Eight Great Family Fishing Getaways

Eight Great Family Fishing Getaways

There's never a shortage of new places to try for your summer vacation. These state parks not only have red-hot fishing, but they also allow you to escape the daily grind.

Tyler LaPorte seems to be enjoying his summer vacation. Many of Michigan's state parks offer great bluegill fishing.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski

Michigan's state park system features some of the most beautiful and diverse state parks in the country. What makes it even better is that many are located on some of Michigan's premier fishing lakes, which make them a natural destination for planning a family fishing getaway.

Following is a sampling of state park destinations that offer great fishing opportunities you'll want to take advantage of this summer.

VAN RIPER STATE PARK

Van Riper State Park is located 17 miles west of Ishpeming in Marquette County. A good portion of the park's more than 1,200 acres is located along the shores of Lake Michigammee, one of the premier fishing lakes in the Upper Peninsula. The park also features 1 1/2 miles of frontage on the Peshekee River.

The Peshekee River enters Lake Michigammee on the east end of the lake very close to the state park. Off the mouth of the river is a prime location for the lake's abundant walleyes. Schools of fat yellow-bellied perch are known to hang out there.

"A good tactic for the walleyes is to troll a gold/orange Rapala back and forth across the river mouth," advised Van Riper State Park regular Greg Ellison. "The walleyes don't run too big, but it's not too difficult to catch a mess for dinner."

A cluster of islands near the center of the lake is another prime location for walleyes. The bottom slopes quickly from 5 feet deep near the islands to 50 feet of water. The contours attract schools of 'eyes that work up and down the breaks. Jigs sweetened with a minnow or a bottom-bouncer with a juicy crawler are a good combination for the walleyes.

Watching a leech under a bobber is a good way to keep the kids busy and catch some of the big perch Michigammee is famous for. Look for weed edges and you'll find the perch. Substitute a minnow for the leech and search out some of the old beaver lodges that are common around the lake and chances are good you can catch a mess of slab black crappies, too. Muskies and smallmouths are an added bonus. Throw big bucktails and jerkbaits for the muskies or soak a jumbo sucker under a bobber. Off the mouth of the Peshekee River is a good location for monster muskies. Smallies can be found in the shallows along the rocky islands and points, especially in the lake's South Arm.

The area has a rich mining history. Iron ore was first discovered in the Lake Superior region in 1845 a short distance from Lake Michigammee. Visitors can learn more about the area's mining heritage at the Iron Industry Museum in nearby Negaunee. Hiking trails cover much of the old mining area.

Visitors also stand a good chance of catching a glimpse of Michigan's largest member of the deer family. Fifty-nine moose were transplanted to the Michigammee area in 1985 and 1987, and their numbers have flourished. An information center has an interesting presentation on the transplant and biology of the moose.

Van Riper State Park features both rustic and modern camping facilities. There is also a swimming beach, bath house, picnic area and playground. For information on making reservations, contact the park office at (906) 339-4461 or go to the Department of Natural Resources' Web site at

www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/ParksandTrailsInfo.aspx?id=430.

CRAIG LAKE STATE PARK

If your family is looking for a wilderness fishing adventure, then Craig Lake State Park might be the place. Michigan's most remote state park, the 6,900-acre wilderness area in Baraga County features some of the most rugged hiking trails in Michigan. Seven lakes (Clair, Crooked, Craig, Keewayden, Nelligan, Teddy and Thomas) and numerous ponds within the wilderness area offer great fishing for a variety of species.

Just getting to Craig Lake State Park is no easy task. Located six miles from the town of Michigammee, personnel recommend vehicles with high ground clearance to negotiate the sinuous, rugged road off U.S. 41 that leads to a 1/4-mile portage to the lake. Once there, 307-acre Craig Lake offers a multitude of structure in the form of bays, points, islands and narrows that concentrate the smallmouths, walleyes, pike and muskies that the lake is famous for. Good starting points are around Perrys and Ames islands. Special regulations include artificial lures only and catch-and-release fishing for northern pike, muskies, largemouths and smallmouths. There is a minimum-size limit on walleyes of 13 inches and a limit of two per day.

Trolling is a great way to cover water on Craig Lake, but motors are prohibited on all lakes within the wilderness except Thomas and Keewayden. You have to use paddle power if you're going to troll. Trailing some wobbling body baits can be productive, but chucking white or chartreuse spinnerbaits is a good way to interest a host of finned inhabitants. Walleyes have a definite preference for jigs adorned with a white or yellow twistertail.

For more information, contact Craig Lake State Park at (906) 339-4461, or Baraga County Tourism at (906) 524-7444 or

www.destinationmichigan.com/baraga.

