Skip to main content

Michigan's Best Bets for Ice-Fishing

Michigan's Best Bets for Ice-Fishing

If we finally get some safe ice this winter, this collection of venues is where you'll want to be drilling holes.

The non-winter of 2001-2002 was not a good one if you are a die-hard Michigander who loves outdoor wintertime activities. Last winter was especially frustrating if you're an ice-angler.

Above normal temperatures in the northern Lower Peninsula prevented safe ice from forming for much of the winter. Brief periods of cold temperatures would lock up area lakes for a short time, and when it did, ice-fishing was great. But the cold didn't last long and temperatures inevitably climbed again, producing iffy conditions at best. Upper Peninsula ice-anglers didn't fare much better. Cold temperatures resulted in safe ice for a while, but a blanket of heavy snow and the resulting slush made getting out on the ice almost impossible.

What does the winter of 2002-2003 have in store for Michigan ice-anglers? That's up to Old Man Winter. But if we get cold temperatures and safe ice, the following collection of venues is where you'll want to be drilling holes this winter.

The U.P.'s largest inland lake has a reputation for being one of the top destinations in our state for winter perch and walleyes.

"We didn't do very well on perch last year because right during the best time in late February, March and April the heavy snow on top of the thin ice made getting out on the ice almost impossible," said Ron Montie of Nine Pines Resort in Marenisco. "The walleye fishing was excellent, especially early in the season before the snow got too deep."

Montie said that hotspots for early-season walleyes on Lake Gogebic include Bergland Bay and Ice House Bay on the south end in 5 to 11 feet of water on first ice, which usually occurs in early December. Later in February, the walleyes migrate to deeper water in the central part of the lake. Dropoffs on the east side hold schools of winter walleyes until the season closes in February. Expect to catch a lot of walleyes in the 17- to 20-inch range.


Photo by Ron Sinfelt

"The key to finding winter perch on Gogebic is to find deep water over mud flats," advised Montie. In Bergland Bay, Montie said, that might be only 10 to 12 feet of water, but in other places you'll want to find 22 to 26 feet of water.

Montie noted that there are five locations that produce the best winter perchin' - Porcupine Point, off Ontonagon County Park, in Bergland Bay, off Alligator Point and in Montgomery Bay. All of these locations feature a soft, muddy bottom that harbors the perch's favorite food - wigglers.

"Wigglers are far and away the best winter bait for perch," declared Montie. Montie said the lake's big yellowbellies congregate near schools of suckers and ciscoes, which root the wigglers out of the mud. Light jigs and wigglers produce many perch that will top a foot long.

For more information on Lake Gogebic's winter perch and walleyes and lodging, contact Ron Montie at Nine Pines Resort by calling him (906) 842-3361 or going online to

"It's hard to say when the ice-fishing season will start," said Naomi Johnson of Bayshore Resort. "The last couple of winters we hardly had any ice. Usually, we have safe ice by late December or early January."

When safe ice does form, Little Bay de Noc produces a potpourri of game fish for ice-anglers that includes walleyes, northern pike, perch, splake and whitefish.

"Some of the best walleye and perch fishing is right out in front of the resort on the reefs off Gladstone," claimed Johnson. Johnson said this is a sheltered part of the bay and usually has safe ice. She indicated that more splake and whitefish are caught south of Gladstone in deeper water, but the ice conditions there are often treacherous.

Most of the better perch and walleyes come off of reefs in 10 to 25 feet of water to the north of Saunders Point. Anglers can gain access to the ice at a public boat launch there or off Kipling. Upwards of 100 shanties mark the reefs, and anglers score with Swedish Pimples, Nils Masters and Jigging Rapalas on the walleyes. Johnson wanted to remind anglers that there is a slot limit in effect on Little Bay de Noc. Walleyes must be 15 inches to keep and only one walleye may be bigger than 23 inches. Five game fish in combination can be kept. Often, schools of big yellowbellies move into the reefs, too. Smaller teardrops baited with minnows score on the perch. The limit is 50 on the bay.

Little Bay de Noc is home to some big pike, too. The best areas for pike are in Nelson's Bay just north of the Days River and along the east side of the upper bay in 10 to 20 feet of water. Try jigging with spoons, or suspend suckers or big shiners under tip-ups for northerns that can top 20 pounds.

For bait, tackle, lodging and guide service, contact Bayshore Resort at (906) 428-9687 or go online to

Benzie County's Crystal Lake is one lake that requires plenty of cold weather before anglers can venture out onto the ice. Because Crystal's depths approach 200 feet, it's often February before safe ice forms over the deeper water. It's there that ice-anglers find dropoffs and structure that concentrate schools of lake trout.

