Think fishing for all your favorite species is on hold for now? Here are some exceptions for some great March fishing in Michigan.
March is said to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. That may be true in southern Michigan, but in the state’s Upper Peninsula and much of the Northern Lower Peninsula, March roars right through the month.
There may be few signs, if any, that spring is right around the corner across some parts of Michigan. Steelhead begin inching their way upstream after the spring thaw commences, but the fact is that some of the best ice-fishing of the season takes place across much of the Wolverine State in March.
Michigan sportsmen who want to take advantage of the best the state has to offer in March need to keep the auger gassed up and be ready to grab their waders at a minute’s notice. Following are some last-minute destinations you’ll want to sample.
March is still winter in the western U.P., regardless of what the calendar might say. There are few physical signs that spring is right around the corner, but fish seem to sense it.
The giant perch that Lake Gogebic is known for feed with more intensity as the days get longer and the sunshine more powerful. Gogebic’s burgeoning walleye population is fair game the first two weeks of the month and some decent eaters can be caught right along with the perch.
Perch schools tend to roam the main basin of 12,800-acre Lake Gogebic during the dead of winter. The schools work at rooting out wigglers and crayfish in the marl bottom. Perch often shadow schools of suckers that are doing the same thing.
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Slip-bobbers with walleye-sized minnows catch the biggest jumbos and bonus walleyes. Jigging spoons tipped with a minnow head attract the quarry and often catch as many as the slip-bobber rigs. Wigglers will catch more perch, but the real 15-inch jumbos are more likely to be caught on minnows. Tip-ups spotted along the contours account for both perch and walleyes.
Later in the month, both the walleye and perch begin a subtle migration toward the weedy north end and to where streams enter the lake. Once the ice finally disappears, the combination of weeds, gravel and flowing water is a major attraction.
For fishing reports, live bait and lodging, contact The Timbers Resort at 906-575-3542, or online at thetimbersresort.com.
Marquette County’s 1,430-acre Greenwood Reservoir provides outstanding ice-fishing opportunities for pike, perch, walleyes and crappies in March. Ice-anglers need to use caution toward the end of the month as ice conditions begin to deteriorate. But fishing gets hot!
While most of Greenwood’s notoriety comes from its giant northerns, jumbo perch and consistent walleye fishing, its crappies don’t draw as much attention.
With a maximum depth of 35 feet and a preponderance of small islands and coves, the lake’s crappies flourish. Recent Michigan DNR surveys indicate that upward of 62 percent of the crappies in Greenwood are of harvestable size. These same dark-bottom, south-facing coves and bays are places to target for platter-sized specks once the ice disappears.
The myriad of islands and current on Greenwood creates funnels where leviathan northerns lie in wait. These pinch points make it easy for pike to wait for lunch to pass by.
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Anglers should target these funnels with jumbo suckers, chubs and herring on tip-ups or jigging spoons for the biggest pike. Northern pike topping 20 pounds are caught on Greenwood every year.
Both walleyes and perch inhabit the deeper portions of the basin in mid-winter, but as spring nears, a migration begins toward gravelly, rock shorelines and the mouth of the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River. Anglers armed with a power auger and a life vest and who are not afraid of drilling a few holes can make catches of 5- to 6-pound walleyes before the season closes, and perch up to 12 or 14 inches.
For information on lodging, bait shops and amenities in the Marquette area, contact the Marquette County CVB at 800-544-4321 or 906-228-7749 or online at travelmarquettemichigan.com.
Many of northern Michigan’s deepest inland lakes don’t offer safe ice until mid-January. There’s still plenty of ice in March and into April most years. Lake trout are active in March on Benzie County’s 9,711-acre Crystal Lake. Strengthening spring sunrises and calm winds make for a great day on the ice in pursuit of lakers than can top 20 pounds.
Prime locations for gray trout are off the south shore off Lobb Road and Railroad Point and on the north side off Warren Road and Herdman’s Point. It’s important to be safe on the ice. The edges might show signs of melting in March, but there usually is a foot of ice over deeper water.
Lake trout can be caught in 70 to 140 feet of water. Try shallow at first light and then move deeper as the day wears on.
Gray or blue shiners and live smelt are the ticket on large-capacity tip-ups and Slammers. Trout can also be caught on heavy spoons and jigs sweetened with a strip of sucker meat. Most of the trout will average 3 to 7 pounds, but 20-pound behemoths are caught every March.
If you limit out on lake trout, you can always head shallow off the Village of Beulah in the weeds for a hodgepodge of brown and rainbow trout, yellow perch and whitefish. Wigglers on slip-bobbers will catch all of the species. Try spawn off the creek mouths if you’re targeting trout.
For details on lodging, amenities and bait shops in the area, contact the Benzie County Visitors Bureau at 800-882-5801 or online at visitbenzie.com.
