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Ice Fishing Lakes in Michigan: Best Locations for Hard-Water Excitement

Written by: Pete D
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Michigan’s waters promise great ice fishing every winter, and as enthusiasts across the state - and country - know, there are simply fantastic opportunities to catch walleye, pike, panfish, and rarer freshwater species like splake.

Blessed with lots of great places to fish, we’ve culled all but the best, offering you a list of the best places for a hard water adventure this winter. Keep reading to see the best ice fishing lakes in Michigan!

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Hamlin Lake

hamlin lake

This man-made enclosure created by the dam from which it gets its name holds 5,350 acres of water. Just north of Ludington, it’s easy to reach and offers plenty of places to access the ice.

Separated into two halves by a narrows, the larger southern section features a long, relatively deep channel that provides over-wintering for pike and musky. When the ice is thick and safe, look for a deep hole in the north side of the lake near the dunes. The steep drop-off there provides two things predators need: ready access to prey and deep water to retreat to.

The drop-off north of the narrows is also a good place to look for pike, walleye, and musky.

Much of the western side of Hamlin Lake is shallow, reaching depths of only 10 to 15 feet. Plenty of sunlight makes its way down, creating a fertile zone for aquatic vegetation and perfect habitat for perch, crappie, and bluegill. Ditto for the lake north of the narrows east of Wilson Hill Park, where the bluegill fishing is excellent through the hard water.

Early in the season, I’d be looking for panfish just off Ludington State Park and in Stearns Bay, but later in the winter, expect to move to deeper water.

Hamlin Lake fishing surveys in 2019 reveal healthy populations of bluegill, crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, pike, rock bass, freshwater drum, and musky.

Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell

lake cadillac and mitchell

Anglers in Cadillac already know where to go for their ice fishing adventures, and they can pretty much walk to the hard water. They’re blessed to have two awesome lakes near them, Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell, which are joined by the Clam Lake Canal, creating 3,730 acres of excellent ice fishing each winter.

Pike, walleye, bluegill, and crappie are abundant on the lakes, and half of Cadillac’s bottom is 15-feet deep or less, offering plentiful sunlight to encourage healthy weed beds. These beds provide plenty of forage, as well as prime habitat for panfish.

Lake Mitchell’s bottom is composed of almost all such shallows.

The trick to fishing these lakes in winter is to find the holes and adjacent drop-offs where predatory fish will over-winter and hunt.

Lake Mitchell offers two such holes, one near the north end and one close to the southern shore. The topography isn’t steep around either of them but instead offers a gentle slope that’s home to weed beds. You simply can’t ask for better hunting grounds for walleye and pike, and of course, as the water temperature drops, the panfish will cluster there, too, to escape the cold.

Lake Cadillac’s deep water is predominantly on the eastern end of the lake, near Holy Road. That’s where I’d be looking for pike and walleye once the mercury really drops.

The pike are numerous enough to complicate walleye fishing, but the rare monster makes it worth fighting them off the rest of the time.

Saginaw Bay

saginaw bay

Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay is a world-class location for ice fishing for walleye.

The Bay’s long history of commercial fishing, as well as problems with onesie alewives, had dramatically depressed sport fishing, but careful conservation efforts have brought the walleye population roaring back, with lesser - but still notable - success with yellow perch.

The central basin runs closer to the western shore than the eastern, and it becomes accessible in early to mid-January when the ice thickens and extends shore to shore. Water depths are ideal for holding walleye through the winter, and plenty of cisco, whitefish, and other prey items - including yellow perch - keep the walleye fat through the cold.

Probably the best place to hunt trophy walleye in Michigan, Saginaw Bay is a must-visit for serious ice anglers.

Munising Bay

munising bay

Munising Bay can be found on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, and its sheltered waters provide excellent opportunities for some unique freshwater species. Splake, whitefish, burbot, and lake trout are common in Munising Bay, and great fishing locations are easy to come by.

At the south end of the bay, you’ll find steep drop-offs into 40 feet of water, as well as a warm-water discharge in the southeast corner. It’ll be easy to spot by looking for the clustered ice shelters!

