October 04, 2010
Michigan is loaded with lakes and Great Lakes bays that have great fishing for big northerns. These should be the hottest of the hotspots this year.
By Greg Keefer
Native to most of Michigan’s waterways, the northern pike gets high ratings from anglers who have tangled with this toothy predator.
You never know when a big northern pike will whack your lure close to the boat! Photo by Greg Keefer.
Every year, anglers catch thousands of northerns throughout the state, some in the 15- to 20-pound range. According to fisheries biologists with the Department of Natural Resources, it should be business as usual this season.
These pike waters should be the hottest of the hotspots this year.
“Lake Cadillac is one of the better inland fishing lakes for northern pike in Michigan,” said Mark Tonello, a fisheries biologist with the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit. “Lake Cadillac is a pike factory and has produced pike up to 24 pounds.”
The relatively clear water of Lake Cadillac allows extensive weedbeds to flourish in the western section of this 1,500-acre lake in Wexford County. Anglers target the abundant pike with spinnerbaits and weedless spoons.
“Usually there are a couple of nice pike taken every year,” said Jim Anderson, manager of Schafer’s Sports. By a nice pike, Anderson is talking about fish in the 18- to 20-pound class. According to Anderson, fishing pressure is way down, which is good news for anglers wanting to get in on some big-pike action. “Pike 20 to 24 inches are quite common, along with a fair number of fish up to 30 inches. Bass spinnerbaits such as Dixie Dancers work well, as does a sucker under a bobber.”
Depths average 10 feet, with the deepest section being in the southeastern part of the lake. Along with the submerged vegetation, points and weedlines are found in the main-lake basin. A channel connects Lake Cadillac to Lake Mitchell, another excellent pike lake.
Anglers will find state-owned access on the west shore in the state park just south of the channel off Highway 115. A valid state park sticker is required. The county-owned ramp is off Rose Avenue at the western end of the lake on the north shore. Plenty of parking is provided. A city-owned ramp is off Lake Street, north of Highway 55 on the east end of the lake. For more information, contact Schafer’s Sports at (231) 775-7085 or the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727.
“Portage Lake is a very good northern pike lake,” said Tonello. “It has an outlet to Lake Michigan, so it has massive amounts of forage available and is capable of growing huge pike. My advice for those hunting trophy northerns is to use large baits. The action won’t be fast, but when you get one, it’ll be a good one.”
Manistee County’s Portage Lake is connected to Lake Michigan via a channel that allows resident pike access to the colder water of Lake Michigan. The weedbeds that line the southern shore of Portage are prime pike hotspots, especially those bordering deeper water. Weedbeds in the eastern section of the lake produce quality pike as well.
“You can’t help catching pike,” said Andy Parks of Andy’s Tackle Box. Anglers take numerous pike, with many approaching 20 pounds and 40 inches in length, according to Parks. Pike are even caught accidentally while anglers are fishing for bass and panfish. “You can catch them anywhere on the lake. I catch them when I’m fishing for walleyes.”
As far as Parks is concerned, pike lakes don’t come any better than this. The lake covers 2,110 acres along the southern edge of the village of Onekama. Depths can reach 60 feet. Brown trout, coho salmon and chinook salmon all make seasonal forays back into the lake, where they’ve been stocked by the thousands. These species not only become snacks for the lake’s big pike, but also provide some interesting fishing of their own.
Boaters will find state-owned access on the north shore, east of the North Point, and village-owned ramps in Onekama. More information can be obtained by calling Andy’s Tackle Box at (231) 477-5737 or the Central Lake Michigan Management Unit at (231) 775-9727.
Fletcher Pond, also known as Fletcher Floodwaters, is another big-pike lake in the Lower Peninsula. At 8,970 acres, this impoundment on the Thunder Bay River in Alpena and Montmorency counties has plenty of room for pike to roam.
“Fletcher Floodwaters is our best bet for density and quality pike for the Northern Lake Huron Management Area,” said Tim Cwalinski, a fisheries biologist.
The floodwater was impounded by the Alpena Power Company in 1931. Anglers soon became spoiled with both good sizes and numbers of pike until the late 1940s. Numbers declined, and after a drastic drawdown in 1982, the Department of Natural Resources and Alpena Power Company joined forces to manage the fishery. The last pike survey on Fletcher Pond was excellent. A new angler survey to be conducted in 2005 will provide updated information on the size, structure and dynamics of the lake, and the excellent population of pike found there.
