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Michigan's Family Fishing Road Trips

Michigan's Family Fishing Road Trips

Michigan has some of the most incredible state parks and campgrounds in the country that flank some of our best fishing lakes. Combine the two and you can enjoy some great fishing at bargain vacation rates! (June 2009)

Doug Iles and his clan enjoyed a family fishing charter off Ludington, one of the best trout and salmon ports on the Great Lakes, where typical catches in summertime include chinook salmon, lake trout and steelhead. More than 50 charter boats call the port home and families can book a half- or full-day charter for a reasonable price.
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

There's nowhere in the United States where the recent economic downturn has hit harder than Michigan. Michigan's economic welfare is largely dependent on the automotive industry, and we all know how well that segment of the business world has been doing. Michigan residents are experiencing some tough times, for sure. Some have left their beloved state to find work elsewhere. Others have managed to hang on but are doing some serious belt-tightening.

Maybe this year your angler's belt is going to get tightened up a notch or two, as well. Perhaps you're not going to be able to make that annual family fishing trip to Canada or another state.

Instead, you'll stay home and re-discover the great family fishing opportunities right here in Michigan. And if you're really looking for a cut-rate family fishing vacation, you might want to consider saving even more money by camping at one of Michigan's beautiful state campgrounds. Michigan has some of the most incredible state parks and campgrounds in the country. Many of them are located on Michigan's best fishing lakes. Combine the two and you can still enjoy some great fishing at bargain vacation rates!

Fishing heats up on the Michigan portion of Lake Erie sometime in May and continues until the water warms and the walleyes head east in mid- to late July. Until then, it's not too difficult to catch a limit of walleyes. Walleyes are the perfect fish for youngsters to reel in, and they are great table fare.

Catching walleyes in early summer on Lake Erie is fairly simple. The walleyes are hungry after spawning and their metabolism is in high gear as the lake heats up in June.

Many anglers troll for walleyes in Lake Erie. Trolling allows anglers to cover water, fish multiple lines and cover a variety of depths. Crankbaits are the lure of choice, although spoons are gaining a big following. Small mini-spoons fished behind divers have become the hot ticket for Erie 'eyes. The rigs are set up on shallow-set downriggers and with weights behind planer boards. Crankbaits still take fish and some anglers mix spoons and cranks with good success. If you're content to catch fish at a little slower pace but have the rod in your hand, you can drift with a bottom-bouncer, a 'crawler harness or a jig. Each of these methods is sure to land you your share of Lake Erie walleyes.


During early summer, the hottest action takes place in Brest Bay and LaPlaisance Bay near Monroe. The walleyes can be found suspended or on bottom in anywhere from 6 to 18 feet of water. Try a variety of depths until you hit a productive combination.

Walleye reproduction has not been good the last couple of years on Lake Erie, but good-sized fish remain from the fabulous walleye hatch in 2003, and enough smaller fish are around to make things interesting for everyone. Limits are the norm. Boat access is available at Bolles Harbor, Luna Pier, Monroe and Sterling State Park.

Sterling State Park is the only state park on Lake Erie. It makes a good place to set up base camp. The park offers 1,300 acres of recreational opportunities, including wildlife viewing, hiking, a mile-long beach, metal detecting and lakefront camping. Numerous historical landmarks stand in the city of Monroe for side-trip fun and education.

For more information about spending your family fishing vacation on Lake Erie, contact Sterling State Park in Monroe, phone: (734) 289-2715.

Seven Lakes State Park is located in the northwest corner of Oakland County. The lake is actually an impoundment of the Shiawassee River, which formed one large lake from seven small lakes -- hence, the name.

Seven Lakes State Park is located west of the town of Holly. The park takes in 1,343 acres. Big Seven Lake, as it's known, covers 230 acres and is characterized by numerous humps and an island. It holds water more than 50 feet deep, but the lake's average depth runs about 15 feet.

Big Seven Lake holds a reputation of being a pretty good largemouth bass lake. It fishes best early in the season before the weeds get too thick. It's loaded with a variety of panfish, which tend to run on the small side, but when has that ever been a concern for kids?

The lake also holds northern pike, and it's been planted with walleyes and catfish in the past. Look for the bigger predators to hang out near holes on the north and south ends of the lake and along the east shoreline where the dropoff tapers from 15 to 40 feet. A boat launch is located on the west side of the lake.

The lands that make up the park are diverse, and the topography and ecosystems vary greatly. Several scenic hiking trails lace the park and there's biking and swimming available. The modern campground offers 70 campsites. For a close-by angling getaway, contact Seven Lake State Park, phone: (248) 634-7271.

