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Michigan's Best Bets for Fishing

Michigan's Best Bets for Fishing

Our state has a great variety of fishing opportunities. Here's a game plan for you to take advantage of as many options as possible in the next 12 months.


The calendar is in PDF format. The Adobe Reader can be downloaded for free here.


By Mike Gnatkowski

I don't know of any state that has the variety of fishing opportunities that Michigan does. Because of this, you need to have a game plan to take advantage of as many options as possible. The following is a calendar that should help in planning your angling adventures for the next year.

Portage Lake Pike
Marquette County's 9,640-acre Portage Lake is considered one of the best in Michigan for trophy northern pike through the ice. "First ice seems to be the best," said Paul Schuster of Dick's Favorite Sports. Schuster suggested trying the area near Pike Bay, which produces the first safe ice by Christmas. Later, anglers spread out along the dropoff along U.S. Highway 41 north of Chassell and in Torch Bay along Laminrande Shoal. Ice conditions on Portage can be tricky. Currents make it imperative that you use extreme caution and wear an inflatable flotation device. Key is to locate isolated weedbeds where big northerns cruise the edges or lie in wait. For more information, contact Dick's Favorite Sports in Houghton at (906) 482-0412 or on the Web at

Little Bay de Noc Walleyes
Big walleyes are the ticket once safe ice forms in late December or early January. Best locations are the reefs right off Gladstone. Concentrate on the reefs in 10 to 25 feet of water. Start shallow and then work deeper in the morning. Reverse the process in the evening. Jigging spoons like Swedish Pimple, Do Jiggers and Jigging Rapalas score. Contact: Bay Shore Resort, (906) 428-9687,

Pere Marquette Lake Steelhead
Ice-anglers use Slammer tip-ups to suspend wigglers or spawn bags in front of cruising steelhead. Concentrate on the marshy east end of the lake in 5 to 10 feet of water. Use some floaters in your bags to suspend it just off bottom. The rainbows will average 6 to 10 pounds, but fish topping 15 pounds are common. Contact: Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-800-542-4600.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Kalkaska County Trout Lakes
"Kalkaska County has an abundance of really nice trout lakes that don't see a lot of fishing pressure, especially in the winter," said Department of Natural Resources fisheries supervisor Tom Rozich. Lakes like Bear, Starvation, Big Twin, Big Guernsey and Blue receive regular plants of browns, rainbows, splake and lake trout. The trout can be caught using a variety of methods. Slammers or tip-ups work well for targeting bottom-hugging lake trout. Splake, browns and rainbows tend to suspend more and can be caught with baits suspended below a bobber or by jigging. Minnows, wigglers and larva all take their share of fish. A flasher or graph can be a big help. Contact: Jack's Sport Shop, (231) 258-8892.

Lake Mitchell Crappies
The black crappie population on Wexford County's Lake Mitchell has exploded in recent years. Specks in the 10- to 14-inch range are common, and ice-anglers take limits with regularity during February. Lively shiner minnows are a top choice, but larva works, too. Contact: Pilgrim's Village, (231) 775-5412.


Saginaw Bay Walleyes
Last year's cold winter produced ideal conditions on Saginaw Bay, and ice-anglers hammered the big walleyes. Look for some hot action from Linwood all the way around to Caseville. Early in the month look for 'eyes in the 17- to 24-foot depths straight out or a little southeast from the Linwood Road access. Later the walleyes will begin moving shallower during the pre-spawn. You can catch them then in as little as 4 feet of water. Early and late in the day are best. Contact: Frank's Great Outdoors, (989) 697-5341,

Houghton Lake Panfish
"The panfish fishing on Houghton was phenomenal last winter," said Lenny Kauffman of Lenny's Sporting Goods in Houghton Lake. Treatments to kill off weeds during 2002 have eliminated a lot of the cover in which panfish used to hide. Fewer weeds also mean less food. Expect to catch 'gills in the 7- to 9-inch range. The hottest panfish action on Houghton takes place on last ice. Kauffman said that a good location is off Houghton Lake Heights on the south shore. Big bluegills and sunfish can be caught in as little as 4 feet of water. Platter-sized crappies can be found in slightly deeper water. Ice remains safe well into April. Contact: Lenny's Sporting Goods, (989) 422-3845.

