First ice always produces some hot fishing, but you never know when first ice is.


December 01, 2017

All ice anglers can really do is pray for cold weather, make sure the auger blades are sharp and have your gear at the ready. If Mother Nature obliges, following are some early-season hot spots you’ll want to sample…

Lake Gogebic

The author with a pair of jumbo yellowbellies caught with slip bobber and live minnows.

If you want to get a jump on the ice-fishing season and aren’t afraid of winter driving heading to the western Upper Peninsula will add a month or more to your season.

“Last year we really didn’t get on the ice until Christmas,” said Tim Long of The Timber Resort in Bergland. “The year before we were fishing at Thanksgiving. Fishing was hot when we did get on the ice. We just crushed ’em. We caught limits of walleyes on first ice right off the weed line in front of the resort in 7 or 8 feet of water. Surprisingly, tip-ups were the best baited with suckers. Flathead minnows on jigs took their fair share of walleyes, too.”

Long noted that some of Gogebic’s prized jumbo perch were mixed right in with the walleyes. “There is a strain of perch in this lake like no other,” said Long. Perch in the 15- to 17-inch range are common. Later in the winter schools of the jumbo yellowbellies concentrate on the 27- to 28-foot flats and wigglers fished on slip bobbers and dead sticks take buckets full of the jumbos. Selective harvest is strongly encouraged though.

To book a winter excursion contact The Timber Resort at 906-575-3542 or online at

Lake Independence

Winter comes early to the U.P. Many years anglers are sneaking out onto Marquette County’s Lake Independence by the first part of December. First ice produces hot walleye action and some of the best fishing for the lake’s famous jumbo perch.

Schools of perch tend to roam the 20- to 30-foot flats near the center of the lake during the winter months. Anglers take perch up to 16 inches using slip bobbers baited with minnows or wigglers or by tying a dropper off of a Swedish Pimple baited with wigglers or wax worms.

Walleyes in Lake Independence are more structure orientated although they can be caught right along with the perch at times. Drop-offs near the mouth of the Yellow Dog River, the outflow of the Iron River and contours straight out from the public access on the west end of the lake offer more consistent walleye catches. Most of the ‘eyes will average 16- to 18-inches, but 6 pounders aren’t unheard of.

Giant pike patrol the depths of Alder Bay and off the mouth of the Yellow Dog River. Stumps, brush and weed edges attract cruising pike there. Anglers spot jumbo suckers or dead smelt rigs for pike that occasionally top 20 pounds.

For information on bait shops and accommodations in the area contact the Marquette County Convention & Visitor Bureau at (800) 544-4321 or online at

Lake Antoine

Dickinson County’s 748-acre Lake Antoine is a surprising lake. The lake hosts a variety of species that include walleye, pike and panfish. Ice fishing for all of the species can be very good and the fish reach good size. This is all in spite of the fact that Lake Antoine is located almost in the city limits of Iron Mountain and receives plenty of fishing pressure.

“One reason the panfish fishing is so good is that Lake Antoine has a good predator base that keeps panfish numbers in check,” said former Crystal Falls District fisheries biologist Bill Ziegler. “Lake Antoine is a surprisingly good bluegill lake.” Another reason Lake Antoine’s panfish fishing is so good, particularly for bluegills, is that Yoopers aren’t real interested in panfish. They’d rather chase walleyes or trout rather than dinky panfish. That only leaves more for you and me!

Those looking for a mess of fried bluegill fillets will have a good chance of securing the main course by concentrating on the 5- to 15-foot depths off the island on the south side of the lake, near a hump that rises to 5 feet directly in line with the Senior Citizens Park on the northwest shore of the lake. Around that island can be good, too. Use teardrops with larva for the ‘gills that will run around 8 inches. You’ll likely find some good–sized pumpkinseed sunfish and crappies mixed in.

Perch tend to frequent the 20- to 25-foot flats on the east end of the lake. Use minnows for them fished right on the bottom. Wigglers can be good at times. The perch will run from 8 to 10 inches.

Predator species abound in Lake Antoine. Walleye can be found along the north shore where the water shelves from 5 to 25 feet and over the deeper flats. Pike can be found cruising just about everywhere. The ‘eyes will average 18 to 20 inches, but fish crowding 28 inches aren’t unheard of. The northerns generally run from just legal to about 30 inches. Tip-ups and jigging will take both species.

