Michiganders have a tough decision every angler would like to have — where do I go to fish?
The problem arises when there are so many Michigan waters that deciding which ones to visit and what to fish for can be difficult.
Following is a yearlong calendar that should help you with those awkward questions.
JANUARY – Saginaw Bay Walleyes
If and when cold weather locks up Saginaw Bay, expect a hot first-ice bite in depths from 6 to 12 feet all the way from Linwood on the west around to Sebewaing to the east on the inner bay. First and last light produce the hottest action, although on overcast, cloudy days fishing can be good throughout the day.
Jigging is the most productive method. Drill lots of holes and keep moving until you make contact with the roaming schools. Jigging spoons, like Swedish Pimples and Do Jiggers, in gold/orange, blue/silver and glow colors are hot when tipped with a minnow or minnow head. A lift-and-drop cadence seems to work best. Most ’eyes will run from 2 to 4 pounds, but specimens pushing 8 pounds are common. Increased limits in 2016 make this a great place to fill the freezer.
For live bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Frank’s Great Outdoors at 989-697-5341, online at franksgreatoutdoors.com.
Although Kalamazoo County’s 1,000-acre Lake Austin is better known for its summer largemouth fishing it gives up some very respectable bluegills and crappies during the winter.
Houghton Lake will have plenty of safe ice by January. Ice anglers do well for crappies, sunfish and bluegills on the south end. The lake’s predators are making a comeback.
FEBRUARY – Higgins Lake Smorgasbord
It’s usually February before 9,600-acre Higgins Lake offers safe ice. When it does, ice-anglers catch a mixed bag of lake trout, whitefish, perch and smelt. The lake trout action starts in 70 to 90 feet and moves deeper as winter progresses. Live smelt, or blue or gray shiners suspended below conventional and Slammer tip-ups work best. The trout will average 2 to 3 pounds, but leviathans topping 20 pounds are possible.
Three- to 6-pound whitefish can be caught right along with the trout. Anglers chum a hole with corn, rice or spawn and then fish the bottom with slip-bobbers or jigs. Smelt can be caught at night on teardrops and wax worms. Use a light to attract microorganisms that attract the smelt. Perch numbers are boom or bust on Higgins. Use wigglers, wax worms or minnows on bottom for the perch in 25 to 50 feet of water.
Cisco Chain of Lakes offers ice-fishing variety. Walleyes will average 2 pounds. Look in 6 to 8 feet of water on first ice. Perch up to 13 inches are common.
At 1,920 acres, Lake Margrethe near Grayling has been hot for good-sized bluegills the past few winters. A good location is 300 yards out from the state park in 5 to 8 feet of water.
MARCH – Pere Marquette River Steelhead
Lake-run rainbows converge on the gravel reaches of the PM River in early March. The best spawning habitat is from Walhalla upstream through the flies-only section. Anglers use drift boats to float the river and get out to fish. Fly-fishers practice the “chuck-and-duck” approach to get flies deep. Try glow bugs, stonefly nymphs, caddis larva and woolly buggers.
Wear polarized glasses and look for redds or the flash of a spawning fish. During midday probe the deeper holes and runs. Outside the flies-only water, anglers score with spawn, spinners and plugs.
For more information contact Baldwin Bait & Tackle at 231-745-3529 or online at fishbaldwin.com.
Ice-fishing remains hot on Lake Mitchell in March for crappies. Key is to find green cabbage weeds. Try off the mouth of Big and Little Coves and in 6 to 8 feet of water off Blind Island.
Expect frantic ice-out crappie action on Barry County’s 660-acre Pine Lake. Specks migrate to the backs of coves and bays to find warm water and to bulk up before spawning.
APRIL – New Buffalo Cohos
This sleepy port is on fire for cohos in April. Shallow water, thermal input from factories and runoff concentrates a hodgepodge of cohos and other salmonids. Target the 10- to 30-foot depths. In-line planer boards and divers pulling spoons, body baits and crankbaits all score. Try small dodger or flashers trailing black flies, too. The cohos will average 1 1/2 to 3 pounds and sport flame-red flesh.
