Ice Fishing in Michigan: Tips for Catching More Fish

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The most popular spots to do ice fishing in Michigan include Saginaw Bay, lake Michigan, lake Mitchel, Houghton lake, Cass lake, and lake Hamlin. When going winter fishing, ensure you carry the necessary fishing gear, such as a fishing rod, an ice auger, and warm clothes. Remember, all these spots have specific regulations and restrictions, so check with the authorities before you go ice fishing.

Ice fishing enthusiasts love fishing in Michigan as it has many inland lakes and rivers. If you have little fishing experience, you can seek guidance from an experienced local guide to help you catch plenty of fish.

Remember, the type of fish you catch depends on the lake you choose and the month you go fishing. Here is a Michigan ice fishing guide and what to expect in your ice fishing trip.

Best Places for Ice Fishing in Michigan

When it comes to ice fishing, Michigan has the best spots. The location you choose will significantly determine the type of fish you get. Here is a list of the best ice fishing lakes in Michigan.

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1. Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell

These two lakes are among the best ice-fishing lakes in Michigan, as several rental companies and resorts surround them. These lakes are connected through the Clam lake canal, and you can switch within lakes without much struggle.

The ice starts forming here in early December and comes off around late March or early April. So be careful when ice fishing just before Christmas, as the ice could’ve not appropriately formed at this time.

Both lake Cadillac and lake Mitchel have plenty of panfish, including yellow perch, crappie, and bluegill. However, Lake Mitchell has a high population of bluegill and crappie than lake Cadillac. Use a small jig with a nightcrawler or wax worms to catch crappies and bluegill fast.

On the other hand, lake Cadillac has the highest northern pike and walleye population. Although this lake has fewer pike than Lake Mitchell, they’re larger, and you can catch them using tip-ups and big suckers.

Important Tip: Use sensitive rods with light lines for the best ice fishing experience. You can also use spring bobbers to feel and detect the soft bite of these hidden gems.

2. Cass Lake

Cass lake is located in Oakland county, just near metro Detroit. This lake provides a great ice fishing ground with an ice covering of approximately 1280 acres.

The vast ice provides plenty of room for winter anglers who want to do ice fishing in Michigan. The best time to go ice fishing is between late December and the beginning of January. However, fishing remains good for the rest of the winter season.

Cass lake is home to many fish species, including crappies, bluegills, sunfish, northern pike, walleye, and jumbo perch. If you’re targeting crappie and bluegill fishing, you should go to the area known as The Guts on the northern shore.

If your target is to catch bluegill, small minnows, and sunfish, you can use bait and lures such as wax worms, mousses, and spikes. Using these baits and lures limits the chances of catching crappies which are quite many in this lake.

Those who want to catch walleyes should consider fishing on the sloppy side of the lake. Use a fish finder to locate the walleye. Most anglers use Swedish Pimple with a minnow to catch walleye on this lake. There is a small town on the eastern side of this lake known as Keego Harbor, where you can buy supplies before going ice fishing.

3. Houghton Lake

Houghton lake is the largest lake in Michigan, covering approximately 20,000 acres of land. It’s among the best fishing lakes in northern Michigan that offers safe ice fishing.

The best thing about going ice fishing here is it’s surrounded by different bait shops and resorts that sell baits and rent ice shanties.

The lake becomes safe for ice fishing from mid-December. However, you can still visit the lake all winter long until early April. The most common species you can catch here include sunfish, crappies, bluegills, and walleyes.

Anglers targeting to catch plenty of walleyes should go early season because they are shallow at that moment. As winter progresses, they move into deeper water, and it becomes more challenging to catch them.

If you’re targeting weed beds, it’s advisable to visit during the first ice as they’re plenty along the south shore. They move deeper as winter progresses, thus making it harder to catch them.

Unlike other species, panfish are found everywhere in the lake, and you can dig holes in the entire area. The gold teardrop and chartreuse are the most popular lures to catch panfish. The Swedish Pimple lure with a minnow head is an excellent option if your target is to catch plenty of walleyes.

