Michigan's Winter Walleye Waters
October 04, 2010
Our state is a top destination for walleye action. Here are some of our best waters where you can enjoy this winter wonderland.
By Jim Barta
Okay, admit it. Where else can you go besides Michigan to enjoy non-stop consecutive seasons of great walleye fishing? Spring, summer, fall and winter each offer opportunity after opportunity for anglers to cash in on this aquatic gold.
As a hard-core walleye fanatic myself, I barely have time to tire of one season's method of catching my creel of 'eyes when the fish's own natural, calendar-driven instincts cause me to shift gears into another fun-filled technique.
It doesn't matter whether I'm offering up jigs while drifting with the current during the spring, trolling Michigan Stinger spoons off planer boards during the summer or casting to shallow flats during a fall night for trophy walleyes preparing for the winter, these fish are just plain fun to catch!
Ah, but there is certainly one method of adding to my yearly creel that's hard to pass up. Having a three-foot light-action jigging rod come to a dead stop as I set the hook on a winter walleye can't help but send an extra dose of adrenaline through my body. It's certainly a rush that needs to be experienced by everyone.
And being the fantastic angling state that I spoke of earlier, Michigan is a top destination for winter walleye action. Here are some of our best waters where you can enjoy this winter wonderland. Check out the various angling techniques used by locals at each of these locations. Individual characteristics of these ice-capped waters will dictate particular needs in the way of baits and the methods for using them. Most importantly, be sure there's plenty of safe ice before venturing out this winter.
It only stands to reason that when a body of water carries the title of "Walleye Capital of the World," the designation isn't restricted to open-water tactics only. These fish don't pack up and head south for the winter. They're here for the taking! Millions of walleyes call this lake home, and Michigan's hardwater anglers have top billing to a lot of them.
"You gotta love this state," declared Bill Dougherty of Bottom Line Bait and Tackle in Brownstown. "About the time I get all my summer stuff put away, the folks are headed back out for walleyes through the ice. All we do is simply rotate the gear and grin as we see folks bringing ice-frozen walleyes back in to have their picture taken. Gets to be pretty regular, year after year!"
When targeting Lake Erie's finest fish through the ice, a sure bet lies off the city of Monroe. Leaving from Sterling State Park, anglers can feel a bit of protection from the elements by a pair of points that create an ideal bay for catching walleyes during the winter. Depending on the season's temperatures, ice will often form here first and be the last to stick around. In any case, check ice and wind conditions before venturing out.
Catching walleyes here may not be as simple a "shooting fish in a barrel," but during the winter, huge numbers of walleyes migrate into these shallow waters in search of baitfish. Tip-ups baited with minnows work well, but most local anglers can be found jigging various types of jigging spoons. Rapala's Jigging Minnow or the new 1/2-ounce Scorpion Spoon made by Michigan Stinger Company are top bets, especially when tipped with a minnow.
When making your presentation, vary the speed at which you offer the jig. I've found many times when the fish wanted it snapped high and often, while at other times, they wouldn't touch it unless it was barely moving. Try both and let the fish tell you what they prefer.
Bottom Line Bait and Tackle can be reached by calling (734) 379-9762.
LAKE ST. CLAIR
This may not be considered one of the Great Lakes, but don't tell that to the thousands of anglers who call this winter fishing paradise home. They think it's great, any way you look at it!
During most any ice-covered weekend, it becomes rather difficult differentiating between dry land and offshore at Lake St. Clair's Anchor Bay. Cars, shanties the size of small homes and parties make up a typical weekend here. Anglers by the thousands celebrate the winter season fishing here, and for good reason - it's a great place to fish.
Although most any species of fish can be found flopping or frozen around ice holes here, one species tops the list of "most preferred." Walleyes make their way into this skinny-water bay each winter in search of prey. This, in turn, makes them vulnerable to the fishing action of hundreds of seasoned anglers.
For best results, try setting a tip-up nearby while keeping busy by jigging through another hole. Like Lake Erie, Rapala Jigging Spoons or 1/2-ounce Scorpion Spoons will be the way to go here as well. Tip the jig with a minnow, but don't kill the natural action of the jig by using bait that's too large. Let the lure do its job while the minnow offers a bit of scent.