Crystal Lake Lakers
It takes most of the winter for 9,711-acre Crystal Lake to freeze. But when it does, it serves up some outstanding trout fishing. The Benzie County lake receives regular plants of laker, brown and rainbow trout. Best locations for lake trout are from Lobb Road to Railroad Point on the south side of the lake and from Herdman's Point to the Warren Road access on the north side. Concentrate on the 70- to 100-foot depths. Shiners or smelt on tip-ups or Slammers produce lakers that will range from 5 to 10 pounds. Rainbows and browns frequent the 10- to 40-foot depths off Beulah and where creeks enter the lake. Try wigglers or spawn suspended off bottom. Contact: Benzie County Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-882-5806.

Wigwam Bay Perch
Perch invade the shallows off the mouth of the Pine River at last ice. The big perch will crowd into as little as 2 feet of water. Use a strip of belly meat on a spoon to keep your line in the water and perch under the hole. Contact: DNR Southern Lake Huron Manag

ement Unit, (989) 684-9141.

Detroit River Walleyes
Schools of spawning walleyes begin entering the Detroit River in April. Fat pre-spawn females topping 10 pounds are common during the first two weeks of the month. Good catches continue through May. Vertical jigging with 3/8- to 1/2-ounce leadhead jigs sweetened with a minnow is a proven tactic. Use a trolling motor to slip the current, trying to keep your line as vertical as possible. Many anglers fish the Trenton Channel off the warmwater discharge, but fish are available throughout the river. For information on fishing success, live bait and licenses, contact Trenton Lighthouse Tackle at (734) 675-7080.

Manistee Brown Trout
Manistee has a well-deserved reputation for spring brown trout. Every year, fish topping 20 pounds are taken. Anglers troll the harbor mouth along the color line, south to Gurney and Cooper creeks and north to Bar Lake. Ply the 6- to 12-foot depths and use a surface temperature gauge to find the warmest water possible. Body baits that imitate baitfish are hot lures. To book a spring brown trout charter, contact Capt. Mike Cnudde at (231) 723-4063 or on the Web at

Muskegon River Steelhead
The Muskegon River from Croton Dam to Newaygo has some of the finest spawning habitat in our state, and fresh runs of steelies seek out the gravel runs in April. Most anglers sight-fish for rainbows visible on spawning redds. Anglers use either spinning gear or fly rods to bounce bottom with spawn or flies. If the water is up and discolored, drift-boaters or anglers who drop-back plugs take limits. Contact: Parsley's Sport Shop, (231) 652-6986.

St. Joseph Salmonids
Spring trout and salmon go on a feeding binge off St. Joseph in May. The attraction is warm water spilling from the mighty St. Joseph River and the discharge of the Cook Plant near Bridgman. Baitfish seek out the tepid water, and salmonids are not far behind. The catch is a smorgasbord of silvery cohos, kings, lake trout, steelhead and the occasional brown trout. A proven tactic early in the month is to troll the beach in 5 to 15 feet of water with in-line planers and shallow-set Dipsey Divers. The rigs account for limits of cohos and browns then. Later, chinooks begin to school near the pierheads and in the 40- to 60-foot depths. Shallow-set downriggers, divers and lead-core lines are good then for salmon in the 5- to 20-pound range. As waters warm, anglers head offshore for a smorgasbord of steelhead, cohos and lakers. For more information, contact Tackle Haven at (616) 925-0341.

