February 22, 2012
I jokingly referred to a trip around Michigan last year as the Michigan Odyssey. The dictionary defines odyssey as "a long adventurous journey." I was indeed hoping the trip would turn out to be a long, adventurous fishing journey.
Plans began months before and the idea was to get as much fishing between seminars and family gatherings as humanly possible. But I was being realistic, too. Even the best-laid plans can go awry due to weather, mechanical failure and other unforeseen natural and unnatural disasters. So I figured, if three of the five trips I had planned were a success, I'd be more than happy.
As it turned out, things could not have worked out better. The weather cooperated and fishing was incredible. While not all the fish were trophy class, the trip did provide some lunkers and memorable catches and a cooler full of filets to take home. In all, I caught 13 different species of fish on the trip.
If you think about it, that's not all that difficult in Michigan, regardless of the season. You might have to travel a little bit, but there are so many angling opportunities in Michigan that catching a variety of fish species is the norm rather than the exception.
Following is a calendar of fishing destinations and opportunities that you can use to plan your own odyssey this year.
Muskegon Lake Smorgasbord
The great thing about ice-fishing on Muskegon County's Muskegon Lake is the variety. The 4,150-acre drowned river mouth lake is home to northerns, walleyes, resident and Lake Michigan perch, and decent bluegills. If one species isn't biting, chances are good something else is.
"Muskegon Lake has a lot of perch in it right now," said Matt Schalk. "We had a lot of small perch, but they've grown to nice size now." Schalk said there's a mix of resident Muskegon Lake perch and Lake Michigan jumbos. Most perch average 9 to 11 inches, but 13- to 14-inch jumbos are not uncommon.
The prime area for perch is off the Sand Docks in 30 to 40 feet of water. Another hotspot is off the Milwaukee Clipper in 60 to 70 feet of water all the way to the black/red buoy. Schalk advised anglers to use extreme caution when ice-fishing on Muskegon Lake due to the lake's depth, currents and changing ice conditions. Wigglers fished under a slip-bobber take the most perch, but the real jumbos prefer walleye-sized shiner minnows.
"Bluegill fishing can be very good at first ice off the Conservation Club on the northeast end of the lake, in the Muskegon Yacht Club, and off Snug Harbor on the northwest side," said Schalk.
"There are some good pike caught every winter off First and Second streets on the north side of the lake," Schalk said. Most of the pike measure 24 to 36 inches, but northerns topping 20 pounds are taken every winter. "A lot of guys fish right from their vehicles in the marinas," claimed Schalk. Check out Harbor Town, Hartshorn Marina and Heritage Landing for the best "truck fishing." Slammer tip-ups with golden shiners, dead smelt or jumbo suckers take the gators.
Walleyes are an added bonus on Muskegon Lake. Anglers target the 15- to 30-foot depths off Second Street and Strawberry Island and occasionally take limits of 'eyes ranging from just-legal to double-digit trophies. Contact Shoreline Services at (231) 759-7254.
Hamlin Lake produces some great bluegill fishing on first-ice. Houghton County's Rice Lake is hot for northerns in January.
Saginaw Bay Walleyes
February finds safe ice conditions across Saginaw Bay. Thick ice provides access to the 17- to 24-foot depths where walleye schools reside in the winter. Anglers can gain access at numerous road ends and public access points from Bay City State Park to Pinconning. It's a 5-mile run to productive water. Some form of transportation is a must. Watch for pressure cracks and other hazards when traversing the ice. Conditions change quickly, and so anglers are encouraged to check with tackle stores, anglers and other sources regarding current ice conditions.
A mid-winter hotspot is the "Black Hole" off Linwood. The Hole features the deepest water in the inner bay and walleyes gravitate to it. Start shallower and then work toward deeper water as the morning action wanes. Reverse the program in the afternoon. The hottest fishing is early and late in the day, but anglers who keep moving, avoid groups of fishermen, and punch holes catch fish all day. Trophy walleyes are scarce in the bay right now, but catching a limit of 2- to 5-pounders isn't difficult.
Jigging Swedish Pimples, Do Jiggers or Rattlin' Buckshot spoons are proven baits. A dead stick with a lively shiner minnow and a slip-bobber will fool walleyes attracted by jigging.
For information on ice conditions and tackle, contact Frank's Great Outdoors in Lynnwood at (989) 697-5341 or go online to www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.
Perch fishing is very good on last ice off the mouth of the Pine River in Wigwam Bay.
