February 10, 2011
There are an amazing number of fish and fishing locations around our state. Here are some of the ones that deserve your attention this year.
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The amount and diversity of the fishing opportunities in Michigan is truly amazing. From the Great Lakes and its estuaries and bays to the tributary streams and rivers to the thousands of natural lakes in the Wolverine State, you can find a multitude of opportunities any time of the year for just about any fish species.
Following is a month-by-month collection of Michigan's best fishing destinations that you'll surely want to visit this year.
Pere Marquette Lake - Steelhead
Most anglers know what fierce battlers steelhead are. Imagine trying to land one through the ice! That's exactly the kind of fun you can expect when targeting steelhead on Pere Marquette Lake.
Use Slammer tip-ups to suspend wigglers and spawn bags in front of cruising steelhead. A hotspot for steelies is on the east end of the lake in 5 to 10 feet of water. The rainbows cruise the dropoff there and schools of fish move in and out. Fall-run rainbows are joined by silvery spring steelhead as March approaches. Use caution as the ice conditions can be treacherous. The rainbows average 5 to 10 pounds, but 15-pound trophies are common.
Contact: Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 800-542-4600 or go online at www.ludingtoncvb.com for information on amenities and bait shops in the area.
17,000-acre Burt Lake has a reputation for producing outstanding catches of winter walleyes and perch. Perch topping 15 inches are not uncommon. Walleyes are an added bonus and will run from 15 to 19 inches.
You're likely to catch a variety of different-sized pike and have the chance for a trophy on Muskegon Lake. Pike in the 27- to 30-inch range are typical, and 15- to 20-pounders are caught every winter.
Saginaw Bay - Walleyes
If there's a better winter walleye location than Saginaw Bay I'd like to see it. The Bay is absolutely brimming with walleyes right now and winter is one of the best times to fish them. One prerequisite though is cold weather. Anglers will find good ice on the bay in February. Walleyes concentrate in the 17- to 24-foot depths straight out or southeast from the Linwood Road access. Jigging spoons tempt walleyes that will average 15 to 20 inches. Big walleyes are not as common as they once were, but the chance for double-digit trophies still exists. Limits are common.
As spring approaches, the walleyes begin moving toward the mouths of the Saginaw and Kawkawlin rivers. Fishing on last ice can be dynamite in water as shallow as 4 feet. It's also the time to catch a real trophy. Contact: Frank's Great Outdoors, (989) 697-5341, www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.
Upper and Lower Crooked lakes are outstanding winter panfish destinations. Both lakes are good for bluegills and crappies. At 417-acres, Lower Crooked Lake is shallow and produces hot first-ice action.
Van Buren County's Cedar Lake is a top winter panfish lake. Cedar Lake has good access and fishes well on first ice. The lake is known for producing good-sized bluegills.
Crystal Lake - Lake Trout
It takes most of the winter for 9,711-acre Crystal Lake to freeze. The Benzie County lake receives regular plants of lake, brown and rainbow trout, and that produces an excellent winter fishery. For lake trout, try off Lobb Road and Railroad Point and from Herdman's Point to the Warren Road access. Concentrate on the 70- to 100-foot depths. Live smelt or shiners and tip-ups or Slammers will take lakers that average 5 to 10 pounds. 20-pound fish are caught every winter. Heavy jigging spoons are another option.
Look for browns and rainbows in the 10- to 40-foot depths off Beulah where creeks enter the lake. The trout like wigglers and spawn. Crystal also has an excellent perch population. Try wigglers or minnows for the perch in 25 to 60 feet of water on the east end of the lake. Contact: Benzie County Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-882-5806.
The Muskegon River from Croton Dam to Newaygo represents some of the finest spawning gravel in the state. Steelhead seek out the gravel beginning in March. The water is up and discolored by then, which is perfect for hot shotting from a drift boat or jet sled.
340-acre Thunder Lake is the best crappie lake in the U.P. The Schoolcraft County lake is good for crappies up to 16 inches. The lake receives a fair amount of fishing pressure in the summer, but winter finds the lake nearly deserted.
Detroit River - Walleyes
Thousands of pre-spawn walleyes enter the Detroit River from March through April. Fat pre-spawn females topping 10 pounds are common during the first two weeks of the fourth month. Great-eating males that average 1 1/2 to 5 pounds provide steady action. Good catches continue through May. A main focus of the fishery is the Trenton Channel near the town of Trenton. Popular launch sites include Elizabeth Park and Erie Metro Park.
