Like the rest of the Great Lakes states, Michigan pays no heed to the calendar when it comes to sportfishing. Bare trees, eaves lined with ice sickles and streets covered by snow or ice mean nothing to the determined ice angler in this sportsman’s state.
Though many picture the rugged Upper Peninsula (UP) at the mention of ice fishing in the Water Wonderland, you can find hot action on ice almost anywhere in the state, depending on the severity of a given winter.
Wherever you choose to sit on your bucket or stool on the ice, the peripheral wonders of winter fishing in Michigan rival any to be found among its Upper Midwest neighbors.
From wolves, to red foxes, to moose and deer, and plenty of raptors, anglers are not the only ones seeking their prey on ice and snow.
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Top 7 Ice Fishing Spots in Michigan
The following lakes—all featuring their own kind of winter-angling experience—stand out as solid producers on ice.
A tale of two seasons awaits anglers on this lake—first ice and just before spring melt. Get here quick after the ice first reaches safe proportions for the plentiful and sometimes big bluegills.
Just south of the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area and bounded on the west by Ludington State Park, Hamlin’s second ice season—featuring bucket loads of crappies—picks up as the bluegill bite dies. Ice usually forms first on tHamlin’s northern arm, stretching east of the dunes.
Dress appropriately because the Lake Michigan winter air current lies very near to the west. Though popular, Hamlin offers more than enough acreage for anglers to find solitude, especially on the north arm.
Cadillac and Mitchell
Among one of the most popular haunts for Michigan’s ice fishers, these two neighboring lakes often find anglers flocking from the southern part of the state where milder winters leave lakes free of ice.
As with Hamlin, anglers best be layered appropriately as this section of Michigan usually gets colder faster than other winter fishing haunts in the northern half of the state.
Lots of medium-sized crappies greet hardy anglers on both lakes, connected by Highway 55. Lots of shallow benches and weeds give crappies some prime habitat for grabbing small shrimp and swimming insects.
If you want walleye on your winter dining table, Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron proves hard to beat. Count on safe ice some time after mid-December normally. The season usually stretches well into March just before the walleyes begin to migrate into the Saginaw River.
This big water usually produces best early in the day and as the sun goes down. Just like other northern Michigan waters, Saginaw requires a little extra layering than other winter haunts around the state. Miles and miles of nothing but ice surround you on Huron.
A favorite for anglers seeking both perch and walleye beneath the ice, Gogebic ranks as the largest of inland lakes on the UP. As long as the snow is not too thick to traverse the ice and punch out holes, the walleye fishing matches any other water in the state.
- Try Bergland Bay and House Bay early in the season and work your way out to the middle of Gogebic as winter progresses in order to find walleye in excess of 16 inches.
- Try the deep mud flats around Bergland Bay’s Alligator and Porcupine Points for the lake’s best perch fishing.
Lake trout (mackinaw) draw winter anglers to this Benzie County lake in the northwest corner of the state and virtually a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan. Lakers in the 5-10 pound range feast on smelt or shiners, depending on which of these two food fish are most plentiful.
As with most mackinaw in winter, anglers should plod deep pockets of this lake to find success on ice. Lots of anglers fish for smelt the day or night before heading out for Crystal’s lake trout.
To find some action on ice a short hop from the state’s biggest city, head north from Detroit toward Pontiac, from where Cass Lake sits just southwest. Count on safe ice by mid-December during most Michigan winters.
Its proximity to the city and its abundant populations of perch (big and small), crappies and bluegills make Cass a favorite for family fishing outings. The added attraction of an occasional walleye or northern pike of size only serves to enhance this lake’s fetching quality.
The sheer number and sizes of lakes in Michigan offer ice anglers more water than they can possibly fish in a lifetime of winters. Some regions ice over faster than others and the most severe Great Lakes winters can actually impede if not cancel your attempt to traverse the ice.
Deep snows and drifts, compounded by wind chills and sub-zero temps, are best managed by staying home near a warm fire while organizing your tackle box for a milder winter day.
For all the details on limits, access and even weekly fishing reports on the good ice-fishing days, refer to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website.
More resources: Ice Fishing in Michigan