Yankee Springs State Recreation Area is located almost entirely in Barry County. A small portion of the park drifts into Allegan County. The jewel of the recreation area is Gun Lake, one of Michigan's best fishing lakes, but eight other lakes lie in the recreation area, offering angling families plenty of options.

Gun Lake covers more than 2,600 acres and offers a variety of habitat and game fish species. The lake is known as a top producer of largemouth bass. Look for bucketmouths near docks and other structure. Boating traffic can be extreme, so plan on fishing early or late.

Gun Lake is also one of the better walleye lakes in southern Michigan. Try the humps and dropoffs between Murphy's Point and Hastings Point. Vertical jig or use slip-bobbers rigged to fish deep. Crappies, perch and bluegills will keep the kids busy. Some of those panfish reach very respectable sizes, too. Use worms or larva with ice-fishing teardrops, minnows or small jigs.

Yankee Springs State Recreation Area features several campgrounds, hiking trails, mountain biking, horseback riding, Devil's Soup Bowl, Grave's Hill Overlook and other poi

nts of interest. For more information, contact the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area, phone: (269) 795-9081. For information on other amenities in the area, contact the Barry County Chamber of Commerce, phone: (800) 510-2922, or online at

Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan. It borders both Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan and features several miles of shoreline on both bodies of water. Hiking trails through the Nordhouse Dunes attract naturalists and sightseers.

The park encompasses more than 5,300 acres, almost all of which is undeveloped marshlands, dunes and forests. Visitors enjoy choosing from 355 campsites or booking their stay in one of the three mini-cabins on site. The park is approximately five miles north of Ludington on M-116.

Ludington State Park gives angling families plenty of options. Ludington is one of the best trout and salmon ports on the Great Lakes. More than 50 charter boats call the port home and families can book a half- or full-day charter for a reasonable price. Typical catches include chinook salmon, lake trout and steelhead. June through August is prime time. For more information on booking a charter, contact the Ludington Area Charter Boat Association, phone: (800) 927-3470, or go online to

Stretching across more than 5,000 acres, Hamlin Lake is ringed with resorts and cottages on about half its shoreline. The resorts cater to fishing families. Many of them carry boats and motors for rent. For more information, contact Waterside Resort & Marina, phone: (231) 843-8481; or Country Haven Resort, phone: (231) 845-5882.

Hamlin Lake is home to a variety of game fish but is most famous for its slab bluegills. Hamlin also holds plenty of walleyes, smallmouth and largemouth bass, perch and crappies. Catching something isn't difficult. You just never know what it might be!

Rig up with a bell sinker and a couple of snelled hooks above it. Bait up with leeches or night crawlers. Set up a drift in 10 to 20 feet of water, and it won't be long before something puts a bend in your rod. Try your luck near "The Narrows," along the dunes or along Lakeshore Drive. Bass up to 5 pounds are common, walleyes to 5 or 6 pounds don't raise too many eyebrows, and a fish basket full of panfish will make for a great fish fry.

For more information about choosing Luddington State Park for your family fishing vacation, contact the park headquarters at (231) 843-2423. For more information on amenities and attractions in the area, contact the Ludington Convention & Visitors Bureau, phone: (800) 542-4600 or online at

William Mitchell State Park near Cadillac is a logical choice for a family fishing getaway. The park is located between lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, and both are topnotch fishing lakes. The 334-acre campground features 221 modern sites. The park is adjacent to thousands of acres of public lands available for hiking, biking, berry picking and wildlife viewing. The Carl T. Johnson Museum is close to the park, as is "putt-putt" golf, an amusement park and several championship golf courses.

If it's the fishing that draws you to William Mitchell State Park, there's plenty of variety between Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac. Mitchell is the larger of the two lakes at 2,580 acres. Cadillac has some 1,150 acres. A channel that runs though the state park connects the lakes, but the lakes offer slightly different fisheries.

Cadillac holds more smallmouth bass than largemouth bass. Mitchell holds more largemouths than smallmouths. And both hold good crappie populations. Cadillac is probably the better site for catching yellow perch, while Mitchell's panfish populations are stronger for sunnies and bluegills.

No matter which lake you choose to fish, it seems it would be hard to go wrong. Rig up with a slip-bobber, add a minnow or night crawler and kick back. It won't be long before your bobber disappears. Try the west and north sides of Mitchell and the east end of Cadillac for a smorgasbord of species.

