Michigan's Muskie Madness

Michigan's Muskie Madness

If you are a serious muskie hunter, you know it's all about the challenge. You can test your limits on these hot waters this summer. (July 2006)

Photo by Pete Maina

It takes a different breed of angler to fish specifically for muskies. Even in the best waters, "toothers" are few and far between, and an angler could fish hard for days without even raising a fish.

But for some anglers, the challenge is what it's all about. Most people who land a trophy muskie will tell you they weren't actually fishing for muskies. Anglers are usually pulling a crawler harness for walleyes or casting a stick bait for pike when something really big and unexpected latches on to their lure. Landing a fish the size of a trophy muskie on regular fishing tackle takes a lot of luck, but that's exactly how most giant Esox are caught.

But you can increase your odds if you're a serious muskie hunter by targeting one of these hot bodies of water. Traditionally, they make up some of the best muskie waters in Michigan, and the fish will thoroughly test your limits.

LAC VIEUX DESERT

"Lac Vieux Desert provides some of the most consistent muskie fishing in our unit," said Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Bill Ziegler. "The lake has a pretty good population of naturally sustaining northern muskies and a population of northern pike, which occasionally cross-breed with the muskies to produce tiger/muskie hybrids."

Lac Vieux Desert, at 4,300 acres, is located on the Michigan/Wisconsin border, and anglers should consult their 2006 Michigan Fishing Guide booklet for specific rules regarding boundary waters. Lac Vieux Desert is a shallow body of water, with much of it less than 20 feet deep, thus muskies can be found cruising anywhere. A good starting point is near a cluster of islands that includes Duck, Near and Draper on the east side of the lake. Because it is so shallow, weeds are a problem during the summer. The best muskie fishing consequently is early in the season before the weeds reach the surface, and later in the fall. Serious muskie anglers pull big crankbaits and body baits, chuck in-line spinners or soak a good-sized sucker under a bobber.

For more information on lodging, resorts and tackle shops near Lac Vieux Desert, contact the Western Upper Peninsula Convention & Visitors Bureau at (906) 932-4850, or online at www.westernup.com.

PAINT RIVER POND

Paint River Pond along with the Brule River Impoundment forms the beginning of the Menominee River. According to fisheries biologist Bill Ziegler, the impoundments of the Menominee are ideal habitat for producing big muskies.

The river system is full of a variety of suckers, which is a muskie's favorite forage. The power companies own almost all of the lands along the pond, so it is largely undeveloped and available to public access. The near-pristine shorelines offer plenty of back bays and flooded timber that provide ideal muskie habitat. There are two public boat launches maintained by the power companies on the pond.

Northern-strain muskie populations are sustained in 774-acre Paint Pond by natural reproduction. Fish up to 50 inches are fairly common. Early in the season, muskies can be found cruising the shallows after spawning. Covering water and chucking big jerkbaits and bucktail spinners can bring vicious strikes. During the summer months, the muskies often suspend near the old river channel.

The closest town to Paint Pond is Florence across the border in Wisconsin. For information on lodging and accommodations in the area, contact the Iron County Tourism Council at (906) 265-3822, or online at www.tryiron.org.

TAHQUAMENON RIVER

If you have your heart set on landing a muskie while casting, it's a pretty good bet that you can do it in the Tahquamenon River northeast of Newberry.

The muskie you catch isn't likely to be a legal fish, though. Only about 5 percent of the muskies in the Tahquamenon reach the 42-inch size limit, but what they lack in size they more than make up for in numbers, and you're not going to find a more scenic venue in which to fulfill your quest.

"Most of the muskies you're going to catch in the Tahquamenon River are going to be in the mid-30-inch range," said Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Jim Waybrant, "but there are a few that reach 48 inches and bigger."

Waybrant said muskies caught above the upper falls are northern-strain muskies, but below the lower falls, you'll find a mix of Great Lakes and northern muskies.

Key to finding muskies in the Tahquamenon is finding structure along the shorelines muskies use as ambush cover. Look for old beaver lodges, weedlines, downed trees and other structure that provide muskie hangouts. Cover of this type is plentiful from McPhee's Landing upstream to M-123 and downstream to the upper falls. Hotspots can be places where rivers enter the Tahquamenon like the Sage and Hendrie. Another prime stretch of water is from the access near the mouth at Lake Superior up to the lower falls. Some huge muskies are taken each spring just below the dam at Dollarville by both wading and shoreline anglers.

