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.
BURT AND HUBBARD LAKES
"The best walleye lakes in this neck of the woods are Burt and Hubbard," said Northern Lake Huron Management Unit fisheries biologists Tim Cwalinski. "Both are sustained by natural reproduction. Burt Lake has never been planted. Hubbard Lake was last planted in 1991. That plant kind of jumpstarted the fishery. Because both are now sustained by natural reproduction, VHS has not had an effect on the fisheries.
"You don't hear about the Hubbard walleye fishing. It's more known for its jumbo perch," said Cwalinski, "and the people who are catching them don't talk much."
Cwalinski said the most recent fishery studies conducted on Hubbard Lake show that the lake has very good age structure with regard to walleyes, with fish up to age 12, although the walleyes are growing slightly below the state average.
Located halfway between Harrisville and Alpena in central Alcona County, 8,850-acre Hubbard Lake has a long history of walleye fishing and management. During late spring and early summer, look for walleyes in the shallows of East Bay and adjacent Churchill Point. The dropoff leading from Churchill Point to Doctor's Point in 10 to 40 feet of water attracts schools of walleyes, too. During the heat of summer, walleyes will suspend 20 to 25 feet down over 40 to 50 feet of water. Downriggers, divers and lead core excel then.
Contact the Alpena Convention & Visitors Bureau at alpenacvb.com or at (989) 354-4181 for information on bait shops, lodging and amenities in the area.
"Burt Lake gets more fishing pressure than the other large lakes in the area," said Cwalinski. "It's probably as good or better than Hubbard Lake and provides access to Mullet Lake, too."
Almost twice the size of Hubbard Lake at 17,260 acres, Burt Lake is popular with walleye anglers. While it doesn't give up big numbers of trophy fish, Burt Lake can usually be counted on to provide enough walleyes for a fish fry. Most walleyes will average 15 to 18 inches. Look for spring walleyes to cluster in the shallow confines of Maple Bay and Bullhead Bay where the Maple River and Crooked River enter the lake.
Also look for walleyes to congregate near the outflows of the Indian and Sturgeon rivers. Early summer finds schools of walleyes patrolling the dropoffs near Colonial Point and along the entire east side of the lake. As surface water temperatures climb during late summer, look for walleyes over the 40- to 45-foot depths. Because Burt Lake is a large body of water, trolling is the best option for presenting your lure to the maximum number of walleyes.
Anglers will find good access in Maple Bay and at Burt Lake State Park on the south end of the lake. For more information on bait shops, lodging and amenities in the area contact the Indian River Chamber of Commerce at irchamber.com or by calling (231) 238-9325.
BELLVILLE AND UNION LAKES
"Because southern Michigan lakes are so dependent on plants, they were all impacted by the VHS disease and the lack of walleye fry and fingerlings," stated Lake Erie Management Unit fisheries biologist Jeff Braunscheidel. "Ford Lake does have some natural reproduction. We continued to stock Belleville with 100,000 walleye fingerlings. For the most part, the Huron River impoundments have good walleye habitat and pretty good populations of walleyes."
The Huron River impoundments represent a good alternative when Lake Erie is too rough to fish, or if you have a small boat.
Washtenaw and Wayne counties' 1,270-acre Belleville Lake is an impoundment of the Huron River that's more noted for it black crappies and largemouth bass, but it a sleeper for walleyes according to Braunscheidel. "Upper Belleville Lake can be very good right after the opener," he said. "The walleyes migrate up to the dam and concentrate there for a few weeks."
Anglers who cast leadhead jigs adorned with white twistertails often take limits of walleyes that will average 16 to 20 inches. Later in the summer, walleyes will concentrate along the deeper river channel and anglers who know how to use their electronics and are able to follow the river contours make big catches of walleyes by either trolling, jigging or casting.
Oakland County's 465-acre Union Lake is noted for it slab bluegills and chunky smallmouths, but megaplants of walleye over the past years have turned it into a walleye factory for those in the know. "We initially stocked Union Lake at a very high rate to jumpstart the fishery and we're still stocking the lake at a higher-than-normal rate," said Braunscheidel. "We stocked it with walleyes in 2005 and again in 2011."
