6880 or

www.kalkaskami.com.

BLUE LAKE

Though located only a few miles apart, Blue Lake and Manistee Lake are like night and day. While Manistee is shallow and featureless, Blue offers sloping contours to 80 feet over most of its 114 acres. While Manistee features fishing for warmwater species, trout are the ticket on Blue Lake.

This clear spring-fed lake features two basins plunging to 80 feet that are ideal for trout. Though relatively small, Blue Lake can produce big trout. Lake trout to 8 pounds are taken. Blue Lake has been planted with lakers, browns, rainbows and splake on different occasions so you have a chance of catching them all. The best tactic is to spot some tip-ups along the dropoffs in 20 to 80 feet of water. Then move and jig with a second rod. Lakers tend to inhabit the deep water while splake, browns and rainbows will be found shallower, often suspended. Use a graph or flasher and keep moving until you find fish. Wigglers, minnows, wax worms will all work at times.

Blue Lake is marginal for warmwater species, but some decent perch are taken on occasion along with some bulky bluegills. Ciscoes are also catchable.

For more information on Blue Lake, contact Jack's Sport Shop in Kalkaska at (231) 258-8892.

SAGINAW BAY

Ice-anglers could not have scripted a better scenario for Saginaw Bay than last winter. The icy blast that set in on Lower Michigan in mid-December locked up the bay solid, and quickly. By early January, there was enough safe ice to venture out. Once on the ice, anglers found some awesome fishing.

"Last year was one of my best years ever on the bay," said avid ice-angler Terry Gilbert. "I think I probably averaged three or four keeper fish a trip, and there were a lot of days that I threw fish back. I only fished in the evenings after work. And to top it off, I think I probably caught 20 lake trout out there and another dozen or so whitefish. It was great fun." The walleyes averaged a solid 5 pounds, the lakers up to 15 pounds and the bay's whitefish can reach 8 pounds.

Gilbert said anglers gain access at Bay City State Park or at several locations near Linwood. The best fishing was generally five miles or so out in 15 to 24 feet. Jiggi

ng spoons like Swedish Pimples, Do Jiggers and Silver Streak's ice-fishing spoons are deadly on everything from walleyes to whitefish. Tip the spoons with a minnow, minnow head or several smaller perch minnows if the fish are finicky. Some anglers also use a dead stick while jigging. Fish lured to the area with the flashing spoon often will engulf a struggling minnow. A flasher can be a great help for knowing fish are nearby and how they are responding to your jigging cadence.

Early and late in the day are the hottest times on the bay, but anglers who keep moving and punching holes can stay on the fish all day. Some days the best bite is at midday. Be sure to watch for pressure cracks, take a compass and use your head when venturing out on the bay.

For live bait, ice conditions and tackle, contact Frank's Great Outdoors in Linwood at (989) 697-5341 or online at

www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.

You never know about Michigan winters. But if Michigan's army of ice-anglers had it their way, they'd order up one just like last year.

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