Lake Independence Perch
One of the U. P.'s most famous perch venues has undergone a perch rebound in recent years. During a normal winter, a lot of perch in the 10- to 12-inch range and jumbo 14- to 15-inchers are common. Fishing is good all winter, but the action heats up as spring approaches.
Lake Independence covers 1,860 acres and is relatively shallow for its size. Few places top 30 feet and an expansive flat in the center offers ideal perch habitat. Locate weed edges or humps on the mud flats that attract roaming schools of perch. Some of the biggest perch are caught on tip-ups baited with shiner minnows intended for walleyes. A slip-bobber anchored with a bell sinker and a perch rig baited with wax worms or wigglers is standard tackle. Jigging Rapalas and Swedish Pimples take some of the biggest jumbos. Last ice usually produces a hot bite.
For information contact the Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-544-4321 or online at marquettecountry.org
Ludington Brown Trout
Ludington was the recipient of the MDNRE's super plants of brown trout in 2010. The bumper crop of 60,000 browns is already starting to pay big dividends. Anglers reported catching limits of 2- to 4-pound trout last spring. Those fish should be 6 to 8 pounds this spring and will be joined by another mega year-class.
The Pere Marquette, Lincoln and Sable rivers are a major attraction to spring browns. Small boats troll the beach between the rivers and off the color lines. Browns chase a myriad of baitfish in the tepid, murky water. Body baits behind in-line planer boards are standard fare. Dipsey Divers and Slider Divers pulling spoons take the occasional brownie, too. Target the deep water between sandbars as close to shore as you dare. Shorebound anglers do well off the break walls using live bait, spawn and spoons.
For more information on Ludington's spring brown trout contact Capt. Chuck's at (231) 843-4458.
April is prime time for hawg walleyes on the Detroit River.
Look for slab bluegills to begin moving into the shallows on Ogemaw County's Island Lake in April.
Check out the best Michigan Fishing options for May, June, July and August on page two
Little Bay De Noc Walleyes
The Upper Peninsula's Little Bay De Noc produces tremendous walleye fishing throughout the year, but many diehard walleye anglers head there in May to take advantage of the walleye opener.
"Spring walleye fishing on Little Bay De Noc really depends a lot on the local weather patterns and water temperatures at the time," stated guide Ken Lee. "If we have an early spring and the water warms up, the walleyes are usually up shallow (less than 15 feet) feeding on minnows, gobies, and spawning perch."
Lee said you can't beat drifting with a floating jighead tipped with just half a nightcrawler for numbers of fish. "I like to use a sliding pencil sinker above a ball-bearing swivel, then about 3 to 5 feet of fluorocarbon leader tied to a Walleye's Choice Floating Jig," suggested Lee. "A two-toned chartreuse/orange or two-tone green is hard to beat."
To sample Little Bay De Noc's spring walleye action contact Captain Ken Lee at (906) 553-4850 or online at www.sallmarresort.net.
Lake Erie Walleyes
June produces some of the most consistent walleye fishing in the Michigan waters of Lake Erie. Anglers will find great fishing and good access off ports like Luna Pier, Otter Creek, Bolles Harbor, Sterling State Park and Erie Metropark. Anglers will find plenty of walleyes in the shallows between 12 and 16 feet early in the month. Later, walleyes will begin migrating toward the Ohio state line. Try between 15 and 23 feet of water then. Most of the 'eyes will run 2 to 4 pounds.
The trick is to play the wind and locate clean water. A south wind will push dirty water and weeds back toward the Detroit River mouth. A downwind troll at 1.0 to 1.5 mph seems to produce best for walleyes. Crawler harnesses with copper blades and purple, red, or pink beads are hot. Use smaller blades if the water is very clear. Run the harnesses with 1 ounce of weight 20 to 40 feet back of in-line boards and adjust your spread as the fish dictate.
For more information contact R&D Sport Fishing Charters at (248) 684-4237 or online at passintime.com.
Look for big browns slurping mayflies on the Au Sable River in June.
Lake St. Clair Smallmouths
Lake St. Clair may be the best smallmouth lake in the world. It's not uncommon to catch 50 to 100 bass in a single outing that will average 2 to 5 pounds. I can't imagine better bass fishing than that.
