February 02, 2016
The best day to go fishing is any day you can get out there on the water! That much we know. Fortunately, good opportunities are abundant and can be enjoyed 12 months of the year here in Michigan. You just have to figure out the best direction to point the truck.
With that in mind, we've selected three of the finest options for each month of the year, with spots scattered all over the state that provide chances to target a variety of fish species. Now you just need to block out some days to get out there!
Munising Bay Splake
Why not start out your year of fishing with a trip to the far north to try ice-fishing on Munising Bay off Lake Superior? Beyond being beautiful and remote, this area offers the unique opportunity to catch splake, which are brook trout/lake trout hybrids. The splake generally bite well during January and can be found fairly shallow. Tip a jig with a small minnow or put a live minnow on a hook and fish it as a dead-stick.
Whitefish are plentiful in Munising Bay during January and are commonly caught with the splake, and depending on how the season has progressed and the condition of the ice over deeper water, you could even catch coho salmon, lake trout and brown trout.
Do check ice conditions and road conditions before traveling, especially if you live some distance away. The ice formed unusually late last winter, and plentiful snow and strong winds kept it from setting up as well as normal. Plenty of fish got caught, as always is the case, but the condition of the ice remained part of the conversation throughout the winter.
Houghton Lake Northern Pike
Michigan's largest inland lake supports an outstanding northern pike population, with huge numbers of fish and some very large pike in the mix. During February, ice conditions on this shallow lake tend to be good. Pike cruise vast weedy flats, always wanting to feed, and when the bite is on, good fishing can be widespread.
For an ice rod approach, it's hard to beat jigging with a fairly aggressive lure like a Rapala Jigging Rap or a Lindy Darter. Dead-sticking a live minnow can be very productive. Bait stores around Houghton Lake carry several varieties of minnows and can tell you the kind that has been producing the best catches.
Houghton pike lend themselves to walk-on or snowmobile access for a do-it-yourself approach. However, several resorts and shops also offer reasonably priced shanty rentals that include transportation. The shanties are kept in areas where fish have been biting. If you don't have a lot of equipment or don't want to mess with a shelter, this is a great way to go straight to fishing.
Crystal Lake Lake Trout
Since winter has a way of hanging around, we'll make the best of it by highlighting one more icy destination. Crystal Lake, which covers about 10,000 acres just east of Lake Michigan and west of Traverse City, gets stocked with 60,000 lake trout per year and produces very good winter fishing. Most lakers caught are in the 5- to 10-pound range, but much larger fish show up regularly.
Lake trout use deep water most of the winter. Most anglers fish with tip-ups baited with smelt or other fish and set deep. However, jigging with a big noisy spoon can be very productive, especially during late winter, when snow cover tends to be heavier. That's because the sound and vibration helps the fish find the offering and prompts strikes. Spoons generally need to be tipped with a big minnow head or cut smelt.
Detroit River Walleyes
Spring brings one of the nation's finest fishing opportunities as thousands of walleyes pour into the Detroit River to spawn. The fish begin arriving in February, and by the beginning of April, numbers are normally outstanding. Beyond being super-abundant, the fish tend to be big.
Drifting is the primary way to target Detroit River walleyes. Most anglers jig vertically as they drift, using jigs tipped with minnows. One real key is to keep the bait at the bottom, where most fish are, but not dragging.
Expect crowds. When the run is full force, the Detroit River becomes very popular. That doesn't hurt fishing as there are plenty of fish for everyone, but it does call for extra alertness while drifting in the swift current and at times extra patience and self-control!
Lake St. Clair Smallmouths
Staying in the Detroit area, Lake St. Clair offers some of the finest smallmouth bass fishing in the country, and during May the smallies feed actively and can be caught many different ways. All bass fishing is catch-and-release and restricted to the U.S. side of the lake during May.
That's OK though. Many bass fishermen are only interested in the sport that smallies provide, even when the harvest season is open. And U.S. waters provide plenty of fine places to fish!
Generally speaking, the fish are shallow during May. They use areas both along the lake's edges and out in the open, though, and effective May lures range from tubes to jerkbaits to spinnerbaits to swimbaits. Some anglers use traditional Great Lakes strategies, drifting and dragging plastics across big flats.
Others work specific structural features or isolated rocks by casting crankbaits or jerkbaits. The common denominator is that when St. Clair is "on" during May, everyone catches big smallmouth bass.
St. Marys River Salmon
Several salmon species make runs into the St. Marys River, which connects lakes Superior and Huron, and most runs occur late in the summer or during the fall. June, however, brings the beginning of the Atlantic salmon run and potentially fine action from high-flying salmon. Some Atlantics actually stay in the St Marys year 'round, but early summer brings a fresh batch of supercharged fish into the river
Much Atlantic salmon fishing is done by trolling, but you can cast to them with flies or with conventional tackle. Fly-fishing with streamers is the most popular casting strategy, but the same fish will hammer minnow-style lures that are worked quickly, and spinning gear allows most anglers to cast farther and to cover water more efficiently. Use small minnow baits in colors that suggest smelt, and keep the bait moving.