Crystal Lake has a healthy population of smelt that the lake trout grow fat on. Many anglers spend the evening hours fishing for smelt and keep a few alive to use for lake trout the following day. When smelt aren't available, anglers rely on blue or gray shiners. Hotspots for lakers are off Herdman's Point, Railroad Point, Lobb Road and the public access at Warren Road. Concentrate on locations where the lake shelves off from 70 to 140 feet. Tip-ups and Slammers work well with live bait. Jigging with heavy Swedish Pimples or Sand Diggers can turn on neutral trout.

Besides lake trout, Crystal Lake gets regular plants of both rainbow and brown trout. The 'bows and browns are found in shallower water on the east end of the lake near Beulah. Wigglers or minnows suspended below a small bobber will fool the trout, but tip-ups and spawn work, too. Concentrate on the 5- to 30-foot depths. Slightly deeper water from 30 to 50 feet is also productive for perch. Wigglers and minnows score on the perch.

For information on ice conditions, shanty rental, bait and tackle, contact Ray's Bait & Tackle at (231) 882-4920.

"Kalkaska County has an abundance of really nice trout lakes that don't see a lot of fishing pressure during the winter," said regional fisheries supervisor Tom Rozich. Rozich indicated that lakes like Bear, Big Guernsey, Starvation, Big Twin and Blue receive regular stockings of lake trout, splake, browns and rainbows. While there's some angling pressure for the trout during the summer months, the trout are basically ignored during the winter.

Blue and Bear lakes are good examples of the quality and diversity of the trout lakes in the Kalkaska area. Blue Lake covers 114 acres and features depths to 80 feet. It's along the deeper contours that anglers are likely to find winter lake trout to 8 pounds. Winter anglers will find good fishing right off the public access. Jigging with spoons is productive, as is suspending minnows below tip-ups. Smaller perch-sized minnows or wigglers are likely to interest the smorgasbord of rainbows, browns, splake and ciscoes that can also be found in Blue Lake.

Bear Lake, at just over 300 acres, is slightly larger than Blue Lake, but its deepest spot in the basin is 60 feet. Brown trout are the mainstay in Bear Lake and are planted each year. Look for trout cruising the edges of dropoffs on the south side of the lake just west of the public access, off the shelf on the northeast side of the lake, and near a sunken island that rises up in the center of the lake to 25 feet. Minnows, wigglers and larvae will all catch trout when the fish are in a feeding mood, which is usually early and late in the day.

For information on ice-angling opportunities on these and other Kalkaska County trout lakes, contact Jack's Sport Shop in Kalkaska at (231) 258-8892.

Wexford County's Lake Mitchell is fun to ice-fish because you really don't know what you're going to catch.

The lake is full of bluegills and sunfish, and the black crappie population is coming on like gangbusters. Northerns can be a real pain sometimes. They tend to run on the small side, but they sure keep things interesting. And there's always the chance of icing one of the trophy northerns that are taken from the lake each winter. Walleyes are also available if you can keep the pike away from your baits.

The best thing about ice-fishing on Lake Mitchell is that you can count on having ice. Because the entire lake is less than 20 feet deep, it freezes quickly. Usually anglers can get on the ice by Christmas, and some of the best action is on first ice.

"The crappies have been the big thing in recent years," said Steve Knaisel of Pilgrim's Village and Resort. "Crappies used to be kind of rare in the lake, but in the last few years their numbers have exploded. Foot-long specks are common now." Knaisel also said that after several down years bluegill numbers are on the rebound. The two make a great combination for winter panfish anglers.

Best locations are off Big Cove and Little Cove on the west side of the lake and near a hump that locals call "Blind Island." Panfish relate to weedbeds where aquatic insects and minnows are available. The key is to keep moving until you find fish and then hole-hop.

Pike can be found just about anywhere in the lake. Most will be less than 24 inches, but you'll find plenty of them. Winter walleyes concentrate in the 20-foot hole just out from Mitchell State Park and the public launch.

For information on lodging and accommodations in the Cadillac area, contact the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce by calling (231) 775-9776 or by going online to their Web site, Fishing and ice reports, bait and tackle are available at Pilgrim's Village & Resort. Their number is (231) 775-5412.

Muskegon Lake is one ice-fishing destination that offers anglers just about anything they could want. There's great first- and last-ice panfish, big northern pike and plenty of walleyes. The lake features good public access, too.

"Some of the hottest panfish action is on first ice," said Muskegon native Tom Irwin. "One of the best places is in Snug Harbor in about 4 to 6 feet of water. You can catch some really nice 'gills then, and there are some good resident perch that are usually mixed in with them." Another spot Irwin recommended is off the Muskegon Conservation Club. Tiny teardrops baited with larvae and delicate spring bobbers are necessary to fool the bigger 'gills.