A proven technique is to vertical jig with 3/8- to 1/2-ounce leadhead jigs sweetened with a minnow. Use a trolling motor to slip the current to keep your line as vertical as possible. Avoid packs of boats if the bite slows. Switch jighead colors occasionally and use stinger hooks if you getting a lot of short hits. Walleyes are caught the length of the river up to Wyandotte and right off downtown Detroit when the bite is on.
Contact: Trenton Lighthouse Tackle at (734) 675-7080.
Manistee is one of the top brown trout ports of spring on Lake Michigan. Most of the trout are 3 to 5 pounds, but fish topping 20 pounds are common. Troll the harbor mouth, south to Gurney and Cooper creeks and north to Bar Lake.
New Buffalo is on fire for Coho in April. Target 10 to 30 feet of water using in-line planer boards and divers pulling spoons, dodger/flies and crankbaits. Cohos have an affinity for orange. The 1 1/2- to 3-pound salmon are delicious.
St. Joseph River - Salmon
The warming waters of Lake Michigan and the tepid outflow of the St. Joseph River concentrate trout and salmon in May. Look for warm
water from the St. Joseph River and the discharge of the Cook Plant near Bridgman to attract salmonids. Anglers catch a hodgepodge of Chinook and Coho salmon, brown trout, steelhead and lake trout.
Troll the beach in 5 to 15 feet of water early in the month with in-line planers and shallow-set divers. Try a hodgepodge of spoons, body baits and small dodgers and flies. Later in the month try near the pier heads in the 40- to 60-foot depths for silvery kings. Magnum-sized spoons and plugs tempt them. As waters warm, anglers head offshore to 200 feet of water, where steelhead and lake trout add to the catch.
Contact: Tackle Haven at (269) 925-0341, or go online at www.tacklehaven.com.
Turbid water, stumps and warming waters make Belleville Lake a prime destination for spring crappies. Besides good numbers, Belleville gives up trophies, too — up to 14 inches.
Spring fly hatches, receding water and warming temperatures make May the prime time for Black River brook trout. The trout like spinners, worms and flies.
Onekama - Steelhead
Current, wind and wave action creates thermal barriers and scum lines off Onekama that concentrates steelhead in June. Although fishing in water as deep as 900 feet, the rainbows are rarely below 20 feet down. In-line boards trailing small orange spoons are deadly along with shallows-set Slider Divers. You can run the spoons clean or add various amounts of weight to get them slightly deeper.
Troll fast, look for bird activity and watch your surface temperature gauge. Once you make contact, mark the spot on your GPS. The rainbows can be located on either the cold side or warm side of the break, so troll both sides. The steelhead will run between 5 and 12 pounds and put on a spectacular fight. The fishing starts in mid-June when the thermal barriers begin to form and remains hot through July. Most captains spot a few deeper lines to target lake trout and salmon holding slightly deeper.
Contact: Manistee County Chamber of Commerce at (231) 723-2575.
June is prime time for Schoolcraft County's Driggs River brook trout. The bugs can be maddening, but your efforts will be rewarded with a limit of small-stream jewels.
Michigammee Reservoir is one of the premier walleye lakes in the Upper Peninsula. Try off the Peshekee River or near Van Riper State Park. Use bottom-bouncers, jigs, minnows, or gold/orange Rapalas.
Menominee River - Smallmouths
Forage and habitat make the mighty Menominee River an ideal destination for July smallmouths. The impoundments and the river hold smallmouths that average 2 to 4 pounds. Power company lands along the river makes access easy. The bass gorge on insects, crayfish and minnows. Wading is productive using spinning or fly gear. Try small crankbaits, twistertails, Beetle Spins, in-line spinners and streamers. Look for bass behind mid-stream boulders and logs in calmer water. Don't be surprised if a walleye intercepts your offerings.
Contact: River Cities Chamber of Commerce at (906) 863-2679 or online at www.rivercities.net.
Genesee County's Lake Fenton is a great place to catch largemouth bass. The irregular shoreline, bays and coves offer perfect habitat. Work weedless worms and rigs for bucketmouths up to 5 pounds.
Cool summer weather keeps Lake Erie walleyes in Michigan waters. The walleyes scatter into the 15- to 20-foot depths.
