Michigan’s Best Fall Fishing…
It was about a month after returning from a weeklong float trip down a river in Alaska when I was guiding some clients for salmon on the Big Manistee River near Wellston. It was a bright, sunny, early October day and the fall foliage was ablaze with spectacular colors. The hillsides along the river are made up of a diversity of foliage types and the result was a collage of stunning colors. Brilliant red maples, golden aspens, beeches and oaks adding shades of orange, purple vines clinging to the streamside trees all against the soft, contrasting greens of the white pines.
The scene was breathtaking. And to top it off, feisty coho salmon were keeping our rods bent with regularity. The belligerent cohos would chase the spinners in marauding packs of three or four suitors before one would snatch the prize and shake it like a dog with a new bone. Realizing his error, the crimson-sided salmon would then erupt into and end-over-end series of cartwheels at the sting of the hook before bulldogging for bottom or the protection of a logjam and only after a spirited battle would grudgingly come to the net.
“You know,” I waxed philosophically to my customers after landing our sixth coho, “other than the mountains, I didn’t see anything any prettier in Alaska than what you’re seeing today. And we didn’t catch many more or any bigger cohos than you’re catching today. And to think that this is within four or five hours of millions of people is really amazing. We need to count our blessings.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
Michiganders are definitely lucky when it comes to fishing. We have a quality and diversity of fishing not found anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) Michigan boasts a number of other outdoor activities to grab your attention in the fall. It’s hard to tear yourself away from the bow hunting, upland bird hunting, and waterfowling to take advantage of the great fall fishing. But I’d be willing to bet that if you give the following destinations a try this fall you’ll be adding them to your autumn itinerary.
Big Manistee River Cohos
The “Big M” is famous for its huge runs of fall chinook salmon and steelhead. Anglers come from all over the country to sample the river’s great fall fishing. The Big Manistee also hosts a modest run of coho salmon. The cohos are the result of annual plants that are being made in the river, in addition to natural reproduction that is now taking place as a result of run-of-the-river regulations.
The cohos usually show up in early October between the time when the chinook run is winding down and the fall steelheads have yet to arrive in significant numbers. The cohos can be caught in the lower portions of the river, but they become more concentrated on the gravel flats near Bear Creek and High Bridge. Pre-spawn cohos can be found in slack water areas adjacent to the gravel, especially around cover. The cohos love bright, flashy spinners in gold and silver with red, orange and pink tape. Key is to cast the spinner across the current allowing the spinner to swing in a wide arc while retrieving slowly. Number 5 spinners, either homemade or brands like Double Loon or Mepps, work well on the aggressive cohos. Most of the salmon will run in the 4- to 8-pound range, but bigger fish are common.
For information on accommodations and amenities near the Big Manistee River contact the Manistee Area Visitors & Convention Bureau at (888) 584-9860 or online at www.manistee.com.
Burt Lake Walleyes
“October is a great time to hit Burt Lake for walleyes,” said avid angler Ron Hanna. “I don’t go a lot of walleye fishing in the fall, but when I have we’ve done really well on Burt Lake. The fish aren’t huge, but most of them will average from 20- to 23 or 24-inches.” Hanna said the fishing is uncomplicated. He usually just drifts with a 1/4-ounce white leadhead jig tipped with a good-sized gray or blue shiner minnow. A methodical 6-inch lift and drop technique is usually what the walleyes want.
17,260-acre Burt Lake is located in west-central Cheboygan County. The lake sees a fair amount of fishing pressure during the summer months, but fall finds the lake nearly deserted. Look for walleye to patrolling the 25-foot ledge off Colonial Point on the west side of the lake and of Bullhead Bay where the Maple and Crooked rivers enter the lake. The entire shoreline from Greenman Point to Dagwell Point in 10 to 30 feet of water can be productive for walleye too.
Anglers can launch at Maple State Forest Campground on the west side of the lake or at Burt Lake State Park on the south end of Burt Lake. For more information on bait shops, restaurants and accommodations in the area contact the Indian River Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Bureau at (231) 238-9325 or online at www.irchamber.com.
The Bear River enters Little Traverse Bay at Petoskey after exiting Walloon Lake in Charlevoix County. The rivers sees annual runs of steelhead and salmon that make their way up to Mitchell Dam. The salmonids draw a crowd when they stage off the mouth of the river, but it’s a much smaller member of the whitefish family that can provide some excellent eating and some great fall sport.
“The mouth of the Bear River at Petoskey can be a great spot for menominee in October after the salmon spawn,” said Ron Hanna. The diminutive, round whitefish average about a pound and 13 inches, but specimens pushing 17 or 18 inches aren’t uncommon. The scrappy whitefish are spirited fighters and fried up golden brown are a treat on the table.
