If you come to the “Great Lake State” and yell “Winter is coming!” you’ll probably hear a lot of cheering. That’s because Michigan’s rich waters don’t disappoint even during the winter months, with 11,000 lakes in Michigan waiting to be explored. Ice fishing in Michigan is a time-honored tradition, and anglers from all over the US come to this winter wonderland every year.
With a little know-how and an experienced local guide, you can find plenty of trophy catches and come back home with a bucket full of fish. Your adventure can be anything from simply drilling a hole in the ice and dropping a line to a full ice fishing extravaganza with shanties and snowmobiles. It takes just one trip to fall in love with ice fishing in Michigan, whatever you choose to do.
In this ice fishing guide, we’ve tried to cover everything there is to know about the Michigan ice fishing scene, from top catches to hottest spots. So let’s dive right into it!
Top Ice Fishing Catches
Ice fishing season in Michigan is pretty generous, offering anglers enough time to reel in some nice catches through the ice. What you’ll find at the end of your fishing line heavily depends on the lake you choose for your ice fishing adventure.
There are over 150 fish species in Michigan, and you can find most of them during the winter months. You can get your hands on anything from Panfish like Perch and Bluegill to big Northern Pike, Walleye, Trout, Whitefish, Burbot, and even the occasional Salmon.
Here’s a short overview of some of the species you can catch while ice fishing in Michigan:
Every Michigan angler knows how rewarding ice fishing for Perch is. The thing is, these fish travel in big schools, so if you manage to find one it’s fish on. In order to find your tasty dinner, there are a few things you need to know about ice fishing for Yellow Perch.
They prefer to stay in shallower water with healthy vegetation early in winter. As the season progresses, they’ll move to deeper water. By the end of the ice fishing season, Perch will head towards their spawning grounds. Since they move in big schools, you’ll need to stay mobile and move a bit throughout your lake.
Lake Trout are real cold-water predators, and catching one of those under the ice is fun for any angler. In fact, winter is the peak feeding season for Lake Trout. Some anglers say that this period is just like the summer months for Walleye.
While Lake Trout are making use of the frozen lakes, you, in turn, could pack your ice fishing equipment and head to your chosen lake for some Trout fishing. Keep in mind that Trout are highly mobile, so you’ll need to rely on baitfish in order to find these predators. Spots with clear water and good visibility near steep structure are arguably the best for Lake Trout ice fishing in Michigan.
Ice fishing enthusiasts love Northern Pike for several reasons. First of all, these beautiful fish stay active even during the cold months, slowing down only a bit. Secondly, they are among the heaviest fish you can take through the ice. And last but not least, Pike are great fighters.
Many ice fishing anglers use a rod and reel combo to catch these large fish. Artificial lures and frozen bait usually work well, but some prefer to work with live minnows. Northern Pike like to eat a lot, so pack bigger bait.
Top Ice Fishing Spots
With thousands of rivers and inland lakes to choose from, plus access to four out of the five Great Lakes, there’s no doubt Michigan is an ice fishing paradise. The biggest challenge here is to choose where to go first. Let’s see what ice fishing in Michigan has to offer!
Walleye lovers hit the early and late ice of Saginaw Bay and Houghton Lake or head to the mighty Lake St. Clair to add Yellow Perch and Northern Pike to the list of potential catches. St. Clair is relatively shallow, with many great areas to fish under the ice.
In southwest Michigan, one of the prime ice fishing spots is the Coldwater-Marble Chain of Lakes, located in Branch County. This destination is great for catching large Northern Pike, just like the first and last ice in shallow Fletcher Floodwaters in Alpena/Montmorency counties.
The third-largest lake in Michigan, Lake Charlevoix, is a great ice fishing spot with a lot of spots to hit for anglers looking to catch trophy Cisco, Walleye, Perch, Lake Trout, and Pike under the ice. Higgins Lake in Roscommon County also offers winter access at a variety of locations.
Winter anglers come to Munising Bay for their dose of Coho Salmon, Cisco, and Lake Whitefish, along with Yellow Perch and Lake Trout. Murray Bay and Sand Point are pretty popular spots in the Bay, along with Trout Bay off Grand Island.
Another winter fishing spot in Upper Michigan is Big Manistique Lake – a 10,000-acre lake in Luce/Mackinac counties. Here, you can get your hands on Walleye, Yellow Perch, and Northern Pike – a combo that can hardly disappoint.
