Six Super Summer Road Trips

Six Super Summer Road Trips

We're almost totally surrounded by water here in Michigan, so it's only natural we love to fish. These honeyholes are great places to get your family in on the fun. (June 2006)

If you live in Michigan, you're not far from water. Everyone has a pond, lake or river close to home where they can sneak away to wet a line after work, after school or on their day off. But it's fun to plan a fishing getaway or a road trip to a more remote fishing destination, maybe for species that aren't available locally or close to home. Following are six super destinations you'll want to put on your family's road-trip itinerary for this summer. You'll have a blast!

RICE LAKE

Ontario's Rice Lake, about four hours or so northeast of Detroit, has been called "Bluegill Heaven." That alone warrants a family road trip to investigate. Having been to Rice Lake more than a half-dozen times, I'd have to admit it is one of the few places where the fishing is every bit as good as claimed. And the half-day drive for most Michigan families is more than worth the time.

Rice Lake is part of the Trent-Severn Waterway. More than 23 miles long and three miles wide, it's actually a river system. The level is governed by a series of locks, thus the body of water takes on the characteristics of a shallow, fertile lake with a steady flow of nutrients running though it. The lake is surrounded by rolling hills and resorts that cater to vacationing families.

Rice Lake is full of big bluegills, sunfish, crappies and perch, and predators like walleyes, muskies and bass. The high level of predators keeps the panfish from becoming stunted. In addition, the panfish are targeted by thousands of visiting anglers who keep their numbers in check. There's no limit on panfish -- except how much time you want to spend cleaning fish. However, there's plenty of forage for the resident panfish. Rice Lake has few locations that are over 20 feet deep, and the expansive weedbeds harbor a plethora of food. A key strategy is to locate hard-bottomed areas within or next to the weeds where the panfish spawn.

Rice Lake is a fantastic place to take the kids fishing. But unless they're trained to take their own fish off the hook, don't plan on doing much fishing yourself. Catching panfish at Rice Lake is as simple as dropping a line over the side of the boat! You can use live bait, but a better alternative is plastic or scented lures like Berkley Gulp. Fly-fishing for panfish is a blast. Rubber spiders, poppers and nymphs are killers. Anglers take some of the biggest crappies on Beetle Spins and tiny crankbaits. If you get bored catching panfish, you can drag a bottom-bouncer with a crawler harness and catch some dandy walleyes up to 10 pounds. Largemouth and smallmouth bass often surprise anglers who are rigged for panfish. The bass season opens the last Saturday in June, and fish topping 6 pounds are common.

To get to Rice Lake, it's easiest to cross the border at Port Huron or Detroit. Have your paperwork in order, such as a birth certificate, visa or passport so you're not delayed at the border. Pay close attention to the laws governing taking fish across the border, and non-resident fishing regulations. Most Canadians are very friendly if you follow the rules.

If you get tired of catching fish, you can always explore the attractions in the area like Serpent Mounds Park, Lang Pioneer Village, the Peterborough Kartway and the Rainbow Restoration Tallgrass Prairie. For more information on resorts, amenities and attractions near Rice Lake, go to www.ricelakeinfo.com. Southview Cottages and RV Park offers excellent accommodations near some of the best fishing on Rice Lake. Contact them at www.southviewcottages. com, or at (705) 939-6761.

LAKE ERIE

While most Michiganders have that "up north" mentality, that doesn't mean your family fishing road trip has to point toward the Big Mac Bridge. Heading south has its advantages, too. Going to the big city can be fun. You can take in a ball game, visit some museums or hit some fancy restaurants. There's also some good fishing to be had near the big cities. Lake Erie is one place that would definitely be worth heading south for this summer.

Most anglers would tell you that the fishing on Lake Erie last season was tough, but not because there weren't any fish. There were plenty of fish. The problem was that most were just shy of being legal. Many charter captain friends said they had to catch and release 60 walleyes a day last year in order to find 10 keepers! Those sub-legal fish last year will be fat 16- to 18-inchers this season. This is the year to take the family to Lake Erie and fill the freezer!

The western basin of Lake Erie making up about a third of the lake is a hotspot for walleyes in the spring and early summer. Post-spawn walleyes disperse after spawning in the Detroit, Maumee, Sandusky and Raisin rivers, and fan out in the shallows of Lake Erie. They are ravenous after the spawn, and catching a limit is usually a given.

