Michigan's Top Inland Walleye Lakes

Last month we told you about our best Great Lakes waters for walleye fishing. These are the inland lakes you should target this season.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Jim Barta

Anticipating a chance to get in a fun-filled day of catching walleyes is enough to give any enthusiastic angler an extra dose of adrenaline. And we all know that Michigan offers people many destinations to enjoy great walleye fishing. Our state has world-class walleye action in rivers, big-water fishing that's second to none, and hundreds of walleye-infested inland lakes.

Although each waterbody offers its own unique style of fun, the fishing that takes place on rivers or big water often requires high-tech or high-priced equipment. On the other hand, inland lakes can be enjoyed just as much while not requiring one's whole bankroll to do it.

Here are some of our state's top inland walleye lakes you should target this season.

Oakland County's Union Lake is certainly a walleye-fishing bright spot in one of Michigan's most populated areas. Located just seven miles southwest of Pontiac, Union Lake is enjoying the fruits of previous fingerling plants.

"Several years ago, we planted a total of 130,000 fingerlings per year in Union," said Jeff Braunscheidel, Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist. "The walleyes have done quite well as revealed by our electro-shocking efforts. We've found a number of healthy, mature adults since then."

Although it reaches a maximum depth of 110 feet, at 465 acres, Union Lake is fairly easy to figure out. Some of the more productive spots include a point on the south side of the lake and two sunken islands along the northern shore.

Shortly after the mid-May opener, anglers begin taking walleyes by targeting the 15- to 22-foot depths around these islands. A jig-and-minnow combination is usually the best bet for these early season walleyes. As the year progresses, crawler harnesses or jigs tipped with leeches or crawlers will be the most productive bait to use.

Union Lake's only public access can be found along the north shore. For more information on Union, contact the DNR office in Livonia at (734) 953-0241. For lodging information, call the Oakland County Chamber of Commerce at (248) 683-4747.

According to Gary Towns, fisheries biologist supervisor with the DNR, Kent Lake is second only to Houghton Lake for the amount of fishing pressure it receives. Located in the heart of Oakland County within the Metropark system, Kent has plenty to offer anglers in the way of accommodations as well as fish.

"Our last census shows that Kent has about four adult walleyes per acre, with about half of them 4 pounds or better," said Towns. "That's well above the state average."

Despite the seemingly great news about this fishery, Towns also admits that it can be a bit tricky to fish with the vast weed growth that takes place here.

Some of the better spots on this 1,000-acre lake can be found along the edge of a channel that winds its way around much of Kent. Schools of walleyes will hold along these edges to feed while settling low into its bottom during the heat of the day. The riprap along the Interstate 96 side of the lake and the various breaklines surrounding the islands will hold plenty fish as well.

Jigs tipped with minnows will take the majority of fish for the first couple weeks after the season opener. After that, look for leech-tipped jigs and crawler rigs to be the ticket.

Boats can be rented through the Kensington Metropark, which is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For information on Kent Lake, call the Metropark at (248) 685-1561.

Houghton is No. 1 on Michigan's inland lake list for a couple of reasons. First, this is the most heavily fished lake in our state. And secondly, at 20,000 acres, it is the largest inland body of water within our borders.

The slope of the bottom here is mostly gradual with only a couple places where holes can be found. In some respects, this can be considered good news as well as bad. It's good news for the angler who prefers to target only small pockets of deep water where walleyes will typically hold. But for the person who is unfamiliar with the lake, it's mostly shallow, flat bottom leaves you puzzled as to just where to begin your angling efforts.

In recent years, the secret to pulling walleyes from Houghton Lake was trolling the edges of the various weedlines. In 2001, however, local residents choose to rid the lake of much of this vegetation. The resulting open water left many anglers without their standard means of locating fish. With much of the weeds removed, anglers would do well to cover as much water as possible by trolling crankbaits or spinner rigs. Once a fish is caught, mark the spot and circle back through it a couple more times.