Fletcher is shallow, generally being only 6 or 7 feet deep. The deepest water is in the old river channel, which is located pretty much in the middle of the lake until it reaches the eastern section. Here it runs close to the north shoreline. When the impoundment first froze over, lumber was cut off at ice level, thus leaving large stumpfields whose tops barely reach the water’s surface. Anglers visiting Fletcher will find a lot of aluminum boats with plenty of dents from trips across the lake.
Access is from the state-owned ramp on the north end of the lake off Fishing Site Road midway between the east and west sections. Additional information can be obtained from the Northern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 732-3541.
“For trophy-sized pike, you can’t beat Gull Lake,” said Jay Wesley, the Southern Lake Michigan Unit manager. “This lake is very deep and has been managed for trout by the DNR. The pike population h
as started to increase in recent years, and anglers report very large pike. The deep water offers temperature refuge for these monsters, and is one of the reasons that they get so large in this lake.”
The maximum depth of this 2,050-acre lake north of Kalamazoo is 110 feet. Pike frequent shallower weedbeds in the clear water. The outside weed edges near deeper water serve as warm-weather haunts, as do the underwater humps and ridges. Trolling is probably the best bet to cover the water and locate pike on the various types of structure.
“Southwest Michigan is at the southern edge of the range of good northern pike populations,” said Wesley. “Northern pike are limited in this area by the warmer climate and loss of habitat. Due to the development around lakes, much of the wetland and emergent vegetation needed for good pike reproduction has been lost.
“Another thing that has limited northern pike in recent years is that we were in a five- to seven-year drought,” Wesley added. “The wet spring and summer last year has created some rebound in lake levels, which should result in better northern pike recruitment.”
Access is on the township-owned ramp on the northeast shore in the Prairieville Township Park off Highway 43. Additional information can be obtained by calling the Southern Lake Michigan Unit at (269) 685-6851.
“Tawas Bay by Tawas City is the best area of Saginaw Bay for northern pike fishing,” said Jim Baker, a fisheries biologist with the Southern Lake Huron Management Area. “Tawas Lake is connected by a channel to Tawas Bay. The lake is shallow and weedy but produces lots of northerns. The pike find their way out into the bay.”
This eastern coastline area on Lake Huron produces big pike, according to Rick Spencer of Kirby’s All Season. The good fishing is located near the cities of Tawas and East Tawas in Iosco County.
“Out in the bay, there are some huge pike around Jerry’s Marine,” said Spencer. “A 40-inch pike is not uncommon. You may not catch a lot of them but the pike are there. There are a lot of weedbeds in the cove around Jerry’s Marina. There aren’t a lot of pike fishermen, and you can cast Dardevles and big spinners.”
Jerry’s Marina is located south of Tawas Beach Road on the point, and there’s access to big pike right off shore. “I’ve caught fish from 19 to 20 pounds right off the city dock,” said Spencer. Access points to the bay are from the DNR ramps and private launch ramps throughout the area along U.S. 23.
Tawas Lake, connected to the bay, has a lot of smaller pike. It covers over 1,600 acres and seldom exceeds 4 or 5 feet deep. Inlets to the lake include Gray, Silver, Kunze and Sims creeks, which are the best areas to try. Target pike in the open-water weedline areas in the 5-foot holes in the eastern section of the lake below Kunze Creek and just off the shoreline at the intersection of Warren and Clifford roads. The lake becomes weed-choked by late summer, thus weedless spoons and spinnerbaits are standard fare.
Access to Tawas Lake is from the small state-owned public ramp off Rainbow Drive on the southeastern section of the lake. For more information, contact Kirby’s All Season at (989) 362-4512 or the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 684-9141.
Anglers preferring smaller waters can score big northerns on this sleeper lake in Tuscola County. Murphy only covers 200 acres but still offers up some nice-sized pike.
“Murphy Lake has some really huge pike, but they’re hard to catch,” said biologist Baker. “We saw more fish over 30 inches there when we last surveyed than anywhere else we’ve been.”
