Walleye fishing has become a serious business, but you can still have fun catching fish on these waters.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Turn the television on to your favorite fishing program or show up at one of the professional walleye tournaments and you're bound to see boats, gear and anglers right out of the high-tech age. Let's face it, when you have electronics aboard that cost more than most of our first cars -- and boats with a price tag exceeding that of our first homes -- the fishing is serious. As a buddy of mine said at a tournament weigh-in, "These ain't your daddy's cane poles!"
For many hard-core walleye anglers, gone are the days of quiet, relaxing trips where you drift a bobber and crawler through a weedbed on a calm lake at daybreak, with nothing at stake but a great lunch of walleye filets. Exchanging these times for the fast-pace circuit makes you forget just how much fun and success can be had on our inland waters. Many of these lakes are teaming with walleyes, and offer as much fun as any big-water areas.
Here are a few of our state's top inland walleye lakes. While casting to the shallows or working a weedbed on one of them, sit back, take a deep breath and feel the stress of today's fast-paced activities disappear.
The 12,800 acres this lake covers makes it a virtual paradise for anglers, campers and sightseers. Its shore is lined with the type of pristine scenery that only the far north can give. Oak and pine trees cover the hills while cedars fill the lowlands around Gogebic.
But scenery isn't the top reason most anglers come to this largest of the Upper Peninsula lakes. Walleyes, walleyes and more walleyes are the main draw here. Lake Gogebic is a regular walleye factory when it comes to numbers of fish. It boasts one of the best populations of all of Michigan's inland lakes.
"I've lived in the U.P. all my life," said Mark Reardon of Ironwood. "The fishing's great and the hunting is second to none. If Lake Gogebic isn't the best walleye fishery in the state, I don't know how it can get any better."
According to Reardon, early-season anglers will want to work the east side of the lake.
"Most of the spawning takes place on the windswept gravel shorelines in the eastern bays," he said. "When season opens, these fish are still in the area. Casting a jig to the shallows and working it back is hard to beat. Early on, tip the jig with a minnow and then go to crawlers as the season progresses."
By early summer, most of the walleyes will inhabit the rocky dropoffs, weeds and woody structure. To cash in on these fish, try a bit of vertical jigging around the structure or simply offer up a single hook tipped with a crawler.
NORTH MANISTIQUE LAKE
North Manistique Lake in Luce County should not be mistaken for Big Manistique Lake just to the south of North Manistique. Because of several large alternate-year plantings by the DNR and minimal pressure compared to Big Manistique, North Manistique has become a topnotch walleye fishery in anyone's book.
Basically bowl-shaped and featureless compared to many northern lakes, Manistique is benefiting from manmade cover in the form of logs, brush and trees that were sunk by locals looking to create better fish habitat.
During the months of May and June, anglers can look forward to regular catches of 15- to 20-inch walleyes, with some reaching 28 inches. These aren't your typical "trophy" fish for the wall, but they sure do a frying pan proud.
With so much wood and brush, try slow-trolling with a bottom-bouncer and crawler along the outskirts of the rubble. Walleyes on the prowl go for this technique and are usually the most active and ready to strike. Concentrate your efforts along the first breakline and work your way out as success declines. With the rich, stained water in North Manistique Lake, look for yellow, chartreuse or green to work best. Pulling crankbaits is a bit risky with all the hangups, but when used, the perch-colored lures work best.
The launch ramp is located along the south side at Luce County Park. For more information on North Manistique Lake, contact the folks at Watson's Marina at (906) 586-9731. For information on lodging and campgrounds, call the Curtis Chamber of Commerce at (906) 586-3700.
At 8,850 acres, Hubbard Lake is one the state's largest inland waters. It's considered by those who make this a regular stop in their travels as a picturesque lake with plenty of walleyes to go around. Hubbard has been on the list of Michigan's semi-pro walleye tour for several years as a must-fish lake. But don't let that fool you into thinking the walleyes here are pushovers. They're not!