For more information about William Mitchell State Park, contact the park office, phone: (231) 775-7911. Bait, tackle and boat and motor rentals are available lakeside at Pilgrim's Village & Resort, phone: (231) 775-5402. For more information on amenities and attractions in the area, contact the Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau, phone: (800) 22-LAKES or online at

Families who like to combine great fishing with great sightseeing should look to Indian Lake, located near Manistique in Schoolcraft County on the Upper Peninsula.

Indian Lake features three state parks on its shores, and it's located near many of the U.P.'s premier attractions. It has all the makings of a great family fishing vacation.

Stretching across nearly 8,900 acres, Indian Lake is one of the U.P.'s largest lakes, but it's also one of the shallowest. Ninety percent of the lake is less than 15 feet deep, but a host of streams and creeks that enter the lake keep the waters cool and circulating.

The Middle Shoal is a rocky area in the center of the lake that attracts walleyes, perch and smallmouths. Most of the south end of the lake is gravel and rock, making it a good area for smallmouths and walleyes, particularly in the spring. You'll find more weeds on the west and northwest sides of the lake. Drifting with a jig-and-minnow rig or a slip-bobber is likely to produce a potpourri of game fish that will keep family members happy and smiling. The lake occasionally gives up some good-sized muskies and northerns.

Palms Book State Park and famous Kitch-iti-kipi, or Big Spring, is located at the northwest corner of the lake. Michigan's largest freshwater spring, Kitch-iti-kipi measures more than 20 feet across, is 40 feet deep and pours out 10,000 gallons per minute of 45-degree water. That's one reason why Indian Lake remains cool.

Camping is not available at Palms Book State Park, but Indian Lake State Park features two camping venues on the west and south ends of the lake. Together, the campgrounds provide more than 200 campsites near the water. The park also offers cabins of several styles for rent. It's close to scenic attractions such as the Pictured Rocks, Miner's Castle, the Mackinaw Bridge, the Siphon Bridge and other natural and manmade wonders.

Thousands of acres of both state and federal lands surround Indian Lake and offer visitors plenty of opportunities to hike, sightsee and view the area's wildlife. You might catch a glimpse of one of the moose or wolves that now wander the U.P. Seney National Wildlife Refuge is only a short drive away, as is Thompsonville State Fish Hatchery.

For information on camping at Indian Lake State Park, call the park office, phone: (906) 341-2355. For information on other amenities and attractions in the area contact the Manistique Area Tourist Council, phone: (800) 342-4282, or visit them

online at

Van Riper State Park is located 17 miles west of Ishpeming in Marquette County. A good portion of the park's more than 1,200 acres are located along the shoreline of Lake Michigammee, one of Michigan's premier fishing lakes. The park also features 1 1/2 miles of frontage on the Peshekee River. Off the river mouth is a prime location for catching walleyes and jumbo perch. The Peshekee River enters Lake Michigammee on the east side of the lake close to the state park.

"A good tactic for Michigammee walleyes is to troll a gold-and-orange Rapala (stick bait)," said Michigammee regular Greg Ellison. "Just work back and forth across the river mouth. The walleyes don't run too big, but you can usually get a mess for dinner."

A cluster of islands near the center of the lake is another hotspot for walleyes. Contours there attract walleyes in schools that work up and down the break in 5 to 50 feet of water. Anchor and cast a 'crawler-tipped jig up into the shallows and work it back along the bottom. A bottom-bouncer, trailing a juicy night crawler, is good walleye medicine too.

Michigammee is also famous for jumbo perch and slab crappies. Find weed edges and you'll usually find perch. Try a slip-bobber rig with leeches for the perch. Crappies relate more to wood. Look for stick-ups, downed timber and old beaver huts. Trade the leech for a minnow to interest the crappies. Don't be surprised if they average more than a foot.

Muskies inhabit Michigammee, too. You can interest them with big bucktails and jerkbaits. Off the mouth of the Peshekee River is a known muskie lair. Thick, bronze-colored smallies are an added bonus.

Van Riper State Park features 147 modern campsites, 40 rustic sites and min-cabins. The park includes five hiking trails of various lengths to accommodate visitors. The park lies only a few miles from where iron ore was first discovered in the region, and there is evidence of early mining ventures. The Iron Industry Museum is located in nearby Negaunee.

For more information on things to do and see in the area, contact Van Riper State Park, phone (906) 339-4461.

Consider a combination fishing and camping getaway this summer. And think real hard about making it a visit to one of Michigan's great state parks. It might just be the best family vacation you ever had. For more information about Michigan's State Parks, visit the Michigan State Parks Web site at parksandtrails.

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