Michigan's Best Bets For Muskies

Whether you just want to fish an "action" lake or take on a

trophy muskie water, our state has something for everyone.

Photo by Pete Maina

Over the past couple of decades the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has worked hard to improve muskie angling opportunities throughout our state. Thousands of muskie fingerlings have been stocked, and many waters are now producing both good numbers and sizes of this powerful predator.

Though not common, trophy-class muskies exceeding 50 inches and weighing more than 35 pounds have been caught in Michigan. Last year's Master Angler Awards speak volumes about Michigan's muskie lakes and rivers. According to the records, several waters yielded qualifying fish of 45 inches or better. Many of these fish were released back into waterways unharmed to provide anglers with more tackle-busting battles in the future.

So whether you want to catch a mess of muskies or one trophy fish for the wall, Michigan has something for everyone.

SKEGEMOG LAKE

"The best muskie lakes in my area are Skegemog, Elk, Torch, Six Mile and Intermediate," said Todd Kalish, fisheries biologist with the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit in Traverse City. "We have documented Great Lakes muskies in all of these lakes, and they all have a good forage base of white suckers and perch. I receive reports of muskies being caught in these lakes nearly every year ranging in size from 30 to 50 inches."

According to Kalish, these lakes are all excellent prospects for producing big muskies. They provide the diverse habitat preferred by this toothy predator. There are shallow, weedy bays for spawning and feeding, and deep water for refuge, thus rounding out what muskies are looking for. Skegemog Lake covers 1,460 acres and is connected by a wide channel to deeper Elk Lake. Skegemog is less than 30 feet deep.

"Some of the more popular fishing spots are the Torch River and the eastern portion of Skegemog," said Kalish.

The Torch River flows into the lake on the north end and is joined by several others, including Copeland, Barker, Desmond, Vargason and Chaney creeks. Several old cars were dropped into the lake along the shoreline in the late 1950s to enhance the lake's structure.

Public ramps are available off Hoiles Drive on the southwestern shore and on the Torch River off Wood Trail.

For more information, contact the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 922-1853. Trip planning assistance can be found by contacting the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce at (231) 264-8202.

ELK LAKE

Part of the Elk River Chain of Lakes along with Skegemog, Elk may not have large numbers of muskies, but there are some trophy fish.

"The fishing spot in Elk is in the southern portion of the lake due to the abundance of submerged logs and vegetation," said Kalish. "Muskie anglers also target the channel connecting Elk and Sekgemog lakes."

The channel to Skegemog is really just a narrows dividing the lakes on the southeast end of Elk.

Anglers will find plenty of room to roam on the lake's 7,730 acres. The lake is deep, extending downward to more than 190 feet. The southern section is shallower, thus where the muskies will be found.

In addition to the perch and white suckers, lake herring add flavor to the muskie's snack list in Elk.

Kalish recommends targeting muskies with large stickbaits, spinners, buzzbaits and live suckers. The most popular colors on Elk are crayfish, green, perch, brown and black.

Ramps are available off Park Road on the southwest shore, near Elk Lake Road on the northeast side and two in shallower Spencer Bay off Cairn Highway and River Shores Drive.

Additional fishing information can be obtained by calling the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 922-1853. The Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (231) 264-8202.

BLACK LAKE & BLACK RIVER

"Our only real muskie fishing spots up here are Black Lake and the Cheboygan, and lower Black River reaches near Alverno Dam," said Tim Cwalinski, fisheries biologist with the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit in the northeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula. "The number of muskies seen by anglers while sturgeon spearing in February is quite impressive. More so are the sizes."

Good spawning habitat throughout the lower river reaches and Black Lake helps sustain the population, according to Cwalinski. Black Lake covers 10,130 acres in Cheboygan and Presque Isle counties. Depths plummet to 50 feet with areas to weedy cover. Public ramp access is on the northeast corner in Black Lake State Forest Campground.

The 10-mile stretch of Black River downstream of Black Lake is where muskie hunters tangle with good-sized Great Lakes-strain muskies. The river flows into the southeast portion of Black Lake and outflows on the southern end. The Alverno Dam is located downstream west of Gaynard Road in Cheboygan County and prevents migrating fish from moving upstream. The river widens at the dam to nearly 100 feet before continuing its course to the Cheboygan River. Muskies swim this section of river before it empties out into Lake Huron.

