Picking a destination for a family fishing vacation in Michigan is easy. About the only question is, "What do you want to catch?" And then, "What do you want to do when you're not fishing?"
Finding the answers to those questions is pretty straightforward.
Kids like to have a bend in their fishing rod and they're really not that particular about what's making it bend. For that reason, places having good numbers of panfish are logical choices. Trolling for walleyes is not a very strenuous activity. If they're biting, thus keeping kids interested, that can make for a fine family fishing outing.
Michigan's largest inland lake is an ideal destination for families looking to get a little fishing done while on vacation. Houghton Lake is ringed with resorts that cater to fishing families, providing everything from boat rental, docks, tackle and guides.
If you have much fishing experience, you won't need a guide, especially if you're not concerned about what you'll catch. You'll have just as good a chance as everyone else, if you drag a crawler injected with air on a slip-sinker along the bottom. Or, anchor along the edge of a weedbed and suspend a minnow or leech under a bobber.
It's hard to say what you might catch. Could be walleyes, bass, panfish, perch or pike. Houghton Lake is one of those never-know-what-you'll-catch kind of lakes. Who knows, you might get lucky and win a prize in the 10th Annual Come Catch Us If You Can Fishing Contest. One of the largest fishing tournaments in the state, there's $250,000 in prizes available, including a new Lund boat package. There are 75 tagged fish and your odds of catching one are as good as anyone's.
At 20,044 acres, Houghton Lake basically is a big shallow bowl with little water over 20 feet. For that reason, subtle changes in depth and in weedlines are prime places to contact game fish. The south shore has some humps that draw walleyes and panfish. The Middle Grounds is a good place to anchor and float some bobbers. The East Bay
harbors some of the deep water in the lake and is a good spot in midsummer. Locals refer to the west shoreline as "walleye alley." There are public launch sites on all four corners of the lake.
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When not fishing, there's plenty to do in Roscommon County. Several amusement parks in the area offer everything from miniature golf, a haunted house, go-karts, batting cages, bumper cars, moonwalk, power wheels (3-6 years) and boats. They have an arcade, pool tables, and foosball. Horseback riding and disk golf as well as 12 championship golf courses are just a few of the attractions. Houghton Lake commemorates the 4th of July with a big parade.
You'll find canoeing on the South Branch of the Au Sable River in nearby Roscommon. Hartwick Pines State Park is a short drive up I-75. The park has education memorabilia from the lumbering days and some massive white pines that avoided the saw.
There are festivals almost every weekend during the summer celebrating everything from Michigan's Free Fishing Weekend to the Kirkland Warbler. For more info, contact the Houghton Lake CVB at visithoughtonlake.com, or call 989-422-2002.
Besides being one of Michigan's most popular tourist destinations, Grand Traverse County has numerous fishing lakes in the vicinity. The landscape is pockmarked with lakes big and small, and all produce fish.
A good one for bluegills, perch and a host of other species is Arbutus Lake. Located 5 miles southeast of Traverse City, 395-acre Arbutus Lake is actually five different basins that are referred to as lakes No. 1 through 5. There is access on lakes 5, 4 and 2, and all are interconnected. Lakes 4 and 5 are known for producing big bluegills, although all of the lakes have bluegills.
Look shallow in May and June, but in 20 to 30 feet of water later in the summer. Try crickets, worms and leeches for the biggest bulls. If your target is magnum yellow perch, use minnows and fish near weeds on hard-bottomed areas. Perch up to 14 inches are possible.
Boardman Lake is an impoundment of the Boardman River and is within the boundaries of Traverse City proper. The 339-acre reservoir doesn't see much fishing pressure for being that close to town. Boardman Reservoir has a large population of rock bass, which many anglers scorn, but kids certainly don't. Just get a hook and a worm near bottom and a rock bass will find it.
Take along a pair of hemostats to remove hooks from deeply hooked fish. If you can keep the rock bass away, odds are good that you'll catch yellow perch pushing 12 inches. Bluegills hang out in the 10- to 20-foot depths on the south end of the lake.
Teardrops and wax worms work best for the 'gills. A dropoff that goes from 10 to 50 feet pretty quickly is a good place to prospect for some bonus walleyes up to 25 inches.
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The main event in Traverse City during the summer is the National Cherry Festival, July 2-6, 2016. The festival will again feature the Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron, plus arts and crafts, food, parades, 5K runs and free family fun.
Sumertime in Traverse City means more things going on than you can count! There are food and wine events, like Divas Uncorked on the Old Mission Peninsula, the Leelanau Wine on the Water Festival, or the Leland Wine & Food Festival.
There are outdoor art shows like Old Town Arts & Crafts Fair, and the Suttons Bay Art Festival, cultural events like the Port Oneida Fair and the Peshawbestown Traditional Pow Wow featuring native singers, dancers, artists and artisans, and athletic spectacles like the three-week Great Lakes Equestrian Festival where thousands of the nation's best horses and riders compete in the International Olympic disciplines of show jumping and dressage. Or, you can just fish and then lie on the beach or swim.