Baker recommends fishing the deep outside weed edges to locate these big pike. Other hotspots include the 25-foot hole in the southern part of the lake in hot summer weather and the 40-foot hole south of the islands in the main-lake basin. White and redhorse suckers provide plenty of forage for pike in Murphy and contribute heavily to the good growth rates. Adequate deep-water refuge is another factor contributing to this small lake’s bruiser pike.
The public access ramp is on the northeast shore off Murphy Lake Road. “Access is a problem,” said Baker. “About the only way you can put in is by canoe or cartopper. We’re working on it, but for now the only access is on state land, which is primarily a wildlife refuge.” Contact the Southern Lake Huron Management Unit at (989) 684-9141 for additional information.
“In my area for northern pike, I can only think of one fairly outstanding resource,” said Robert Moody, supervisor of the Lake Superior Management Unit. North Manistique, Big Manistique and South Manistique lakes are all connected by the Manistique River, and according to Moody, there are pike in all three.
“In the spring of 2003 we netted Big Manistique Lake,” said Moody. “We net-surveyed 10 pike over 40 inches in one bay, in one day. There were three different crews and one crew netted a pike measuring 49 1/2 inches. It was the largest pike I’ve ever seen. The pike was a thick, heavy fish. It was almost impossible to believe it was a pike.”
At over 10,000 acres, this three-lake group is one of the largest natural waterways in the Upper Peninsula. Anglers should be aware that it can quickly become dangerous when a storm whips up the waves.
Of the three lakes, Big Manistique is the focus of most pike anglers. Depths range to about 23 feet and water clarity is clear.
“Anglers have been doing pretty good on Big Manistique,” said Kathy Cyran of JR’s Sport Shop. Cyran said three anglers last summer took home three pike over 40 inches, one of which was over 47 inches.
Hotspots for Big Manistique pike are the three midlake submerged bars that have gravel and weedbed cover. Anglers hit these areas pretty hard with excellent results. Anglers will also find a lot of pike in South Manistique, but most are just under the 24-inch minimum size limit. There are quite a few in the 18- to 23-inch range, with some up to 34 inches.
The Manistique Lakes are located in Luce and Mackinac counties in the eastern section of the U.P. The town of Curtis is located on South Manistique about a half-mile south of Big Manistique, just north of U.S. Highway 2. Access is from the state ramp on the south shore on Cook’s Bay off Curtis Road, a public ramp off Route 1245 and on the south shore of
f Long Road. Contact JR’s Sport Shop at (906) 586-6040 or the Lake Superior Management Unit at (906) 293-5131 for additional information.
BIG & LITTLE BAYS DE NOC
“The Big and Little Bays de Noc are probably some of the most overlooked waters for big pike,” said Mike Herman, the fisheries biologist supervisor for the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit in the southern half of the U.P. “If you can find weedbeds in these waters, you can get into some big pike. A lot of anglers avoid these waters because they’re so big. You’ve heard the old adage of big baits for big fish.” The biologist recommends using a chub or sucker minnow under a bobber next to a weedbed to draw a strike.
Both bays on Lake Michigan have extremely clear water.
Little Bay de Noc covers over 30,000 acres along the southern shore of the U.P. It has inflowing rivers, rocky shoals and breaklines to the south. Pike are taken along the shoreline near the Rapid River and Kipling in the upper part of the bay.
Big Bay de Noc features miles of weedlines, islands and shoals that harbor some monster-sized northern pike, with some especially productive fishing in the smaller bays on the west side of the Garden Peninsula. There’s plenty of room to roam here, with over 90,000 acres of water. Target monster-sized pike along the eastern and western shorelines by the dropoffs. In the upper section, concentrate efforts in smaller bays such as Ogontz and Martin bays and off Nahma. In the lower section, the area off Fayette State Park produces northerns. Weedbeds, sandbars dropping off into deeper water, shallow bays and submerged points are always good bets.
Contact the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit by calling (906) 786-2351.
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Now is the time to go for open-water pike, and these waters are some of the best that Michigan has to offer. More information can be found on the DNR’s Web site at www.michigan.gov/dnr. For assistance in finding lodging and other local amenities, contact Travel Michigan at 1-888-784-7328 or on the Web at www.travel.michigan.org.