"Hubbard is always a great place to fish," says pro angler Tom Dinneweth. "Each time we get there, it's quite a challenge. The fishing can be great once you discover the pattern they're on, but that takes some time and persistence."
According to Dinneweth, early in the season, anglers can do well around Churchill Point and Doctor's Point. In these areas, folks will want to pitch jigs tipped with minnows or half a crawler. When the wind picks up and blows into these points, slip-bobber presentations with leeches can really be a walleye turn-on.
"During the summer and early fall, anglers should consider trolling crankbaits from both planer boards and downriggers," said Dinneweth. "The walleyes slip deep into the water because of the clarity of the lake. You'll need to really get down there at times to reach the larger ones.
"During a tournament on Hubbard, we found our largest fish on the bottom in 38 feet of water off Churchill Point," he continued. "The walleyes were feeding on crawfish and were quite aggressive. Once we located them, we could have loaded the boat by slow-trolling spinners and crawlers behind bottom-bouncers. That was really a good time."
Look for the majority of Hubbard's walleyes to be "eaters." During a number of recent tournaments, many anglers could expect to catch dozens of fish, with only a handful being the 15-inch keeper size.
Public launches can be found in the South Bay near the West Branch River and off Hubbard Lake Road. For fishing information, contact the folks at Side Door Bait and Tackle at (989) 736-6418. The Chamber of Commerce can be reached for lodging information at (989) 736-6418.
NORTH LAKE LEELANAU
North Lake Leelanau is located in southeast Leelanau County about 10 miles northwest of Traverse City. Although the lake i
s connected by a channel to South Lake Leelanau, the northern water is your best bet for walleyes. That's because an abundance of high-protein forage including rainbow smelt and much less fishing pressure aids the walleyes here to grow faster and, as a rule, larger.
In the early season, look for the slightly sloping flats on the south end of the lake to be a good choice for anglers. In this area, try trolling spinner-and-crawler rigs that follow 1- to 2-ounce bottom-bouncers. Let the depth determine the best weight. Although it doesn't work well as a searching technique, vertical jigging with jigs and minnows will work extremely well once the fish are located.
During the summer, look for North Lake Leelanau walleyes to suspend over open water a lot. These fish will usually be relating to large schools of rainbow smelt and can be located with the use of electronics. Often, it's actually faster to target the smelt when looking. Spot the baitfish, and the walleyes won't be far away!
To catch these suspended walleyes, try trolling deep-diving crankbaits behind planer boards. Another good bet is Michigan Stinger Spoons pulled to the correct depth with one of the various diving discs. Best colors may vary from day to day, so it's best to have a number of spoons on hand.
A paved ramp is just east of the Bluebird Tavern and Restaurant in Leland at the lake's north end. Another launch is located on the west side just south of M-204. For information on lodging, contact the Leelanau County Chamber of Commerce at (231) 256-9895.
Houghton Lake in Roscommon County may be Michigan's largest and most heavily fished lake, but don't let its size and fishing pressure keep you away. All those anglers know something about this lake that you should know as well: it's a real fish producer! This 20,000-acre lake is teaming with game fish and offers plenty of fun for the folks who come here.
Pike, bass, panfish and walleyes are in abundance here in part because of the lake's natural ability to hold, breed and feed them all. The average depth of the lake is only 8 to 10 feet, which contributes to acres of fish-holding weeds. The 20-foot holes that dot the lake offer cooler water during summer months as well as security.
Untold thousands of walleyes call Houghton Lake home. The shallow water, weedbeds and deep holes are simply everyday hangouts for the typical walleye angler who is quite at home fishing for his or her favorite fish in these type of locations.
"Catching walleyes is commonplace on this lake," said Mike Balcome of Houghton Lake. "The trick here is to leave the heavy Great Lakes-style gear at home and come prepared to do a little finesse fishing."
According to Balcome, simple is better.
"If all you brought was a bobber, single hook and a long light-action rod, you'd do well," said Balcome. "Tip the hook with a leech and pitch the offering into the pockets within the weeds. If you don't have a pickup within a minute or two, drift to another opening and try it again. Don't be afraid to go back to the same spots that were unsuccessful the first time you were there. The walleyes will travel from one weedbed to another. One may be void of fish at first and then be loaded awhile later."
