Narrowing down a list of the best waters for catching northern pike is difficult, so we asked some avid Michigan anglers to describe their favorite honeyholes. (March 2009)
Large, aggressive pike like this one can often be caught soon after ice-out. Photo by Mitch Kezar/Windigo Images.
Most anglers enjoy catching fish that are abundant, easy to catch and taste great on the dining room table. The northern pike is one of the most abundant species in Michigan waters. They are great fighters on the end of the line and are aggressive eaters. They are one of those fish that even when you're not fishing for them and you hook one, you gladly put it in the boat and take it home.
Fishing for pike doesn't require specialized tackle. They will take almost any presentation you toss their way and run with it. They can be caught from the many piers in Michigan and with or without a boat. Northerns are great fish for kids to catch because if you can find their haunts, you'll probably catch fish after fish until the livewell is full.
With so many great spots to catch pike, narrowing down a list of the best lakes and rivers is difficult. I interviewed a couple of avid Michigan anglers who discussed their favorite honeyholes.
Dan Lipski knows a few things about catching fish. Lipski, from Ravenna, operates the Riverkat Guide Service (www.riverkatfishing.com) and specializes in catching catfish. He also enjoys catching other species of fish, including northern pike at Hardy Pond in Newaygo County. Hardy, a 10-mile-long, 4,000-acre pond, was created by damming the Muskegon River and offers anglers miles of undeveloped shoreline. Pike fishing has improved over the last five or six years, largely because the infestation of invasive zebra mussels has cleared the water.
"The clear water has allowed the sunlight to penetrate the water," Lipski said. "Weedbeds are now growing all over where a few years ago, they didn't exist. With the increase in weedbeds comes an increase in perch and bluegills, which pike thrive on. Now that they have plenty of food, their numbers have increased and anglers can expect to catch a lot of pike in a variety of sizes. There are smaller pike, but there are also some big ones in Hardy Pond."
One of Lipski's favorite tactics is trolling along the weed edge in about 10 to 14 feet of water.
"Almost anywhere along the weed edge is a good place to start," Lipski said. "Once I'm launched, I go right to the edge and start fishing. I usually troll with crankbaits or crawler harnesses. I can troll around the edge of the pond and catch pike all day long."
When trolling with crankbaits, Lipski has had great success using No. 13 Rapalas.
"Bright-colored Rapalas seem to outperform all other colors when it comes to pike. When they are finicky, black and silver and gold and black are good options. I occasionally use soft plastics," Lipski noted.
Most anglers launch at Big Bend Park near an island called -- what else -- "the island."
"There is a deep river channel that bounces off the island. There are a lot of downed trees and structure around, especially on the downstream side," Lipski said. "This is a great place for anglers to fish for pike and it is very close to the launch."
In addition to fishing the weed edge, Lipski uses an electric motor to get into creek arms that feed into the Muskegon River.
"Motoring up into these areas with a trolling motor has been very effective and I don't think these areas get fished as hard as the main body of water," Lipski said.
When fishing Hardy Pond, anglers should expect to catch pike in several sizes.
"I would say the average fish is about 20 to 23 inches long, but every year a few larger fish in the 36-inch range are also caught. The majority of the fish are a great size for eating," Lipski noted. For more information about Hardy Pond and nearby accommodations, contact the Newaygo County Tourist Information Center at (231) 652-9298, or go online to www.newaygocountytourism.com.
Many experienced pike anglers enjoy fishing bodies of water that connect with Lake Michigan and are fed by some river system. Lakes that fit into that category often have pike that come and go throughout the year, especially in spring when they are spawning. To target post-spawn spring pike, focus your efforts on the river mouths and at the mouth of the channels of Lake Michigan.
WHITE LAKE/WHITE RIVER
White Lake in northern Muskegon County is a good option, according to Mitch Johnson from Johnson's Great Outdoors in Montague, a town that borders White Lake.
"Trolling near the river mouth with a three-way sinker rig with a live shiner is a great option for anglers," he said. "Another place to catch fish is in the narrows where the lake bottlenecks down."
The first few miles of the White River upstream from White Lake offers good fishing, as many post-spawning fish are returning to the lake via the river. Not far from the boat launch in Montague or Armstrong's Bait and Tackle in Whitehall is a train trestle. Many anglers fish from a boat near the trestle, while anglers without boats can fish along the trestle. When fishing the river, many anglers rely on trolling fire-tiger-style baits up to two miles an hour.
"A lot of anglers fish here because it is a good fishery," said Tim Sanders, an angler from Muskegon, who regularly fishes the area. "I like the fact that some good size fish can be caught here. There are a lot of juvenile fish, but larger fish can be found."
For more information, contact Johnson's Great Outdoors at (231) 893-6688 or the White Lake Chamber of Commerce at (231) 893-4585 or www.whitelake.org.
Another body of water that offers great pike fishing and little fishing pressure is Spring Lake. Surrounded by large homes and summer cottages, the lake experiences heavy summer boat traffic as anglers target largemouth bass. In the spring when the water is cool, few people use the lake, making it a great place to target pike.
Michael Miller, an avid angler who fishes a few tournaments across the state every year, lives only a few blocks from the lake and regularly fishes the area.
"There are lots of bayous on the lake that have a good amount of weeds and cover that pike like to hang out in," he said. "One of them is the mouth of Petty's Bayou. The bayou is shallow, but the water is a little deeper at the
mouth and pike seem to congregate there after they spawn. My main tactic is to jig spoons. In fact, that is one of my favorite tactics on the lake."
The Yacht Club on Spring Lake is another place Miller regularly fishes.
