Michigan's Family Fishing Getaways

Michigan's Family Fishing Getaways

Your mission is to plan a vacation that will make your entire family happy. Of course, this includes you, so there will have to be topnotch fishing involved! (June 2007)

Photo by Bill Banaszewski.

If you are like me, your family vacation usually involves fishing. Although I get to spend nearly 200 days a year on the water while guiding clients, family fishing vacations are different. They're laid back, there's no pressure, and it's a time to relax and recuperate from our busy lives. But don't get me wrong. Our intention when we go on vacation is to still get in some quality fishing and enjoy a few dinners of fresh fish.

The following are some destinations where the entire family can kick back, relax or play, and you can still get your fill of topnotch fishing.

LAKES CADILLAC & MITCHELL

Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell are an ideal location for a family fishing getaway.

For one thing, these lakes are connected, so you have plenty of options. If you get tired of fishing on one lake, all you have to do is go through the channel at Mitchell State Park and you have a whole new lake to explore. The lakes also offer diversity and convenience. You can camp right at the state park and keep your boat in the water. Call (231) 775-7911 for reservations, though, because the park is popular and gets busy in the summer.

Though very similar, lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are also very different. Lake Mitchell, at 2,580 acres, is bigger but shallower than Lake Cadillac. The deepest spot on 1,150-acre Cadillac is close to 30 feet on the lake's east end. You won't find many spots over 20 feet on Mitchell, and most of it averages 10 to 15 feet. Both lakes have plenty of weeds, and finding holes in the weeds or the edges is key to finding fish.

Finding hard-bottom areas that attract spawning panfish is key early in the season until mid-June. Bluegills and sunfish that have completed spawning chores will still be hanging around the bedding areas. Look for gravel areas in the northeast corner of the lake and along the south shore. Bobbers suspending an ice-fishing teardrop baited with a wax worm will entice the hungry panfish. Usually you can catch enough for a good fish fry. Later in the summer, try along the deep weed edges off Big Cove and Little Cove. The biggest bluegills come on leeches then. Crappies up to a foot long prefer tiny shiner minnows. Larger minnows are likely to interest some of the jumbo perch or walleyes. Casting stick baits or topwater lures early and late in the day can be great fun for both largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Lake Cadillac has more structure than Lake Mitchell. Because of this, it's a better lake for walleyes and smallmouths -- and bigger game. Try the dropoffs on the east end of the lake with crankbaits or live-bait rigs. In the south-central portion of the lake, find a hole in the weeds, drop anchor, throw out some bobbers and fill a fish basket with panfish.

If you somehow get tired of fishing, there's plenty to do in Cadillac. You can canoe down the Pine or Manistee rivers, play one of the area's outstanding golf courses, visit the Carl T. Johnson Hunting & Fishing Museum, play putt-putt golf or cool off in a water park.

For information on other fun things to see and do in Cadillac, or for lodging info, contact the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau at 1-800-22-LAKES.

EAST TAWAS/TAWAS CITY

With the backdrop of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, Tawas is a perfect location for a family fishing getaway.

Although East Tawas and Tawas City are less than a tank of gas from Detroit, you'll still get the feeling you are "up north." That feeling is intensified when you're hiking on the Corsair Hiking/Skiing Trail, Sandy Hook Nature Trail and the Shore-To-Shore Hiking/Riding Trail. There are also thousands of acres of national forest to explore, pick mushrooms or blueberries, and enjoy. Tuttle Marsh offers 5,000 wild acres for wildlife viewing.

Tawas offers plenty of sights and events for visitors, too. There's a Fourth of July parade and fireworks, amusement parks, the Iosco County Historical Museum, golfing, canoeing and more. For more details, contact the Tawas Bay Tourist & Convention Bureau at 1-800-558-2927, or online at www.tawas.com.

Tawas Lake is a good place to take the kids. The 1,760-acre lake is loaded with bluegills, sunfish and perch of modest size, but they're willing biters. Tawas Lake is extremely shallow, with few spots over 4 feet, so it's not really a question of where you want to fish as much as it is where you can fish. Find a hole in the weeds, drop in a bobber and a worm, and get ready to start unhooking fish.

Tawas Bay offers other fishing alternatives. Drift with a slip-bobber and a minnow or crawler and you're likely to catch everything from walleyes to perch to smallmouth bass. The backwaters of the Au Sable River are only a short drive from the Tawases, and the structure-filled impoundments contain a variety of species.