Hanna advised using a slip sinker, four-pound-test leader and an #10 Aberdeen hook baited with single salmon eggs for the menominee. Boil the eggs for a minute so you can thread them on a hook. Use a handful every once in a while to attract the schools of foraging whitefish. The menominee are delicate bait stealers so you need to hold your rods and be ready for the lightening-quick strike. If you feel them on the first tap, you might catch them. Wait for the second tap, and they’ll have cleaned your hook.
For information on amenities and accommodations in the Petoskey are contact the Petoskey-Harbor Springs-Boyne Country Visitors Bureau at (800) 845-2828 or online at www.boynecountry.com.
Skegemog Lake Muskies
Kalkaska County’s Skegemog Lake is part of a chain of lakes that includes Elk, Torch, Clam, Intermediate, Bellaire and others. There is a lot of movement between lakes by the muskies that reside in them. 2,561-acre Skegemog is the shallowest of the chain and when the lakes begin to cool in the fall hungry muskies naturally gravitate to the shallow dinner table.
“The muskies in the chain migrate into the shallower lakes, like Skegemog, in the fall to feed,” claimed fishing guide Dave Rose. “In Torch and Elk, the muskies feed mainly on whitefish and herring. In Skegemog, they’re eating panfish and other rough fish, like suckers.” Rose said that Skegemog is not capable of producing 50-pound muskies, but you will find fish in the 30-pound range and October and November is one of the best times of the year to catch them. Rose likes to chuck big in-line spinners, spinnerbaits, jerk baits and body baits when the muskies are active in the fall. Prime locations on Skegemog then are on the south end where Desmond, Vargason and Baker creeks enter the lake. Muskies can also be found patrolling the 10- to 15-foot flats on that end of the lake. Another hotspot is the drop-off directly off the public access on the southwest side of the lake.
For information on accommodations and amenities in the area contact the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce at (231) 264-8202 or online at www.elkrapidschamber.org. For hot baits, tackle and fishing info contact Jack’s Sport Shop at (231) 258-8892.
Hamlin Lake Bluegills
Once famous for its big bluegills, Mason County’s Hamlin Lake bluegills fell on hard times during the late 1990’s. Many pointed to the burgeon population of walleyes that the lake supported as the culprit. Now the trend has reversed. Hamlin Lake’s walleye population is on the skids and the bluegills have come back big time. And early fall is one of the best times to catch a bucket full of big slabs.
My son Matt and I were duck hunting one fall when a boat from across the lake came zooming in our direction. The boat came closer and closer until the surprised angler was sitting in our decoys. He couldn’t figure out why the birds didn’t move. He told us we were set up in his favorite bluegill spot. I told him that it was also our favorite duck hunting spot. He had taken limits of 8-inch ‘gills from there the last few days. The area featured a deep weed bed in about 15 feet of water. Areas like this are great places to search for fall bluegills on Hamlin. The bluegills begin moving in from deep water as the waters cool in September to feed on the aquatic insects living in the vegetation. Suspend a teardrop baited with a wax worm under a bobber 10 feet down and you’re in business. A piece of night crawler works too. Most of the ‘gills will run right around 8 inches.
5,000-acre Hamlin Lake is made up of two basins. The Upper Lake is relatively shallow; the Lower Lake can reach depths in excess of 70 feet. Both places harbor schools of good bluegills in the fall if you concentrate on the weed edges in 15 feet of water. Try the area along “The Narrows” and off the dunes and along the southwest shore of the Lower Lake.
For boat rental and lodging contact Country Haven Resort at (231) 845-5882 or North Bayou Resort and Marina at (231) 845-5820 or on the Web at www.nbayou.com.
Michigan Center Lake Largemouths
Many Michigan anglers think of bass fishing as being a summertime endeavor, but if you do you’re missing out on some great fall fishing.
“Michigan Center Lake has some great fall largemouth fishing,” claimed bass pro Duane Mroczka. During a September tournament on Michigan Center a few years ago Mroczka nailed a largemouth that tipped the scales at 4.98 pounds to win the $2500 big fish prize. Mroczka said that largemouths in the 5-pound range are not uncommon.
Mroczka said his favorite techniques for fall largemouths on Michigan Center Lake is flippin’ with a black jig n’ pig and a Zoom worm trailer. Mroczka said to skitter and hops the jig along the bottom to imitate the crayfish that the bass are keying on. If the bass are targeting minnows, Mroczka said it’s pretty hard to beat a white spinnerbait.
Michigan Center Lake is part of a chain of lakes that includes Big Wolf, Little Wolf, Big Olcott, Little Olcott, Round and Price lakes.