Cass Lake Smallmouths
Open to catch-and-release fishing, anglers can get a jump on the bass season on Oakland County's Cass Lake. It contains plenty of 4-pound-plus smallies that perk up in May. Anglers work weedlines and boat docks with tube jigs and crankbaits. Twenty- to 30-fish days aren't uncommon. Anglers can access the lake via Dodge No. 4 State Park. Contact: KD Outdoors, (248) 666-7799.

Tittabawassee River Walleyes
Anglers will find plenty of walleyes in the "Titt" after the season opens in April. Post-spawn males hold in the river through May. Vertical jig with leadhead jigs and half a night crawler for 'eyes that will average 1 1/2 to 3 pounds. Limits are the norm. Access is at Imerman Park, Center Street and Wicks Park.

Au Sable River Brown Trout
Giant Hexagenia mayflies that hatch in late June cause brown trout to go on a feeding binge on the South Branch of the Au Sable River in Roscommon County. The flies hatch on muggy nights, and big browns can be heard slurping the hapless flies. Bushy No. 4 or No. 6 dry flies that imitate the "Hex" flies and stout leaders are needed to horse trout that routinely top 5 pounds. The 11-mile section of the Mason Tract offers easy wading and mud banks that harbor the burrowing mayflies. Contact: Gate's Au Sable Lodge, (989) 348-8462.

Gene's Pond Largemouths
An impoundment of the East Branch of the Sturgeon River, Dickinson County's Gene's Pond is loaded with flooded timber, weedlines and stumps that offer ideal largemouth bass cover. Topwaters and buzzbaits produce plenty of bucketmouths in the 3- to 4-pound range.

Lake Erie Walleyes
June's stable weather makes it an ideal time to catch Lake Erie's plentiful walleyes. Use deep-diving crankbaits behind inline boards over 10 to 15 feet of water off Luna Pier, Bolles Harbor and Monroe. Most fish will be 1 1/2- to 3-pound eaters.

Ludington Salmonids
July is the best month to catch a Great Lakes "Grand Slam" out of Ludington. Trollers will find a mix of lakers, salmon, brown trout and steelhead in the 100- to 150-foot depths. Spoons produce the biggest variety of fish off in-line boards, divers and downriggers. Glow-in-the-dark tape highlighting green, blue and chartreuse spoons score. Try the area out from the Consumer's Project or north off the state park. Fish 30 to 70 feet down. To book a charter, contact the Ludington Area Charter Boat Association at 1-800-927-3470 or online at

Menominee River Smallmouths
Abundant forage and ideal habitat make the mighty Menominee River perfect for smallmouth bass. Both the impoundments and river hold bass that will average 2 to 4 pounds. Power company land along the river makes for good access. The bass get fat on insects, crayfish and minnows. Wading is productive when spinning, fly-fishing or jigging.

St. Mary's River Herring
Lake herring begin schooling near Detour and Lime Island as mayfly hatches bring them to the surface. The feisty herring average 1 to 3 pounds and are great eating when fresh. Slip-bobbers or fly tackle, teardrops baited with wax worms or mayflies are the ticket. Look for concentrations of boats to find active schools.

Manistee Kings
Big schools of mature kings amass off Manistee beginning in August. Chinooks crowd the pierheads all the way to Big Point Sable. Try structure in 100 feet of water early and late. Flashers and flies, plugs and magnum spoons goad the salmon into striking. Spooky salmon shy away from boats and traffic, so try lead-core line, sinker drops and wire divers. Mature kings regularly top the 30-pound mark. Cohos headed for Platte Bay are bonus catches. For information, contact the Manistee Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-888-584-9860.

Stannard Rock Lake Trout
August's stable weather makes it the perfect time to make the long run to Stannard Rock and its giant lake trout. Forty-two miles from Marquette, anglers with seaworthy boats regularly take trout in excess of 30 pounds by jigging and trolling. Use electronics to locate feeding schools.

