Michigan's Top Inland Walleye Lakes
October 04, 2010
Here are some of Michigan's top inland lakes for catching walleyes and a few techniques to use when you get there.
By Jim Barta
Like any other hard-core fisherman, I'm always looking for a new place to wet a line. Now understand, I'm not always picky. I'm a firm believer in the old clichÃƒ© that says "A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work."
But if there's a chance to catch a fish that's a little bigger, fights a little harder or tastes a little better at dinner, you can bet that I'm in favor of making the trek to wherever that hotspot is located. Problem is, Michigan is loaded with these places. Deciding where to target my favorite fish - the walleye - in this state is like trying to pick only one lure off the shelves at a large sporting goods store. It can be mind-boggling!
Having spent years pursuing Michigan walleyes, I can tell you that there are a few places, however, that I can't help but return to time and time again. Each of these spots offers its own challenge. Some test the angler with wooded structure while others use vast areas of water to hide its gilled treasure. Here are some of Michigan's top inland lakes for catching walleyes and a few techniques to use when you get there.
LAKE GOGEBIC At 12,800 acres, Lake Gogebic is the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula. With its location in the north, this lake not only is a great fish factory, but it also offers surrounding beauty that's nothing short of picturesque.
Lake Gogebic has one of the best walleye populations of Michigan's inland lakes. To its credit, the lake maintains this fishery without the aid of stocking. The walleyes here take advantage of the sand, weeds and structure located along the bottom, and have been reproducing naturally with excellent results for years.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Immediately after the May 15 opener, post-spawn walleyes can be found in many of the lake's bays by day and while cruising the shallows by night. When you're fishing bays such as Bergland Bay on the lake's north end, look for walleyes to be holding along the edges of new-growth weedbeds. These fish are looking to replenish strength drained by the rigors associated with spawning and can be caught with most standard angling methods.
At night, casting or long-lining crankbaits is the way to go. Find shallow areas with sandy bottoms and you'll likely find walleyes in search of food.
In early summer, Gogebic walleyes can be found holding near the rock dropoffs and weeds and along the edges of deep holes. It's here that jigs rule. Anglers will do well with 1/4-ounce jigs tipped with minnows in early summer, and leeches or crawlers as the days warm.
To get more information on this U.P. hotspot, call the Lake Gogebic Area Chamber of Commerce at (906) 842-3341. For up-to-date fishing information, call the Northwinds Motel and Resort at (906) 575-3557.
PORTAGE LAKE When it comes to catching large walleyes in the U.P., it's hard to top Portage Lake. Located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Portage has accounted for some of this region's largest walleyes in recent years.
Of particular interest to anglers fishing this lake is the fact that these "hogs" have been caught during the summer months. Add the pounds of bulk that these fish could have expected to put on by fall and you're talking about some real trophies!
Overall, Portage Lake is a shallow body of water when compared to most big-fish waters. Its ability to grow these "super fish" is likely due to the forage and cover that's in abundance here. Thick, vast beds of vegetation offer fish plenty of area in which to grow large while making it tough going for the angler. In short, Portage isn't an easy lake to fish.
Taking walleyes here means finesse, live bait and stealth mixed with a good dose of patience. To be successful, consider using a 7- to 9-foot rod with good sensitivity and plenty of backbone. Pitch a jig tipped with a leech and 'crawler into the various pockets in the weeds and twitch it until the bait settles to the bottom. Give your offering a minute or two of off-and-on twitching to call in nearby fish before moving to the next pocket. When the strike is felt - and it will be light - set the hook with enough power to disorient the fish while lifting it nearly out of the thicket.
Another technique is one that includes a slip-bobber, a plain hook and a leech. Once again, pitching the offering is involved. Toss the leech into the pockets in early morning or late evening, when walleyes are likely to be more aggressive and looking for food. During these periods, the fish aren't likely to be buried near the bottom of the weeds and are likely to locate the bait during their travels.
For lodging and more information on the Portage Lake area, call the Visitor's Bureau at (906) 482-5240.