Both because of the timing of runs and because of varying water levels, the nature of the fishing and the best areas can vary dramatically, so get a current local report. Some of the best waters, including rapids that can be waded at some water levels, are on the Canadian side, and require a separate license and remote crossing clearance.
Fletcher Pond Largemouths
First a note about the name. Fletcher "Pond" isn't exactly a pond. It covers 9,000 acres. That said, if you picture ponds to be shallow, stumpy and weedy and to serve up excellent largemouth bass fishing, you might get a fairly accurate picture, based on the name alone. More important than the name is the fact that the bass fishing heats up with the weather during July.
Fletcher Pond is pond-like in the way it is best approached. The bass make heavy use of weedbeds, stumps and other shallow, visible cover. Rig traditional shallow bass lures, like buzzbaits, Texas-rigged worms, spinnerbaits and square-billed crankbaits, and work quickly, fishing everything that looks good. A frog can work really well for drawing bass up out of the weeds.
Lake Michigan Chinook Salmon
Lake Michigan supports a strong population of chinook or king salmon, and August opens opportunities to many anglers. At the beginning of the month the fish normally remain deep, so targeting them requires a big boat and tackle designed for big-water, controlled-depth trolling.
As the month progresses, though, the fish begin moving shallower and then toward river mouths. By the end of the month, some have moved into the rivers, where they will eventually spawn, others are staging near the lakeshore, and others remain deep.
The fish in transition provide outstanding opportunities to fish from the many piers that are scattered along the Lake Michigan shore or to wade in the surf with long rods, which allow for long casts. In either case, big surface lures, crankbaits and minnow-imitating lures draw savage strikes from fish that are doing their final binge of serious feeding before they begin the rigors of the spawn.This migration provides an unparalleled chance to catch salmon from the big lake without going out in a boat.
Lake St. Clair Muskellunge
If you want to know how good the Lake St. Clair muskellunge population is, just talk to St. Clair bass fishermen, who commonly have big muskies chasing their baits or even trying to grab the smallmouths they are fighting! September cooling activates St. Clair's plentiful muskies and draws them onto shallow flats, creating a spectacular opportunity to catch these huge, toothy fish.
Trolling big in-line spinners, spoons or plugs is the most efficient way to find Lake St. Clair muskies. If at least some wind is blowing (which it usually is) a great alternative is to drift across a big flat and cast the same kinds of lures, ever watching for followers and for cruising fish.
If you do see a fish that doesn't hit, drop a quick waypoint or do some triangulating to mark the spot and then return, drop anchor, and fish hard. A muskie often will maintain positioned around a certain piece of cover and can be coaxed into biting.
Elk Lake Smallmouths
Jumbo smallmouth bass abound in the ultra-clear waters of Elk Lake, but with so many opportunities for trout, salmon, walleyes and other species in the Traverse City area, the bronzebacks don't get much attention. That's especially true during October, despite the fact that the smallmouth action tends to be going like gangbusters.
Like many species, the smallmouths sense tougher days ahead and they feed heavily during October. Begin with jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and swimbaits, cast across points and over rockpiles, and work the baits fairly quickly at first.
Slow the baits down, if fish don't respond, switch to bottom presentations with tubes or soft-plastic craws. Always try the aggressive approach first, though, because October fish are prone to chase and attack, even on cold days.
If the fish won't cooperate at Elk or you want a change of scenery, follow the canal that connects to Lake Skegemog, which is shallower and has more cover but holds similarly big and plentiful smallmouth bass.
Grand River Steelhead
By November, large numbers of fall steelhead normally have piled into the Grand River, where they'll stay through the spring. The best time to fish the fall run is a tough call because early in the season, there are fewer fish in the river; however, the fish are the strongest and the most aggressive when they first arrive.
The timing also varies substantially based on the level and temperature of the river. Variables acknowledged, November normally offers a nice balance of fish freshness and abundance and offers very good fishing.
Some of the best fall fishing occurs in Grand Rapids' namesake rapids, between downtown buildings. The river is large there, though, and so wading caution is critical. Access points in the form of parks, forest areas, and road rights-of-way are scattered all along this big river, though, and as fall progresses, more and more fish will move farther up the Grand and into its tributaries.
Most anglers drift spawn or jigs under floats, often with center-pin outfits. Fly-fishing with egg patterns and casting in-line spinners or minnow-imitating lures on spinning gear can be very effective.
Lake Gogebic Yellow Perch
To wrap up the year, we'll return to the ice and the Upper Peninsula, where serious winter temperatures arrive early. Lake Gogebic, the largest inland lake in the U.P., typically ices over quite early because it gets so cold that far north. It is a deep lake, though, and that depth, along with heavy snowfall, can hamper ice formation. Check conditions before traveling.
Lake Gogebic supports an excellent yellow perch population, with some serous jumbos in the mix. Perch start the ice season relatively shallow and feed well through early ice. Several lodges and shops stay open all winter so get current local advice regarding general areas and productive depths.
Perch sometimes school in highly localized spots and it isn't always obvious why they are in a spot but not a similar one 15 feet away. Drill several holes and move frequently until you catch fish. Use an ice jig or small rattling spoon tipped with a minnow head or suspend a live minnow barely off the bottom.