Most serious anglers know that Michigan walleye fishing in the Great Lakes has been on fire in recent years. But what if you don’t live near one of the Great Lakes or you don’t have a vessel that will handle the big water? There are other options.
Plenty of inland lakes in Michigan have great walleye fishing too. Most are good-sized bodies of water, but are very fishable in a small boat if you use common sense. Some are totally dependant on natural-reproduction to maintain a fishable population and strong year-classes of walleyes. Other lakes require regular plants to maintain walleye populations. Those lakes have suffered in recent years because of the moratorium on walleye planting due to the outbreak of VHS disease. The ban on walleye planting was lifted in 2011 and so lakes that were once prolific walleye producers should be booming again soon.
Following are eight Michigan walleye fishing spots that you’ll want to add to your list of favorite waters for 2012.
LAKE LEELANAU AND LONG LAKE
“I’d say South Lake Leelanau and Long Lake are the best walleye lakes in the region,” stated Central Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist Todd Kalish. “The lakes are totally dependent on natural reproduction now, but the two lakes represent the kind of desired results that can be achieved from megaplants of walleye fry.”
Kalish admitted that the initial plants of walleyes in the lakes were a unique experiment. “It was cheap, but it doesn’t work in all situations,” he said.
Both South Lake Leelanau and Long Lake received megaplants of between 5 million and 6 million walleye fry for several consecutive years back in the 1980s to see if they (the DNR) could jumpstart the walleye fisheries. The results are normally highly variable with plants of this type and were likely to be very low, but it worked so well in Lake Leelanau and Long Lake that walleye populations in the lakes are now self-sustaining.
“Planting huge amounts of tiny fry doesn’t work in all situations,” said Kalish, “but Lake Leelanau and Long Lake were perfect because they have an excellent forage base of gray and blue shiners and mayflies, which predators can feed on. A good forage base helps take the pressure off the young walleyes so predators don’t eat the fry. Both lakes also have a healthy zooplankton population, which is what the fry feed on, and good spawning habitat once they reach adulthood.”
Because Lake Leelanau and Long Lake are self-sustaining and were not affected by the moratorium on walleye planting, fishing remains excellent for walleyes and anglers will find several good year-classes of walleyes between 15 and 28 inches. The south end of 5,370-acre South Lake Leelanau can be counted on to produce good catches of walleyes throughout the year.
Walleye schools patrol a well-defined weed edge in 10 to 20 feet of water in both Perrin’s and Weisler bays. Trailing crawler harnesses behind bottom-bouncers and slip-bobbers with leeches are proven tactics. Both will also interest the giant smallmouths and surreal bluegills that the lake is famous for.
Later in the summer, crankbaits and stickbaits excel when trolled along steep inclines on the northern half of the lake. Walleyes will move shallow in the evenings and anglers can score then by casting crankbaits and stickbaits.
There is an excellent paved ramp located off CR-643 on the lake’s west side along The Narrows. For information on lodging and amenities in the area contact: Leelanau County Chamber of Commerce at leelanauchamber.com or by calling (231) 271-9895.
The 2,860-acre Long Lake is a myriad of structure and islands that shouts, “Walleyes!” but the lake is tough to fish because it is so clear. Anglers have two choices: fish deep using finesse techniques during daylight hours or wait until after dark when the walleyes move shallow. Vertical jigging using light line, small jigs and live bait will take walleyes during the day in water as deep at 60 feet. Trolling along the 30- to 50-foot contours with crawler harnesses or crankbaits can be productive too. At night, casting stickbaits on the shelves and dropoffs surrounding Long, Fox and South islands can be very productive for ’eyes up to 8 pounds. There are two improved launch sites on the north end of the lake.
For bait, tackle and lake maps in the Traverse City area contact the Gander Mountain store at 3500 Market Place Circle, Suite B, Traverse City, MI 49684; (231) 929-5590 or go online at gandermountain.com.