The slightly bigger Lake Gogebic in Gogebic County is known for its early ice with Walleye, Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, and Black Crappie lurking underneath.
And That’s Not All
Of course, we’ve covered just a small portion of ice fishing spots in Michigan. If you hire a local guide who knows the right spots, ice fishing in Lake Michigan can be a wonderful experience for anglers of all ages. For extra safety, you can fish around the lake’s harbors and ports, where the ice is thicker.
Right next to this Great Lake is another premier ice fishing spot, Hamlin Lake. Ice fishing enthusiasts usually access it through Ludington State Park. The lake’s deeper than others, although the shallower upper part freezes over first.
Near Metro Detroit, you can enjoy ice fishing in Michigan’s Cass Lake without having to go far from the city. Jumbo Perch, Crappie, Pike, and Walleye are common catches in this lake. Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac are other good spots for winter fishing located right next to each other.
So, are you in the mood for a Great Lake ice fishing adventure or would you rather explore a smaller lake? There are so many options to choose from, and many more to find on your own!
Ice Fishing Season and Conditions
Michigan usually has around 4–5 months of cold winter, from December until March. During this period, the lakes freeze over enough for you to enjoy your ice fishing experience. However, the weather and ice thickness varies from year to year. While you’re planning your Michigan winter fishing trip, it’s important to follow these five simple rules:
- Check the ice thickness. The state’s Department of Natural Resources usually updates the anglers on the recommended thickness of ice. In general, lakes are safer during the early winter months than rivers and streams.
- Don’t forget to check the weather. The best way to make sure you’re extra safe is to check the weather while planning your trip (if possible), a few days before, and right before you hit the ice.
- Don’t fish alone. If you can, head out with your fellow anglers, friends, or family. If you’re going solo, consider telling someone you trust where you’re going and when you expect to come back.
- Pack a life jacket. Along with a life jacket that’s an essential part of your safety gear, it’s recommended that you pack a spud to test the ice, along with ice picks.
- Hire a local guide. Ice fishing involves carrying a lot of gear around, and getting to the best spots might sometimes be tricky. A knowledgeable guide who knows the local waters usually takes care of all the details so that you can fully enjoy your ice fishing adventure.
If you want to learn more about ice fishing safety, check out the rest of the tips on The Michigan Department of Natural Resources page.
How to Go Ice Fishing in Michigan
If you’ve already planned your next ice fishing adventure in Michigan, you might be wondering how you’re going to get to the fishing spots and what kind of gear you’ll be using to catch a fish under the ice. Below, we outlined a few things that can help you be productive (and warm) during your Michigan ice fishing trip:
- Permanent/portable ice shanties. These are ice houses – sheds – that fit all your gear and electronics, as well as a heater, while separating you from the ice. Sheds can be made of different materials, from plastic to wood.
- Navigational electronics. Good electronics and a fish finder can help you locate the fish. Some Michigan ice fishing guides may carry underwater cameras to help you spot your next target under the ice.
- Transportation. Depending on where you’ll be fishing, you might need a snowmobile or an airboat to maneuver on ice. There are various types of those, some can even propel through water before clawing back to the ice.
- Fishing gear and tackle. Your go-to gear while fishing in Michigan may include spinning rods and reels. Depending on your target fish, you may also use jigging spoons, reels, and various types of bait.
Take a look at this ultimate illustrated guide to ice fishing if you want to learn more about the art of ice fishing.
Rules and Regulations
All anglers aged 17 and over need to have a valid Michigan fishing license. There are various options available for both residents and visitors, from a single day to annual licenses. Depending on where you’ll be ice fishing, there are size and bag limits, and keeping some species may be prohibited. Feel free to learn more about it on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website here.
Michigan Ice Fishing – an Adventure Full of Wonders
…that you can experience yourself. All you have to do is to hit the ice with a professional guide and a group of friends, family, or fellow anglers and see why ice fishing here is so great. Chances are, you’ll want to return next season or even earlier to see what the warmer months in Michigan have to offer.
Let’s hear from you. Have you ever been ice fishing in Michigan? What’s your favorite spot? Share your experience in the comments below!
Lisa traded the lecture hall for the vast expanse of the world’s waters, transforming her love of teaching into an insatiable passion for angling and storytelling. She would sail through oceans, lakes, and rivers, reeling in the world’s fish stories one catch at a time.