Michigan Bucket List: Ice Fishing

Michigan Bucket List: Ice Fishing

Michigan is known for its world-class ice fishing. When the water freezes, anglers can test their skills on more than 11,000 inland lakes and tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams.

The state is home to more than 150 species of fish, almost all of which can be caught on the ice. Popular species include panfish such as bluegill and perch, as well as northern pike, walleye and various species of trout.

This cold-weather pursuit can range from a simple experience, involving nothing more than drilling a hole in the ice and casting a line while sitting on an upside-down bucket, to a full-blown setup in an ice hut that rivals the comforts of home. Regardless of the approach taken, navigating frozen waterways gives anglers access to remote parts of lakes that are inaccessible during the open water season without a boat.

February is the perfect time to try the sport because the state will host a free fishing weekend February 17-18, during which no state licenses are required.

Ice safety

Be sure to bring a flotation device and ice picks, short plastic rods with metal picks, to wear around your neck in case of an emergency. The ice should be at least 3 inches high before walking on it, and avoid areas with mud on the surface. Guides, bait shops and resorts usually have icy conditions, so call ahead. Using the proper equipment and ice huts, if possible, creates the perfect opportunity to experience the best ice fishing in Michigan and perhaps in the entire country.

When it comes to clothing, dress in layers. A moisture-wicking base layer, an insulated middle layer, and a breathable outer shell are recommended. It’s also essential to wear a pair of waterproof shoes, as well as moisture-wicking socks underneath wool socks to help keep feet warm and dry. A scarf, hat, and gloves are also essential. Bring an extra pair of gloves in case the other pair gets wet.

When making holes in the ice, the two most common tools are the spud, a long shank with a chisel-like end used to make a hole in the ice, and the auger, a corkscrew-like device with a cutting blade that works like a hand drill to make a hole in the ice.

Once the hole is created, it must be cleaned of ice chips or slush. A scraper, slush scoop, or small cup with holes on a long handle can do the job.

Learn more about ice safety with these tips from the Department of Natural Resources.

West Michigan

Muskegon Lake

This lake offers the best crappie fishing in the state right after the first snowfall. Bluegill, perch, walleye and pike are the most popular fishing species. The area near the lake’s “sandbeds” is known as a perch hotspot, while walleye and pike can be found a little deeper on the northeast side, according to Visit Muskegon.

Southeast Michigan

Cass Lake

This lake, located about 30 miles northwest of Detroit, is known for its panfish, especially crappie and bluegill. Most of the 243-acre lake is shallow and gently sloping, creating better-than-average crappie feeding habitat. It’s also a good place in the state to chase record-breaking bluegill. But be prepared with good electronic fish finders; You’ll need them to follow the panfish as they move throughout the day, according to USAangler.

Lake St. Clair

Connecting Lake Huron to Lake Erie, this 430-square-mile lake is located about six miles northeast of downtown Detroit. It is a popular ice fishing destination for its walleye, perch, northern pike, and muskies. The latter tend to average 15 pounds here, with 30 pounders regularly caught. The lake offers some of the best muskie fishing in the country, according to Best Fishing in America.

Northern Michigan

Crystal Lake

This nearly 10,000-acre lake of exceptionally clear water holds hordes of yellow perch, whitefish, burbot, and lake trout. Known for its exceptional yellow perch fishery, Crystal Lake’s waters encourage vegetation that establishes a rich food cascade, especially offshore Onkyonui, according to USAngler. Online guides indicate that ice anglers will likely find yellow perch clustered on the steep slope of the north side of the lake, along Crystal Drive.

Lake Hamlin

This artificial lake, created by a dam on the Big Sable River, covers 5,350 acres. Narrows separate it into two halves. The larger southern section is characterized by a relatively long and deep channel, while most of the western side is shallow. The most recent state fishing surveys of the lake reveal healthy populations of bluegill, crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, pike, rock bass, freshwater drum and muskies.

Houghton Lake

With 20,000 acres of fishable ice, this is one of the largest inland lakes in Michigan. It is also among the shallowest waters, with a maximum depth of just over 20 feet, so it tends to freeze faster than most Lower Peninsula waters. Resorts and cabins surround the lake, offering plenty of ice cabins and huts for rent. There are many species of game fish, including walleye, black bass, northern pike, and panfish. The most successful anglers on Houghton Lake tend to be skilled at weed fishing, according to Northland Fishing Tackle.

Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell

These two lakes in County Wexford are connected by the Clam Lake Channel, creating 3,730 acres of great ice fishing. Crappie and bluegill draw big crowds to Lake Mitchell, while Cadillac Lake fishes well for perch, walleye and pike in the winter, according to America’s Best Fishing.

Upper Peninsula

Munising Bay

On the south shore of Lake Superior, Munising Bay offers sheltered waters for salmon, whitefish, burbot, and lake trout. Ice fishing at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan is done mostly in the frozen nearshore areas of Munising Bay just offshore of Sand Point. The park recommends anglers check safe ice conditions before heading out. Currents and wave action can affect ice formation, and ice thickness can vary greatly from one region to another.

Lake Gogebek

During the winter, this frozen body covers 13,380 acres and is prime area for perch and yellow perch. The lake has a reputation as one of the best locations in Michigan for ice fishing for jumbo perch. USAngler suggests exploring the frozen lake off Lake Gogebic State Park, Bergland Bay and Ice House Bay earlier in the season for perch. Later in the winter, look for holes on the eastern shore near Montgomery Bay and north from there, because walleye and perch will stay deep along these cliffs.

Looking for more information about one of Michigan’s favorite outdoor sports?

Image source: @lilmismatched

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