Michigan's Fall Fishing Bonanza

Michigan's Fall Fishing Bonanza

Don't put away that fishing gear yet. Fall may offer the best angling so far this year! (September 2008)

Sault Ste. Marie angler Bob Linsenman with a typical pink salmon from the St. Marys River
Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

Michigan sportsmen look forward with eager anticipation to fall. Come Labor Day, you'll find them practicing with their bows, painting decoys, hitting the fields for the early goose season and scouting and readying deer blinds. You can't blame them for getting excited about Michigan's great hunting opportunities, but you'd be making a big mistake if you forget about Michigan's great fall fishing, too. It's a tough decision. You can't really go wrong.

Here are some great fall fishing destinations that might help make the decision easier.

Steelhead and salmon on the Grand River have the ability to migrate all the way to Lansing if they want, but low water conditions often delay their run upstream in the fall. The fish provide a fall fishing bonanza as they stack up below the Sixth Street Dam in Grand Rapids. You have no idea what you're going to catch many days -- steelheads, coho and chinook salmon, lake-run brown trout and lake trout are common catches in the fall. It's an autumn potpourri. Look for kings to show up in September, cohos and browns in October and steelhead and lake trout in November.

The bottom of the Grand River below Sixth Street is a hodgepodge of rocks, gravel, broken concrete and snags, so the best tactic is to keep your offering just off bottom. Many anglers drift spawn under a bobber. Others use Slink-type drift sinkers to keep snags to a minimum. Spinners can be very productive in the Grand, and they appeal to a variety of trout and salmon species. Big No. 4 or 5 blades in gold or silver highlighted with fluorescent tape excel when retrieved through the dark pockets in the river. You can also get away with heavier line when using spinners so you can salvage many of your snagged lures.

Wading can be treacherous in the Grand River. Go prepared with neoprene waders, a wading staff and wading sandals if you dare. Many anglers just fish from shore on the east side of the river in the Quarry Hole. Others stroll the boardwalk while drifting bobbers. Below the bridge abutments and in isolated pockets downstream can be good, too. Many anglers launch at Johnson Park and run upstream and over the cofferdams using boats with jet props to fish the main river below the dam.

For information on lodging and accommodations in the area, contact the Grand Rapids/Kent County Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 678-9859.

The Muskegon River can be a zoo in the spring. The river is getting more and more crowded every year. However, fall is a different story. There are more diversions in the fall for sportsmen and the fish are not as concentrated. Steelhead take their time moving into the Muskegon in the fall and the best fishing is in the lower reaches of the river. It's usually November before there are good numbers of fish in the river, and by then, most guys are thinking deer hunting.

Deep runs and pools found near Old Women's Bend, Bridgeton, Maple Island and Mill Iron Road attract the bulk of fall steelies. The rainbows lollygag in the lower and middle portions of the river in Muskegon and Newaygo counties unless prompted by excessive fall rains to move upstream. The steelhead can be caught using a variety of techniques. Many anglers bottom-bounce with spawn bags. Others use chunks of skein spawn and back-bounce behind the boat. Trolling slowly upstream pulling deep-diving crankbaits is another tactic that is gaining popularity in the Muskegon. Steelhead up to 15 pounds are taken with regularity on the plugs. More, but smaller fish, seem to favor the bait. Limits are common.

For information on lodging and amenities in the area, contact the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau at (231) 722-3751 or online at www.travel-muskegon.com. For bait, tackle and information on fishing conditions, contact Shoreline Services at (231) 759-7254.

Muskegon County's White Lake walleyes pig out in the fall under the cover of darkness.

"White Lake is just loaded with all kinds of baitfish -- gizzard shad, alewives, gobies, shiners and small perch," said west Michigan walleye fanatic Tom Irwin. "As the weeds start to die, the baitfish have fewer and fewer places to hide. When the baitfish are exposed, the walleyes capitalize."

Two techniques score on White Lake's walleyes in the fall. Irwin will use his trolling motor to stealth troll the 10- to 20-foot contours in the lake or he'll anchor and cast to weed edges and pockets using body baits. Both techniques take limits when the 'eyes are active and feeding. The best bite occurs from October to ice-up. Irwin said that you can often hear the walleyes slashing bait schools in the shallows. That's when casting excels. Trolling is preferred when fish are relating to the weed edges and contours and are more scattered. The chances for a 10-pound trophy are very good.

