JANUARY – Walleyes: Saginaw Bay
The Bay is chockfull of naturally reproduced walleyes. So many, in fact, that the Michigan DNR upped the daily limit and lowered the size limit to increase harvest and avoid a population crash.
First ice usually forms close to shore by the end of December. Walleyes and jumbo perch can be caught in 8 to 12 feet of water on each side of the Bay then. Anglers should use caution when on the ice and pay attention to wind direction. Offshore winds are taboo.
Depths from 17 to 22 feet are best throughout midwinter until early March when the pre-spawn walleyes migrate toward the river mouths. Jigging is the most popular and productive technique. Top baits include Do Jiggers and Swedish Pimples, Rattlin’ Buckshot Lures, and PK Lure’s Flutter Fish.
Other Options: Houghton Lake Potpourri: Anglers can catch anything from panfish to walleyes to pike. St. Joe River Steelhead: Fishing can be productive and comfortable from the confines of a covered jetboat.
FEBURARY – Lake Trout: Crystal Lake
It takes a while for Benzie County’s Crystal Lake to freeze. Usually there’s safe ice over the 70- to 140-foot depths where lake trout are schooling by February. Try off Warren and Lobb roads and Railroad Point. Automatic Fisherman or Slammer tip-ups will catch the trout when baited with live smelt, or with blue or gray shiners. Jigging can be productive during midday hours with heavy spoons sweetened with a chunk of sucker meat.
If the lake trout aren’t biting, head shallower off the town of Beulah on the lake’s east end. You’ll find schools of 7- to 12-inch perch there. Use wigglers for numbers and minnows. Brown and rainbow trout will hit the wigglers, too.
Other Options: Upper Herring Lake Perch: Most perch anglers on Upper Herring use slip-bobber rigs or tightline. Black Lake Pike: Numbers of pike are high on Black Lake right now.
MARCH – Panfish, Walleyes: Lakes Cadillac & Mitchell
Last ice can be gangbusters for Lake Cadillac and Mitchell panfish and walleyes. The channel that connects lakes Cadillac and Mitchell is always a draw for last-ice walleyes at both lakes. Also, try on the north end of Lake Mitchell where Mud Creek empties in. Rocks in 8 to 12 feet of water attract pre-spawn walleyes there.
On Lake Cadillac, try off the old Naval Reserve building on the northwest corner of the lake. The same area is good for last-ice perch. Both lakes have relatively uniform depths and so humps, rocks and weeds concentrate fish. Finding green weeds is key to finding crappies and bluegills.
Other Options: Saginaw River Walleyes: If the ice breaks up early, the last 15 days of the walleye season can be unreal. Sanford Lake Crappies: Last ice can produce buckets of slabs at the area known as the “fills.”
APRIL – Walleyes: Detroit River
This just might be the best walleye fishery in the country. A good portion of the walleyes in Lake Erie run up the Detroit River to spawn. Lake Erie experienced exceptional walleye spawns in 2014 and 2015 so the pipeline is filled with fish. Detroit River anglers reported catching tons of small ’eyes in 2017. This year could be fantastic!
Try near Ballards Reef, near the Detroit City Water Intake, the Salt Dock, Fighting Island, the Grainery, and the Trenton Channel. Launch at Elizabeth Park in Trenton, Erie Metro Park at the mouth of the Detroit River, in Wyandotte, and the mouth of the Rouge River.
Vertical jigging with a brown, 4-inch Wyandotte Worm is money. The key is slipping the current with the trolling motor to keep your line vertical.
Other Options: St Clair River Walleyes: You can fill the freezer on the St. Clair in April. Pere Marquette River Steelhead: The gravel beds will be filled with steelies in April.
MAY – Walleyes: Bay De Noc
May 15 signals the start of the walleye season on Big and Little Bays De Noc and the opener always draws a crowd.
Opening-day Bay De Noc walleyes will be up shallow feeding on minnows, gobies, and spawning perch. Look for walleyes on Little Bay De Noc in three locations — around the river mouths on the north end of the bay, on top of the many reefs such as Center, First, Second and Third, or schooled up in deeper water in the “basin area.” The basin runs from the narrows at Gladstone all the way up the east bank of the bay to Garth Point.
Day in and day out, you can’t beat drifting with a floating jighead tipped with just half a nightcrawler for catching numbers of fish.
Other Options: U.P. Steelhead: You’ll find great steelhead fishing in May. Big Manistique Lake Perch and Walleyes: Big Manistique Lake is a great place to visit for the opener.
JUNE – Walleyes: Lake Erie
Post-spawn walleyes dropping down out of the Raisin, Maumee, Detroit and Sandusky rivers fan out into the shallows of Lake Erie in June. Ravenous schools of ’eyes can be found from LaPlaisance Bay and Woodtick Peninsula throughout Brest Bay and off Stony Point. There’s no need to go too far. You’ll find plenty of walleyes in the 12- to 18-foot depths well into July.
Walleyes can be caught by drifting or casting, but trolling allows anglers to cover more water, more depths, stay on roaming schools and use more rods. Crankbaits and spoons are popular and the walleyes prefer some gaudy colors.
