The winter of 2013-2014 was one for the record book. Anglers got on the ice earlier than anyone can remember and there was still good ice in April on many southern Michigan lakes. Unheard of! The winter of 2014-2015 is starting out the same way.
Make sure the auger blades are sharp and charge up the battery for the flasher because it’s looking like this will be another banner year for Michigan ice anglers.
You hate to keep extolling the same destinations every year, but if a location is hot, it’s HOT! That’s the case with Mason County’s Hamlin Lake. 5,000-acre Hamlin Lake has got to be considered one of the top bluegill lakes in Michigan for ice fishing. It’s incredible the number of slab ‘gills this lake pumps out. Anglers had to use caution last season because the ice was hit-and-miss throughout the season, but when you could get on the ice it wasn’t difficult taking a mess of bluegills for dinner.
One of the keys to Hamlin Lake being such a prolific producer of big bluegills is the predator/prey relationship that the lake supports. There are lots of bass, pike, walleye, catfish, dogfish and other predators to keep the number of stunted bluegills down. That leaves plenty of food for those that remain. There are weed beds and deep water where bluegills can escape predators though. Those same weed beds produce a bounty of insects that ‘gills can grow fat on. Winter and springtime when the bluegills are spawning is about the only times anglers can locate and target the big slabs, too. Otherwise, they can be difficult to find.
During a normal winter, you can get on Upper Hamlin and the bayous by Christmas. Last year was not normal, which might be good because the population didn’t get hammered on like usual. Look for ‘gills in the 6- to 10-foot pockets in the weeds northeast of Wilson Park. Even before the bite starts there, brave souls venture out on thin ice on Indian Pete’s Bayou to catch buckets of hand-sized bluegills in as little as two or three feet of water. Good catches can be made on first ice in the bayous along the east shore of the lower lake.
Catching a limit on first ice isn’t rocket science. Jumbo wax worms, over-sized bobbers and four-pound test will work then, but as winter progresses micro-tear drops, spider web-thin fluorocarbon and a sensitive flasher are need to continue to catch the pug-nosed bulls.
For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Hamlin Grocery at (231) 843-2058 or on line at
The determining factor about whether ice fishing is going to be good on Saginaw Bay has nothing to do with the number of fish. The Bay is loaded with walleyes right now, but to get to them you need cold weather and safe ice. Last year eastern Michigan had neither.
“Last year the ice fishing on Saginaw Bay was not good,” claimed Ernie Plant of Frank’s Great Outdoors in Lynnwood. “Not because the fish weren’t there, but because we only had about two weeks of good walleye ice. There were pressure cracks and we only had shore ice for much of the year. There was some perch fishing and pike closer to shore, but no walleye fishing until late January or February and then it only lasted for a short period of time.” Plant said better ice conditions existed on the east side of the bay where anglers could get out to 17 to 20 field water, but even there the ice didn’t last for long. Good access sites on the east side include Sunset Bay Marina and off Thomas Road.
Plant said that given good weather i.e. cold, fishing could be gangbusters on the Bay this winter. “We should have good fishing if we have some cold and good ice,” exclaimed Plant. There’s a tremendous walleye population in the Bay Area now with lots of 15–to 20–inch walleyes. Most winter anglers access the Bay off the western shore, which provides quicker access to deep water. Anglers can gain access to the ice at Linwood Beach Marina, Coggins Road, Nayanquing Point, Linwood Road and Bay City State Park.
Fishing begins in 12 feet of water, but quickly transitions to 15 to 24 feet of water as winter deepens. The best walleye fishing is found 4 to 5 miles offshore and getting there requires some form of transportation. Anglers need to be ever mindful of pressure cracks and ice conditions. Jigging spoons like Swedish Pimples, Do Jiggers, Rattlin’ Buckshot Spoons and Jigging Rapalas produced limits of walleyes that will average 2 to 4 pounds and fish up to 8 pounds are common. Most anglers sweeten their lures with the minnow head. Dead sticks take’ eyes during midday when fish are somewhat neutral, but can’t resist a wriggling live minnow. Hot bites occur early and late in the day, but fish can be caught at midday by avoiding groups of anglers.
For fishing reports, tackle and ice conditions advisories contact Frank’s Great Outdoors at (989) 697–5341, or online at www.franksgreatoutdoors.com.
One thing Cadillac, Michigan usually has his cold weather, which produces good ice. “We had pretty good ice last winter,” said Jim Schafer of Schaefer’s bait and Sporting Goods in Cadillac.
Schafer said that ice fishing on Lake Cadillac has not been red-hot in recent winters, but he feels the lake is poised for a big comeback. “Guys still catch some pretty nice bluegills, but it seems like the bigger panfish now are sunfish,” he said. 10-inch trophies are taken from Lake Cadillac every winter, but the average is going to be between 7 to 9 inches. Schaefer said the bigger catches come from the lake’s deeper east end, but good catches can be made anywhere around the lake where you find weed edges or holes in the weed beds that exemplify a hard bottom.
Lake Cadillac is known for pumping out a few giant northerns every winter, though most keepers will be just legal. “I know of one 41-1/2-inch pike caught last winter,” said Schafer. The northerns patrol the weed lines everywhere around the lake. Spot tip-ups and keep moving until you find a hot area. Both shiners and suckers will tempt Cadillac pike.
“Perch are making a comeback,” offered Schafer. “They’re not near the size they were a few years ago. I think a lot of that is because of the lack of mayfly larva. The lake was treated with copper sulfate to control swimmer’s itch a few years ago, but now that they aren’t treating for that I think you’ll see the mayflies and the perch rebound.”