There's an abundance of prime walleye structure on 2,571-acre White Lake. A number of points, like Dowies, Cook and Long, are excellent starting points when searching for walleyes. The outside edges of weedbeds are hotspots, too, but don't overlook the inside edge where walleyes may be chasing minnows in water as shallow as 2 feet under the cover of darkness. Use shallow-running stick baits, like Bomber Long A, Rapalas and Rattlin' Rogues, to cast to the skinny water, twitch the bait on the surface and hold on.

For live bait and tackle, contact Armstrong's Sporting Goods at (231) 894-6753. For information on lodging and accommodations in the area, contact the White Lake Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at (231) 893-4585.

Allegan and Barry counties' 2,680-acre Gun Lake is popular with bass anglers. Unfortunately, it's also very popular with powerboats, personal watercraft and water skiers. Once Labor Day arrives, boating traffic drops dramatically. Fishing pressure nosedives, too, and the bass move shallower as the waters cool making fall a prime time for Gun Lake largemouths.

"Gun Lake has an outstanding largemouth population," said Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit fisheries supervisor Jay Wesley. "I would have to consider Gun Lake to be one of southern Michigan's premier largemouth bass lakes." One reason largemouths do so well in the lake is habitat in the form of humps, weedlines, points, canals, docks, islands and dropoffs. Because of the varied habitat, you can catch Gun Lake largemouths just about any way you like to fish. Jig-and-pig combos are perfect for working the weed edges and humps. Spinnerbait

s are great for probing the docks, canals and shoreline structure. Crankbaits excel for covering water and working the deeper points. The bass will average 2 to 4 pounds, but bass topping 6 pounds are not unheard of. Boating access can be gained off Murphy's Point in the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area.

For information on amenities, camping and accommodations in the area, contact the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council at (269) 925-6301. For lake maps, tackle and guides, contact D&R Sports Center at (800) 992-1520.

MICHIGAN CENTER LAKE LARGEMOUTHS<br.Most anglers associate bass fishing with summertime, but if you do, you're missing some of the best bass fishing of the year.

"Michigan Center has some great fall bass fishing," pro angler Duane Mroczka said. To prove his point, Mroczka told me about a 5-pound Michigan Center largemouth that won him $2,500 during a September tournament a few years ago. Bass that size are common in the lake.

Michigan Center Lake is part of a chain of lakes that includes Big Wolf, Little Wolf, Big Olcott, Little Olcott, Round and Price lakes. When fishing on Michigan Center in the fall, Mroczka advised fishing the flats that have stumps. The flats will still be relatively warm and bass will move in looking for crayfish and schools of minnows. The shallow stumpfields on the south end can be hot during an Indian summer day. Around Goat Island and Duryeas Point are other locations worth checking out. There's a state-owned ramp on the northeast side of the lake.

Mroczka said that if the bass in Michigan Center Lake are targeting minnows, it's pretty hard to beat a white spinnerbait. Mroczka's favorite fall technique is flippin' with a black jig-and-pig and a Zoom Worm trailer. Try to skitter and hop the jig along to imitate the crayfish that the bass are keying on.

For information on amenities, lodging and bait shops in the area, contact the Jackson Convention & Tourist Bureau at (800) 245-5282.

Wixom Lake is an impoundment of the Tittabawassee River. Covering some 1,980 acres in Gladwin and Midland counties, Wixom features numerous stumps, timber, cuts and edges that offer prime habitat for both smallmouths and largemouths. Fall is one of the best times to catch both.

Mroczka said that the key to finding concentrations of bass in the fall on Wixom is to concentrate on points off the main river channel. Baitfish stage there before moving to the backs of shallow cuts where it's warmer. Stumps and timber are key, which Wixom has an abundance of.

White spinnerbaits excel in the turbid water found on Wixom. The spinnerbaits imitate the shad and other minnows found in the lake, too. Flippin' a jig-and-pig around the stumps is an effective technique. Crawfish imitators and Senkos are highly rated by Mroczka. Some of the most exciting bass action on Wixom takes place on calm mornings when the topwater action can be fantastic. Largemouths to 7 pounds are not unheard of on Wixom, and 5-pound smallmouths are fairly common.

For information on bait shops, camping and other amenities in the area, contact the Midland County Convention & Tourism Bureau at (888) 464-3526.