Hotpots are all along the shoreline from the pump house south of New Buffalo all the way to Warren Dunes State Park. There is a DNR launch near the mouth of the Galien River.
For more information contact the Southwest Michigan Tourist Council at 1-269-925-6301 or online at swmichigan.org.
Thousands of walleyes move into the Detroit River to spawn in April. Walleyes weighing more than 10 pounds are common. Most anglers use 3/8- to 1/2-ounce leadhead jigs baited with plastics.
Anglers will find good brown trout action and plenty of elbowroom at Pentwater in April. The browns will average 3 to 5 pounds, but fish up to 30 pounds are available.
MAY – St. Marys River Steelhead
Steelhead begin showing up in May in the cold waters of the St. Marys River. Fishing remains good well into June. Anglers can access the Rapids area of the river via the Canadian side and a boardwalk that leads to the river. Wading is treacherous and anglers should take precautions. Felt-soled waders and a staff help. Casting is often to visible fish. Wear polarized glasses. Flies, spawn and spinners all take fish.
For more details, contact the Sault Convention & Visitors Bureau at 906-632-3301 or online at saultstemarie.com.
Slab crappies in Charlevoix County’s Deer Lake go on a feeding binge in May. Look around the weedlines and stumps that fill the lake. Expect crappies up to 14 inches.
A cold spring finds plenty of post-spawn walleyes still in the Tittabawassee come May. Most will be males that average 1 to 3 pounds, but fish up to 8 pounds are available some years.
JUNE – Onekama Steelhead
Current, wind and wave action cause thermal barriers and scum lines to form off Onekama that concentrate steelhead in June. The breaks collect windrows of insects, baitfish and spunky rainbows.
Although you might be fishing 900 feet of water, the trout are rarely below 20 feet. In-line boards trailing small orange spoons are the ticket when combined with shallow-set divers. Look for bird activity and watch your surface temperature gauge. Troll fast at 3.0 to 3.5 mph to cover water. Most of the ’bows will average between 5 and 12 pounds, but steelies topping 20 pounds are caught every year. The fishing remains hot through July.
Giant Hexagenia mayflies that hatch in late June cause brown trout to go on a feeding binge on the South Branch of the Au Sable River in Roscommon County.
2016 promises to be even better for large walleyes on Lake Erie. Look in the 12- to 15-foot depths in June. Spoons trailed behind mini-divers are hot. Try Warrior, Yeck and Silver Streak spoons in gaudy colors.
JULY – Craig Lake State Park Potpourri
Michigan’s most remote state park, Craig Lake State Park is a 6,900-acre wilderness area that offers great angling opportunities. Seven lakes and numerous ponds offer great fishing for pike, muskies, walleyes and smallmouths. Getting to the fishing is the hard part. Rugged trails lead to a 1/4-mile portage to Craig Lake and access to the other lakes.
Fishing is catch-and-release for everything but walleyes and you must use artificial lures. White or chartreuse spinnerbaits are good searching lures. Crankbaits and twister jigs are good choices too.
For more details contact Baraga County Tourism at 1-906-339-4461 or go online at destination-michigan.com/baraga.
Abundant forage and ideal habitat make the mighty Menominee River perfect for smallmouths. Both the impoundments and river hold bass that will average 2 to 4 pounds.
Bass fishing peaks on Lake St. Clair in July. A hands-down favorite for the bass is a tube jig in silver/glitter or pumpkinseed. Try near Huron Point south of the mile roads.
AUGUST – Ludington Chinooks
Pre-spawn kings begin to stage off Ludington in mid-July. Salmon congregate near the “the Shelf” three to seven miles north of the port. Look for salmon in 30 feet of water early and then head west. Plugs, Spin Doctors and flies, meat and super magnum-sized spoons are best. Glow, green and chartreuse are proven colors.
Fishing pressure is intense. Plan on being on the water early. Expect salmon between 5 and 15 pounds, but kings over 20 pounds are common.
For more information contact the Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-542-4600 or online at ludingtoncvb.com.
Alpena County’s 665-acre Beaver Lake is a sleeper for big smallmouths. Fish to 6 pounds are not uncommon. Structure concentrates bass there.