MULLETT LAKE Mullett Lake covers over 17,000 acres and is the fifth-largest inland lake in Michigan. Its 13-mile length of water offers a variety of game fish, with walleyes near the top of those most sought after.
The population of walleyes here is considered quite good in terms of both numbers and size. Most fish caught are in the 15- to 20-inch range, but walleyes in the 6- to 10-pound range aren't uncommon.
After the season opener on the last Saturday in April, post-spawn fish can be found near the areas where gravel bottoms meet the numerous dropoffs found in Mullett. As spring turns to early summer, the walleyes will begin to move to the various reef areas that dot the lake. Several of the top-producing reefs, which average a depth of 12 feet, can be found at the lake's western end. Each is surrounded by water that drops to 40 and 60 feet deep.
Casting or trolling minnow-shaped crankbaits across the reefs is a great way to start searching for active fish. Begin working the lure just above the bottom and gradually raise the presentation while looking for those fish that are beginning to suspend. Since these fish are likely to be feeding on smelt, alewives and ciscoes, the suspended walleyes are apt to be slightly larger and more aggressive than those holding tight to structure.
While casting or trolling is a favorite method used by locals here, Lindy Rigs and jigs are constant producers during all seasons. For non-aggressive or finicky fish, try tossing a night crawler or leech behind a split-shot rig onto the reefs. If the walleyes appear aggressive, stick to trolling.
By midsummer, a large portion of the walleyes will be suspended over the deepwater areas. Schools of fish can be found at various
depths, but these walleyes are much more difficult to locate and catch.
Other areas not to be overlooked are those where weeds and dropoffs converge. Crawler harnesses pulled off in-line boards can often be more than any self-respecting walleye can resist. Single-blade spinners worked slowly seem to take more fish than those rigs with multiple blades.
For more information on Mullett Lake walleyes, contact Northland Sporting Goods at (231) 238-9382. The Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (231) 637-7183.
HOUGHTON LAKE No article about Michigan's inland-lake walleyes would be complete without the mention of Houghton Lake. This largest of our state's inland waters is home to a variety of game fish.
Although Houghton receives a good dose of recreational boating as well as angling pressure, its sheer size permits anglers the opportunity to enjoy a day of fishing without excessive interference.
Weeds and the occasional bottom depression are this lake's only forms of structure, but that doesn't deter it from holding a good number of walleyes. Anglers familiar with these fluctuations in bottom contour enjoy good fishing throughout the year.
Immediately after the season opener on the last Saturday in April, walleyes can be caught in many of the shallow areas that held them during the spawn. During this period, however, weed growth begins to become a problem. Before the weeds are too tall, trolling will definitely be the way to go. It's at this time anglers will want to take advantage of the open water and pull crankbaits. Since the water isn't very deep, shallow-running lures such as a No. 9 or No. 11 Floating Rapala will work well. Good colors include perch, silver/black and silver/blue patterns. When trolling the shallows, consider using in-line boards to take the lure out and away from the boat.
Once the weeds get thick in midsummer, the fish become much harder to locate and catch. Here's where a little finesse is necessary. Try tipping a small jig or plain hook with a leech and pitch it with a slip-bobber into one of the various weed pockets. Make certain the offering is lively and creating plenty of fish-attracting movement below the surface. Allow the offering to sit in each open pocket for several minutes before tossing it into another. This way you can maximize your angling efforts and target only aggressive fish.
During the early season, look for walleyes to be drawn into the shallows off the Cut River on the lake's east side. As spring turns to summer, the weed pockets located off the junction of M-18 and M-55 in Prudenville start providing action.
For information about lodging facilities at Houghton Lake, contact the area Chamber of Commerce at (989) 366-5644. For fishing information, call the Edgewater Beach Marina at (989) 422-4221.
HUBBARD LAKE Located just south of Alpena is 8,850-acre Hubbard Lake. Now, Hubbard isn't the kind of lake you go to and expect to catch a wallhanger from, but if you enjoy a challenge and good numbers of "eaters," this picturesque lake is the place to go.
According to local fisheries biologists, Hubbard Lake enjoys strong natural reproduction and is helped along with occasional plantings of large fingerlings.
