Northern pike are mean-tempered and ugly, and if you hook one you're in for the fight of your life. Here are some prime waters where you can hook up with Old Tooth-Face this season.(March 2008).
Photo by Jim Bedford.
Michigan is blessed with numerous lakes and streams that hold good numbers of northern pike. While northerns may not be as glamorous in the eyes of many anglers as walleyes or bass, they're a lot bigger and readily strike a variety of lures, flies or bait. Another plus for these fast swimmers is they are found throughout the state, so you can usually find good pike fishing close to home. We asked fisheries biologists around the Great Lakes State to suggest places you should try during the coming season. We'll start in the Upper Peninsula and group the waters by their DNR watershed management unit.
WESTERN LAKE SUPERIOR
Portage Lake, a 10,000-acre lake in the Keweenaw Peninsula, produces plenty of northerns, many trophy-sized.
As is the case in many lakes, concentrating on weedlines is a good plan. Portage Lake is connected to Lake Superior by the Portage Ship Canal and the Portage River. The weedbeds near the river entrances and exits merit special attention.
Biologist George Madison suggests anglers wanting to fish smaller waters try Otter Lake, about eight miles south of Portage or the Cisco Chain of Lakes at the headwaters of the Ontonagon River, about 10 miles west of Watersmeet. You may launch your boat at the north end of Cisco Lake or the east side of Thousand Island Lake.
Lake Independence produces almost as many master angler pike as Portage, although it is considerably smaller. Independence is an impoundment of the Yellow Dog River, about 20 miles northwest of Marquette. The weedbeds in and near Alder Creek Bay are prime pike hangouts. The lake is highly stained with tannins, so using bright lures will help get the attention of the pike. For more information on these lakes, contact the DNR at (906) 353-6651.
EASTERN LAKE SUPERIOR
Large lakes are relatively scarce in the watersheds of eastern Lake Superior, but you will still find some good pike fishing. Au Train Lake, located about 10 miles west of Munising on the Au Train River, offers some of the area's best pike fishing, according to DNR biologist Jim Waybrant.
He also noted improved northern pike fishing on two lakes where the DNR removed the minimum size limit on pike. The average size of pike has increased significantly on Muskallonge and Nawakwa lakes, resulting in better fishing. Nawakwa is located in the eastern part of Alger County, about 10 miles south of Grand Marais. Muskallonge Lake is less than a mile from Lake Superior in northern Luce County. Waybrant also recommended the Blind Sucker Flooding, west of Muskallonge if you like to catch plenty of small pike with a chance at an occasional large fish.
If you are interested in river fishing, Waybrant suggests trying the lower Tahquamenon River in the spring and the middle reaches of the river in the summer. A bonus muskie is a possibility when you fish this darkly stained river. For the latest on fishing the waters of this management unit, give the DNR a call at (906) 293-5131.
Good numbers of big pike are found in the southern Upper Peninsula. Located in the northwest corner of Mackinac County, Big Manistique Lake spreads into Luce County. Even though it covers more than 10,000 acres, it is quite shallow, averaging 10 feet in depth, and has great northern pike habitat. Many submerged humps and small islands with adjacent weedbeds provide good cover for pike to ambush prey.
Several boat launches on the north, south and east shores offer access to the lake. The ramp on the southwest side off Curtis Road is paved with substantial parking room.
Biologist Mike Herman recommends Greenwood Reservoir, an impoundment of the upper middle branch of the Escanaba River. It is located about six miles southwest of Ishpeming and has a public boat launch at the southern end off County Road 478.
Little Bay de Noc is best known for its walleye fishery, but it is also hard to beat for good-sized northerns. In addition to native minnows, alewives and smelt provide excellent forage. Three rivers flow into this northern Lake Michigan bay in Delta County. Concentrating your efforts around the weedbeds near the mouths of the Days, Rapid and Whitefish rivers is a good plan. For more information, call the DNR at (906) 786-2351.
The Northern Lake Huron management unit covers both the southeastern part of the Upper Peninsula and the northeastern section of the Lower Peninsula. The prime pike fishery above the straits in this region is the St. Mary's River and bays.
DNR biologist Neal Godby said the fishery is down some because low water has dried up parts of the spawning marshes, but you can still find good pike numbers in the lower river and Munuscong and Raber bays. Raber offers the better chance to tangle with a big pike. There are launch ramps at the mouth of the Munuscong River and in the town of Raber.
In the Lower Peninsula, Godby recommends concentrating on three large bodies of water.
Fletcher's Pond, an impoundment of the south branch of the Thunder Bay River 15 miles west of Alpena, is loaded with numerous average-sized pike.
If you prefer looking for trophy pike, plan to spend time on Otsego Lake, a few miles south of Gaylord.
Nearby Black Lake's pike fishery yields more fish than Otsego but not as many trophy fish. You can reach Godby and other DNR biologists at (989) 732-3541 for more information.
The northwest region of the Lower Peninsula is loaded with good pike waters. In the center of the state, Higgins and Houghton lakes offer the choice of plenty of pike action or a good chance at a trophy.
Higgins Lake is deep and cold and doesn't look like a good pike lake, but smelt and trout provide rich forage as the pike fill a niche between the warmer shallows and the deep cold water. Covering plenty of water while trolling along the dropoff is the usual plan of attack.
