I jokingly referred to a trip around Michigan last year as the Michigan Odyssey. The dictionary defines odyssey as “a long adventurous journey.” I was indeed hoping the trip would turn out to be a long, adventurous fishing journey.
Plans began months before and the idea was to get as much fishing between seminars and family gatherings as humanly possible. But I was being realistic, too. Even the best-laid plans can go awry due to weather, mechanical failure and other unforeseen natural and unnatural disasters. So I figured, if three of the five trips I had planned were a success, I’d be more than happy.
As it turned out, things could not have worked out better. The weather cooperated and fishing was incredible. While not all the fish were trophy class, the trip did provide some lunkers and memorable catches and a cooler full of filets to take home. In all, I caught 13 different species of fish on the trip.
If you think about it, that’s not all that difficult in Michigan, regardless of the season. You might have to travel a little bit, but there are so many angling opportunities in Michigan that catching a variety of fish species is the norm rather than the exception.
Following is a calendar of fishing destinations and opportunities that you can use to plan your own odyssey this year.
Muskegon Lake Smorgasbord
The great thing about ice-fishing on Muskegon County’s Muskegon Lake is the variety. The 4,150-acre drowned river mouth lake is home to northerns, walleyes, resident and Lake Michigan perch, and decent bluegills. If one species isn’t biting, chances are good something else is.
“Muskegon Lake has a lot of perch in it right now,” said Matt Schalk. “We had a lot of small perch, but they’ve grown to nice size now.” Schalk said there’s a mix of resident Muskegon Lake perch and Lake Michigan jumbos. Most perch average 9 to 11 inches, but 13- to 14-inch jumbos are not uncommon.
The prime area for perch is off the Sand Docks in 30 to 40 feet of water. Another hotspot is off the Milwaukee Clipper in 60 to 70 feet of water all the way to the black/red buoy. Schalk advised anglers to use extreme caution when ice-fishing on Muskegon Lake due to the lake’s depth, currents and changing ice conditions. Wigglers fished under a slip-bobber take the most perch, but the real jumbos prefer walleye-sized shiner minnows.
“Bluegill fishing can be very good at first ice off the Conservation Club on the northeast end of the lake, in the Muskegon Yacht Club, and off Snug Harbor on the northwest side,” said Schalk.
“There are some good pike caught every winter off First and Second streets on the north side of the lake,” Schalk said. Most of the pike measure 24 to 36 inches, but northerns topping 20 pounds are taken every winter. “A lot of guys fish right from their vehicles in the marinas,” claimed Schalk. Check out Harbor Town, Hartshorn Marina and Heritage Landing for the best “truck fishing.” Slammer tip-ups with golden shiners, dead smelt or jumbo suckers take the gators.
Walleyes are an added bonus on Muskegon Lake. Anglers target the 15- to 30-foot depths off Second Street and Strawberry Island and occasionally take limits of ’eyes ranging from just-legal to double-digit trophies. Contact Shoreline Services at (231) 759-7254.
Hamlin Lake produces some great bluegill fishing on first-ice. Houghton County’s Rice Lake is hot for northerns in January.
Saginaw Bay Walleyes
February finds safe ice conditions across Saginaw Bay. Thick ice provides access to the 17- to 24-foot depths where walleye schools reside in the winter. Anglers can gain access at numerous road ends and public access points from Bay City State Park to Pinconning. It’s a 5-mile run to productive water. Some form of transportation is a must. Watch for pressure cracks and other hazards when traversing the ice. Conditions change quickly, and so anglers are encouraged to check with tackle stores, anglers and other sources regarding current ice conditions.
A mid-winter hotspot is the “Black Hole” off Linwood. The Hole features the deepest water in the inner bay and walleyes gravitate to it. Start shallower and then work toward deeper water as the morning action wanes. Reverse the program in the afternoon. The hottest fishing is early and late in the day, but anglers who keep moving, avoid groups of fishermen, and punch holes catch fish all day. Trophy walleyes are scarce in the bay right now, but catching a limit of 2- to 5-pounders isn’t difficult.
Jigging Swedish Pimples, Do Jiggers or Rattlin’ Buckshot spoons are proven baits. A dead stick with a lively shiner minnow and a slip-bobber will fool walleyes attracted by jigging.
For information on ice conditions and tackle, contact Frank’s Great Outdoors in Lynnwood at (989) 697-5341 or go online to www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.
Perch fishing is very good on last ice off the mouth of the Pine River in Wigwam Bay.
Lake Independence Perch
One of the U. P.’s most famous perch venues has undergone a perch rebound in recent years. During a normal winter, a lot of perch in the 10- to 12-inch range and jumbo 14- to 15-inchers are common. Fishing is good all winter, but the action heats up as spring approaches.
Lake Independence covers 1,860 acres and is relatively shallow for its size. Few places top 30 feet and an expansive flat in the center offers ideal perch habitat. Locate weed edges or humps on the mud flats that attract roaming schools of perch. Some of the biggest perch are caught on tip-ups baited with shiner minnows intended for walleyes. A slip-bobber anchored with a bell sinker and a perch rig baited with wax worms or wigglers is standard tackle. Jigging Rapalas and Swedish Pimples take some of the biggest jumbos. Last ice usually produces a hot bite.
For information contact the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-544-4321 or online at marquettecountry.org
Ludington Brown Trout
Ludington was the recipient of the MDNRE’s super plants of brown trout in 2010. The bumper crop of 60,000 browns is already starting to pay big dividends. Anglers reported catching limits of 2- to 4-pound trout last spring. Those fish should be 6 to 8 pounds this spring and will be joined by another mega year-class.
The Pere Marquette, Lincoln and Sable rivers are a major attraction to spring browns. Small boats troll the beach between the rivers and off the color lines. Browns chase a myriad of baitfish in the tepid, murky water. Body baits behind in-line planer boards are standard fare. Dipsey Divers and Slider Divers pulling spoons take the occasional brownie, too. Target the deep water between sandbars as close to shore as you dare. Shorebound anglers do well off the break walls using live bait, spawn and spoons.
For more information on Ludington’s spring brown trout contact Capt. Chuck’s at (231) 843-4458.
April is prime time for hawg walleyes on the Detroit River.
Look for slab bluegills to begin moving into the shallows on Ogemaw County’s Island Lake in April.
Check out the best Michigan Fishing options for May, June, July and August on page two