Union Lake received a plant of 94, 214 walleye fingerlings in 2005 and another 98,537 walleyes in 2011. The fish from the 2005 plant should provide great fishing this year.
Because Union Lake is deep and clear, anglers need to use finesse techniques to score consistently on the lake's walleyes. Low-light periods produce the best fishing and anglers who are on the water when lake residents are eating breakfast or dinner will do the best. There are several humps, which rise to within 10 feet of the surface, that walleyes consistently relate to. A hole where the Green Lake outlet enters the lake is a good place to prospect for walleyes too, especially after dark.
For information on inland lake walleye opportunities in southeast Michigan, contact the MDNR Lake Erie Management Unit at (248) 359-9040.
"The inland lakes down here really took a step back because of VHS," stated Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jay Wesley. "Coldwater Lake is so dependant on stocking that the impact of VHS was huge. We try to do a lot of stocking when we can. Local clubs make an effort to stock fall fingerlings; 80,000 spring fingerlings that we planted a few years ago provided a fishery the last few years, but it was almost entirely for adult fish last year. We're pretty much dependent on plants. Predators tend to hold down any contributions that we might get from natural reproduction."
With the ban on planting lifted, Coldwater Lake got three plants of walleye fingerlings totaling more than 80,000 in 2011. Those fish should grow quickly and begin contributing to the fishery in 2013.
Walleyes from plants made in 1,610-acre Coldwater Lake half a decade ago should be fat 18- to 22-inch fish by now. Look for them along the contours found directly out from the boat launch and Pearl Beach on the northwest end of the lake. Another hotspot is off Shawnee Shoals and the irregular breaklines that can be found there. The combination of being very clear and the fact that the lake is a favorite of power boaters means that the best walleye fishing on Coldwater Lake takes place early and late in the day, at night or when weather forces the water zealots to stay home.
For more information on Coldwater Lake and other southwest Michigan walleye fisheries, contact the MDNR's Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit at (269) 685-6851. Information on amenities and bait shops near Coldwater Lake can be obtained by contacting the Branch County Tourism Bureau, 28 W. Chicago St. Suite 1C, Coldwater, MI 49036; (800) 968-9333, or (517) 278-0241; or online at www.discover-michigan.com.
BIG MANISTIQUE LAKE
"Big Manistique Lake goes through its ups and downs," chided Eastern Lake Superior Management Unit fisheries supervisor Steve Scott. "We've had issues with cormorants in the past, but what it all goes back to is natural reproduction."
Scott said that the lake receives small plants from private organizations and individuals, but they are insignificant. Most years, natural reproduction provides enough walleyes in the pipeline to make Big Manistique Lake one of the best walleye fisheries in the U.P.
"The walleyes in Big Manistique Lake are very slow growing for the most part," said Scott. He told of one fish captured in a recent survey that measured 19 1/2 inches, but was 8 years old. In spite of the slow growth, Big Manistique Lake is blessed with lots of rock and cobble that provides ideal spawning habitat for walleyes.
"It can handle the pressure," declared Scott.
You know when the walleye fishing on Big Manistique Lake is good just by looking at the boat ramps. "The boat ramps were packed this past summer," said Scott.
At more than 10,000 acres and without any spots deeper than 20 feet, walleyes can be found just about anywhere on the lake, and that tends to spread out the fishing pressure. A change of only 5 feet in depth or of bottom composition is likely to hold fish. A good tactic is to just drift or troll slowly with a bottom-bouncer and half a crawler. The rig is likely to interest walleyes and the jumbo perch the lake is known for. Leeches fished below a slip-bobber will interest both the yellow bellies and 'eyes, too.
For maps, bait and tackle, contact Fish & Hunt Shop at (877) 586-9531, or online at fishandhuntshop.com.
Michiganders will find lots of great walleye action this year. And they won't have to tackle the big water to do it.