A few miles away and connected to Higgins by the Cut River, Houghton Lake is a large but relatively shallow lake with many pike but not as many trophies. Two other connected lakes that offer very good pike fishing are lakes Cadillac and Mitchell adjacent to the town of Cadillac. Mitchell State Park is located on the short canal between the lakes and provides access to both. Biologist Mark Tonell
o said that there are large numbers of pike in both lakes, but if you are after a trophy, your chances are probably better in Lake Cadillac.
Tonello also recommends trying the area's drowned river mouth lakes. These lakes were formed on rivers just before they flowed into Lake Michigan. Manistee Lake may be the best and is found where the Manistee joins Lake Michigan in the town of the same name. The best fishing is found in the northern part of the lake where the Manistee River flows into the lake. Northerns often move up into the lower river to feed.
Other similar systems include Pere Marquette Lake and the lower Pere Marquette River near Ludington, White Lake and the White River near Whitehall and Muskegon Lake and the Muskegon River near Muskegon. These systems produce good-sized pike that benefit greatly from the migration of salmon and steelhead smolts each spring.
The third group includes impoundments of the Manistee and Muskegon rivers. Tonello recommends the Tippy Dam and Hodenpyl impoundments on the Manistee and the Croton and Hardy Dam ponds on the Muskegon. Both lakes offer fine pike fishing, but Hardy usually produces bigger northerns. The biologists for these watersheds are avid anglers and you can pick their brains by calling (231) 775-9727.
Impoundments and Lake Huron bays are the focal points for pike fishing in this part of the Lower Peninsula.
Biologist Kathrin Schrouder said Saginaw Bay and Tawas Bay produced good pike fishing last year and she expects it to be good again this spring and summer due in part to increased water clarity that favors sight predators like northern pike.
Most anglers target walleyes in these waters, so focus on pike and you will do very well.
Wixom and Sanford lakes, impoundments of the Tittabawassee River located north of Midland, are relatively narrow and provide good pike fishing throughout their lengths.
Wiggins Lake, an impoundment of the Cedar River west of the town of Gladwin features myriad islands and coves, making it a fun lake to cast for pike. Schrouder also recommends Murphy Lake seven miles southeast of Vassar. For more information, call the DNR at (989) 684-9141.
The southern Lake Michigan watershed area provides good pike fishing in rivers and lakes. Two of the larger lakes follow the now familiar theme of offering either good numbers or relatively few fish but a chance for a trophy. Gull Lake in northern Kalamazoo County is a deep, two-story lake with rainbow trout and smelt in the depths and a typical warm water mix on the shoals. Big pike lurk at the edges of dropoffs to sample the smelt and small trout in addition to their usual forage base. The best access is at the north end at Prairieville Township Park.
Gun Lake is a large, shallow lake in western Barry County
less than 20 miles from Gull, so it's possible to try both on the same outing. Good numbers of average-sized pike roam this lake.
If the wind is blowing, you may prefer the smaller Fish Lake managed by the DNR for trophy northerns with a 30-inch size limit.
DNR biologist Jay Wesley said some of the best pike fishing in his area is found in the upper half of the Kalamazoo River, especially the reach between Albion and Battle Creek. Good fishing continues in the north branch of the Albion upstream from the town of Albion.
The Battle Creek River joins the Kalamazoo in the town of Battle Creek and the lower half of this river has an excellent pike population. If the idea of catching a big pike in a small stream turns you on, try wading Indian Creek, a tributary of the Battle Creek River, near Olivet. Most of the lakes in this region have pike in them but not in big numbers. For more information, call the DNR at (269) 685-6851.
While southeast Michigan is the most densely populated part of the state, it is also blessed with many fine fishing waters. Lake St. Clair, famous for its muskie, smallmouth bass and walleye fishing, also offers a fine population of northern pike, many weighing in double digits. Moreover, you probably won't be disappointed if you hook a muskie while you are pike fishing.
This is a very large lake, but trying to find submerged weedbeds is a good plan. In the early season, aim for the areas around the mouths of the St. Clair and Clinton rivers, as well as the relatively shallow Anchor Bay. There are many boat launch ramps, so you can put your boat in easily. You are required to possess an Ontario license if you venture to the Canadian side of the lake.
There are a number of inland lakes boasting good pike populations.
Biologist Gary Towns recommends Kent, White and Pontiac lakes in Oakland County. He said his sleeper pike water is Middle Straits Lake, five miles southwest of downtown Pontiac. Towns also recommended Devils and Sand lakes in Lenawee County and Fourmile and South lakes in northwestern Washtenaw County.
For more information, call the DNR at (248) 359-9046.
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In a number of lakes, the DNR retained the five-fish possession limit but removed the size limit on northern pike. This was usually done because there were too many pike and they were stunted or because the lake was being managed for other species. The bottom line for many of these lakes has been that the pike fishing improved when the harvest was increased. The lakes are listed on page nine of the Michigan Fishing Guide that you receive with your license.
You will also find a list of lakes that are managed for big pike with a 30-inch minimum size limit. Contact DNR fisheries biologists for more information on the listed lakes you are interested in. They may also give you the results of recent surveys of fish populations in pike-containing lakes.
Remember, pike are sight feeders and primarily devour other fish. They ambush their prey and thus need cover to conceal themselves. Fishing near weedbeds, submerged logs and other cover is always a good idea.
Local tackle shops may also be a good source of information in the area you are targeting. You can get their numbers as well as places to stay by contacting local chambers of commerce. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce will provide local chamber contact information by phone at (517) 371-2100 or on the Web at www.michamber.com