For more information on fishing opportunities in the Tawas area, contact the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit of the Department of Natural Resources at (989) 684-9141.

LAKE ST. CLAIR

For those of us who are fortunate enough to live in the "north country," taking a summer fishing vacation could mean heading south to the "Big City" to take in the sights and sounds. Fortunately, some of Michigan's best fishing lies in shadows of tall skyscrapers.

Lake St. Clair has come on like gangbusters in the last decade due to improved water quality -- zebra mussels have cleaned the water -- and the growth of aquatic vegetation. The vegetation has allowed aquatic life to flourish, and species like perch, smallmouth bass and panfish have taken advantage of it.

The fishing is fairly simple. Get yourself some native spot-tailed shiners at a local bait shop, head out onto the lake off Metro Beach near Mt. Clemens, find 10 to 15 feet of water and rig up with a slip-bobber or live-bait rig. Drifting works fine if the wind isn't too strong. It won't take long before something grabs the minnow. It could be a jumbo perch, smallmouth, walleye or even a muskie. I told you heading south could be fun!

For more fishing information, contact Lakeside Sport Shop at (586) 777-7003.

Enjoying a little culture and history is one of the pluses of going to the Detroit area. You can enjoy the epicurean delights of Greek Town and other first-class restaurants, take in a Tigers game, view automotive history at the Henry Ford Historical Museum and Greenfield Village, get wild at the De

troit Zoo, or get some rhythm at Hitsville USA and the Motown Historical Museum. There are many more fun things to see and do in the big city.

For more tourism information, contact the Metro Detroit Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-DETROIT, or online at www.visitdetroit.com.

TRAVERSE CITY

Traverse City is a vacation destination mecca for many visitors. People from all over Michigan and other states head to Traverse City during the summer to take in the area's natural beauty, partake in the culture and activities, and to wet a line if they get the chance.

The National Cherry Festival in July draws plenty of visitors to Traverse City. The festival features popular entertainers, parades, fireworks, exhibits, cherry creations and more. Traverse City offers plenty of shopping and fine dining. You can tour the local wineries. Natural beauty is another plus of heading to Grand Traverse County. You can scale the Sleeping Bear Dunes and stroll the National Lakeshore. Or drift lazily down the Boardman River on a sultry summer afternoon. There are Lake Michigan beaches and miles of hiking trails. The quaint fishing village of Leland and Fishtown is a great place to sample some of the awesomest smoked fish on earth.

For more information on activities and accommodations in the Traverse City area, contact the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-872-8377, or online at www.tcvisitor.com.

Long Lake would be a great place as a base of operations if you want to take in the sights of Traverse City and enjoy some fishing time. Long, at 2,860 acres, has received heavy plants of walleyes for years, and they are starting to pay big dividends. Long Lake has plenty of ideal habitat for walleyes. A good starting point is near the islands in the middle of the lake. One prime location is right off the boat launch on the north end. Using a slip-bobber to suspend a minnow, leech or crawler is a proven tactic, and your offering is likely to interest the lake's jumbo perch, smallmouth bass and giant bluegills, too. Concentrate on the 15- to 30-foot depths. Long Lake is extremely clear, so the best fishing takes place early and late in the day, or after dark.

For more details on fishing, contact MC Sports at (231) 933-6158.

GAYLORD

Gaylord is a perfect example of what northern Michigan is all about. There are dozen of lakes, miles of streams, and hundreds of acres of national and state forest at its doorstep. It's a natural place to plan a family fishing getaway.

Natural beauty is a big part of the Gaylord experience. The Pigeon River State Forest offers miles of hiking trails where you may catch a glimpse of an elk or bobcat. There are more than a dozen trout streams within a short drive offering canoeing and excellent fishing. The Gaylord area is also famous for its spectacular golf courses.

Gaylord hosts plenty of festivals and events, too, including the Alpenfest in July, the Celtic Festival in August, the Otsego County Fair, the Odawa Homecoming, a Fourth of July celebration, and arts, crafts and music. For more information on dates and accommodations, contact the Gaylord Convention & Visitors Bureau at (989) 732-6333, or online at www.gaylord-mich.com
.