Fish are attracted to this warmer water like moths to a flame, but the fishing is also excellent just off the public pier and farther up the bay at Sand Point.

Keep in mind that the water in the central basin is very deep, often reaching 150 feet or more. And the vast expanse of ice really rewards excellent fishing electronics such as ice fishing sonars and a plan.

Lake Gogebic

lake gogebic

Lake Gogebic is located in the upper peninsula of Michigan, and its 13,380 acres are prime walleye and yellow perch territory.

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This year’s survey by Michigan’s DNR repealed a healthy but somewhat depressed walleye population. Average size was good, and the numbers aren’t any cause of concern for conservationists or ice anglers.

The lake has a well-earned reputation as perhaps the state’s best location to catch jumbo perch through the ice, and any deep hole you find over safe ice is going to hold some real monsters.

The water right off Lake Gobegic State Park is shallow, holding right about at 15 feet. This lack of depth encourages sunlight penetration, and the weed beds there are excellent locations to target perch early in the season. Also, try Bergland Bay and Ice House Bay over early ice, as they offer similar habitats that sustain perch.

Later, as the water cools, look for holes on the eastern shore near Montgomery Bay and north from there.

Walleye and perch will be holding deep along these drop-offs.

Crystal Lake

crystal lake

Crystal lake holds 9,854 acres of exceptionally clear water, holding legions of yellow perch, whitefish, burbot, and lake trout. And while the pike may not be numerous, they make up in size what they lack in sheer numbers.

In fact, that small but stable population of pike is perfect for producing trophies, and Crystal Lake may just be the best palace in Michigan to look for a real hog.

Known as an exceptional yellow perch fishery, Crystal Lake’s clear water encourages the growth of vegetative cover that grounds a rich food chain, particularly off Onkeonwe Beach. Ice anglers will find yellow perch congregating on the steep slope of the lake’s northern side, along Crystal Drive.

Pike can be found along the steep slopes of the basin anywhere prey items are present, and the first step toward finding them is to find the food they’re after.

Lake trout will hold in the very deep waters of the lake, and finding a good spot over the main basin or along its sides is the first step. Again, the north side of Crystal Lake is probably the palace to start. But the southern shore out from Lobb road into deeper water can be a lake trout magnet, too.

On the eastern side of the Lake, stocked rainbow trout will school in the 20- to 30-foot deep basin, and you’ll find plenty of company on the ice there.

Cass Lake

cass lake

The metropolitan area of Detroit offers Cass Lake’s 1,280 acres, and scores of ice anglers descend on the lake when the weather turns cold.

Cass lake offers simply ideal habitat for panfish, especially crappie and bluegill. Lots of the lake is shallow and gently sloping, offering plenty of cover and the basis of a food chain that feeds better-than-average crappie. 10 to 11-inch slabs are common, and there’s no better place in Michigan to chase a record-setting bluegill either.

Be prepared with good electronics; you’ll need them to follow the panfish as they move throughout the day.

Good places to start your hunt include the deep holes just off Dodge Brother’s State Park #4 and Ward’s Point. The water off Marshbank Park is also a great place to find crappie and bluegill, especially given the deep holes almost immediately offshore.

Houghton Lake

houghton lake

Houghton Lake’s 20,044 acres are home to Tip-Up-Town USA, an ice fishing festival held on the lake each winter. A popular fishing destination every winter, pressure will be high.

The lake is predominantly shallow, with a large central basin as deep as 20 feet in some places. But more typical depths run in the single digits, creating ideal habitats for panfish like crappie and bluegill.

Walleye and pike are also present, but catching either of them will require some hard work on your part. Be prepared to move, searching weed bed edges with your electronics.

The south side of the lake is a good place to start your search for walleye, as a combination of a steep slope and a few submerged humps create attractive hunting grounds for these predators. The East Bay should also provide good opportunities for both pike and walleye as well.

Houghton Lake has earned a reputation as tough to fish, in part because moving is necessary, making working the ice on foot difficult.

Moreover, the average walleye size isn’t what it used to be, but pike are still thriving, and panfish of all kinds are there for the taking.

See our ice fishing tips for various species:

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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