One reason the muskies are doing so well is the forage base, according to Cwalinski. Yellow perch, bluegills, rock bass, pumpkinseeds, white suckers and a lot of redhorse suckers help to sustain the muskie population. Anglers should keep this in mind when selecting lure colors and sizes.

Boater access to the river is off the east side of Gaynard Road on the river's north shore, northwest of Alverno Dam off Orchard Beach Road on the west side of the river and at the Black River Marina south of Cheboygan. For more fishing information, contact the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit at (517) 732-3541. The Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-968-3302 can assist with local lodging, or visit their Web site at

www.cheboygan.com.

LAKE HUDSON

Located in Lenawee County, Lake Hudson covers 502 acres. It is located a mile south of M-34 on M-156 and is eight miles east of Hudson and 15 miles west of Adrian. Public access is provided in the Lake Hudson Recreation Area off M-156 north of Medina Road.

"Numbers of muskies in the lake are artificially high since this lake is maintained as the primary broodstock lake for Michigan's muskellunge rearing program," said Jeffrey Braunscheidel, a fisheries biologist w

ith the Lake Erie Management Unit in southeastern Michigan. "While there aren't a lot of keeper-sized fish more than 42 inches, there are lots in the 36- to 40-inch size range."

According to Braunscheidel, muskie hunters troll the deeper areas all through the summer as well as cast large in-line spinners and medium-sized muskie crankbaits in the shallow areas near shore.

"Lure colors depend on water conditions," said Fred Lederer, an angler with years of Lake Hudson experience. "An experienced muskie fisherman is willing to experiment and vary patterns. My first choice is always a lure that will run just over the tops of submerged weeds, or a heavy spinnerbait that will run through the weeds. If fishing at night to avoid daytime heat, high daytime fishing pressure or boat traffic, use black if there is good moonlight. If there is poor moonlight or overcast skies, use a topwater lure that makes as much noise and splash as possible, and make sure to figure-8 on every cast because you will never know when you have a follow."

According to Lederer, the most productive parts of the lake are the main-lake body on the beach side and in the area southwest of the boat launch and campground.

Lake Hudson was impounded and flooded two smaller lakes. It has two deep basins ranging between 30 and 35 feet deep with shallow shoreline features. The water is usually turbid and muddy due to the clay banks, which is the reason for the no-wake restriction on the lake.

For more information, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit at (734) 953-0241. For lodging information, contact the Lenawee County Visitor's Bureau at 1-800-536-2933.

LAKE ST. CLAIR

"The best muskie fishery in the state is in Lake St. Clair," said Braunscheidel. "Several Great Lakes muskellunge over 40 pounds have been caught recently, and fish over 30 pounds, while not common, do occur with regular frequency. It is also not unusual for anglers targeting muskies in Lake Clair to catch several in one trip as opposed to the one or two that anglers on other waters are likely to encounter."

A quick check of Master Angler Awards shows that Lake St. Clair yields many times more the Master Angler fish than other bodies of water in Michigan. During 2004, more than 50 muskies were taken that qualified, the largest exceeding 52 inches.

Lake St. Clair borders both the United States and Canada in the Detroit area. The generally dishpan-shaped lake covers 200,000 acres and doesn't get much deeper than about 25 feet. Depths average 10 feet, with some spots shallow enough for boats to run aground. Waters on the U.S. side cover 162 square miles while 268 square miles of the lake lie within Canada. A Canadian fishing license is required to fish the Canadian side.

One of Lederer's favorite muskie haunts, Lake St. Clair's muskies respond to a variety of lure colors but seem to prefer yellow, green or red.


A quick check of Master Angler Awards shows that Lake St. Clair yields many times more the Master Angler fish than other bodies of water in Michigan. During 2004, more than 50 muskies were taken that qualified, the largest exceeding 52 inches.
 

"Muskies can be very finicky," he said. "I like to make sure I have several versions of lures that fit the day's conditions, and I like to have a couple extras of lures that have been successful for me in the past. Sometimes the fish want the most awful looking lure from the bottom of your tackle box. It doesn't meet the conditions, may not resemble a baitfish and it might not even be a muskie lure. Sometimes a beefed-up bass or walleye lure, following a cold front, is the way to go."

"Our big fish last season was a 56-incher weighing 38 pounds," said Mike Pittiglio of Muskie Mania Charters in Lake St. Clair Shores. "This past year we broke our record of boated muskies, totaling 754, up from last year's 646. Our top baits were Wiley's, Lokes, Z-Baits, Masons, Lappers and BKS." Thirteen of these fish weighed in at more than 30 pounds.