It takes a while for Higgins Lake to freeze. It’s usually late January or early February before there’s safe ice on the lake trout grounds. Cold temperatures in central lower Michigan ensure safe ice through March.
Lake trout at Higgins Lake cruise the 70- to 130-foot depths off North Higgins Lake State Park, east of the public access on the west side of the lake and east of the sunken island on the south basin. Large-capacity tip-ups suspending gray or blue shiners, or live smelt, produce the best results.
Jigging with magnum-sized Swedish Pimples sweetened with a minnow head or strip of sucker meat can induce trout to bite when more passive methods fail.
Brown and rainbow trout cruise the 50-foot depths just off the first dropoff. The trout suspend so a graph is a big help in locating the most productive depths.
Slip-bobbers or tip-ups suspending minnows, spawn or wigglers will entice the trout. Splake can be caught in the same depths closer to bottom. Jigging lures, like Custom Jigs & Spins’ Rotating Power Minnow, can be a good alternative to bait.
Perch are readily available on Higgins. The question is, are they 6-inch dinks or the bigger 8- to 10-inch keepers? It depends on the year-class and forage. Slip-bobbers with a bell sinker and wax worms or minnows will catch lots of perch most years in March.
For more information on amenities, bait shops and accommodation in the area, contact the Houghton Lake Area Tourism Bureau at visithoughtonlake.com.
BIG MANISTEE RIVER
Steelhead action picks up on West Michigan rivers in March. When exactly depends on weather. Sunny days can jumpstart steelhead spawning activity. Cold nights in the teens can put it on hold. Several successive sunny days that raise the water temperature from the mid-30s close to 40 is a signal that spawning activity will begin.
The Big Manistee River tends to stay cold in its upper reaches because of the outflow of Tippy Dam. Shallow gravel bars upstream of High Bridge soak up the spring sunshine though, and steelies that have wintered over in the river will start fanning beds when the water get close to 40 degrees. Afternoons tend to produce the best fishing in March when river temperatures reach their maximum for the day.
Bouncing bottom is a favorite technique, especially if you can secure some fresh steelhead spawn. If the rainbows are not on the gravel, working drop-back plugs behind the gravel areas in the deeper pools and runs can be productive. Metallic-colored plugs tend to produce best.
Farther downstream near Manistee Lake fresh-run steelies will begin pushing upstream as soon as runoff or spring rains raise water levels. Anglers can intercept spring chromers upstream from Insta-Launch Campground, Bridge Street, and Rainbow Bend. Some anglers anchor and float spawn bags just off the bottom where the Big Manistee River enters Manistee Lake.
For tackle, fishing reports and licenses, contact Insta-Launch Campground and Marina at instalaunch.com.
PERE MARQUETTE RIVER
The Pere Marquette River is one of the few Michigan rivers that doesn’t have a dam on it, and so it tends to warm more quickly than other streams. Consequently, steelhead-spawning activity tends to get started a little earlier on the PM than at other west Michigan rivers.
I’ve spent countless days biding my time above the Birch Hole waiting for steelhead to make an appearance on the beds. In between, you’d dredge the dark water between runs and holes to pick off holding steelhead.
Usually, in later afternoon you’d see the glint of a female digging a nest with her tail. The idea was to pick off the males lined up behind her. Prime gravel areas in the flies-only section see the first spawning activity sometime in March.
Back when I first started fishing the PM we’d be upset if there were four other cars in the parking lot. Today, it’s not uncommon to see 30 vehicles from 15 different states.
An alternative is to head downstream. There’s plenty of gravel downstream too, good access and fewer anglers. Try near Rainbow Rapids, Sulak and Upper and Lower Branch bridges.
For fishing reports, tackle and licenses, contact Captain Chuck’s II at 231-843-4458 or online at capt-chuck.com.
The Muskegon River is kind of a cross between the Big Manistee and Pere Marquette. It’s a big river, like the Big Manistee with the outflow of a dam, but it’s relative shallow with lots of gravel between Newaygo and Croton Dam.
Fishing can be outstanding in March for steelies that have wintered in the river downstream, with the peak of the spring run occurring in April. But fishing remains outstanding well into May, and you’ll find few other anglers.
The focus in the spring is between Croton Dam and Newaygo on the Muskegon. Almost the entire stretch is gravel with intermittent sandy holes on the bends. The best fishing occurs when the river is up and slightly off-colored so anglers must fish instead of lining fish off the beds.
Beads, flies and spawn catch a lot of fish for anglers who are bouncing bottom. Drop-back plugs can be productive. Nothing matches the strike of a steelie slamming a plug.
Fishing can be good downstream of Newaygo the entire month of March for fresh-run rainbows, and later in April and May as spent fish drop back downstream. Good access can be found just below the Newaygo Bridge, at Felch Avenue, Bridgeton and Maple Island.
For tackle, bait and fishing reports, contact Parsley’s Sport Shop in Newaygo, 231-652-6986.