Summer is the time for traditional village celebrations like Empire's Anchor Day, Bellaire's Rubber Ducky Festival, and Elk Rapids' Harbor Days and events like the Northwestern Michigan Fair — a week of farm exhibits, 4H livestock shows, grandstand shows, great food, and a carnival midway. And there's the Annual Buckley Old Engine Show, with more than 700 antique gas and steam tractors, cars, trucks and a working 1923 steam locomotive that carries passengers around a mile of track.
The population of Ludington explodes from 10,000 residents in the winter to 75,000 in the summer. The area attracts people for many reasons. Ludington is considered by many to be the best trout and salmon port on the Great Lakes. Tourists also visit because of Ludington State Park. Ludington SP is one of the busiest in Michigan because of its proximity to Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan. Others stay at one of the cozy resorts that can be found on Hamlin Lake to enjoy the peace and quiet. Resorts rent boats for families that come to fish.
Hamlin Lake is known for its variety of fish. At 5,000 acres, the lake has everything from bluegills and sunfish to muskies. Walleyes are plentiful and Hamlin has a burgeoning largemouth population. There are yellow perch up to a foot long, slab crappies, and a host of rough fish that are just fun to catch.
In early summer, the hottest action is on Upper Hamlin Lake. Much shallower than the lower lake, UHL harbors bluegills, sunfish, rock bass and more. Both largemouths and smallmouths spawn among the weeds on a hard bottom. Kids armed with a worm and a bobber can have a ball hauling in fish. To make it easier for the adults, rig up with a slip-bobber so the youngsters can reel the bobber close to the rod tip, which makes casting easier. If your kids are experienced fishermen, use light-action spinning outfits, but if this is their first fishing adventure, use spin-casting gear. You can launch at Wilson Park.
Drifting on Lower Hamlin Lake is a proven method. Just rig up with a bell sinker and two snelled hooks using Bear Paw Connectors, lower the rig to bottom and allow the wind to push you along. Best depths are between 10 and 20 feet. You'll catch walleyes, bass, jumbo bluegills, husky perch and a host of others.
Country Haven Resort (countryhavenresort.com; 231-845-5882) and Waterside Resort (watersideresort.com; 231-843-8481) offer comfy cottages, boat rentals, and ready access to Lower Hamlin Lake. There are other resorts on the lake, too. Contact the Ludington Convention and Visitors Bureau at pureludington.com; 800-542-4600 for more information.
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One reason Hamlin Lake and Ludington are so popular with visitors is because there's plenty to do. If nothing else, you can just lie on the beach. Ludington's white sand beaches are rated as some of the most beautiful in the country. There are hiking trails that traverse the Nordhouse Dunes in Ludington State Park, and the North Country Trail passes just to the east of Ludington.
White Pine Village, which is a recreation of an old lumbering village, takes you back in time. The Ludington Offshore Classic takes place in July every year and draws upward of 200 pro and amateur boats that compete for more than $50,000 in prizes. There's canoeing on the famous Pere Marquette River. Visitors line the street for the 4th of July parade and fireworks.
You could take a cross-lake trip on the car ferry "Badger." Several art fairs during the year draw exhibitors from all over the country. There's dune rides at Silver Lake State Park just to the south, a skate park, golfing, and places to rent kayaks and bicycles.
LAKES CADILLAC, MITCHELL
If your family is up for a camping/fishing vacation you can stay at Mitchell State Park, leave your boat in the water in the channel that connects lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, and fish both lakes whenever you want. The fishing is similar on both lakes with plenty of bluegills, sunfish, crappies, largemouth and smallmouth bass, pike and walleyes. Both lakes are relatively shallow with most of the water less than 20 feet deep, and so fish can be found just about anywhere.
Catchall rigs, like slip-bobbers or live-bait rigs, will catch a hodgepodge of fish that will keep the kids busy. Concentrate on weedlines and on places where you don't see weeds, indicating a hard bottom.
On 2,580-acre Lake Mitchell, try the deeper water on the south end of the lake near the outlet to Lake Cadillac. The south shore on 1,150-acre Lake Cadillac is good, too, as is the deeper water off Kenwood Park. There's a boat launch at Kenwood Park. For bait, tackle and fishing reports, contact Schafer's Bait & Sporting Goods at 231-775-7085.
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Cadillac offers an abundance of opportunities for boating, canoeing, hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, and bird-watching adventures. Local rivers like the Manistee, Pere Marquette and Pine are perfect for a leisurely canoe trip. Cadillac has a number of quaint little shops that provide unique shopping experiences.
A trip to the Wexford County Historical Museum reveals a general store, post office items from the lumbering era, early fire equipment, and railroad memorabilia.
A visit to Cadillac isn't complete for an outdoor family without a visit to the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center, located in Mitchell State Park. The spacious lobby features an information counter, marsh diorama, and wall-sized aquarium stocked with native Michigan fish. The Heritage Nature Trail, a 3.5-mile walk, is open year around with interpretive signage.
The Cadillac area is an award-winning Midwest Golf Destination, featuring a collection of courses to challenge golfers of every skill level. Visitors to the Cadillac area can find a variety of high-quality recreational experiences second to none. For more info, go to cadillacmichigan.com, or call 800-22-LAKES.