Can The Ice Fishing Be As Good As Last Year?
Michigan sporting goods stores and tackle dealers sold a lot of one product last winter they don’t normally get much call for-ice auger extensions. The winter of 2014-15 was one for the record books. Many places had safe ice in early December and it lasted into April, even in southern Michigan. Retailers were caught off guard. In recent years, it was chancy stocking ice fishing gear and tackle because you never knew exactly what kind of winter we were going to have. Last year, you couldn’t find any ice tackle at many retailers by early February.
Are we going to have the winter of the century again in 2015-16? Not likely, but if we get even close to a normal winter look for these cold water destinations to produce some hot action.
Anglers had an epic year on Saginaw Bay last year. The major bugaboo, ice conditions, was a non-factor last season. Given another real winter, there are plenty of walleye there for the taking.
“Ice conditions were good last year,” said Ernie Plank of Frank’s Great Outdoors (franksgreatoutdoors.com; 989-697-5341) “It was good ice from Sebewaing all the way to Au Gres and Bay City. It was the best ice I can ever remember and I’ve been fishing the Bay for more than 20 years. A lot of guys were just driving their trucks and trailers right out on the ice. There were still pressure cracks that you had to watch for, but for the most part it was pretty safe.” That’s unheard of on Saginaw Bay. Plank said the east side of the Bay always has the best ice conditions, but you have farther to travel to the best fishing.
“Fishing got started in early December in 7 to 10 feet of water and just got better as the winter went on,” said Plank. “Fishing slowed a little bit in mid-winter. I think the ice just got so thick that it was affecting light penetration. There were days when the bit wasn’t fantastic, but you could always catch a few fish.” Plank said that even with the thick ice and poorer visibility the hottest action was right at first light and just before dark.
Plank said there are a lot of 2-1/2- to 3-pound walleye in the Bay right now and there’s not a lot for them to eat. That would seem to bode well for anglers. Hungry fish are easier to catch. “The forage base on the Bay is way down,” said Plank. “Alewives are way down. Gizzard shad are scarce. And there’s the highest number of walleye in the Bay since they started keeping records and they are all from natural reproduction. A 28-inch walleye that used to weigh 8 or 8-1/2 pounds now weighs 6 or 7 pounds. About the only forage they have right now are perch and gobies. That’s like eating a hamburger versus a salad.” Plank said that upwards of 70% of the forage for walleyes in the Bay is now yellow perch.”
In spite of the fact the Saginaw Bay walleyes are now eating mainly perch, winter walleyes still have an affinity for bright lures. “The brighter patterns and glow seems to work best in winter,” offered Plank. “Orange, fire tiger are good colors, too. Again, the mid-day bite is inconsistent, so concentrate on the low-light periods. Do Jiggers, Rattlin’ Buckshot Spoons, PK Lures and Jigging Rapalas are all good. 1/4 to 1/2-ounce Northland Whistler Jigs can be good when fish are semi-active.”
For bait, tackle and Saginaw ice and fishing reports contact Frank’s Great Outdoors in Linwood.
LAKE ST. CLAIR
Lake St. Clair is a Mecca for perch anglers and the winter of 2013–14 provided the best ice conditions in decades.
“Perch fishing on Lake St. Clair is kind of unique,” offered Joe Balog. “You’re fishing relatively shallow water and you can usually just walk out. There’s a lot of perch right now in Lake St. Clair in the 5- to 7-inch range, so the key is to keep moving and find the 8–inch keepers.”
Balog said the key to finding bigger perch on Lake St. Clair is to power fish. No shanties here. The idea is to run-and-gun until you find THE school. “Move a lot, fish for short periods of time and use artificial lures to catch aggressive fish to find the big schools,” said Balog. Balog advised targeting 3 to 9 feet of water, punch holes and using flashy spoons like local favorites, Jack’s and Ken’s spoons, with a plastic bead or rubber egg. “It’s kind of an old technique that was developed in the 50s on Saginaw Bay when people were fishing for subsistence,” claimed Balog.
Balog said to keep moving, find holes in the weeds and use the flashy spoons to get schools fired up and make the most of your opportunity. Good locations are on South Anchor Bay, especially on first ice, and anywhere south of Lake St. Clair Metro Park.
For bait, tackle and reports on ice conditions contact Sportsman’s Direct (586-741-6052; www.sportsmensdirect.com) or Joe’s Bait & Tackle (586-469-3517.)
Mason County’s Hamlin Lake is known for its hot first-ice bluegill bite. But if you waited for the traditional time to get in on the action, you missed it. “Last year we were on the ice on Dec. 8,” shared Pat Barcelli of Ludington. “It was really good for a while and it took a little while before everyone found out about it.”
Ice usually forms first on upper Hamlin Lake between Wilson Park and Victory Parks first. Schools of slab ‘gills move into the 6- to 8-foot depths. Limits of 7- to 9-inch slabs are the norm as soon as you can get on the ice.
Bluegill fishing slows as the winter progresses and you need to resort to finesse techniques to continue to catch fish. Light line, sensitive graphs or flashers and delicate spring bobbers are necessary.