"Make sure the folks check our fishing report each day before heading out," said Dan Chimelak of Lakeside Fishing Shop. "This area can be as treacherous as it can be fun. Anglers will need to watch the wind and ice carefully here. A strong or constant west wind can move solid ice out and away from shore in a hurry."
If there's one problem with fishing Anchor Bay during the winter, it's a lack of parking. For best results, check with the various store and restaurant owners for permission to use their parking lots. To call Lakeside Tackle's fishing report, dial (586) 777-7008.
Located along the border of Wayne and Washtenaw counties, Belleville Lake is a real sleeper when it comes to action for walleyes. Although the lake has a good population of the fish, its lack of notoriety is likely contributed by its proximity to Lake Erie.
Belleville is a long, narrow impoundment on the Huron River and attributes much of its angling success to a winding river channel, dropoffs, drowned logs and numerous manmade structures.
One spot anglers will want to check out for walleyes is under the overpass in 15 to 20 feet of water near the town of Belleville. Try using jigs tipped with live bait as well as an occasional tip-up with its offering placed only inches above bottom.
If possible, purchase a chart that clearly indicates the lake's winding river channel. The edges of this channel are fairly sure bets when targeting winter walleyes, and a good chart coupled with electronics will almost be a necessity.
Look for the area just off the dam to hold walleyes through most of the winter. The river channel makes a couple fast bends here, which form both high, shallow points as well as deep dropoffs.
For more information on Belleville Lake's winter walleye action, contact Hayward's Marina at (734) 699-0369.
Gun Lake is in western Barry County in the Yankee State Recreation Area. During the summer months, this 2,680-acre lake can seem at times to share its water with as many powerboats as fish. That, however, is exactly what makes it such an appealing spot for winter fishing fun. The fish are still here while the boats sit covered until another season.
Gun is divided into two sections connected by a 6-foot-deep channel of water. While the west side consists mostly of shallow water, the eastern portion has every conceivable advantage needed to produce the lake's natural population of walleyes. Deep dropoffs, ledges and shallow sections can all be found on this end of the lake.
Gun Lake offers anglers a good number of species each winter, with walleyes at the top of most anglers' lists. Although completely different, the areas off Murphy's Point and Hastings Point will see a lot of the walleye action. Murphy's Point has water that rarely exceeds 6 feet in depth and will require a bit of stealth when fishing it. Tip-ups set and watched will do their job in this shallow water. Hastings Point, on the other hand, has a variety of depths that will require a chart and electronics to locate. Jigging spoons and lures are the way to go here. Locate the dropoff edges and set up shop.
Because Gun Lake has a good population of year-round residents, the lake is a favorite hangout for local anglers. When new to this water, it would be wise to check out the areas that draw the most shanties and angling activity first. Once you're comfortable with the lake, then strike out on your own.
Access to Gun Lake can be obtained off Murphy's Point in the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area. Another access is off Marsh Road on the lake's southwest end. For more information, call (269) 792-4396.
Located in northeast Genesee and northwest Lapeer counties, Holloway Reservoir is actually a six-mile-long impoundment. This long, narrow body of water may just be one of Michigan's best-kept secrets when it comes to winter walleye action.
"Holloway has a great population of walleyes," said Tom Biggs of Fishing Tackle Grab Bag in Davison. "Because of the mostly shallow conditions, most anglers will rely on tip-ups to catch their fish. Some will use jigs or perch-style rigs baited with minnows, but tip-ups are generally the norm."
According to Biggs, the best depths to work are those in 8 to 12 feet of water, especially if there's structure to be found there. One of the first areas anglers should check out is located along the northwest shore near the Holloway Dam. A number of weedbeds can be found here, and each will hold plenty of walleyes.
"Another good spot for walleyes is off Goose Point," said Biggs. "Goose Point is in the heart of the reservoir and it's a peninsula that juts out along the southern shoreline."