Other Options: AuSable River Brown Trout: The Hex hatch always brings out the biggest trout in the river. U.P. Brook Trout: Fishing improves in
June on rivers like the Fence and Paint.
JULY – Smallmouths: Lake Michigan
Drive along the northern shore of Lake Michigan west of the Straits of Mackinaw on U.S. Highway 2 and look out at the lake and you can’t help but think smallmouths. On a map, you’ll see more than a half dozen shoals and reefs, several points and coves, and places where more than a half-dozen creeks and rivers enter the lake. Beaver Island, Hog Island, the Bays De Noc, Traverse Bay, Waugoshance Point are all known smallmouth destinations. Why not the stretch of shoreline between the Mackinaw Bridge and Naubinway?
You have to believe that reefs like Millecoquins, Fagan, Simmons, Pelkie and Naubinway located between Epoufette and Naubinway offer incredible smallmouth habitat.
Other Options: Ottawa Lake Smallmouths: This is proof there’s more and more interest in bass. AuSable River Smorgasbord: Float the AuSable for bass, pike, walleyes and trout.
AUGUST – Salmon: Ludington
Increased numbers of baitfish and ample natural reproduction have caused Lake Michigan salmon numbers to rebound. Ludington is a focal point for summer salmon fishing because of the structure found there and its proximity to several rivers where chinook salmon spawn.
Anglers reported catching bigger fish in 2017. Besides chinook salmon, anglers enjoyed great lake trout fishing the entire summer and caught excellent numbers of cohos and steelhead.
Spin Doctors and flies or meat take the majority of fish, but J-Plugs and similar baits become increasingly productive as the month wears on.
Other Options: Lake St. Clair Smallmouths: Fishing remains hot during August on Michigan’s premier bass lake. Manistee Salmon: During August, Manistee can be just as good for salmon as Ludington.
SEPTEMBER – Salmon: Big Manistee River
The Big Manistee River, from the town of Manistee upstream to Wellston, is one of Michigan’s premier salmon streams. Thousands of king and coho salmon make their way upstream each fall to waiting anglers. Kings begin their journey in late August. Cohos begin entering in late September.
In its lower reaches, the bottom is sandy with little substrate for spawning. Still, this is one of the best areas to intercept salmon on their upstream migration. Anglers will find good access just above Manistee Lake at Insta-Launch Campground and Bridge Street. There is a long stretch of river between the City of Manistee and the next upstream public access at Rainbow Bend. Schools of bronze-colored king salmon pack into holes and runs in the lower section of river.
Other Options: Long Lake Walleyes: Walleyes will be moving shallow under the cover of darkness. Big Glen Lake Trout: Expect to encounter few anglers but great trout fishing action.
OCTOBER – Smallmouths: Inland Lakes
Indian summer days are the perfect time to sample the tremendous smallmouth action on northeast Michigan lakes. The bigger inland lakes are smallmouth factories. There are good number of 2- to 4-pound smallmouths and 5- to 7-pound fish are possible. Mullet, Burt, Grand, Hubbard and others produce exceptional fall smallmouth action.
Casting a spinnerbait or crankbait parallel to the shoreline dropoff is a great way to cover water and catch smallies. Topwater fishing can be a hoot on calm mornings, but you can always fall back on jigs and tubes if the bite is tough.
Other Options: Gun Lake Largemouths: Fishing improves as other water enthusiasts disappear from the lake. South Lake Leelanau Walleyes: From mid-September until the weeds die is prime time to catch walleyes.
NOVEMBER – Trout, Whitefish: Frankfort/Elberta breakwalls
The breakwalls at Frankfort and Elberta are the focal point of some hot action. October and November find diehard anglers lining the piers in search of menominee or round whitefish. The whitefish rarely come close to shore except for brief periods. Menominee have small mouths and are light biters so a small hook and a delicate touch are necessary. Use a light, sensitive rod with light line and an egg sinker with a No. 10 or 12 bait hook. Use either boiled salmon eggs or a piece of worm for bait. Throw a handful of eggs out to attract schools of whitefish.
Other Options: Lac View Desert Muskies: Muskies go on the prowl when the weather turns nasty. Singing Bridge Trout: Fishing the surf can be excellent off Singing Bridge.
DECEMBER – Walleyes/Perch: Lake Gogebic
First ice is prime for walleyes near the weeds and for jumbo perch. Lake Gogebic is known for its jumbo perch, with yellowbellies to 16 inches. Catching trophy perch on a tip-up baited with a 4-inch sucker intended for walleyes is not unusual. The shallower north end of Lake Gogebic freezes first and produces hot first-ice action. Good fishing can be had in 5 to 7 feet of water right along the weed edges. Jigging with RPM jigs and Swedish Pimples will produce catches of both walleyes and big yellowbellies. Slip-bobbers are a good alternative.
Other Options: Hamlin Lake Bluegills: Safe ice and hot action usually happens by Christmas. Lake Missaukee Panfish: While bluegills and sunfish are the main quarry, there are good crappies and perch, too.