Ludington - Chinook
Chinook salmon begin to stage off Ludington in mid-July and their numbers build through August. "The Shelf," three to seven miles north of the port, is a big attraction. Savvy captains avoid the area on weekends and head straight out or south of the harbor. Look for salmon in water as shallow as 30 feet early and then chase them deeper as the sun gets up. Plugs, Spin Doctors and flies, and magnum-sized spoons take kings to 30 pounds. Get on the water early. Salmon also begin to congregate near the pier heads in preparation for running up the Pere Marquette River. Rains and cold fronts stimulate runs. Trolling just outside the harbor along the color line can be great.
Contact: Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 542-4600, or online at www.ludingtoncvb.com.
Hot summer nights are the perfect time for topwater bassin' on Fletcher's Pond. Largemouths topping 6 pounds will explode on a gurgling Pop-R, Jitterbug or Devil's Horse.
Stable weather makes August the perfect time to make the run to Standard Rock, 42 miles off Marquette. "The Rock" has given up trophy lake trout, including the current 63-pound state record.
Pere Marquette - River Kings
Chinook salmon move into the Pere Marquette beginning in August, with their numbers peaking in September. Salmon congregate in the lower part of the river near Scottsville, Custer and Indian Bridge. The farther downstream you intercept the kings, the better they bite. Dark, overcast days are best. Drop-back plugs, back-bounce spawn or cast in-line spinners or stick baits. Target the deeper pools and runs and anywhere you find structure.
With hardware, use a down-and-across swing with a very slow retrieve. Salmon often follow and strike when the lure changes direction. The kings average 5 to 20 pounds, but some brutes push 30 pounds.
Contact: Pere Marquette Sports Center at (231) 843-8676.
The top lake in the eastern U.P. for largemouths and northerns is Lake Millecoquin. The lake has few spots over 12 feet deep. Use weedless Johnson Silver Minnows and pork rind or spinnerbaits.
Oakland County's Loon Lake sees few anglers in the fall. Panfish move shallow in September. Try along the weed edges adjacent to deeper water.
Tahquamenon River - Muskies
Scenery, solitude and muskies make October the best time to fish the Tahquamenon River near McPhee's Landing. The muskies are not huge, but the scenery makes up for their lack of size. You can cast spinnerbaits or in-line bucktails, twitch jerkbaits, or cast giant streamers. Have a live sucker ready for muskies that follow, but don't strike. Brightly colored lures show up better in the tannic waters. Try off the Sage and Hendrie rivers. Big smallmouths and walleyes are an added bonus.
Contact: Michigan DNRE Newberry office at (906) 293-5131.
Skegemog Lake has great fall bassin'. Expect hot action from about mid-October through November. Try the stump fields for smallmouths up to 6 pounds.
Cool October weather spurs Lac La Belle's muskies. The 1,146-acre lake features rocky shoals and weedbeds that harbor baitfish.
Tawas - Whitefish
2- to 10-pound whitefish crowd the Tawas piers in early November. Use slip-bobbers with teardrops and wax worms 10 feet down to tempt the whitefish. Fishing is best when wave action stirs the bottom. The whitefish are light biters and are difficult to hook. Try off the DNRE pier in town. Arrive early to get a good spot. A light graphite rod is essential to feel the delicate bites. Chum the area with salmon eggs to bring the whitefish close to the pier.
Contact: Tawas Chamber of Commerce at www.tawas.com.
Target the break walls at Frankfort in November for menominee. The fish are light biters, love worms and salmon eggs, are spirited fighters and great eating. Rains trigger runs of silvery steelhead into the Big Manistee River. Most anglers anchor and roll spawn bags along the bottom.
Hamlin Lake - Bluegills
First ice produces limit catches of 7- to 9-inch bluegills on Hamlin Lake. Try off Wilson Park, Indian Pete Bayou and on the South Bayou. There is safe ice by Christmas. Wax worms, spikes and mousies excel. Try brightly colored teardrops, but keep changing colors until you hit on the right combination. Hole hop in 5 to 10 feet of water to locate productive areas. Work the entire water column. Bluegills will be close to bottom and crappies suspended. Spot a tip-up for walleyes and pike. If the panfish bite stops, watch your tip-ups.
Contact: North Bayou Resort, 1-800-261-7415.
Expect good catches of perch and walleyes on Lake Gogebic by Thanksgiving. Target 25 feet of water near the center of the lake, off Meriwether and Lake Gogebic State Park.
Iron County lakes offer excellent first-ice action for walleyes. Check out 396-acre Iron Lake, Lake Emily and Chicagon lakes. The lakes freeze quickly, and so anglers can be augering holes in early December.