When it comes to states offering a variety of fishing opportunities, Michigan has to be right at the top of the list. With an abundant number of lakes and rivers, a big problem can be knowing when to fish which body of water. To shed light on the situation, I interviewed professional angler Mark Martin from Twin Lake about the best hotspots in the state for each month of the year.
Over the last three decades, Martin has fished several hundred lakes in Michigan, and so it is safe to say he knows where to find the fish and where the hot bite is during each month.
Regardless of whether you are an ice-fisherman, an open-water fisherman or both, one thing is certain: The following guide will surely provide you with plenty of information for your next fishing trip. You will notice an accompanying fishing calendar that provides additional fishing hotspots from around our state. In fact, we are providing you with 36 different fishing locations. You are sure to find a few of them in your neck of the woods.
Lake Gogebic Walleyes
In the month of January, one of Martin's favorite places for ice-fishing is in the Upper Peninsula. His favorite body of water is Lake Gogebic at the western end of the Upper Peninsula, and for good reason.
"This lake is the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula and it holds lots of fish," he says. "Both ends of this lake hold a variety of fish species during January, but I target walleyes. The weed growth hasn't died off completely and, as a result, the fish are always hanging out in and along the weeds. I am typically fishing in 15 feet of water or less, and the fish are typically stacked up in the shallow water where the baitfish are.
"An angler can catch all kinds of different species in this lake. My favorite, of course, is the walleye. I always like to have at least one tip-up out and then I have two jigging rods going at the same time. I like using jigging Rapalas and bouncing them off the bottom, which creates commotion and draws the fish in to my presentation."
Remember to dress warmly. Last winter the temperatures on this lake reached 63 below zero with the wind chill when Martin was ice-fishing!
Saginaw Bay Walleyes
It is hard for Martin to discuss ice-fishing without talking about Saginaw Bay on the east side of the state. Saginaw is known to be a great walleye fishery and February is a great time to get on the hard water and go after them.
"It is important to note when fishing Saginaw Bay that anglers need to be very careful," said Martin. "The bay is known for having spots of open water even when there is good ice, and so anglers need to pay close attention. That said, when I fish the bay, I often key in on the pressure cracks where the ice breaks. I don't fish right on the cracks, but I fish nearby.
"Often below the cracks there is a rise in the terrain on the bottom. There is very little structure on the bottom of the bay so the fish hang out on any rise or fall that can be found on bottom and those elevation changes are often found by the pressure cracks. I am typically fishing in 10 to 12 feet of water.
"Just like when I am fishing Lake Gogebic, I like having a tip-up out and using jigging Rapalas on the bottom to catch the walleyes. It is important to note that if I miss a fish when jigging, I never reel in and start again. I keep the Rapala in the water. What happens is the fish I missed often turn right around can strike again. Every angler owes it to themselves to fish Saginaw Bay in the dead of winter."
Bay De Noc Perch
For the month of March, Martin goes back to the Upper Peninsula to fish Bay De Noc in Escanaba. "It is a tossup as to what species to chase during March. You can really catch some big walleyes during the first half of the month, but then walleye season closes.
"At this point, you can really start targeting the yellow belly perch. People come from all over the place to catch the perch here. They are really big and there are lots of them."
Anglers can go shallow or deep when fishing perch. Many anglers fish in water that is 20 to 50 feet. The most popular bait is probably wigglers. To attract fish, some use spoons tipped with live bait. Bright spoons often attract the fish to the presentation.
The best way to find the fish is with a fishfinder. If you don't have a fishfinder, follow the crowds. Like when fishing walleyes, Martin likes to bounce his lure on bottom.
"Many people assume that the perch will be suspended, but often they are hugging bottom. Much of what they eat is right on bottom. Bouncing a lure off bottom will bring them in."
Detroit River Walleyes
When April arrives, Martin heads to the Detroit River to fish for walleyes. "Live bait is what is most popular when fishing the Detroit River, but plastics are becoming more popular. I am having a lot of success with them. The wide array of colors that you can get with plastics works well in the murky water of the river.
"If I am fishing there for several days in a row, I don't assume the same colored plastic will work every day. Some days one color works and some day another works. I like 4-inch Gulp! split tail minnows. Then I add a little paddle tail of a worm and it really works well. It sometimes seems that bigger presentations work well on the river.
Blues, blacks, fire-tiger and a variety of other colors work well. The walleyes are spawning in 10 to 30 feet of water, which is where I fish. I like to fish Trenton Channel or by the steel mills. These two places seem to produce lots of fish this time of year."
Lake Michigan King Salmon
As the weather warms up, one thing many anglers with big boats love to do is to go after salmon in Lake Michigan. The kings really start getting cranked up at this time of year. One guy who spends more time on the water than most chasing kings is Dave Engle from Best Chance Too Charters.