The public access site is located off Henderson Road on the lake's southwest side. Before heading out on Holloway, consider giving Biggs a call at Fishing Tackle Grab Bag. The number there is (810) 653-4771.
Often noted for its ability to yield plenty of bass, pike and panfish to anglers, Kent Lake can be a real eye opener to those looking to catch winter walleyes. During the summer, Kent is one of southern Michigan's most heavily fished lakes. Its proximity to millions of homes, restaurants and shopping centers makes it a first stop for both novice and seasoned anglers not looking to travel very far to fish.
Despite the boat and angler activity during the summer, Kent is consistent with its yield of fish, especially during the slow months of winter.
When targeting walleyes from Kent Lake, look for much of your creel to come from the depths of a winding river channel that makes its way throughout the lake. A chart and good electronics will aid tremendously in locating this section of deep water.
A prime spot to try can be found south of the picnic grounds and in the main lake off the west side of the boat launch. Another good location for walleyes is in a bay located at the lake's southwest corner. This bay is a favorite with local ice-anglers here and yields enough 'eyes each winter to keep them coming back.
When fishing the shallower bays, tip-ups baited with live minnows work well. Occasionally, jigging will work there as well, but stealth will be the way to go in this skinny water. If hands-on jigging is your preference, search out the deeper river channel and work its depths as well as the upper edges.
Kent Lake is part of the Kensington Metropark in Oakland County and can be accessed off Interstate 96. A small fee is charged to enter the park, but plenty of parking and restroom facilities are available near the lake. For information on park hours, call (810) 685-1561.
BIG PORTAGE LAKE
"Big Portage Lake has become one of the top walleye lakes in southeast Michigan," said Jeff Braunscheidel, DNR fisheries biologist. "Portage has received a number of fry plantings in the past, and the population there has really taken off."
Portage Lake spans 644 acres and offers some prime structure that concentrates walleyes during the winter months. Anglers should look for two large humps in the center of the main basin that rise from depths of 60 feet to areas as shallow as 10 feet. These two humps are excellent spots to begin your walleye angling efforts. Another spot to check out can be found off the lake's access on the southeast shore. This area drops to 25 feet deep and will hold walleyes anywhere along the dropoff in 10 to 20 feet of water.
Look for traditional jigging spoons and live-bait rigs to do the trick here. During periods of slow action, try a live minnow held only inches above the bottom. Letting the minnow tantalize the fish can often be more than even non-aggressive walleyes can pass up.
For more information, contact the DNR at (734) 953-0241.
Munuscong Lake is not your typical walleye fishery. In fact, compared to standard walleye lakes, this skinny-water lake could hardly be considered a walleye fishery at all. But to discount it, you'd have to overlook the hundreds of walleyes that defy the norm and are caught here each winter.
Making this lake so unique is the fact that most of the walleyes taken here are caught in water no deeper than 3 to 4 feet - certainly not your standard depths for catching these fish.
Another feature to this lake's credit is the number of fish it yields to anglers during the earliest parts of winter. Almost to the moment safe ice allows anglers access, Munuscong Lake walleyes are at their peak. At the first opportunity to get onto the lake, anglers will want to head for Barbeau Point. This spot as well as ones called "The Birches" and Fowler's Bay will be prime locations to begin your fishing efforts. Humps associated with the dumping grounds near the river will also hold good number of walleyes. This dumping ground is a walleye magnet, but it also holds countless jigs that got a bit too close to all its structure.
In these ultra-shallow waters the best action will generally take place during the early or late periods of the day. During low light or times of overcast skies, the entire day can be productive.
With Munuscong walleyes so shallow, light spoons that flutter slowly will work best. To accomplish this light action, the standard Scorpion Spoon or the smallest Swedish Pimple with no live bait attached is ideal. To prevent spooking normally aggressive fish in this shallow water, consider drilling several holes and moving often. Quietly and without much fanfare, ease your offering into each hole, jig for a period, then change spots.
For more information on Munuscong Lake and its winter walleye action, call the Sault Area Convention and Visitor Bureau at 1-800-647-2858.
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Michigan is truly a winter walleye wonderland.
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