Walleyes are available, but not in the numbers during the lake’s heydays. “The bass population has just exploded in Cadillac and I think that has something to do with the walleye numbers being down,” claimed Schafer. Still, hit the steep drops around dusk off from Sunnyside Drive down to the old Reserve Center and off Chestnut/Linden Streets and Schafer you can catch some respectable walleyes on Jiggin’ Rapalas. Walleyes up to 25 inches are not unheard of.
While Lake Cadillac might not be hot for any one species, it’s one of those kinds of lakes where if you take the family, spend a day and put in your time, you’re bound to come away with a nice catch of something.
For bait, tackle and fishing information contact Schafer’s Bait & Sporting Goods at (231) 775-7085. For lodging and accommodations in the area contact the Cadillac Area Chamber of Commerce at (231) 775-9776 or online at www.cadillacmichigan.com.
I joined Dave Trudell on Burt Lake almost a decade ago for a day of ice fishing. We caught some of the biggest perch I’ve ever caught through the ice. So, I called him to see how the perchin’ had been on Burt Lake. “The last two or three years the bite has been very sporadic,” claimed Trudell. “The perch really got exploited during the last couple of falls, overfished and the walleye have really been hit or miss. I’ve have been driving up to Charlevoix in recent years. It has better numbers of walleyes than Burt and better quality fish.”
Lake Charlevoix spans over 17,000 acres so there’s plenty of place for fish to roam, but Trudell said there are some very specific spots for walleyes. ” A lot of people concentrate right off Young State Park and off the mouth of the Boyne River,” he said. “There’s a good flat there holds some walleye schools and there’s good access.” Because the water in Charlevoix is so clear, the bite is often short and sweet. Even a little traffic will scatter the fish, but when it’s good it can be frantic. Ice conditions on Charlevoix can be iffy so anglers need to use caution. It’s often the third week in February before safe ice conditions exists on the north arm of Lake Charlevoix, according to Trudell, so anglers need to use caution.
A safer bet is the lake’s south arm, which is shallower, more narrow and freezes earlier in the year. Trudell said anglers concentrate off Ironton at the entrance to the lake arm in 15 to 30 feet of water near a landmark locals refer to as Holy Island. The lake narrows there and concentrates walleyes migrating further up the lake. First and last light can be good for walleye averaging 18 to 22 inches and larger. Favorite baits include Jiggin’ Rapalas, Rattling Buckshot Spoons and Swedish Pimples. Another area diehard walleye anglers key in on is in Lock Bay right off Charlevoix. The 20 to 60 foot depths there can be hot for walleyes and jumbo perch.
For information on lodging and amenities in the area contact the Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce at http://charlevoix.org/ or call (231) 547-2101. For bait and tackle try Tom’s Bait & Tackle in East Jordan at (231) 536-3521.
“Last year the pike fishing was just phenomenal,” boasted Dean Robinson of the pike fishing on Fletcher Floodwater in Alpena County. Robinson attributes the good pike fishing to consistent ice conditions and to the fact the pike in Fletcher’s have enjoyed good spawning conditions in recent years. ” Ice wise, we had an early start and the ice stayed all winter. The DNR has been regulating the water levels to help the pike spawn and I think it’s really made a difference.”
Robinson made a point that half of 9,000 acre Fletcher Floodwater is only three feet deep or less. “You figure in the fact that they begin drawing down the lake another two feet on October 1, and then you have a foot of ice on top of that and it tends to concentrate the pike in the winter quite a bit.” Robinson said the pike relate heavily to emergent weed edges because that’s where the panfish and baitfish take refuge. Green weeds also are still producing oxygen. Some of the deepest water remains along the old river channel. Both come close to shore right in front of Jack’s Landing.
Most anglers spot tip-ups for pike, but jigging can often out produce tip-ups. “Fletcher’s is an awesome jigging lake and I’d rather catch pike jigging anyway.” Fletcher’s is known to give up some very nice crappies and bluegills, too.
For lodging, bait and tackle and fishing reports contact Jack’s Landing at 742-4370 or online at
Winter and good ice comes early to Michigan’s UP. “First ice can be really good for walleye, pike and perch in the northwest corner of Munuscong Bay in an area referred to as Fowler’s Bay,” stated outdoor writer Tom Pink. “Fishing can be good on the southwest side too off an area called The Birches. In either location, we’re talking shallow water, 2 or 3 feet at most.” Pink said that foot-long jumbo yellow bellies are common on first and last ice. The perch favor wigglers; minnow and wax worms on tear drops. The west side of Munuscong tends to be better for eating-sized walleyes and northerns that routinely push 10 pounds. Try between Dan’s Resort (http://www.dans-resort.com, 906-647-8753) and the mouth of the Munuscong River. Dan’s Resort offers lodging, live bait and easy access to the ice.
Pink said that bigger ‘eyes are available later in the season in 5 to 12 feet of water near the shipping channel. Jigging with your typical walleye fair and dead sticks will produce walleye up to 10 pounds then.
Pink told of a unique fishery that develops above the Soo Locks for whitefish and menominee on Mosquito Bay. A snowmobile is a must to reach the fishing grounds and caution needs to be exercised, but ice anglers make good catches of both species that will average 1-pound up to 3 or 4 pounds. The whitefish and menominee like wigglers and wax worms. Target 4 to 10 feet of water.