By Jim Barta
Muskie fishing in Michigan is coming of age. Lakes and rivers throughout our state offer excellent prospects for hooking up with a muskie this year, with 50-inch fish possible on some waters.
The Department of Natural Resources has managed muskie fisheries for several years through stocking, habitat development and enforcement of the fishing regulations designed to keep the fishery alive and well. The results speak for themselves. Numerous big muskies are entered every year in the Master Angler Awards.
“We have several lakes that provide good opportunities for muskellunge angling, including but not limited to Lake Hudson, Lake St. Clair and Thornapple Lake, all of which have large muskie populations,” said Christian LaSage, a fisheries biologist in the DNR’s Aquatic Species Unit.
This large, toothy predator is at the top of the food chain wherever it is found in the Great Lakes State. As such, the population density is seldom high. There may only be several big fish in a smaller body of water or stretch of river, while on waters like Lake St. Clair, anglers report catching five or more in a day’s time.
Here are the waters biologists and muskie experts tag as the best muskie bets this year in Michigan.
“Lake Hudson is one of Michigan’s premier muskie lakes,” said guide Fred Lederer. “My best muskie days have been at Lake Hudson. On one half-day trip I took a client out and we boated nine muskies.”
Not only are good numbers of fish taken, but the sizes are there as well. In 2000, John Gemi landed a 49-pound, 12-ounce muskie that measured 51 inches in length. More recently a 43-incher was caught on this Lenawee County lake.
There is now a 50-inch minimum-length restriction to preserve the trophy-class fishing. A no-wake speed restriction covers the entire lake.
“When the weeds become predominant I start casting jerkbaits to the weeds and submerged humps, especially in the narrows at the southwest end of the lake,” said Lederer. “As the dog days start to take over I like to cast soft plastics on jigs and suspending jerkbaits to floating patches of weeds. Muskies will suspend under these floating weeds during the heat to ambush anything coming by.”
Anglers targeting muskies should fish the beach side of the main lake and the area southwest of the campground boat launch.
Lake Hudson is part of the Lake Hudson Recreation Area. A boat ramp is provided by the DNR off M-156 north of Medina Road.
For more information, contact the Lake Erie Management Unit at (734) 953-0241. To book a guided trip, contact Fred Lederer at (419) 822-9083. For information on accommodations, call the Lenawee County Visitor’s Bureau at 1-800-536-2933.
According to Mike Pittiglio, charter captain for Muskie Mania Charters out of St. Clair Shores, this lake is in a class all by itself.
“We had the best year ever,” said Pittiglio. “We caught 646 muskies last year, and 25 of them were over 30 pounds. Our biggest was 36 pounds.”
Lake St. Clair spans over 200,000 acres of water and separates Detroit from southern Canada. The U.S. side covers 162 square miles of water, while the Canadian side covers 268 square miles.
“Muskie fishing is nothing short of spectacular,” said Jim Francis, a DNR fisheries biologist. “While muskie fishing is still time-consuming, your odds do not get much better than on Lake St. Clair.”
“Lake St. Clair is probably the best-known muskie lake,” said LaSage. “This lake has seen higher catch rates for muskies in recent years and, according to biologists in that area, in numbers and size of muskies it is hard to beat.”
The lake averages just 10 feet, with its deepest spot only 23 feet deep. Trolling the weedbeds is the preferred method of angling on Lake St. Clair due to its sheer size. Guides like Pittiglio work at speeds between 3 and 5 miles per hour.
“We’re crying if we don’t get 10 to 12 fish a day,” said Pittiglio. “In July and August, when the water warms up, I like to fish midlake. You don’t get as many out there, but they’re nearly all big – 45 inches or more.
“The fish are getting bigger,” continued Pittiglio. “Ten or 12 years ago a 30-pounder was something. The minimum size was raised up to 42 inches, and 30-pounders became pretty common.”
Lake St. Clair anglers troll an assortment of big lures. Lures with red, green or yellow get the thumbs up, but at times the color doesn’t seem to matter. Pittiglio feels that some muskies hit more out of sheer meanness than hunger. At other times the fish can be extremely fussy and will only take a certain size and color of bait. During those times, Lederer casts his vote for Terminators, Jakes and Believers in green or fire-tiger to imitate perch, a main muskie snack.