A hot crappie bite on Hamlin starts about midwinter. “The area off Lincoln and Grace roads in the traditional crappy grounds was good last year,” offered Dave Ellis. “The specs were in 34 to 36 feet of water and they were suspended 90% of the time 6 or 8 feet off bottom. You really needed some good electronics and you needed to move around to find them. Once you did, plastics were the ticket. The crappies weren’t huge, but you could fill a bucket with 10 to 13 inchers.” Little Atom (http://www.little-atom.com) Nuggies and Wedgies were the ticket. Hotspots for specks are off Indian Pete Bayou to the east and to the north in 20 to 22 feet of water. The crappie fishing on Hamlin gets hot in February and lasts through March most years.
To learn how to catch suspended crappies on Hamlin Lake contact West Michigan Ice Guides at 269-377-1313 or on-line at www.michiganiceguides.com.
“I didn’t get to fish Lake Missaukee a lot last winter,” said Central Lake Michigan Management Unit Fisheries Biologist Mark Tonello, “but I heard the fishing was good. You’ll find a mix of bluegills and sunfish, not trophies, but good numbers in the 7-to 8-inch range.”
Tonello suggested trying the south end of the lake off Green Road, off the access on the northeast corner of the 1,985-acre lake and off M-55/M-66 right in town.
While bluegills and sunfish are the main quarry, there are some good crappies and perch in the lake too,” said Tonello. “Try anywhere between 6 and 17 feet, with 9-14 feet being the best. Just keep moving the look for weed edges. You’ll run into the occasional foot–long crappie and jumbo perch, but the majority of the perch right now are small. We had a moratorium on walleye planting so there was a five-year gap where we didn’t plant walleyes. The MDNR stocked walleye’s again in 2011 and 2013. So, once those get established we should see better perch fishing on Lake Missaukee.”
Make sure you have your bait and tackle before you hit the lake. The tackle shop in town is rarely open.
Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell are perennial ice fishing favorites, but last winter effort was down because of the extreme weather. “Ice fishing in general was not good,” said Tonello. “It was so cold people just didn’t put forth the effort. Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell are always good, you still have to go.”
Tonello said that both lakes have become primarily winter crappie fisheries. “Fishing pressure on Cadillac and Mitchell is heavier when there’s no ice downstate,” he said. “Last year, they had good ice downstate so everyone stayed south.”
“If you were brave enough to go out you can catch some crappies,” said Tonello. “You’re not going to catch 17-inchers. Most will be 8- to 10-inch eaters, but occasionally you find some that are 13 or 14 inches.”
Cadillac and Mitchell crappies feed a lot on aquatic insects. Plastics are the ticket when specs are feeding on the fresh–water shrimp or scuds that are present in the lakes.
Tonello suggested trying off the causeway along M-55 and off the library near Kentwood Park on Lake Cadillac. Crappies can always be found off Big and Little coves on Lake Mitchell in 10 to 15 feet of water suspended in the weeds.
For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Pilgrim’s Village & Resort (231) 775-5412 or Schafer’s Bait & Sporting Goods (231-775-7085).
Ice anglers who target lake trout on Crystal Lake welcomed the brutal winter with open arms. The 9,711-acre Benzie County lake is slow to freeze, but last year anglers got on the ice sooner than any time in recent memory.
“Fishing was very good for lake trout on Crystal last winter,” offered Tonello. “We surveyed the lake recently and found a lot of trout up to 32 inches.”
Tonello said that smelt numbers in Crystal are high right now so there’s plenty for the trout to eat. “When smelt numbers are low, you can catch trout on blue or gray shiners. But when smelt numbers are high, like they are right now, you’d better have live smelt if you’re going to catch any fish.”
Many anglers fish for smelt the night before and use them for trout during the day. Lakers can be caught in the 70 to 140-foot depths off Lobb Road, Railroad Point, Warren Road and Herdman’s Point. Most will average 5 to 10 pounds.
For tackle shops and amenities in the area contact the Benzie County CVB at http://www.visitbenzie.com/.
LITTLE BAY DE NOC
“Perch numbers are coming back,” stated Kevin Lee of Sall-Mar Resort (http://www.sallmarresort.net/; 906-553-4850) on Little Bay De Noc. “The lack of alewives has really helped the perch. We’re seeing several good years’ classes in the bay right now. We saw a lot of people fishing perch this past winter.”
Lee said a prime location for perch on Little Bay De Noc is north of the coal piles at Gladstone east of Butler Island in 23 to 28 feet of water. Most of the perch will average 9 to 10 inches, but 14-inch jumbos are not uncommon. Lee said jigging spoons, Jigging Rapalas and tear drop all take perch. Lure weight is determined by the currents that are present in the area. “There’s current that comes and goes depending on how the water backs up in Green Bay,” said Lee. Usually, that makes for some treacherous ice conditions, but not last year. “Nothing affected the ice last year,” joked Lee. About the only thing that did affect ice fishing on Little Bay De Noc last season was too much winter. “There got to be so much snow and slush on the ice that people just quit fishing,” said Lee. “The guys up here use mainly four-wheelers and it got to the point where they couldn’t get on the ice.”
I guess there is a point where you can have too much of a good thing.