October 04, 2010
With thousands of inland lakes and plenty of frigid bays fed by Lake Superior, Michigan's Upper Peninsula provides seemingly perfect habitat for northern pike -- and for the anglers who target them! (May 2010)
Michigan DNR officials suggest targeting Upper Peninsula northern pike on the lakes and bays connected to the Great Lakes.
Photo by Eric Engbreston.
They remain motionless for hours, lying in wait for their prey. When a small fish comes near, they strike with amazing agility and quickness, catching their prey in their needlelike teeth and then devouring them whole. They're among the most aggressive and widely distributed freshwater fish in the world -- kings of the cold water.
"The best places to catch (northern) pike are lakes and bays connected to the Great Lakes," said Bill Zigler, Michigan Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist.
In the Upper Peninsula, that means looking for northerns in any of the estimated 4,300 inland lakes and countless bays fed by the frigid waters of Lake Superior. With an abundance of small fish, shallow weed beds and submersible vegetation, smaller lakes provide perfect pike habitat.
Pike season starts May 15 and runs until March 15 in the Upper Peninsula. In most lakes, they must be 24-inches long to keep, with a limit of two per day.
Moving from east to west across the land above the bridge, let's look at some of the best spots for catching northern annihilators.
Located between Sault St. Marie, Mich., and Sault St. Marie, Ontario, is the St. Marys River, a 75-mile-long river that flows southeast and empties into Lake Huron. Its vast waters and ample supply of perch, smelt, lake herring and crayfish provide plenty of room and food for big pike to reach their potential. For good boat launches and hefty pike, fish Raber, Eller, Fowler and Munuscong Bays.
"Pike in the St. Marys are really aggressive," said Matt McConnell of Sault St. Marie, Ontario. "The water gets a little murky in some spots, so I like to slow-troll using yellow or bright green spinners."
South of Sault Ste. Marie lies a veritable cornucopia of pike-fishing water. Start out by taking M-28 east until it dead-ends at Lake Nicolet. Fed by the Soo Locks, the lake is home to record pike and muskie. Travel south to Munuscong Lake, also known as Mud Lake by locals. Munuscong Lake feeds into the Potagannissing Bay, a shallow, island-strewn bay northwest of Drummond Island. Be sure to ask permission to go ashore on any of the bay's 53 named or countless unnamed islands, as many are privately owned.
First stop is 800-acre Muskallonge Lake, located 28 miles northwest of Newberry. The lake has no minimum size restriction, and anglers can keep up to five pike per day. Easy access is found at the Muskallonge Lake State Park, the former site of Deer Park, a lumbering town in the late 1880s and former home to one of five U.S. Life-Saving Service Stations found along the coast of Lake Superior between Munising and Whitefish Point.
Anglers interested in landing bigger pike can travel seven miles west of Muskallonge Lake State Park to the Blind Sucker Flooding, an artificial impoundment created in 1950 to help loggers get their logs to mill more quickly. A 2007 netting survey conducted by the MDNR revealed that 22 percent of northerns in the Blind Sucker Flooding were greater than or equal to the legal size limit.
"You'll have to practice a lot of catch-and-release and patience, but there are some trophies in the Flooding," said MDNR fisheries biologist Jim Waybrant, who covers the Lake Superior Watershed.
Just south of M-28 between Munising and Marquette is Au Train Lake, a body of water that holds a plentiful supply of pike, as well as bluegills, yellow perch and walleyes. Look for access from the north off of North Shore Road or from the south shore at the U.S. Forest Service campground.
Nawakwa Lake near Grand Marais is another spot pike anglers shouldn't overlook. The lake has ample shoreline vegetation and plenty of sunken logs, creating good cover and supporting a healthy food chain. The lake has no minimum size limit, and anglers can keep up to five fish per day.
Travel along the Lake Superior shoreline to hit some pike fishing honey holes. First stop is Lake Independence, located just west of Granite Island. At only 1,900 acres, the lake's produced many trophies over the last several years. Start on the east side, where weed beds abound, and work your way south to the mouth of the Yellow Dog River, which feeds into the lake.
Then go northwest to Howe, Rush, Mountain and Pine lakes. These small bodies of water don't get much traffic, so you're bound to find some keepers.
"I took the largest pike I've ever caught out of Mountain Lake a couple years ago, so I'm sold on fishing small lakes for the big boys," said Marquette resident Jim Hillenbrandt.
First fish the big three: Keweenaw, L'Anse and Huron Bays. For those who want less traffic on the waters, try Lake Beaufort near the town of Three Lakes and King Lake near Covington. Both are less than 500 acres but harbor northerns that haven't been educated by anglers.
Pike aficionados will tell you that fishing for northerns in Houghton County begins and ends with Portage Lake, a 9,500-acre body of water that splits the Keweenaw Peninsula into northern and southern halves.
"As the saying goes, big lakes produce big fish," said pike angler Bill Miller of Lake Linden. "I've seen many 40-plus-inch pike come out of the Portage."
Start at Pike Bay near Chassell, where you'll find a good boat launch. Don't forget to hit Dollar Bay, just off of M-26 on the north side of the lake.
Finally, those who want to get away from it all should fish Rice Lake near Lake Linden. The 676-acre lake holds good-sized pike ripe for the catching.
GEAR & TECHNIQUES
The aggressive nature of pike and the fact that they're not the brightest fish in the lake make them a cinch to catch. Anglers vary in which lures and techniques they use to land large northerns, but all target heavy cover, where pike hang out. Drop-offs close to thick shallow weeds, river mouths, shoals and under lily pads are also good spots to find pike. Try using a large sucker minnow -- or any other type of minnow for that matter. Big trophies love to lie in wait and take out smaller bass, perch or p
Unlike other fish such as brown trout, pike strike best in daylight hours. During the spring and early summer months, they'll predominately be found in shallow waters.
Some of the most popular lures are the red and white Daredevil and the yellow 5-of-Diamonds Daredevil. When using a Daredevil, cast high and jerk it just before it hits the water so the lure slaps the surface.
Crankbaits and spinnerbaits also work well. When using spinners, add a tail for maximum movement. If you want more depth, keep the rod tip low while reeling in slowly. To graze the water's surface, hold the rod's tip high and reel rapidly.
If you're sold on spoons, use a two-inch grub tail with them to create more movement. Remember that plastic worms aren't just for bass fishing -- pike love them too. Whatever lure and style you choose, once you feel the big bite of large pike and win the ensuing battle, you'll be the one who's hooked!