The Tahquamenon River is the prefect place to cast for muskies. Big Suick jerkbaits, bucktail spinners and oversized spinnerbaits worked close to cover wake up muskies. Late spring and early fall are two of the best times to catch Esox in the Tahquamenon.

For more information on lodging, accommodations and amenities in the area, call the Newberry Area Tourism Association at (906) 293-5562, or online at www.visitnewberrymi.com.

ST. MARYS RIVER

"The St. Marys River system is the place to go if you're a serious muskie angler and you know how to fish for muskies," declared biologist Waybrant.

The St. Marys River is a huge expanse of water that has muskies throughout it. With thousands of acres of water, though, the toothers can be few and far between. Trolling is about the only option when there's so much water to cover. Find baitfish, though, and you'll find muskies. That can mean walleyes, perch, suckers or carp, but keep in mind that muskies prefer soft-rayed fish.

Just trying to narrow down a location to try can be intimidating. Muskies are commonly found throughout Lake Nicolet, Lake George, Munuscong Bay, Raber Bay and Potagannissing Bay. The shallow bodies of water like Munuscong and Raber bays seem to produce the best action in May and June, and then again in September and October. Fast trolling with big, wobbling Believer-type plugs in perch, black sucker, shad and gold/green colors are the ticket. Fish in the 54-i

nch range are caught every year.

A good base of operations for muskie fishing on the St. Marys is Little Munuscong River Resort. Contact them for information on lodging, guides and amenities at (906) 647-2024, or online at www.musky-guide-resort.com.

ELK RIVER CHAIN

"The whole Elk River Chain has muskies in it," offered Central Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "Every one of the lakes -- Skegemog, Elk, Torch, Intermediate, Clam, Bellaire -- has muskies in them, but not a lot. Skegemog and Elk probably have the most muskies, and Skegemog has the best habitat."

Muskies migrate throughout the system, and quite often can be found in the shallow, weedy confines of 2,561-acre Skegemog Lake near Kalkaska. The muskies are the Great Lakes spotted-strain variety and are particularly abundant in Skegemog in the spring and early summer. This shallow lake warms quickly and has plenty of forage for hungry muskies. Oversized crankbaits, spoons and spinners all take fish on occasion. Known muskie hangouts are near a hole in the center of the lake that averages 15 feet and near the outflow to Elk Lake. Later in the summer, the leviathans migrate to the comfort of deep water in Elk and Torch lakes. The muskies gorge there on a diet of trout, herring and whitefish.

Access to Skegemog can be gained via a launch on the west side of the lake.

For information on Skegemog and other lakes in the Elk River Chain, contact Jack's Sport Shop at (231) 258-8892. For information on lodging and amenities in the area, contact the Kalkaska Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-487-6880, or online at www.kalkaskami.com.

LAKE MARGRETHE

"Lake Margrethe is an up-and-coming lake for muskies," claimed fisheries biologist Mark Tonello. "In another couple of years it should be a very viable muskie fishery."

Tonello said there are some muskies already in Lake Margrethe from plants made in previous years, but an aggressive stocking program was just initialed in 2002. In that year, the DNR planted 2,000 10- to 13-inch muskies. In 2004, another 6,000 were stocked, and a plant of 5,000 was made in 2005.

"The fish from the 2002 plant should be in the mid-20-inch class right now and should be catchable size in a couple of years," Tonello said.

Tonello said muskie plants are often met with opposition from anglers.

"What we're trying to do is provide diversity in the fishery," Tonello stated. "People are afraid of muskies eating game fish, but the preferred prey of muskies is soft-rayed fish like suckers and sheepshead."

The benefit of removal of trash fish by predatory muskies is going to far outweigh the loss of the few game fish that muskies may eat, and they provide anglers with the chance to catch a trophy fish.

Located in west-central Crawford County, 1,920-acre Lake Margrethe is ideally suited to growing muskies. The lake features humps, steep contours, points and shallow flats where muskies like to hunt. There is plenty of forage already present. Lake Margrethe has an established game fish population that includes good numbers of pike, walleyes, bass and panfish. Muskies are an added bonus to the mix. All we have to do now is let nature take its course.