"We have so many great fishing lakes up here it's tough to pick just one or two," guide Dave Rose said. "But one destination I'd have to include would be South Lake Leelanau. From about mid-September until the weeds start to die off, the walleyes really turn on in there."

Rose said weeds are the key to South Lake Leelanau's fall walleye fishing.

"Look for cabbage that has some openings in it and cast stick baits, like Rattlin' Rogues and Husky Jerks, into the pockets in the weeds," he said. "Let the bait sit for 20 seconds or more before giving it a few subtle twitches, then let it sit again. Walleyes will explode on it."

Rose said to look for weeds in 4 to 12 feet or water where walleyes school and work minnows over the school. Most of the walleyes will run from 15 to 19 inches, but fish to 8 or 9 pounds are not uncommon.

Rose said if stick baits aren't working, you can always fall back on an old standby -- a jig and grub or worm. Rose said in the clear waters of South Lake Leelanau that natural colored plastics work best.

Try motor oil, pumpkinseed or red colors highlighted with a chartreuse jighead to call attention to the bait. The technique is simple. Pitch the jig into openings in the weeds or along the inside turns in the weedline and slowly work the jig back with a swimming, hopping motion. There'll be no doubt when a walleye decides your jig is something good to eat.

South Lake Leelanau is a big body of water at 5,370 acres and is long and narrow, so the wind doesn't affect it too much unless it's coming straight down the lake. Prime walleye locations include Perrin's Bay on the south end of the lake, off Robinson Point and near the inlets of Weisler and Cedar creeks. There are boat launches on the both the east and west sides of the lake.

Contact Dave Rose at (231) 276-9874 to try your hand at catching some South Lake Leelanau walleyes this fall. For information on lodging and amenities in the area, contact the Leelanau County Chamber of Commerce at (231) 271-9895.

The St. Marys River near Sault Ste. Marie offers a fall trout and salmon smorgasbord that must be seen to be believed. Atlantic salmon start the finned parade in May and hold over in the river until late fall.

"When the pinks show up depends on weather," said Lou Hank of Hank's Sport Shop in Sault Ste. Marie. "Usually there's good numbers of pinks in the river by early September."

The pink salmon run has dwindled in recent years though.

Coho salmon show up near the power plant on the St. Marys, but it's the king salmon that draw most of the attention.

"There'll be kings in the river by mid-August, but the peak is around the first of September," Hank said. "J-plugs are big for the kings."

Others ply the river for salmon under the cover of darkness using glow-in-the-dark Bombers. Kings topping 20 pounds are not uncommon. Add to this potpourri lake-run brown trout and brook trout, steelhead and lake trout and you have all the makings of a fall trout and salmon bonanza.

For more information on river conditions, bait and tackle, contact Hank's Sport Shop at (906) 632-8741. For information on amenities and lodging in the area, contact the Sault Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 674-2858.

As good as the fall walleye fishing is on the Manistique lakes, the perch and pike fishing may even be better.

"The hot perch fishing starts in early September and just gets bett

er and better until ice-up," claimed resort owner and walleye pro John Bergsma. "The fish seem to get bigger and bigger as fall goes on, too. It's nothing to catch a limit of 50 perch that will average 10 inches."

Bergsma said the fishing is simple.

"All you need to do is go upwind and drift until you hit fish," he said. "The setup is simple. Use a 6 1/2-foot spinning rod with 6-pound-test line, a gold hook and a split shot. Shiners are the number one bait, but shrimp is a good secondary bait because of all the crawfish that are in the lake. There's not much for weeds in the lake. It's mainly rocks and gravel, which is perfect for crawfish. The perch are right out in the open in 10 to 20 feet of water."

"We have super good pike fishing in the fall," Bergsma said. "Two techniques work. You can pitch big bucktails and Daredevils over the weeds. The weeds are in 8 or 9 feet of water and there's about 2 or 3 feet of open water over them. There's about an 800-acre cabbage patch that draws pike and four islands that all have well-defined weed edges that the pike patrol. Those are good places to soak a big 8-inch sucker or chub under a big bobber."

Bergsma said there are plenty of pike taken every fall in the 36- to 38-inch range from South, Big and North Manistique lakes.

For more information on Manistique Lake's great fall fishing, contact Pine Bluff/Cedar Ridge Resort at (906) 586-6950. For information on other amenities and accommodations in the area, contact the Manistique Lake Area Tourism Bureau at (800) 860-3819 .

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