Irwin said that those searching for big northerns will find them chasing the panfish when ice first forms in Snug Harbor. Pike topping 10 pounds are common. Off Second Street towards the B.C. Cobb plant is another winter hotspot for pike, but Irwin advised using caution because of the warm water generated by the plant, which makes ice conditions iffy. To the east of Second Street toward the North Muskegon water tower is another good location for both pike and walleyes. Concentrate on 15 to 25 feet of water. Off Johnson Point is another good location, especially for walleyes, but it's not readily accessible, which probably accounts for the good fishing. Try off Strawberry Island and Fishermen's Landing, too. A hot technique for both walleyes and pike in Muskegon Lake is jigging with a No. 2 Loco spoon in chartreuse, blue/silver or orange/silver.

For live bait, maps and fishing information on Muskegon Lake, contact Shoreline Services at (231) 759-7254.

Oakland County's Cass Lake is one of the more popular ice-fishing destinations in southeast Michigan for good reason. The 1,280-acre lake is a consistent producer of a variety of panfish, which run better than average size.

"Cass Lake has some beautiful crappies in it and one of the best times to catch them is through the ice," said Bill Senior of KD Outdoors in Waterford. "You'll catch a lot of very nice crappies in the 10- to 11-inch range most days. There are some good 'gills in Cass Lake, too." Senior said the key to catching limits of panfish is to move. "Keep moving and use your electronics until you locate fish," advised Senior.

Cass Lake is a myriad of sloping contours and bays, which can all hold fish. One of the best panfish locations is the area referred to as "The Guts," right off the Dodge No. 4 State Park public access. Also good are Cole's Bay, Mud Bay and off Marshbank Park. Favorite baits include mousies, wax worms and spikes for the bluegills and tiny minnows for the specks.

Besides panfish, Cass Lake also has a healthy population of walleyes and northerns. Walleyes tend to relate to midlake reefs that slope from 10 to 40 feet. Try jigging with a Swedish Pimple sweetened with a minnow. Pike tend to patrol the mouths of bays and coves. Most anglers spot jumbo suckers or shiners under tip-ups for the northerns.

For information on ice conditions, fishing success and bait and tackle, contact KD Outdoors at (248) 666-7799.

One necessary ingredient for good winter walleye angling on the Saginaw River is cold weather. We need several weeks of sub-freezing weather before the ice on the river is thick enough to support anglers. Usually, it's early to mid-January before wise ice-anglers venture onto the river in search of jumbo walleyes. Many of the walleyes come in from Saginaw Bay in the fall behind schools of shad that run the river and then spend the winter in the river. Others trickle in throughout the winter and add to the number of targets.

The current in the river is surprisingly swift and it often takes a 1/2-ounce lure to get down to the bottom and in front of walleyes. Favorite baits include Jigging Rapalas, Swedish Pimples, Rocker Minnows and leadhead jigs. Chartreuse and hot orange are good colors. Sweeten the lures with a whole shiner minnow, several perch minnows or just the head of a big shiner. The technique is to lift the lure a foot off the bottom and then allow it to flutter down. Most bites occur as the lure falls, and when you lift it feels like you've hooked bottom. Just before dark and right after first light are prime times. Work the 10- to 25-foot depths.

Walleyes can be caught all the way from Vets Park in Bay City to the Saginaw River's confluence with the Tittabawassee and Shiawassee rivers. Prime locations are off Wicks Park, right in downtown Saginaw, near the old 6th Street Bridge, along M-13, and upstream or downstream of the Zilwaukee Bridge in the deep water referred to as "Hawg Alley" by locals. Walleyes topping 10 pounds are common.

For live bait, hot lures and area maps, contact Frank's Great Outdoors by calling (989) 697-5341 or going online to their Web site, at

* * *
Michigan definitely has an abundance of great ice-fishing venues. Now all we need is Old Man Winter to cooperate.

Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Michigan Sportsman

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

New Shimano Baitcasters

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Incredible Turkey Audio: Tommy Allen Punches his Minnesota Tag IN THE SNOW

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

First Turkey Ever: Perfect Conditions Make for a Short Hunt

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Bass Crash Course: Bass Froggin' Game Plan

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

What to Know Before Going Off-Road

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Off-Road Safety Tips and Techniques

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

The Right Tires for Off-Roading

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Bass Crash Course: Shallow-Water Power Lures

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Minnesota Double Down: First Visit to New Farm Goes Perfectly

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Bass Crash Course: Bass Fishing in the Wind

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

She Kills The Biggest Bird of the Year

Host Shane Beilue covers three things to look for when considering square bills in shallow water.

Bass Crash Course: Unlock the Patterns Squarebill Crankbaits

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now