Families wanting to trailer their own rigs will find excellent facilities at Lake Erie Metro Park, Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, Sterling State Park on Brest Bay, at Monroe and at Hieldenburg Park on the Raisin River. There are plenty of campgrounds, bait shops, motels and other amenities in the area. For more information, contact the Monroe County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-252-3011, or online at www.thebureau@monroe.com.

Catching Lake Erie walleyes is not difficult, and you have several options on how to do it. Trolling is now the most popular, most productive and easiest method for talking a limit of Erie 'eyes. Target the 12- to 18-foot depths and pull flatlines or in-line boards trailing Wiggle Warts, Wiggle Os, Wally Divers or other crankbaits to fool the suspended walleyes. Small spoons are also becoming very popular pulled behind Dipsey Divers or disc divers. Look for clusters of boats on schools of fish and then skirt the pack. However, it's very easy to slip over the Ohio state line. It's wise to purchase licenses for both states. If trolling isn't your thing, you can jig, drift or cast. With the number of walleyes in Lake Erie in 2006, it will be pretty hard to not catch your limit. For more information on Lake Erie walleyes, see page 20 of this magazine.

When you're done cleaning fish. you can take in Monroe's Riverwalk Festival, powerboat races, art fairs or head south to Toledo to the Toledo Zoo, Cedar Point Amusement Park, Erie Street Market or the Merry-Go-Round museum. I never go to Lake Erie without sampling some of Tony Packo's famous chilidogs. For more information on things to do in Toledo, go to www.toledoohionow. com.

LAKE ST. CLAIR

Detroit-area residents don't realize how lucky they are to have such a great fishery right at their back door. Some of the finest smallmouth bass and Great Lakes muskie fishing in the world is within an hour of millions of people. Yellow perch populations are booming on Lake St.

Clair. Changes that have taken place in the lake over the years have made it a food factory, and a number of fish species have flourished because of it. With the exceptional fishing close at hand and all the amenities of the big city, a visit to Lake St. Clair is definitely worthwhile.

"It's pretty hard to beat a tube jig if you're fishing Lake St. Clair for smallmouths," claimed Kelly Bridgewater of KD Outdoors in Waterford. "There are basically two colors you need to have -- pumpkinseed and silver glitter. The pumpkinseed imitates the crayfish and gobies, and the silver color imitates the shad and native spot-tailed shiners in the lake."

Bridgewater said you can hop, swim, skitter, rip and pop, or just retrieve the tube -- and the smallies will jump all over them. The 3- to 4-inch models that are salt-impregnated work best. If the water is calm, which is rare on St. Clair because of the boat traffic, twitching stick baits on the surface can be a hoot. Spinnerbaits in white or chartreuse excel when you need to cover water. The bronzebacks will average 2 to 3 pounds, and bass topping 6 pounds are very common.

Angling families who want to bring their own boat will find good launch facilities at Metro Beach Metropark. Great bass action can be found in 8 to 11 feet of water from the park all the way to 9-Mile Road. There are countless other weedbeds, cuts, bays and canals that harbor fish at one time or another. Productive spots include, but are certainly not limited to, the mouth of the Middle Channel, Big Muscamoot Bay, the mouth of the Clinton River, the mouth of Little Muscamoot Bay, and the islands off Long Point and Huron Point. If you don't want the hassle of bringing your own rig, there are many guides operating in the area. Bass pro Gerry Gostenik is one of the best. Contact him at www.greatlakesbassfishing.com or at (313) 319-0100.

For information on amenities, things to do and accommodations in the Detroit area, contact the Metro Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-DETROIT or on their Web site at www.visitdetroit.com.

HAMLIN LAKE

Hamlin Lake is a favorite of vacationing angling families. It's easy to see why.

This 5,350-acre Mason County lake is famous for its great fishing. Nearly half of it lies within the boundary of Ludington State Park, its sand dunes and its hiking trails, plus it's close to Lake Michigan's beautiful beaches and the amenities of Ludington. Ludington is also arguably the best charter and sportfishing port on the Great Lakes. Several first-rate trout streams are close by as well. Ludington has the car ferry Badger, great eateries, beautiful golf courses, White Pine Village and plenty of other places to see and things to do.