During the early season, anglers can expect to do well around Churchhill Point and Doctor's Point. Post-spawn activity in these areas is high, making the fishing quite good during this period. For best results, consider pitching jigs tipped with live bait. Minnows should be a first choice early on, with a transition to 'crawlers and leeches as the season progresses.
During the summer months, trolling crankbaits will take the majority of fish. Like most walleye waters where a concern for spooking fish exists, the use of planer boards is recommended to take the lures out and away from the boat.
Another top producer here is a floating jighead tipped with a leech or an air-injected 'crawler on a harness with an orange or chartreuse blade. Drifting with leeches and slip-bobbers can also be effective, especially when this rig is used at night.
For more information on Hubbard Lake, contact Side Door Bait and Tackle at (989) 736-6418. The Chamber of Commerce can be reached at (989) 354-4181.
HOLLOWAY RESERVOIR When you talk about inland waters and walleyes, eventually the conversation has to come around to Holloway Reservoir. Located in Lapeer County, this 2,000-acre lake is likely to have more walleyes per surface acre than any other inland lake in Michigan. That's especially impressive when you consider that Holloway's five to 10 walleyes per surface acre compares to a statewide average of only two to three fish per acre in other Michigan walleye lakes.
"There are a lot of positive things that can be said about Holloway Reservoir," said Department of Natural Resources Supervisor Gary Towns. "There are a number of factors that combine to make it such a good walleye lake. Holloway has turbid water, river channels, flats, weeds, structure and plenty of baitfish. Everything it takes to make a great fishery can be found here."
To catch Holloway walleyes, anglers use a number of techniques. Long-line trolling or the use of inline planer boards seems to be the best tactic to use here, especially right after the season opens.
"Hot-N-Tots or stick baits can take a number of fish," says Mark Kearley of Hicks Tackle Shop in Flint. "However, I'd recommend that anglers use lures with rattles incorporated into them to combat the turbid water conditions. In any event, the best time to be here after walleyes is early in the season. Anything that can draw the fish's attention to the lure has got to be a plus. But still, I know of a lot of folks who are extremely successful by simply casting lightweight jigs along the shallow flats as well."
To work the shallow flats, look for the best fishing to take place in the evening or after dark, when the sun has minimal effect on the fish. During the day, consider vertical jigging along the river channel, which runs the entire length of the lake, or along its edges.
Another spot to consider on this lake is just south of the Mt. Morris Road Bridge. Walleyes often hold here in good numbers because of the circulating water that takes place in the area. This water movement is appealing to baitfish, which in turn also attract walleyes.
A public launch site is located off Henderson Road on the lake's southwest side. This facility can be used for large boats and offers plenty of parking.
For more information on fishing Holloway Reservoir, contact Hick's Tackle Shop at (810) 785-9941. For lodging, call the Chamber of Commerce at (810) 664-6641.
KENT LAKE Because of its location in Oakland County, Kent Lake is Mic
higan's second-most-heavily fished lake. Despite this, the number of walleyes that anglers catch here each year is impressive. Fishing is aided by an on-water speed limit. This restriction keeps boating activity at subtle levels and keeps fishing at a premium.
Those anglers who target walleyes here should consider concentrating their efforts along the lake's natural river channel. This channel winds and turns as it stretches across the lake and can be located with the use of good electronics. For best results, look for slight changes in depth along this channel and work these areas. Top spots will likely be those where the channel bends, especially in areas where the bend is to the outside. Shortly after the season opener, consider working jigs tipped with minnows along the river channel. The coolwater bite is apt to be light, so a sensitive rod is a must.
As spring turns to summer, 'crawlers and jigs or crawler rigs will be the way to go. Tip a single-hook spinner rig with half a 'crawler and pinch a split shot 18 inches ahead. On days where the wind will assist in boat movement, drift the offering along the bottom with no additional power. If no wind is present, use a trolling motor set on a slow speed to cause the spinner to rotate.
In early spring, use metallic spinners with the minnow-tipped offering and switch to orange, chartreuse or green blades with the 'crawler as summer advances.
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Do yourself a favor this year and try a different walleye lake. You'll be glad you did.
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