BEWABIC STATE PARK

Bewabic State Park is located right off U.S. 2 just west of Crystal Falls. The 315-acre park is a favorite of summer vacationers, and features 144 sites that have electricity, fire rings, a picnic table and buffer strips to offer some privacy. Kids will have a ball on the sandy beach, two playgrounds and the hiking trails. A boat launch within the park provides access to the Fortune Lakes Chain, which is among our state's best for bluegills.

When not fishing, the family can take in the sites such as Horse Race Rapids, Chicaugan Falls, Pentoga Park and its ancient Indian burial grounds, Iron Mountain Iron Mine and the Iron County Museum, which celebrates the area's rich logging and mining heritage.

The Fortune Lakes Chain is made up of four lakes aptly named lakes one, two, three and four. Fortune Lake One is the biggest at 199 acres and is best known for its walleyes. They don't run too large, but they are plentiful and provide some great eating. Slip-bobbers and leeches will take walleyes, plus slab bluegills and jumbo perch that can be caught right along with the 'eyes in amongst the logs and weed edges. One drawback though is the amount of water-skiers and personal watercraft that also us

e the lake. If you're looking for solitude and big 'gills, check out Fortune Lake Three (20 acres) and Four (83 acres). Their small size doesn't attract as many boaters, and bluegills are easy to find. Try rubber spiders and a fly rod or a bobber with crickets.

To reserve a campsite at Bewabic State Park, call 1-800-447-2757. Details on amenities and lodging in the area can be had by contacting the Iron County Tourism Council at (906) 265-3822 or online at

www.tryiron.org.

INDIAN LAKE STATE PARK

Indian Lake State Park is located four miles west of Manistique just off U.S. Highway 2. The park is composed of two units. The South Unit features 158 modern campsites, and the rustic/semi-modern West Unit offers another 144 sites. For campers who don't have their own equipment, the park offers a "Rent-A-Tipi" program and also has mini-cabins for rent. The park is centrally located to some of the U.P.'s most intriguing natural wonders and is a great place to plan a family fishing vacation.

Indian Lake State Park is situated on the U.P.'s fourth-largest inland lake. At over 8,400 acres, Indian Lake is relatively shallow, with an average depth of 15 feet. There are numerous rivers and creeks that enter and exit the lake, which provide a steady supply of oxygen and nutrients for the lake's abundant fish population. Indian Lake is known for its diversity. The lake produces good catches of northern pike, walleyes, smallmouths, perch, crappies and the occasional tiger muskie.

Rocks and structure attract walleyes, and you'll find that in the middle of Indian Lake on a shoal there. You'll find more rocks and walleyes along the southwest shore. Most of the weeds on Indian Lake can be found along the west and northwest shorelines. Look for pike and crappies to be hiding along the weed edges there. Smallmouths in the lake are impressive and can be caught around the structure rooting for crayfish, which is good bait if you're targeting bass. With consistent depths, it's really just a matter of rigging up a slip-bobber suspending a crawler or leech and drifting. Eventually something will grab it. It's a laidback style of fishing that's perfect family fun.

Indian Lake State Park is close to thousands of acres of public lands in the Hiawatha National Forest and Lake Superior State Forest where you can hike, pick berries and enjoy nature. Seney National Wildlife Refuge offers car tours where you can see moose, eagles and more. There's also the famous Syphon Bridge, the Thompson State Fish Hatchery and Kitch-it-Kipi or "The Big Spring" at nearby Palm Book State Park, which is also located on Indian Lake.

For details on booking a campsite at either Indian Lake State Park, call (906) 341- 2355. For details on other amenities and lodging in the Manistique area, contact the Manistique Area Tourist Council at (906) 341-6954 or at

www.manistique.com.

INTERLOCHEN STATE PARK

About the only thing better than spending a family fishing getaway on a great fishing lake is spending it on two great fishing lakes. That's exactly what you'll find when you visit Interlochen State Park. Interlochen State Park is situated right between Duck Lake and Green Lake in Grand Traverse County. Both are outstanding fishing lakes for a variety of species and are some of the most beautiful lakes in northwest Michigan.

Both Green (2,000 acres) and Duck lakes (1,930 acres) are similar size and sport similar fisheries. Smallmouths are plentiful in both lakes. On Green Lake, try near the gravel hump near the center of the lake for smallies. A known smallmouth hangout on Duck Lake is along the breaks just out from the Music Camp and south from the state park along the 10- to 25-foot contour there. Both lakes have an abundance of panfish, particularly yellow perch. Try the 20- to 40-foot depths with perch rigs and minnows fished right on the bottom.

Green Lake has a healthy smelt population that provides food for regular plants of lake trout and brown trout. Trolling in the deeper portions of the lake with cowbells or Rapalas will tempt the trout. Duck Lake also gets annual plants for trout, and the same tactics will work there. Chumming with corn under lantern light is a great way to spend a summer evening and is a productive tactic for the trout in both lakes.

