You can’t blame sportsmen who are itching to pick up the gun or bow come September. Fishing is a year round sport where hunting only takes place at certain times of the year. Hunters can expand their season by traveling or hunting with more than one weapon, but regardless of what or how you hunt there’s always some down time. And it seems hunting seasons take place all at once so if you’re a multifaceted hunter it’s tough to get everything in during the open season. Throw in the fantastic fishing that takes place in Michigan in the fall and you’ve got a real dilemma. Do I hunt or do I fish come fall?
Most Michigan sportsmen I know try to reach a happy medium. Mix in a little fishing on the perfect Indian summer days. Or a little grouse hunting in the morning and fishing in the afternoon. Nasty days are reserved for waterfowling, although that kind of weather is ideal for fall muskies, too. First two weeks in November are prime time for the whitetail rut. But if you arrow a bruiser early in the rut, early November is pretty hard to beat for steelhead fishing.
West Michigan Salmon
Chinook salmon numbers in Lake Michigan have taken a nosedive in recent years. Part of that is because plants have been severely reduced and salmon numbers are reliant mainly on naturally spawned fish. The majority of the natural reproduction takes place in West Michigan rivers like the Muskegon, Big and Little Manistee and the Pere Marquette. Salmon returning to those rivers produce great sport in September/October.
Mature Chinook salmon begin entering West Michigan rivers right around Labor Day. There are early-run salmon, but fall rains and crisp fall nights trigger the main run. The lower reaches of the rivers produce the best fishing. Chinooks bite best when they first enter the rivers.
Even though salmon are not actively feeding when they enter the rivers, they can be caught using several methods. You can drop back plugs, cast spinners or stickbaits and back bounce with spawn. All of these techniques catch salmon on their spawning run.
Long Lake Walleyes
Grand Traverse County’s largest inland lake at 2,860 acres, Long Lake is a bustle of activity during the summer months, but once school resumes and summer cottage owners go home the lake settles down and anglers reclaim the lake.
Long Lake has a long history of walleyes plants and the persistence seems to have paid off. Long Lake supports a good walleye population now. The fish average 16 to 17 inches, but ‘eyes in the 25- to 26-inch range aren’t uncommon. Anglers jig with minnows or troll with crawler harnesses to catch walleyes during the summer months. These same tactics work during early fall during the daylight hours. Because Long Lake is very clear, don’t be surprised to find the walleye in water 25 to 35 feet deep or deeper during the day. The ‘eyes relate to the myriad of structure that the lake affords. Sloping contours off the mid-lake islands are natural hotspots. An underwater point straight out from the boat launch off Edgewood Ave. on the lake’s northwest corner is another walleye magnet. Local anglers know that Long Lake’s walleyes begin to make nightly pilgrimage into the shallows as the waters cool in the fall and produce an entirely different kind of bite.
“The walleyes move shallow under the cover of darkness,” confided area fishing guide Dave Rose. “Key is to cruise the lake during the daytime and locate green weeds and then work the edges of those weeds after dark.” Rose recommends using suspending stickbaits like Rattlin’ Rogues, Rapalas, Husky Jerks and other elongated lures. You can add suspended dots to shallow diving lures. Rose said to anchor quietly and cast parallel to the weed edges. Schools of walleyes will move in to herd minnows against the weed edges. Rose advised using a light/medium-spinning combo with super line. The super sensitive line is perfect for detecting the subtle bite of a nighttime walleye.
Most of the ‘eyes will be 1½ – to 3 pound eaters, but walleyes over 6 pounds are not unheard of. Try the shallow flats in the bays on the west side of the lake. Listen for schools of walleyes slashing minnows.
For bait, tackle and maps contact Gander Mountain in Traverse City at (231) 929-5590.
Big Glen Lake Trout
“There are a lot of lakes that are planted with trout in northwest Michigan that nobody really fishes,” offered Dave Rose. “You might find a few people trolling for trout in the summer time, but after that you hardly see anyone fishing specifically for trout.” Rose said that fall is prime time to cash in on this untapped resource. The trout move from the depths into the shallows as the waters cool and provide great sport on light tackle then.