Anglers not familiar with the lake are encouraged to charter a trip or hire a guide. It’s easy to cross into Canadian waters, where a Canadian fishing license and an I-68 form are required. In Canadian waters, only one rod per person is allowed. The lake can also get rough quickly, so you should make sure you have all of the required safety equipment aboard.
Additional information can be obtained from the Lake Erie Management Unit at (734) 953-0241. Contact Mike Pittiglio for a charter trip at (586) 260-4068. Call the Detroit Visitor’s Bureau for accommodation listings at 1-800-338-7048.
Thornapple Lake in Barry County is another of biologist LaSage’s top picks. The Thornapple River flows through the lake and creates ideal muskie habitat.
“Thornapple Lake is 409 acres in size and up to 30 feet deep,” said Jay Wesley, a Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries biologist. “Aquatic vegetation is abundant to a depth of 4 feet and primarily consists of coontail and various pondweeds. Only about 45 percent of the shoreline is lined with cottages and homes, while wetlands and wooded areas make up the rest.”
According to Wesley the water is somewhat turbid but loaded with nutrients. “Thornapple Lake produces tro
phy-size northern muskellunge with regularity,” he said.
In 1990, a 38-pound muskie was taken. The lake occasionally yields fish in the 20-pound class. Brian Perkin was casting a black 10-inch Grandma lure in 2002 and landed a muskie measuring over 49 inches. A 47-inch fish was taken the same year by Scott Shepherd using a large Rapala.
Hotspots are at the inflow of the Thornapple River near Charleston Park and off of High Bank Creek. The west end of the lake tends to have more breaklines and distinct weedlines, while the shallows throughout the lake contain submerged vegetation. Thornapple receives over 1,000 finglerling muskies on a regular basis, which helps explain why the fishing is so good.
There is a DNR boat launch on the southeast side of the lake. The Charleston Township Park on the northwest shore offers shore-fishing access and a ramp. For more information, contact the Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit at (269) 685-6851. Information on accommodations and local amenities can be obtained by calling the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce at (269) 945-2454.
“I suggest anglers try the Sanford Lake impoundment on the Tittabawassee River in Midland County and Budd Lake in Clare County,” said Kathrin Schrouder, a fisheries biologist with the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit. “Sanford probably has fewer fish, but your chances of catching a larger one are better. Sanford is also very turbid and may be more difficult to fish.”
This 1,250-acre lake is long and narrow and a favorite of many muskie hunters. The impoundment stretches for 10 miles with depths reaching 20 feet. The old river channel generally runs to 15 feet deep and is a good spot to look for muskies. A lot of stumps off the old riverbed also provide cover.
Muskies have been stocked by the thousands in Sanford Lake beginning in the 1980s. Interstate 75 crosses the lake between Meridian and River roads. Public boat launches are found on the west side of the lake at the Black Creek State Forest campground off River Road and at the Midland County Park near Sanford.
As with other muskie lakes, suckers are the preferred forage. Baits should be silver or in other natural colors and patterns to imitate suckers.
Additional information on the muskie angling in Sanford Lake can be obtained from the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 684-9141. The Midland Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-888-464-3526 can assist with local lodging.
This 175-acre lake is Schrouder’s runner-up choice for good muskie prospects.
“Budd Lake is smaller than Sanford but hosts a good population of muskellunge,” said Schrouder. “However, most fish taken are smaller, though our surveys have turned up nice muskies in both systems.”
The lake is known for muskies. Most are under 40 inches, though larger individuals are occasionally hooked with traditional muskie-sized bucktails, spinners and crankbaits. A forage base of shiners helps the lake to produce good-sized predators. The south end of the lake is shallower, while the rest runs up to 30 feet deep. Dropoffs near the shoreline provide deep-water refuge.
A local hotspot is on the southwestern corner of the lake in the submerged vegetation. Another good bet is in the cove along the eastern shoreline toward the north end of the lake.
A boat ramp is available off Grant Avenue on the southeast end of the lake, and another is off Lake Road and Bush Street on the west shore. Budd Lake is in Clare County at Harrison. Wilson State Park borders the lake on its northwest corner.
More information can be obtained from the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 684-9141. Call the Clare County Visitors Bureau for assistance in locating lodging at 1-800-715-3550.
“The mid- and lower St. Marys River and its bays offer very good fishing for muskies,” said Tim Cwalinski, a fisheries biologist with the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit. “A number of islands and the variations in amount of river current make the fishing very interesting.”