"I fish in front of the Yacht Club and the area surrounding it," he said. "Baitfish can often be located by the docks and other structure in the area, which attracts pike. Large boats come in and out of the area, so it is dredged from time to time, creating some deeper pockets of water."
In addition to these key areas, Miller focuses on fishing the points.
"Spring Lake has several points that stick out away from the coastline," he said. "When I have time, I troll along the coastline and focus my efforts around the various points found on the lake. I typically throw a jigging spoon along the edges of the point and often catch pike."
Miller believes the lake doesn't get many pike anglers because they don't know how to fish the lake.
"The lake is somewhat unusual," he said. "The vast majority of it is very shallow and depth doesn't change much. I focus on the points and the bayous because those are the places that water depth changes. When I cast my spoon into these areas, I look for water depths of about 20 feet. Then I cast up into water depths of 6 feet and reel back to the boat. Typically, I catch them on the subtle dropoff between the shallows and the deeper water."
The Grand River can be fished near Spring Lake. In fact, the lake and the river are connected. There are a plethora of bayous that can be found on the river near Spring Lake, including Millhouse Bayou and Indian Bayou.
"During the late spring, even after boat traffic has increased on the lake, I can catch a lot of pike in the lower stretch of the river that is still in transition," Miller said. "They have just spawned and are going back to Spring Lake or Lake Michigan. When I fish the river, I usually troll Hot 'N Tots, small No. 5 shad raps or No. 12 Husky Jerks. I typically run the deep-diving baits that help me keep track of the bottom without picking up too much debris. Color is also important. I like bright lures that will catch the attention of the pike."
There are several launch sites, including Petty's Bayou Launch on Spring Lake, while Indian Channel and Bruce's Bayou are good places to launch on the river.
For more information for Spring Lake and the Grand River, call the Grand Haven/Spring Lake Chamber of Commerce at (800) 303-4092 or visit www.visitgrandhaven.com.
When Miller feels like going on a road trip for pike, he goes to Saginaw Bay.
"Saginaw Bay is largely considered a walleye and perch fishery, but there is some great pike fishing in the shallow weedbeds," he said. "Some nice pike can be caught in the bay -- anywhere from 6- to 10-pound fish are common -- unlike many lakes where the fish are smaller in size."
Miller likes to focus on the weedbed by the Great Lakes Municipal Launch between Augrey and Pinconning. This is a great place to find pike and weedbeds located near Fish Point on the opposite side of the bay. The weedbed near Augrey is on the north side of the bay, while the Fish Point weedbed is on the south side.
"Pike rarely get fished very hard in the bay, so they are in abundance," he said. "When fishing these weedbeds, I prefer using crawler harnesses and fishing over the tops of the weeds and near the edges of the weeds. Since the bay is very shallow for miles, I usually fish weeds that are five or six miles offshore. There are several rivers that drain into the bay, and pike that have spawned often leave the rivers and shallow bays to hunt for a meal. Many of these weedbeds explode as the waters in spring begin to warm up. This attracts small perch and other baitfish, which attract pike."
Miller enjoys using larger baits like gold spinner blades size 7 or 8, or deep-diving Husky Jerks that create commotion and attract pike.
"I usually like finding the new weed growth on the bottom and fishing over the new growth. I am typically in about 8 to 12 feet of water and I keep my lure about a foot off the bottom," Miller said.
As Miller fishes new weed growth, his goal is always to bring the lure over the top of the pike. The good news is that northerns are aggressive and have a large strike zone.
"I try to keep my lure close to the bottom near the new weeds, but it isn't as critical as it is with other species of fish that have a small strike zone," he said. "Pike will attack anything that is within several feet of them as they rest near the weeds waiting for an easy meal."
Miller adds that he's noticed that if the pike aren't biting very well, driving over the weedbed a few times helps.
"Some people think I'm joking, but I've noticed that driving my boat over a weedbed and causing commotion seems to get pike riled up and active, which causes them to feed aggressively."
For fishing information, contact Frank's Great Outdoors at (989) 697-5341. For lodging information, contact the Bay City Convention and Visitors Bureau at (989) 893-1222 or visit www.tourbaycitymi.org.
When Miller wants to spend a day on the water catching pike with his family, he heads to Blue Lake in Muskegon County.
"I bring my family to Blue Lake because anglers can catch a lot of pike in a short period of time," he said. "The water is crystal clear, which makes fishing fun because sometimes you can see the pike hit the bait. I often bobber fish with live minnows and have a lot of success.
"On the southwest side of the lake is Turtle Bay. I usually anchor in the bay or near the bay -- about 100 yards offshore -- and catch pike until my arms get tired."
"There's a lot of cabbage leaf weed growth throughout the area and the pike wait in the weeds to nab bluegills. There are lots of bluegills in the lake, which is what pike typically feed on. Four- to 6-pound fish in the lake are often full of bluegills when I clean them," Miller noted. The pike are frequently in 16 to 18 feet of water and are roaming about 2 feet off the bottom because that is where most of the new weed growth is. Juvenile fish that are perfect for the frying pan are typically caught in Blue Lake, but there are a few big fish in the lake.
"The nice thing about bringing the family here is after you have caught several northerns, you can go after bluegills because the lake holds so many of them."
One of the best places to access Big Blue Lake is on the southeast shore of the lake at Blue Lake Park. There is plenty of parking at this location. For lodging information, call the Muskegon County Visitors Bureau at (800) 250-9283, or visit its Web site at www.visit
As the water temperatures warm up this spring and the inland lakes around the state open up to pike fishing, get out on the water. Whether you are fishing one of the lakes I mentioned or a lake system somewhere else in the state, one thing is for sure: Pike are fun to catch, great to eat and catching them is something that will keep the kids away from the computer and provide fun at the same time.