For more information on ice-fishing opportunities on Lake Antoine contact the Northern Lake Michigan Management Unit of the MDNR at (906) 875-6622. For information on lodging, bait shops and amenities in the area contact the Tourism Association of the Iron Mountain/Dickinson County Area at (800) 236-2447.

Cisco Lake Chain

It’s a pretty safe bet that you can be ice fishing on Cisco Lake in December. Cisco Lake is one of 15 lakes in the chain and is located in Gogebic County about 13 miles southwest of Watersmeet.

Some of the best ice fishing of the year on the Cisco Lakes Chain is on first ice and again just before the walleye season closes. Hot first ice action takes place on the east side of the lake near the islands there.

With the deepest water in the lake being a little over 20 feet, fishing for most species on Cisco Lake is a shallow water proposition. On first ice you’ll find just about everything in 6 to 8 feet of water. Walleyes averaging 2 pounds, but occasionally topping 8 pounds, are taken on tip-ups with minnows or by jigging with lures, like Swedish Pimples. The walleyes gradually move deeper as the winter progresses. Cisco Lake gives up some surprisingly good perch. Yellow bellies topping 13 inches are not uncommon and 8- to 10-inch perch are common. Try wigglers in the 15 to 20 foot depths near the center of the lake for the most consistent perch action. Cisco Lake also produces a consistent winter fishery for panfish. Look for hand-sized bluegills and sunfish near the east side islands and near the outer islands on the southwest side of the lake. Larva works best for them. Crappies are becoming increasingly common and specks in the 12- to 14-inch class are routine. Like most places, Cisco’s slab crappies have a hard time resisting a lively shiner minnow.

Ice anglers can gain access to Cisco Lake at a public access on the northeast corner of the lake. For information on lodging and amenities in the area contact the Watersmeet CVB at 906-358-9961 or online at

Manistee Lake

Manistee Lake (not to be confused with the Manistee Lake in the county of the same name) is located in north-central Kalkaska County. The 860-acre lake’s deepest spot is only 16 feet, but the outflow of the Manistee River and several creeks entering the lake insure a steady supply of nutrients and oxygen.

Manistee Lake is a lot like Houghton Lake. The lake is pretty featureless, so there’s not much in the way of structure. In spite of that fact, the lake gives up some jumbo crappies and perch. A hotspot for big specks is north of the public access on the east side of the lake where the bottom shelves from 10 to 16 feet. The bite usually picks up right before dark. A good tactic is to fish one dead rod with a minnow on it and jig the other. Crappies to 14 inches are fairly common. Like most places, the crappies tend to suspend so a flasher can be a big help.

There are some big perch in Manistee Lake, too. Perch that weigh nearly two pounds have been caught from Manistee Lake. Ice anglers using big blue shiners for walleye routinely catch perch in the 13- to 14- inch range. Walleyes are an added bonus. Look for winter ‘eyes in the north-central portion of the lake in 10 feet of water.

For live bait, tackle and lake maps contact Jack’s Sport Shop in Kalkaska at (231) 258-8892. For accommodations in the area contact the Kalkaska Area Chamber of Commerce at (800) 487-6880 or online at

Blue Lake

Though located only a few miles apart, Blue Lake and Manistee Lake are like night and day. While Manistee Lake is shallow and featureless, Blue Lake offers sloping contours to 80 feet over most of its 114 acres. While Manistee features fishing for warm water species, trout are the ticket on Blue Lake.

This clear, spring-fed lake features two basins that are ideal for trout. Though relatively small, Blue Lake can produce some big trout. Lake trout to 8 pounds are fairly common. Blue Lake has been planted with lake trout, browns, rainbows and splake on different occasions so you have a chance of catching them all. The best tactic is to spot some tip-ups along the drop-offs in 20 to 80 feet of water. Then move and jig with a second rod. Lakers tend to inhabit the deep water and splake, browns and rainbows will be found shallower, often suspended. Use a graph or flasher and keep moving until you find the fish. Wigglers, spawn, minnows, wax worms will all work at times.

Blue Lake is marginal for warm water species, but some decent perch are taken on occasion along with some slab bluegills. Ciscoes are also available in the lake. For more information on Blue Lake contact Jack’s Sport Shop in Kalkaska.