"The nice thing about fishing kings in May is they often hit really well," Engle said. "We can catch a lot of them. A couple of our favorite ports to fish out of are St. Joseph and Muskegon. We typically troll in 50 to 70 feet of water and we will troll 15 miles or so in one direction in search of fish. When you start locating fish, you simply go back and forth fishing. When the kings are turned on, we catch many of them in the cold water. It is also common to catch a few steelhead and lakers. Anglers that like trolling should give this a try."
Duck Lake Bluegills
In the summer, it is hard to beat panfishing, especially if you have kids who enjoy fishing. One of the best places to fish for large bluegills in the summer is on Duck Lake in West Michigan. Probably the best place to find the bluegills is near the State Park.
In June, when the weather warms up, the bluegills start to invade the shallows to bed. At that time it is not uncommon to be able to catch a limit in a few hours. For those who like to keep things simple, just use a bobber and crawler. Another great tactic is to fly-fish for them with rubber spiders. Simply landing a rubber spider right on the top of their beds can quickly fill a stringer.
Hamlin Lake Bluegills
Another place to fish for panfish during the summer is Upper Hamlin Lake in Ludington. Hamlin Lake is known for having large numbers of panfish. The upper lake has large weedbeds throughout the shallows. Finding these weedbeds is key to finding large bluegills. One area many anglers focus on is near the drop off by the dunes by the State Park. Find the drop off and you will likely find a lot of bluegills.
Other options: While fishing for bluegills, also consider going after northern pike. They hang out in the weedbeds chasing panfish and baitfish there and can be very aggressive.
White Lake Walleyes
Mark Martin loves fishing for walleyes at night. One West Michigan lake that he loves targeting is White Lake. "Any drowned river mouth lake like White Lake produces good numbers of walleyes," he said. "At night, you can expect to catch some big ones. I like using a No. 13 floating Rapala with Fireline and a stiff rod at night. The big walleyes really go crazy over the thing.
"There is no perfect place to find them (the walleyes) because they move so much at night. One night you will find them not far from the mouth of the White River. The next night they might be in the channel.
"I catch walleyes in this lake that were actually tagged in Lake Erie. Many of the walleyes in this lake are nomads. They go all over the place. The cool thing about that is you end up catching a variety of age class and some real whoppers."
Bear Lake Northern Pike
Northern pike really put up a fight, taste great, and are plentiful. One lake in northern Michigan that offers great pike fishing is Bear Lake. The lake receives a lot of fishing pressure in the summer because it is a resort lake, but when fall arrives, it doesn't receive near as much. The northwest corner of the lake has a lot of weed growth and lots of ledges that the pike and baitfish key in on. Dropping anchor there and casting into the weeds is sure to produce a lot of fish. Stickbaits and spinners are the way to go.
Copper Harbor Splake
When fall arrives, Martin heads for the Upper Peninsula and fishes Copper Harbor at Kewanaw Peninsula. "There are a variety of species here," says Martin, "including really big splake. I enjoy going after the splake. When most people think about fishing here, they don't think about the splake, but the splake fishing is amazing.
"These fish look like a brook trout but are much bigger. We catch 10-pound splake there. They come into the harbor in October to start feeding aggressively for the winter. They really pile up in the harbor and are fairly easy to catch. We cast jigs, minnows, and Husky Jerks. They hit all kinds of things. It is a lot of fun and worth the trip north."
Houghton Lake Walleyes
The biggest freshwater inland lake in Michigan is Houghton Lake. During November, most people are hunting but Martin says it is a great time to be on the water fishing for walleyes.
"I like trolling Storm ThunderSticks or Husky Jerk crankbaits and crawler harnesses on planer boards. The lake is big and easy to fish with planer boards. I like using gold blades. They work. I like to troll at about one mile an hour.
"Anglers who prefer to cast will have really good luck also. When casting, I like using Fireline because I can really be aggressive and rip the weeds off my presentation without worrying too much about breaking off. There are a lot of weeds in Houghton Lake, which is why I like using Fireline.
"The best place to fish is probably the north side of the lake. From there, I work toward the south side of the lake. I catch most of the fish on the north side.
Other options: "I catch all kinds of panfish, largemouth bass, and a variety of other species."
Muskegon Lake Bluegill
When December rolls around, many of the lakes in Michigan often don't have much ice on them yet. The lakes that have good ice often produce a lot of fish because the fish are extremely hungry.
"When I am looking for early ice-fishing, I focus on lakes that have small bays that freeze up early. One of my favorites is Muskegon Lake. I often focus on Snug Harbor. It is not uncommon to catch lots of panfish like bluegills when the lake first freezes over. It is a great place to take kids because you often catch fish one right after another."
Snug Harbor offers easy access. There is only about a 100-yard walk from the parking lot at the state park to the harbor where the fishing takes place.
If you are looking for a place to catch lots of fish, the 12 places we've covered here will surely keep you busy.