July is prime time for Lake St. Clair smallies. A key to the great smallmouth fishing is the goby. "Lake Erie seems to have more of the reef and rock structure that gobies like. Lake St. Clair has a lot more grass, but bass eat gobies like crazy on both lakes," claimed bass pro Gerry Gostenik at (313) 319-0100; greatlakesbassfishing.com. "On Lake St. Clair, the gobies run 2 to 3 inches and they're a lighter color." It's important to match the hatch in size and color.
Two techniques cover the bases for St. Clair smallmouths — dragging, hopping or skipping tube jigs or drop-shotting with goby imitations. For a great selection of Great Lakes tubes and drop-shotting tackle, check out Provider Tackle at (586) 531-2821, www.providertackle.com.
Plenty of 50-inch-plus muskies are caught on Lake St. Clair during July.
Schools of husky Chinooks converge on Manistee in August. "It usually takes a big blow to bring the fish into the pier heads," suggested Captain Paul Schlafley. "It's usually mid-August before the real run of kings shows up." Schlafley said that kings stacked up in a hole just outside the south pier heads when cool water draws them in close. "Beach fishing was awesome last year," he said. Hot combinations are three-or four-color lead-core rigs trailing a glow plug. Shallow-set Slider Divers take fish in the skinny water, too.
Anglers will find kings in the Manistee River, as well. "Generally, we fish from 15 to 18 feet down. You can go upstream as far as the marinas, but I usually turn around at the boat launch. In front of the Coast Guard Station is usually pretty good." Schlafley said a hodgepodge of plugs, flashers and spoons work then.
To sample Manistee's August kings, contact Capt. Paul Schlafley at (231) 723-4901 or go online to the Web site www.riversidecharters.com.
Make sure to check out the best Michigan fishing options for September, October, November and December on page three
Fortune Lakes Bluegills
The tourists will be long gone and you'll have the Fortune Lakes bluegills all to yourself in September. Bewabic State Park is a great base of operations.
Located just off U.S. Highway 2 near Crystal Falls, the chain of lakes range in size from 20 to 200 acres and are well known for slab 'gills. Ravenous schools of bluegills move into weed edges located in 5 to 15 feet of water to feed. Drift the edges until you run into an active school. Suspend a teardrop and wax worms under a slip-bobber for nonstop action. The 'gills will average 7 1/2- to 9-inches, but ones topping 10 inches are common. You might find some jumbo perch in the same waters.
For more information on camping in the area call Bewabic State Park at 1-800-447-2757. For bait shops, amenities and lodging in the area, contact the Iron County Tourism Council at (906) 265-3822 or www.tryiron.org.
The Big Manistee River will be full of mature Chinook salmon in September.
Gene's Pond Largemouths
Gene's Pond is not your typical west-end-of-the-U.P. lake. To most, it looks more like a southern reservoir. And like a southern reservoir, it's loaded with big largemouths.
An impoundment of the East Branch of the Sturgeon River, the lake features a lot of flooded timber, weedlines, stumps and ideal largemouth cover. Work topwater baits or buzz spinnerbaits near cover for explosive action. Calm Indian summer days are perfect. 5-pound bucketmouths are fairly common.
Gene's Pond is located approximately five miles north of Felch, off CR-581. For more information, contact Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Crystal Falls, (906) 875-6622.
Fall rains draw steelhead into Gogebic County's Presque Isle River.
Lake Michigammee Walleyes
4,360-acre Lake Michigammee is dark, tannic-stained, loaded with rock and gravel and perfect walleye water. Located in west-central Marquette County, fall finds the 'eyes concentrated off the Peshekee River and near a cluster of islands in the center of the lake. Locals troll gold/orange Rapalas across the river mouth. Walleyes are also caught using a jig-and-minnow or suspending a minnow under a slip-bobber. The lake is also famous for its jumbo perch.
Van Riper State Park on the east end of the lake features both rustic and modern camping facilities. For information, call (906) 339-4461.
Au Sable River Steelhead
It's usually December before pods of fall-run steelheads make their way into the lower Au Sable River. The silvery rainbows take up stations in deep runs and pools downstream of Foote Dam. Drift-boaters hot-shot with plugs to good success. Shore-bound anglers drift spawn bags in the tail of runs or behind visible salmon beds. The steelies average 5 to 10 pounds, but 15-pound rainbows aren't uncommon.
Access can be gained at Rea Road, The Clay Banks, at the Whirlpool PAS, in Oscoda and via numerous fire trails off River Road. Contact Wellman's Sport Center at (989) 739-2869.