To locate walleyes a bit faster, consider trolling spinner rigs off in-line planer boards.
"I'll only do that when I'm in a hurry to locate my fish," Balcome continued. "Place a split shot a few feet ahead of the spinner to keep it just below the surface. This way, you can run the spinners above most weeds and still attract walleyes."
Access to Houghton Lake can be obtained just north of M-55 on old U.S. Highway 27, from the North Bay at the state park or in Prudenville and the East Bay. Bait and tackle can be purchased from the Last Resort & Bait Shop in Houghton Lake, (989) 422-3224. Information on hotels, campgrounds and restaurants can be obtained by calling the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at (989) 366-5644.
Holloway Reservoir is made up by a six-mile-long impoundment on the Flint River in northeast Genesee and northwest Lapeer counties. This man-made lake has long been noted as a premier walleye lake, especially in winter and during the early weeks of season. Walleyes to 10 pounds are available here, but fish ranging in size from 2 to 4 pounds are far more prevalent.
"When I worked that end of the state, I really enjoyed fishing on Holloway Lake," said Gary Towns, DNR fisheries biologist supervisor. "The lake is loaded with walleyes. Although the majority is your typical 'eater,' there are some real impressive hogs in there as well. I'd recommend Holloway to anyone!"
As with many top walleye waters, changes in the depth and bottom structure will be a key to locating the fish. Good electronics will be a big help in finding and staying with changes in bottom contour. A number of locals work along the edges of the channel running throughout the reservoir. This channel -- in particular the western portion -- offers walleyes both food and security, and thus will be a prime spot to try.
For starters, anglers may want to begin their fishing efforts south of the Mt. Morris Road Bridge. Circulating water in this area is a draw to both baitfish and the walleyes. Another spot anglers will want to try is along the west side of Goose Point. Look for leeches drifted across bottom and crankbaits or spinner rigs trolled to take a majority of walleyes on Holloway. A great time to target 'eyes from this lake is after dark. Try trolling 3-inch double-jointed floating Rapalas, or cast a nightcrawler or leech and reel it back slowly just off bottom.
Access to Holloway can be obtained off Henderson Road on the southwest side. For bait and tackle, contact Hicks Tackle Shop at (810) 785-9941. For lodging, call the Chamber of Commerce at (810) 664-6641.
Located in Barry County, this 2,680-acre lake may just be southern Michigan's top inland lake for walleyes. If Gun has a particular drawback, it might be that it's just as popular with recreational boaters as it is with walleyes. But don't let this stop you from enjoying the great fishing here.
To counter the boating activity, anglers get their start at the crack of dawn and work at filling their creel until powerboats and skiers drive the walleyes deep into the weeds. Look for some of Gun Lake's better walleye fishing to take place near the steep dropoffs around Murphys and Hastings points located near the lake's center. Another spot to try is in Robbins Bay located at the lake's southwest corner. Here, a 34-foot hole will hold walleyes during the day. These fish work their way out during the evening and night into the surrounding waters and neighboring rice bed.
Another great time to avoid the boaters and enjoy Gun Lake walleyes is at night. After dark, the far eastern end of the lake over sunken islands and off Chicago Point produce for those trolling crankbaits and drifting various spinner rigs.
Catching Gun Lake walleyes will mean using a variation of techniques. At dusk and daybreak, finesse tactics will work best along the edges of weedbeds and in various open pockets within the weeds. During the night, look for trolling or casting to take the majority of fish. Troll shallow-running crankbaits or spinners in the shallows well after dark when the fish have had time to make their way there in search of baitfish.
Access to Gun Lake can be obtained from a couple locations. One is a hard-surfaced ramp located on Murphy's Point in the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area. Another can be found off Marsh Road on the lake's southwest end.
So, it doesn't matter if you are a high-tech angler or just a worm dunker, this is a great time to be out there walleye fishing. Enjoy!