Otsego Lake, at 1,972 acres, is located just south of Gaylord and offers excellent family fishing opportunities. Otsego Lake has been the benefactor of massive plants of walleye and northern pike fingerlings, and the plants are paying off. A good place to search for walleyes is near the points on the east side of the lake. The 'eyes will average 2 to 3 pounds, and are suckers for a slip-bobber or crawler harness. Anglers seem to do best on pike in the north and south portions of the lake. Try chucking a white spinnerbait there. All the predators in Otsego Lake tend to keep panfish populations in check, so the remaining bluegills, sunfish and perch grow to respectable sizes. Try using a worm or leech below a slip-bobber in 10 to 15 feet of water along the weed edges near the center of the lake. A good base of operations is Otsego Lake State Park.

For live bait, tackle and lake maps, contact Don's Sport Shop at (989) 732-4157.

INDIAN LAKE

Indian Lake State Park and Palms Book State Park are popular destinations for vacationing fishing families because they are located on Indian Lake and both are within easy driving distance of some of the Upper Peninsula's premier attractions.

The state parks are a stone's throw from Kitch-iti-Kipi Spring, Tahquamenon Falls, the Soo Locks, the historic town of Fayette, the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Mackinaw Island, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, miles of pristine northern Lake Michigan beaches and more.

To get a U.P. Travel Planner, contact the Upper Peninsula Travel & Recreation Association at 1-800-562-7134, or online at www.uptravel.com.

For being such a big lake at 8,659 acres, Schoolcraft County's Indian Lake is shallow. The deepest spot is 15 feet and most of the lake averages 10 feet. But Indian Lake has plenty of structure, and inflowing and outflowing creeks and rivers to keep the water circulating. Rocks and boulders are prime structure. It's no wonder that smallmouths, walleyes and perch thrive here. A big rockpile that comes to within 5 feet of the surface in the middle of the lake is a good starting point. Cast a jig adorned with a twistertail among the rocks and hop it back to the boat. The combination is good for anything from 5-pound smallies to jumbo perch. Walleyes, bass and perch also frequent the rockpiles along the west shore and southwest corner. Weeds in Indian are most predominant in the northwest and western portions of the lake, and that is where you're most likely to find some of the jumbo crappies and perch.

For bait, tackle and fishing information on Indian Lake, contact Campers Market at (906) 341-5614.

HIAWATHA NATIONAL FOREST

One of our most memorable family fishing vacations was one we took to the U.P.'s Hiawatha National Forest. We rented a cottage on a little spot of a lake. In fact, the lake was named Spot Lake. We didn't even have the truck unpacked before the kids were down on the dock hauling in big bluegills, crappies and sunfish. It wasn't long before I was right down there next to them. It didn't take us very long to fill a bucket for an evening fish fry.

Unlike many lakes in the U.P., Schoolcraft County lakes are very fertile. Most of them are not very large, but they have excellent water quality and plenty of vegetation -- a great combination for producing big panfish. Many of them are known for their excellent crappie fishing. Try Island, Thunder, Ironjaw, Colwell and Crooked lakes for big papermouths. Most of these lakes have some good bluegills and sunfish in them, too, as well as bass, pike and walleyes. Most are perfect for a cartopper boat, and the fishing is uncomplicated. It's perfect for young anglers.

For more information on Schoolcraft County lakes, contact the USFS

Ranger District Office at (906) 341-5666. For information on campgrounds, resorts and amenities in the area, contact the Manistique Area Tourist Council at (906) 341-6954, or online at www.visitmanistique.com.

* * *

There are dozens of great family destinations in Michigan, and it's not too late yet to plan a fishin' mission for this summer. Get out there and enjoy!

(Editor's Note: Ludington-based charter captain, guide, author and photographer Mike Gnatkowski turned his attention to one of his other loves -- wild-game cooking -- to compile a cookbook of easy, delicious recipes that anyone can prepare. Wild Game Simple features over 100 straightforward recipes on preparing everything from fish to venison to waterfowl. The book also includes over a dozen easy crock-pot recipes. The recipes are a compilation of the captain's secret blends, customer's offerings and old-time favorites. Signed copies are available for $24.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling. Michigan residents need to add 6 percent sales tax. The book is available online at www.gnatoutdoors.com, or by mail at P.O. Box 727, Ludington, MI 49431.)

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