Fletcher Pond Largemouths
Hot summer nights are the perfect time for some e

xciting topwater bassin' on Fletcher Pond. Largemouths topping 6 pounds will explode on gurgling Pop-Rs, Jitterbugs and Devil Horses. Pick a full moon and hold on.

Green Bay Northern Pike
As waters cool, big northerns put on the feedbag in Green Bay off Menominee. The pike patrol weed edges in search of forage in 10 to 20 feet of water. Big muskie-type lure produce pike that top 20 pounds. The weeds are scattered and locating them is key. Anchor to cast parallel to the edge or troll using your graph. Perch-pattern Rattlin' Raps and Husky Jerks are proven favorites. For more information, go to

Pere Marquette River Kings
Schools of chinook salmon move into the P.M. beginning in September. Try the lower river near Scottville, Custer and Indian Bridge. Anglers wade and cast in-line spinner, plugs and spoons.

St. Mary's River Pink Salmon
Pods of pink salmon move into the St. Mary's in early September. The 1 1/2- to 3-pound pinks are spunky and will hit flies, spinners and spoons. Access the rapids from the Canadian side of the river. Use caution while wading.

Tahquamenon River Muskies
Fantastic scenery, solitude and feisty muskies make October the best time to fish the Tahquamenon River near McPhee's Landing. The muskies aren't huge, but the numbers and scenery make up for the lack of size. Locals soak suckers, cast spinnerbaits or twitch jerkbaits for explosive action. Try bright-colored lures that show up better in the tannic-stained water. Prime locations are off the Sage and Hendrie rivers. For details, contact the DNR's Newberry office at (906) 293-5131.

Lac La Belle Muskies
Lac La Belle has a burgeoning muskie population that go on a feeding binge as waters cool in October. Fed by the Little Gratiot River, 1,146-acre Lac La Belle features rocky shoals and weedbeds that harbor forage. Try in the Mendota Ship Canal, in the narrows on the east end and off the boat launch. Contact: Lac La Belle Lodge,

Lake St. Clair Smallmouths
Cooler temperatures cause Lake St. Clair's smallmouth bass to go crazy. Fifty-fish days are common in early fall. The bass are concentrate near weed edges in 8 to 15 feet of water, gorging on crayfish, minnows and aquatic insects. Tube baits are hot in pumpkinseed, silver/glitter and motor-oil colors. Spinnerbaits and topwater lures work, too.

Tawas Whitefish
Lake whitefish show up around the Tawas piers in early November. The tasty whitefish average 2 to 10 pounds and put up a good fight. Slip-bobbers with teardrops and wax worms suspended 10 to 11 feet down excel. Wave action stirs up the bottom and causes whitefish to feed. Best fishing is off the DNR pier in town. Get there early to secure a spot. For bait and information, contact Kirby's All-Season Sport Shop at (989) 362-4512.

Chocolay River Steelhead
Fall rains bring silvery steelhead into the Chocolay River near Harvey. Anglers can access the river off M-28. Spawn, spinners and yarn produce when fish are in. The best fishing is early in the morning.

Saginaw River Walleyes
Big walleyes follow schools of shad into the Saginaw River in the fall. Vertical jig with leadhead jigs or troll upstream. Try near the Zilwaukee Bridge, in downtown Saginaw or off Wick's Park.

Hamlin Lake Bluegills
Hamlin Lake's bluegill population has rebounded after several down years. First ice produces limit catches of 7- to 9-inch bluegills off Wilson Park, Indian Pete Bayou and on the South Bayou. Usually, safe ice occurs in late December. Teardrops baited with spikes or mousies are preferred. Contact: North Bayou Resort, 1-800-261-7415.

Big Manistee River Steelhead
Expect hot action and little competition on the big river during December. Try near Bear Creek, Rainbow Bend or Coho Bend.

Lake Cadillac Panfish
This lake produces slab crappies, hand-sized bluegills and decent perch. Try the 5- to 10-foot depths on first ice. Use minnows for the specks and perch. Larva works best for the 'gills.

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