Pittiglio's trick to literally boatloads of muskies is power trolling.

"I troll from 3.7 to four miles per hour," he said. "Some guys on the lake troll up to five miles per hour, which I think is way too fast."

Lake St. Clair has the reputation of being the best muskie lake on the planet, a reputation that is well deserved, and it's only getting better. According to the DNR, factors contributing to the excellent muskie prospects on the lake include minimum length limits, clearer water and increased aquatic plant growth. The voluntary catch-and-release ethics of most anglers ties the knot to make Lake St. Clair's fishery world-class.

"It should be a stellar year," said Pittiglio. "Every year just keeps getting better!"

Additional information is available from the Lake Erie Management Unit at (734) 953-1481. Pittiglio can be reached at his e-mail at capt_mike_pittiglio@hotmail.com. The Detroit Metro Visitor's Bureau at (586) 260-4068 can provide information on lodging and other amenities, or visit their Web site at

www.visitdetroit.com.

ST. MARYS RIVER

The St. Marys begins in Lake Superior and separates Canada and Michigan for nearly 70 miles before flowing into Lake Huron. The sections attracting the attention of muskie hunters are the mid and lower portions of the river where the current breaks and expansive weedbeds are found.

Fish in the 40- to 50-inch size range are available beginning near Birch Point between Mosquito and Waiska bays, and down to De Tour Point. Potagannissing and Munuscong bays are both hotspots as well.

Plenty of Master Angler Award fish have come out of the river and its bays. Last year a 52-inch monster was taken in Chippewa County, and over the last couple of years numerous 40-inch and better fish have been recorded. Experienced anglers respect the moving water that can be deceptive due to the width of the river. Using GPS may be the only way to mark a spot where a "follower" muskie was found.

Public access includes the campground on Munuscong Bay, at Dunbar on the West Neebish Channel south of the Charlotte River, the township-owned park on Raber Bay and at the De Tour Passage a mile south of De Tour. Potagannissing Bay can be accessed from the campground on Maxton Bay north of Drummond Island.

Additional fishing information can be had by calling the Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 732-3541. Contact the Sault Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (906) 632-3301 or on the Web at

www.saultstemarie.com for information on lodging and local amenities.

SANFORD LAKE

The most well-known lake in the Tittabawassee River system is Sanford Lake

in Midland County, followed by Wixom, Secord and Smallwood lakes.

"Anglers can catch good numbers of muskies in Sanford, and the muskies are bigger," said Kathryn Schrouder, a fisheries biologist with the South Lake Huron Management Unit.

According to Schrouder, muskies have been stocked in all of these waters, though Sanford currently has the best fishing.

"Sanford is a tough nut to crack but the trophy potential is there," said Don Barnard, a DNR fisheries technician with the management area.

An avid Sanford muskie angler himself, Barnard recommends spinnerbaits in the spring and early summer, topwaters in the evening during June and the usual array of bucktails, spinnerbaits and topwaters in the hot summer months.

"The fish you do catch are really nice, and a lot of them are over 40 inches," said Barnard.

According to Barnard, Sanford is tough to pattern due to changing conditions. Weed edges are primary holding points during summer, and should be targeted first. Sanford covers 1,250 acres, with bottom features including stumps and an old riverbed.

Nearby Secord covers 815 acres and Smallwood 232 acres in Gladwin County, while Wixom covers 1,980 acres in Gladwin and Midland counties. Public access on Smallwood Lake is found on the west shore at State Route 61 and Lakeview Drive. Sanford has boat ramps off River Road in the Black Creek State Forest campground and at the Midland County Park. Secord Lake access is off Pineland Road on the north side and from a ramp on Sioux Road on the south side of the lake. A boat ramp on Wixom Lake is located off Dundas Road on the east side of the left branch.

For additional fishing information, contact the South Lake Huron Management Area at (989) 684-9141. For local information, contact the Midland County Convention and Visitor's Bureau at 1-888-464-3526 or on the Web at

www.midlandcvb.org.

Muskie angling opportunities abound in Michigan. If you're looking for some of the state's best bets for muskie action, these lakes and rivers are it.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Contact the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on the Web at

www.michigan.gov/dnr for more information or for lake maps. Call Travel Michigan at 1-888-784-7328 or visit their Web site at

www.michigan.org for additional assistance in planning a trip.

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