During the early season, a good place to begin your fishing efforts can be found off the public boat ramp near M-55. The walleyes will hold in 4 to 6 feet of water early in the morning while making their way into one of two 9- to 12-foot holes just to the north.

A 15-foot hole area can be found in a bay on the lake's west shore. This area will hold good numbers of walleye in the summer and well into fall. Here, try trolling the remaining weeds with a crawler harness or drift with a Lindy Rig.

The weeds and a dropoff in an area referred to as the Middle Grounds will hold walleyes throughout much of the summer when boating activity is at its highest. This section is only 8 to 12 feet deep, but the fish here are often scattered and difficult to locate. Look for trolling to work best here, but be sure to get out before the main armada.

For information on lodging, contact the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at (989) 366-5644. For fishing information, call The Edgewater Beach Marina at (989) 422-4221.

At 8,850 acres, this Alcona County lake offers anglers unlimited options. Mostly known for its abundance of smaller eater-sized walleyes, Hubbard still gives up a number of larger, trophy-class fish each year.

"Hubbard Lake has several strong year-classes of walleyes present and enjoys ample natural reproduction, which is bolstered by occasional large fingerling plants," said Tom Moore of Hubbard Lake. "I've been a resident of this area for over 20 years

and I'm still fascinated with the fishing on Hubbard. I strongly recommend that anglers bring a lake chart with them to locate the breaklines and holes. That's where your fish will be most of the time."

According to Moore, a number of techniques will take walleyes from Hubbard.

"During the summer, trolling techniques will take the majority of fish," he said. "You have to be prepared to pull spinners or crankbaits through some rather deep water. During the early part of the season, before the temperatures get too high, you should be able to pull out a limit from shallow areas. But once it gets hot, start working deep."

Right after the season opener, begin to target the dropoffs around Churchill Point and Doctor's Point using live bait, spinner rigs and jigs tipped with minnows. As the season progresses, switch the minnows out for a leech or crawler.

One key element to catching Hubbard Lake walleyes involves the use of a good sonar unit. This lake gets rather deep and has a number of fish-holding ledges. A good number of walleyes can be taken off these ledges if you can find and stay over them.

For bait and tackle, contact the Side Door Bait and Tackle in Lincoln at (989) 736-6418. For additional fishing information, call South Bay Marina at (989) 736-6418. Lodging contacts can be made through the Alpena Chamber of Commerce by calling (989) 354-4181.

Considered by anglers familiar to this drowned river-mouth lake as one of the state's best inland walleye waters, Muskegon carries a love/hate relationship between anglers. The lake can be tough to learn and fish to folks new to the area. Its stockpile of logs, manmade structure and holes, and dirty water renders it a nightmare to those unfamiliar with this fishery. On the other hand, those are all some of the same reasons Muskegon maintains the quality of fishing that it has.

"The lake if chock full of forage at times," said pro walleye angler Mark Martin. "This can really be a good thing in that all this food is a draw to the walleyes. But with all this forage available, it can be tough to get fish to strike lures. Your best bet is to appeal to the fish's instinct to strike. You know, sort of tease them into hitting."

Martin has been fishing Muskegon for a number of years and certainly knows this lake and the top angling techniques as well as anyone.

According to Martin, the alewives begin leaving the lake in early July, which makes the fishing improve substantially. This peak period of walleye fun will usually continue until around mid-August.

During this period, anglers can expect to do well using live-bait rigs along the various weedbeds and breaklines. And if night-fishing is your thing, this is certainly the place and time to do it. The night action here will continue late into the fall, with some of the largest fish coming from October through December.

By using crankbaits and trolling techniques, anglers can catch a fair share of their walleyes along the woodpiles, breaklines and riprap in the channel that connects Muskegon to Lake Michigan. This area can be productive, but conditions on Lake Michigan can make the water tough to navigate.