The St. Mary’s River outlets Lake Superior, flows between Michigan and Ontario for 68 miles and then empties into Lake Huron. The river creates ideal muskie habitat along the way.
Doug Johnson fishes the river every year and regularly boats fish in the 40- to 50-inch range.
“I prefer 5-inch Rapala Shad Raps and Wileys,” said Johnson. “When I locate a muskie I mark the spot on my GPS and then troll around the area.”
Johnson finds that the river muskies tend to congregate in the weedy areas, and though he enjoys the occasional big pike, it’s the trophy-class muskies he’s after.
“When the muskies move in, the pike move out,” said Johnson.
The river has extensive weedbeds starting near Birch Point between Mosquito and Waiska bays and ending near De Tour Point. More weeds are located in the Munuscong and Potagannissing bays, which are targeted heavily by muskie hunters. A 35-foot deep shipping channel is kept clear along the river’s course, which allows deep-water refuge adjacent to feeding areas.
There are boat launches at Dunbar on the West Neebish Channel just south of the Charlotte River mouth, at the campground on Munuscong Bay, at the township park on Raber Bay and on the De Tour Passage one mile south of De Tour Village. Anglers can access Potagannissing Bay at the lower end of the St. Marys River from the campground on Maxton Bay on the north side of Drummond Island.
Whitefish, brown trout and rainbow trout make excellent forage for muskies. Large baits should be in natural colors simulating these fish.
For more information, contact the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 732-3541. Information on lodges, resorts and other accommodations can be obtained by contacting the Sault Convention & Visitor’s Bureau at (906) 632-3301, or the De Tour Village Chamber of Commerce at (906) 297-5987.
Lake Skegemog is the muskie hunter’s favorite part of Antrim County’s chain of lakes. Shallow and weedy, Skegemog is connected to Torch Lake via the Torch River and to Elk Lake at The Narrows. Elk Lake empties into Lake Michigan at Elk Rapids. Located 15 miles southwest of Rapid City, Lake Skegemog is shallow and weedy, reaching 20-foot depths and covering 2,561 acres.
Anglers troll Mepps Musky Killers, Bagely Bang-O-Lures and Reef Hogs in the eastern section of the lake, and near the sunken logs and stumps near the Torch River mouth. Natural colors are needed to fool the big muskies in this lake.
Reports vary, but everyone agrees that though the muskie po
pulation isn’t high, the sizes run large. Fish in the 30-pound-plus range are occasionally taken.
Boat access is off Hoiles Drive along the southwest edge of the lake or from the ramp on the Torch River off Wood Trail.
Additional information can be obtained from the Central Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727. The Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce at (231) 264-8202 can provide lodging information.
Mullet Lake is the third-largest lake in the state. Located in Cheboygan County, Mullet covers 17,360 acres. Though muskies aren’t numerous here, 50-inch fish are available.
“We take a hands-off approach to muskie management in Mullet Lake,” said Cwalinski. “We have naturally reproducing populations in this maze of a waterway. The peripheral wetlands are their spawning grounds.”
Anglers will find shallower water at the north end of the lake and wetlands at the south end. There’s not much cover anywhere else in this deep, cold lake. Mullet Lake plummets to 120 feet and offers a variety of warmwater and coldwater fish species as forage for muskies, including perch, splake, ciscoes, rainbow trout, brown trout and lake trout.
Good bets for connecting with one of the wallhangers in Mullet Lake are between Dodge and Needle points, and where the Pigeon and Indian rivers flow into the lake. Access ramps are off Bowerstock Road, on the west shore just north of Topinabee off U.S. 27, off Jewel Road north of Boy Scout Road and at the Mullet Lake Village access site off Lake Road.
For more information, contact the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 732-3541. For assistance in finding local amenities, call the Cheboygan Area Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-968-3302.
These waters are consistent producers of muskies, and indications are that they will continue to produce this season.
As important as the work of the DNR biologists is in preserving the state’s muskie prospects, the catch-and-release ethic among muskie anglers is just as vital. Will Schutz, president of the Michigan Muskie Alliance, reminds anglers that a 45-inch muskie can be from 8 to 12 years old or older. Releasing it back into the water will allow it to be caught again another day.
A good lake map is one of an angler’s most important pieces of equipment. Lake contour maps are available from the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. Call the M.U.C.C. at (517) 346-6456 for a catalog. Online maps are available from Michigan Interactive at www.fishweb.com.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Michigan Sportsman