For more information on bait shops, lodging and accommodations near Lake Margrethe, contact the Grayling Area Visitors Council at 1-800-937-8837, or online at www.grayling-mi.com.

BLACK LAKE

"Our best muskie waters are the Black Lake/Black River/Cheboygan River reach," offered Northern Lake Huron Management Unit fisheries biologist Tim Cwalinski. "We attempted to get a population estimate for all game fish at Black Lake beginning in April 2005. We did well in marking many walleyes and pike; however, the muskies had not come in shallow enough to be captured in our nets. We do know the muskies grow very large here by seeing them after they are harvested, and some anglers really focus in on them."

Black Lake has a reputation for giving up muskies topping 50 inches and 30 pounds every year.

At 10,130 acres, muskies have plenty of room to roam in Black Lake. There are plenty of shiners, chubs and suckers for muskies to snack on. Muskies do concentrate in the spring and again in the fall on the north end where the Black River exits. Troll the usual complement of giant crankbaits, bucktails and body baits in the 10- to 25-foot depths there early and late in the day. During the summer, muskies relate more to the contours and dropoffs found on the southwest side.

For information on resorts, guides and lodging on Black Lake, contact the Cheboygan Area Tourist Bureau at 1-800-968-3302, or online at www.cheboygan.com.

SANFORD LAKE

"Sanford Lake is the best muskie lake in the unit," said Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Kathrin Schrouder. "We plant the lake every other year, and muskies are firmly established in the lake. You hear some news of them being caught."

Many of the other impoundments of the Tittabawassee River also have muskie populations.

"One of the big problems is that we've never been able to meet our planting needs in those lakes," Schrouder explained. "Coolwater hatchery production has just not been able to keep up with demand."

Sanford Lake is a narrow 10-mile expanse of the Tittabawassee River that has plenty of structure. The lake is filled with stumps, weedbeds, dropoffs and contours that make for ideal muskie habitat.

"Forage is not an issue," said Schrouder. Sanford Lake has a bounty of suckers and other rough fish that muskies can prey on. Still, surprisingly few of the behemoths are caught.

"I think all of the Tittabawassee River impoundments, including Wixom and Ross, have better muskie populations than what we've actually seen," Schrouder suggested. "Muskies are just hard to catch, and weed treatments on these impoundments in recent years has changed where these fish orientate."

Prime locations on Sanford Lake to search for muskies is where creeks enter the impoundment and along the old river channel that courses through the lake where it comes close to shore. The best policy is to use bright lures that can be seen in the turbid water, and to cover water.

For information on bait shops, accommodations and other amenities in the Sanford area, contact the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce at (989) 687-2800.

THORNAPPLE LAKE

"Thornapple Lake has some dandy muskies in it," declared Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jay Wesley. "Our creel clerks are telling us about them all the time."

Thornapple is a designated broodstock lake for muskies, so fisheries managers make sure that it is well stocked. The lake gets a dose of 1,600 10- to 13-inch muskies every other year. Combine this with a ban on spearing, a 50-inch size limit and an unlimited food supply, and you have the makings of a muski

e factory.

Covering a little over 400 acres, Thornapple Lake is located just east of Hastings in east-central Barry County. The lake has depths to 30 feet and an irregular shoreline that features many points, bays and contours that are muskie hangouts. Jumbo spinnerbaits, stick baits and jerkbaits all take their share of Thornapple muskies for those who are persistent. There are boat launches on both ends of Thornapple Lake.

On a side note, a couple of other southern Michigan muskie lakes of note, according to Wesley, include Kent County's Murray Lake and Lake Ovid in Clinton County.

"We've been planting Murray Lake with about 1,600 muskies every other year and we're starting to see some results," Wesley claimed. "Lake Ovid has a good population of muskies. It is kind of an ongoing project and we're using the muskies for predator control, but the fishery is developing a small following."

Wesley said other southern Michigan lakes with fishable muskie populations include St. Joseph County's Long Lake and Van Buren County's Round and Bankson lakes. The DNR has made modest muskie plants in these lakes in recent years and there are some trophy Esox in them.

For more information on southern Michigan muskie lakes, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the DNR at (269) 685-6851.

* * *

If you have your sights set on catching your first or 100th muskie this year, be sure to check out these waters. They'll take you to the limit!

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