One of Rose’s favorite fall trout lakes is Big Glen Lake. 1,400-acre Big Glen Lake has a long history of trout plants. From 1995 thought 2001 the lake received regular plants of brown trout, lake trout and splake. More recently Big Glen has been the recipient of rainbow and steelhead plants. Those fish are now reaching good size. Rose emailed me an image recently of two fat rainbows that he took from Big Glen Lake
Big Glen Lake doesn’t have much in the way of structure. The lake is basically bowl shaped with few points or humps. The exception is where Little Glen Lake enters Big Glen Lake. A ridge there is worth prospecting for fall trout. Otherwise, Rose advises just working the shoreline drop-off. As the water cools, trout move shallow and cruise the edge. He said just cast to 4 to 10 feet of water with a suspending stickbait and hold on! “The big ones will darn near rip the rod out of your hands,” chided Rose. Rose said that Elk, Burt and Torch lakes are good bets for fall trout action too.
To sample some of northwest Michigan’s best fall fishing contact Dave Rose at 231-276-9874 or online at www.wildfishing.com.
South Lake Leelanau Walleyes
“We have so many great fishing lakes up here it’s tough to pick just one or two,” said guide Dave Rose. “But one destination I’d have to include would be South Lake Leelanau. From about mid-September until the weeds start to die off the walleyes really turn on in there.” Rose said weeds are the key to South Lake Leelanau’s fall walleye fishing. “Look for cabbage that has some openings in it and cast stickbaits, like Rattlin’ Rogues and Husky Jerks, into the pockets in the weeds. Let the bait sit for 20 seconds or more before giving it a few subtle twitches, then let it sit again. Walleyes will explode on it.”
Rose said to look for weeds in 4 to 12 feet or water where walleyes will school up and work the minnows over. Most of the walleyes will run from 15 to 19 inches, but fish to 8 or 9 pounds are not uncommon.
Rose added that if the stickbaits aren’t working you can always fall back on the old standby- a jig and grub or worm. Rose said in the clear waters of South Lake Leelanau that natural colored plastics work best. Try motor oil, pumpkinseed or red colors highlighted with a chartreuse jig head to call attention to the bait.
South Lake Leelanau is a big body of water at 5,370 acres and is long and narrow so the wind doesn’t affect it too much unless it’s coming straight down the lake. Prime walleye locations include Perrin’s Bay on the south end of the lake, off Robinson Point, and near the inlets of Weisler and Cedar creeks. There are boat launches on the both the east and west sides of the lake.
Contact Dave Rose at 231-276-9874 to try your hand a catching some South Lake Leelanau walleyes this fall. For information on lodging and amenities in the area contact the Leelanau County Chamber of Commerce at 231-271-9895 or online at www.leelanauchamber.com.
Gun Lake Largemouths
Allegan and Barry counties 2,680-acre Gun Lake is popular with bass anglers. Unfortunately, it’s also very popular with powerboats, personal watercraft and water skiers. Once Labor Day arrives boating traffic drops dramatically. Fishing pressure nosedives too and the bass move shallower as the waters cool making fall a prime time for Gun Lake largemouths.
“Gun Lake has an outstanding largemouth population,” said Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit Fisheries Supervisor Jay Wesley. “I would have to consider Gun Lake to be one of southern Michigan’s premier largemouth bass lakes.” One reason largemouths do so well in the lake is habitat in the form of humps, weed lines, points, canals, docks, islands and drop-offs. Because of the varied habitat you can catch Gun Lake largemouths just about any way you like to fish. Jig-n-pig combos are perfect for working the weed edges and humps. Spinnerbaits are great for probing the docks, canals and shoreline structure. Crankbaits excel for covering water and working the deeper points. The bass will average 2 to 4 pounds, but bass topping 6 pounds are not unheard of. Boating access can be gained off Murphy’s Point in the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area.
For information on amenities, camping and accommodations in the area contact the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council at 269-925-6301 or online at www.swmichigan.com. For lake maps, tackle and guides contact D & R Sports Center at 800-992-1520 or online at www.dandrsports.com.
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 30s. 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 color 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 Sal-Mar Resort at 906-553-4850 or online at www.sallmarresort.net.