For information on lodging and launch facilities, contact the Muskegon Visitors Bureau at (269) 759-7254. For charters and guide service, call Capt. Tom Irwin at T.G.I.F. Walleye Charters at (269) 744-8451.

Even though Burt Lake has received a great deal of fishing pressure over the years, this 17,000-acre lake has managed to maintain itself as a respectable walleye fishery. At Michigan's fourth-largest lake, its shear size may well be the reason it continues to do so well despite the angling pressure.

Natural reproduction is the main source of replenishment here, but occasional stocking has taken place over the years. Anglers will find that the average size in Burt isn't likely to capture any Master Angler Program award. Instead, these fish are going to be in the range of 14 to 18 inches in length. Good eating to say the least!

During the early season, look to rock and gravel shorelines for the majority of walleyes. The points and dropoffs near these areas will hold fish through most of the spring. One such spot can be found off the junction of Burt Lake Road and Mullett-Burt. Here, most fish remain in the 5-to 15-foot depths and can be caught until midsummer.

During the summer months look for the walleyes to hold along a section south of the M-89 public boat ramp. Spinner rigs trolled with crawlers or Lindy Rigs are a pretty good bet to use here. Once fall arrives, the current of the Sturgeon River acts as an attractant to this lake's walleye population. Troll or cast jigs and minnows along the dropoff during the daylight hours and cast the shallows with minnow-imitating lures at night.

Public boat launches are located off Brutus Road at the south end of the lake and off Highway 89 along the western shoreline.

The Upper Peninsula's Keweenaw Peninsula is home to what just might be the best body of water in the U.P. for taking really big walleyes. Portage Lake has and continues to earn the reputation for giving up not only numbers of fish, but at least a couple Master Angler 'eyes each year. What's particularly amazing about this feat is the fact that most of these fish are caught during the summer when they don't have any appreciable egg weight. Now that's I call real hogs!

Portage Lake is a fairly shallow body of water connected to Lake Superior on either side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. It becomes a fairly difficult to fish at times because of an abundance of weed growth. Here again, this lake's adversities may also be the exact reason the fish are as plentiful and grow as large as they do.

Planning and patience will be important to success here. With thick vegetation, plenty of structure and numerous points to work, it's a good idea to check with local anglers and bait shop personal to formulate a time-saving plan for catching Portage Lake walleyes.

Once located, standard crawler rigs made to be weedless, or skimming them over the top of greenery should work well. Pitching jigs tipped with rattles and crawlers into weed pockets can take fish as well, but I personally find this technique too slow.

When fishing Portage Lake for the first time, it's a good idea to have a guide along. For information on guides, lodging or the lake itself, call the Visitor's Bureau at (906) 482-5240.

Time and time again, Lake Gogebic comes to the forefront of conversations on Michigan walleyes. This 12,800-acre lake is the pride and joy of U.P. anglers, and with good reason.

"The fishing is pretty fantastic," declared Richard Smith of The Walleye Lodg

e near Bergland. "Pike, perch, panfish, you name it, it's here. But the real prize to Gogebic is the walleyes. This is place specializes in 'ole marble-eye."

Smith should have a pretty good handle on this lake. Having lived and fished in the area for most of his life, he knows it as well as anyone.

"You don't come here to expecting to catch a lot of huge wallhangers," he said. "Anglers can typically catch enough 15- to 18-inch fish to keep them coming back."

Of course, there's the scenery, too. If your idea of great fishing is sitting in a boat surrounded with pristine surroundings, this is just the place you need to be.

The average depth of the lake is 17 feet, with a break along the east side that drops to 35 feet. Lindy Rigs and bait-walkers backtrolled or drifted along the break can produce fish throughout the summer months.

Access to Lake Gogebic can be obtained from several points around the lake, with the best spots located off Slate Road on the east side and Ontonagon Road near the west shore. For more information on area lodging, call the Lake Gogebic Area Chamber of Commerce at (906) 842-3341.

* * *
There, that should keep you busy until it's time to break out the ice-fishing gear once again!

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