There is a state-owned boat launch on Duck Lake's west shore and another on Green Lake's northeast corner.

Interlochen National Music Camp features nightly performances by some of the world's most renowned entertainers. The state park is only a short distance from Traverse City and its fine dining facilities, shopping, Clinch Park Zoo, Sleeping Bear Dunes and Grand Traverse Bay.

To find out more about fun things to do in the Interlochen area, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-872-8377 or at

www.tcvisitor.com. To inquire about camping reservations at Interlochen State Park, call (231) 276-9511.

BURT LAKE STATE PARK

Burt Lake State Park offers summer visitors 374 campsites and one mini-cabin on its 406 acres, which takes in 2,000 feet of sandy beaches on Burt Lake. You can reach Burt Lake State Park by taking M-68 to Old U.S. 27 north near Indian River.

Burt Lake is at the center of the Inland Waterway. Visitors can take their boat on a series of lakes and rivers that cover 38 miles from Crooked Lake to Lake Huron. A must-see sight is the world's largest "Cross in the Woods" near Indian River. Historic Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island are only 30 miles north.

Elk can be seen on trails that bisect the Pigeon River State Forest. Burt Lake State Park is also in the center of northern Michigan's premier golf courses, so remember to bring the sticks. And of course, there's the fishing on Burt Lake.

Michigan's fourth-largest inland lake at 17,260 acres, Burt sees heavy fishing pressure during the summer months, but the fishing for walleyes, smallmouths and panfish remains good. Anglers will find consistent walleye action along the lake's eastern shore between Dagwell and Cedar points in 10 to 40 feet of water. Most will average from 15 to 20 inches. The rocky substrate there attracts smallies, too. Both can be taken with jigs tipped with minnows or live bait on Lindy Rigs. The dropoff right off the state park is another good area for 'eyes and bass. Perch and rock bass relate to the scattered weedbeds in the lake. Try looking for panfish in Maple and Bullhead bays. There is a boat launch at Maple Bay State Forest Campground on the west side.

To reserve a campsite at Burt Lake State Park, call (231) 238-9392. For more information on attractions and things to do in the area, contact the Indian River Resort Region Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-EXIT310.

DODGE NO. 4 STATE PARK

Sometimes a family fishing getaway doesn't mean going north. There are numerous Michigan state parks that are close to the big city that make for perfect weekend or spur-of-the-moment getaway destinations. Dodge No. 4 State Park is one of those. Located on 1,280-acre Cass Lake, Dodge

No. 4 State Park is popular with campers, boaters and anglers. The park is near Waterford.

"Cass Lake has some beautiful crappies and bluegills in it," claimed Bill Senior of KD Outdoors in Waterford. "The key to finding them is to keep moving and use your electronics." Cass Lake is indeed one of the top lakes in southern Michigan when it comes to panfish. That's a great combination when family is involved.

Cass Lake can get busy during the summer, so it's a good idea to get on the water early. Prime panfish locations are right out from the state park, off Wards Point, in Cole's Bay and off Marshbank Park and Cinch Bug Island. Early in the summer, specks and bluegills will still be found in the shallows, but warm days will send the fish deeper. Try looking for suspended fish in 20 to 30 feet of water then. Suspending live bait below a slip-bobber is as good a tactic as any.

To find out more about Dodge No. 4 State Park, contact the office at (248) 682-7323.

W.J. HAYES STATE PARK

Big redear sunfish are enough of a reason to want to plan a family fishing getaway to W.J. Hayes State Park and Wamplers Lake.

The giant sunfish can reach trophy proportions of 12 inches of more. Besides sunfish, 780-acre Wamplers Lake is excellent for bluegills and slab black crappies. The best fishing is early in the summer when the fish are shallow. Try teardrops baited with wax worms or crickets later in the season. All along the north-central shoreline of the lake is prime panfish water. Anglers will also find good panfishing on Round Lake, which can be reached by a connecting channel and receives less boat traffic than Wamplers.

W.J. Hayes State Park is located in the heart of the Irish Hills near Brooklyn. If you're a NASCAR fan, the Michigan International Speedway is just down the road. There's an abundance of craft and antique shows in the area during the summer. The Stage Coach Stop USA theme park is only a short drive from the park. And Cabela's is right up the road if you need to stock up on lures and tackle.

For more information on W.J. Hayes State Park, call (517) 467-7401. For information on other amenities in the area, contact the Jackson Convention & Tourist Bureau at 1-800-245-5282 or online at

www.jackson-mich.org.

Michigan has a bunch of state parks that offer scenic beauty and great fishing. Grab the family and all your gear, and get away from the daily grind this summer.

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