The U.P.’s Black River Harbor offers consistent action for native lake trout during August. The trout school up in the 80- to 120-foot depths between Sucker Creek Reef and Maple Creek Reef.
SEPTEMBER – Manistee River Chinooks
Bronze-colored kings rush into the Manistee River in September headed for Tippy Dam. Anglers can intercept them in the lower reaches of the river. Many anchor at the head of a run and let Flatfish or Hot-N-Tots wiggle in the current. Others toss spinners or back-bounce with spawn. The best fishing usually comes at first light and again in the evening.
Anglers can gain access to the river at Insta-Launch Campground, Bridge Street, Rainbow Bend, or Bear Creek. A daily fee is charged to launch at several of those accesses. Find a deep run and wait for the salmon to move through. Position your baits to block their upstream movement.
For more information contact Insta-Launch Campground at 1-231-723-3901.
As waters cool, big northerns put on the feedbag in Green Bay off Menominee. The pike patrol weed edges in search of forage in 10 to 20 feet of water. Big muskie-type lures produce pike that top 20 pounds.
Loon Lake sees a lot of fishing pressure in the summer, but few anglers in the fall. Bluegills and crappies move shallow in September. Try the weed edges adjacent to deep water.
OCTOBER – Lake Millecoquin Bass & Pike
Millecoquin may be the top lake in the eastern U.P. for largemouths and northerns. Both go on a feeding binge as the weeds begin to recede. Lake Millecoquin has few spots over 12 feet deep. Fish can be found anywhere. Use Johnson Silver Minnows and pork rind or spinnerbaits. The inlet and outlet of the river is a hotspot.
Contact the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit at 906-786-2351 for more details.
Cooling water makes for hot fishing on Greenwood Reservoir in October. Northerns and walleyes put on the feedbag in early fall. Look for pike off Humenne Island and right off the boat launch.
Fantastic scenery, solitude and feisty muskies make October the best time to fish the Tahquamenon River near McPhee’s Landing.
NOVEMBER – Lake Independence Walleyes
Marquette County’s Lake Independence serves up hot walleye action just before the lake freezes. Two- to 3-pound walleyes are the norm, but bigger fish are common. Key is to troll slowly with bottom-bouncers trailing body baits like Rapalas and ThunderSticks. Best colors include perch and fire-tiger patterns. The ’eyes can be found relating to the 25- to 30-foot contours. Try out from the public launch and near the mouth of the Yellow Dog River. Look for humps and subtle contour changes that concentrate fish.
For more information contact the Marquette Gander Mountain store at 1-906-226-8300.
Skegemog Lake muskies go on a feeding binge in November. The muskies gorge on panfish, suckers and other prey. Chuck jumbo in-line spinners, jerkbaits and body baits.
Big muskies in Gogebic County’s Eel Lake turn on in November. Eel Lake’s small size makes finding muskies easy, but catching them can be a different matter. Cast with big spinnerbaits, bucktails or fish a big sucker under a bobber.
DECEMBER – Lake Gogebic Walleyes & Perch
Winter comes early to the western U.P. First ice on Lake Gogebic may be at Thanksgiving. Jumbo perch are suckers for a wiggler fished below a slip-bobber, but plenty of jumbos are caught on tip-ups intended for walleyes. Fish near the weeds early. Target 25 feet of water for yellowbellies near the center of the lake during midwinter. Jigging spoons sweetened with a minnow make a good combo for perch and 18- to 20-inch walleyes. Try the contours off Meriwether and Lake Gogebic State Park.
Lake Gogebic is a big expanse of water. Bring some type of transportation to get around. For more information contact Timber Resort at 1-906-575-3542.
Spanning 1,100 acres, Chicagon Lake offers a diverse fishery. Off Midsummer’s Point is a good location for catching walleyes and perch. Along the golf course on the lake’s south shore is good, too. Look for remnant weedbeds.
Ice-anglers put a hurtin’ on big perch on first ice on Munuscong Bay. The perch are in 3 to 4 feet of water. Keep moving until you make contact. Foot-long perch are common.