"Fishing has been fantastic on Hamlin Lake the last few years," claimed Bill Stechschutte, who owns Country Haven Resort on Hamlin Lake. "The lake has really cleared up over the last few years, and there seems to be a lot more weeds than there used to be. I think that's part of the reason the bluegills have been doing so well. The Mason County Walleye Association continues to stock walleyes in the lake and they're making a big comeback. The DNR just planted muskies in Hamlin last year, so there's just about every specie you can imagine in the lake."

The big draw for visiting anglers, especially in spring and early summer, is the panfish. "The bluegills were down for a few years, but they've made a big comeback," Stechschutte said. Panfish move into the shallows in May to begin their spawning chores. Anglers can wear polarized glasses to spot the beds in shallow water. The fishing is uncomplicated. A slip-bobber with an ice-fishing jig or a teardrop with a wax worm will usually do the trick. Your kids will have an awesome time filling a bucket with the 7- to 9-inch bluegills and sunfish that are common. The bayous on the east side of the lower lake are great places to prospect for panfish, especially when the wind is blowing. Hard-bottomed areas up near the dunes are good places to look, too. Panfish migrate into the shallower, weedy, warmer upper lake in the spring. Platter-sized crappies are available, too. Calm, still evenings are a great time to skirt the edges of the weedbeds by casting small Beetle Spins or floating a minnow under a slip-bobber for the 10- to 14-inch specks.

The size and number of walleyes in Hamlin has been on the increase. Expect to catch plenty of 15- to 18-inch eaters, but 'eyes to 10 pounds are available. Trolling with bottom-bouncers and crawlers is a proven tactic for walleyes on Hamlin. Live-bait rigging is productive, too, and usually produces constant action and a smorgasbord for young anglers. Vertical jigging with a minnow or leech where the old river channel traverses the lake off Ludington State Park is good for walleyes and the chunky smallmouths.

Country Haven Resort has comfortable cottages and rooms right on lower Hamlin Lake. Boat and slip rental is also available. Contact them at 1-888-845-5187, or online at www.countryhavenresort.com. Bait, tackle and fishing reports are available by contacting North Bayou Resort at 1-800-261-7415, or online at www.nbayou.com. For information on other amenities, accommodations and other sites in the Ludington area, contact the Ludington Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-542-4600, or online at www.ludingtoncvb.com.

LAKES CADILLAC & MITCHELL

A family fishing road trip to Cadillac gives you two options for the price of one. Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell lie side by side and each offers its own brand of family fishing fun. Both are excellent panfish lakes. Mitchell tends to be a little better for crappies. Cadillac is better for perch. It's toss-up when it comes to bluegills and sunfish. For some strange reason though, the bluegill spawn on Lake Mitchell occurs up to two weeks after Lake Cadillac. One of them is bound to be hot when you're planning your vacation.

The two lakes are connected via a channel, so once you're on the water, you can fish either lake. There is a spacious parking lot and boat launch on Lake Mitchell at Mitchell State Park. Spawning bluegills can be found frequenting the 3- to 7-foot depths where there's a hard bottom off Big Cove and Little Cove. Slab crappies can be found in the same locations along weed edges and dropoffs in slightly deeper water. The 'gills will routinely top 9 inches, and foot-long specks are no big deal. Smallmouths averaging 17 inches and 2 1/2 to 3 pounds are common, as are largemouths. Walleyes range from eaters up to 6 or 7 pounds, and are best caught in late evening or after dark when the lake calms down.

Lake Cadillac has a good population of yellow perch. Most will range from 8 to 10 inches, but foot-long yellowbellies aren't uncommon. Target the deepest water on the east end. Try near the bottom with wigglers or minnows. Bluegills and crappies relate to weed edges in Lake Cadillac. Fish off the boat launch on the east end and in the southwest corner.

For bait, tackle, boat rental and lodging on Lake Cadillac, contact Laura Lee's Landing at 1-800-899-6755. For lodging, boat rental and live bait on Lake Mitchell, contact Pilgrim's Village at (231) 775-5412. For information on restaurants, amusements and things to do in Cadillac, contact the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau at 1-800-225-2537, or online at www.cadillacmichigan.com.

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Family fishing road trips can be a blast. It's not too late to get in on the fun. Start planning your getaway now!

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