Although anywhere on 850-acre Michigan Center Lake holds bass, Mroczka advised concentrating on the flats with stumps in the fall. The shallows warm quickly and bass will look to them for active schools of minnows and crayfish among the stumps. Try the shallow stump fields on the south end of the lake. Another hotspot is along Duryeas Point on the opposite end of the lake. Try the drop-off around Goat Island, too.
There is a state-owned launch ramp on the northeast side of the lake. For information on amenities and accommodations in the area contact the Jackson Convention & Tourist Bureau at (800) 245-5282 or online at www.jackson-mich.org.
Wixom Lake Largemouths
1,980-acre Wixom Lake in Gladwin and Midland counties offer anglers another topnotch fall bass fishery, according to Duane Mroczka. “Wixom Lake fishes pretty good in the fall,” said Mroczka. “During a tournament in September there we caught a mixed bag of largemouths and smallmouths. And you can catch ’em just about anyway you want from top water to flippin’.”
Mroczka said that the key to finding concentrations of bass on Wixom during early fall is to concentrate on points off the main river channel. The bass can be found chasing the schools of baitfish that stage there, which gradually move back into the shallow cuts as the water cools. Wixom is an impoundment of the Tittabawassee River so there’s plenty of stumps and timber, which attracts predators and prey.
Depending on the conditions, Mroczka said that just about any technique can produce on Wixom during the fall. Top water action can be fantastic if the water is calm and warm. Flippin’ with a jig and pig combo near the stumps can be deadly. Mroczka also rates crawfish imitations and Senkos high. White spinnerbaits excel in the turbid water of Wixom, too. You’ll find largemouths that will, on occasion, will push 7 pounds and smallies that routinely top five pounds.
There is a state-owned access on the east shore of Wixom Lake. For information on lodging, amenities and bait shops in the area contact the Midland County Convention & Tourism Bureau at (888) 464-3526 or online at www.midlandcvb.org.
Little Bay De Noc Walleyes
The waters of Little Bay De Noc in the central U.P. are known for producing outstanding catches of walleyes throughout the year, but if you want a trophy for the wall bundle up and head for the bay in November.
Open-water fishing in the U.P. in November can be brutal, but the rewards are walleyes that routinely top 10-pounds and 15-pound hawgs are not unheard of. Walleyes move into the shallows of the bay to chow down before winter hits when the water temperatures begin to dip into the upper 30’s. The cold temperatures make slow trolling a must and anglers creep along at 1.0 to 1.5 mph when trolling. The walleye can be found suspended or holding tight to bottom. Anglers cover the water column by deploying shallow-set downriggers, lead core line and in-line planers trailing stickbaits, like Rebels, Rattlin’ Rogues and Thundersticks. Natural colors patterns seem to produce the best.
Schools of ‘eyes can be found throughout the bay along the 30- to 40-foot contour, but reefs and subtle humps will hold concentrations of fish. Try off the beach house at Gladstone City Park, along the East Bank and along the reefs off Kipling.
Trolling during November in the U.P. is not for the faint of heart, but walleyes in proportions not often seen are the reward. For more information on Bay De Noc walleyes contact Bayshore Resort at (906) 428-9687 or online at www.bay-shore-resort.com.
Peavy Pond Muskies and Pike
Peavy Reservoir or Pond is a 3,500-acre impoundment of the Michigamme River located in Iron County. The lake is home to plenty of panfish, walleye and white suckers, which make perfect fodder for the lake’s burgeoning population of muskies and pike. Peavy Pond receives modest fishing pressure during the summer months, but come fall Yoopers minds are on grouse and deer. Most fall days the lake is deserted and that’s one of the best times to fool the lake’s toothy critters.
Peavy Pond supports both a remnant population of tiger muskies as well as northern muskies that occasionally top 50 inches. Northern pike in the pond are numerous, but tend to run between just legal and 30 inches. 20-pound monsters aren’t unheard of though. A good area to try for both is near a cluster of islands right off the access maintained by the Wisconsin Electric Company at the end of Lake Mary Road off M-69. Set up a trolling pattern with big Rapala Husky Jerks and other over-sized stickbaits and weave your way around the drop-offs surrounding the islands. Also concentrate on the old river channel and the narrows north and east of the launch. If the sun is shining and you just want to kick back throw a big sucker out below a big float. Fishing for both pike and muskies on Peavy remains good until freeze-up.
For more details on fall fishing opportunities on Peavy Pond contact the Crystal Fall office of the MDNR at (906) 875-6622.
Fall is a perplexing time for Michigan Sportsman. So many things to do and so little time. But you’d be wise not to put your fishing tackle away too soon.