4. Hamlin Lake

Hamlin lake is among the best ice-fishing lakes in Michigan. The lake is on the west side of Michigan, just next to lake Michigan.

Both lake Michigan and lake Hamlin provide great ground for winter fishing. These lakes are separated by Ludington state park, and there is a town nearby where you can buy all your supplies. On the eastern side of the lake, there are many resorts and charter companies, and they will rent and help you set up an ice shanty.

Most winter anglers prefer fishing at lake Hamlin because it has more giant bluegills than other lakes. It’s best to fish walleyes at the beginning of the season because it gets pretty challenging for them as the season progresses. If your main idea is to catch walleyes or northern pike, you can use live golden shiners as your lure.

Important Tip: Since fish here get finicky, especially during late winter, be sure to use light lines, small lures, baits, and extra sensitive rods to increase your chances of catching fish.

5. Saginaw Bay

Saginaw bay is among the best places to find walleye and lake whitefish. This bay is located near Lake Huron. Safe ice fishing here begins around Christmas and ends mid or late March.

Here, you’ll find different ice fish species throughout the season. If your target is to catch walleyes, go fishing in the morning or evening because they’re in plenty during this time. Anglers targeting northern pike should use a tip-up baited with large suckers.

Different resorts along the bay provide everything you need. Some companies offer transport, heated shanty, electronics, lures, and poles.

However, you can bring your equipment and refreshments. You can also go alone or hire an experienced guide to help you locate spots where you can catch walleyes.

Top Fishes to Catch When Fishing in Michigan

When it comes to ice fishing, Michigan is the best place to be as it has over 150 fish species. You can catch anything from panfish, northern pike, walleyes, lake trout, whitefish, coho salmon, or even Burbot.

Here is a list of the most preferred species you can get when you do Michigan ice fishing.

Yellow Perch

Are you targeting yellow perch as your next dinner? These fish move in schools, and if you’re lucky to locate their school, you’ll bring home a handful of them.

Yellow perch prefer staying in shallow water at the beginning of winter. As winter progresses, the lakes freeze more, and these fish tend to move to deeper water. When the season is about to end, the yellow perch go to their spawning grounds to breed.

Lake Trout

Are you fond of trout fishing in Michigan? Winter is their feeding season, and they’re in plenty in most ice lakes. When you decide to do lake trout fishing, ensure you use a baitfish since they’re highly mobile. Lake trout prefer staying near steep structures with clear water.

Northern Pike

Most anglers love northern pikes because they’re among the heaviest fish here and remain active in ice even as winter progresses. Most anglers here prefer using a rod, reel, and artificial lures.

You can also use frozen baits and live minnows to catch them. Always pack bigger baits because northern pike love to eat a lot.

Ice Fishing Season and Conditions

Winter is the best season to go ice fishing. The season lasts about 4-5 months, from December to late March. During this season, the lakes in Michigan freeze, and the ice thickness increases as the season progresses.

Essential rules and ice conditions to follow when fishing in these great lakes.

  • Always check the thickness: Ensure you check the recommended thickness made by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.
  • Check the weather: Check the local weather forecast before ice fishing.
  • Don’t go alone: If possible, go ice fishing with your friends or fellow anglers. They will help you in case something comes up.
  • Wear a life jacket: Include the safety jacket when packing your safety gear. Also, carry ice picks and a spud to test the ice.
  • Hire a local guide: If you’re not an experienced ice fishing angler, ensure you hire a knowledgeable guide who knows all the details about the lake you’re going for ice fishing.


The most popular spots to do ice fishing in Michigan include Saginaw Bay, Hamlin lake, St. Clair, lake Michigan, lake Mitchel, Houghton lake, and Cass lake. Some fish you’ll catch in these lakes include panfish, northern pike, walleyes, lake trout, whitefish, and lake salmon.

When going winter fishing, ensure you carry the necessary fishing gear, such as a rod, an ice auger, and warm clothes. Also, always check the weather and the ice thickness.

Hire an experienced guide and wear a life jacket if it’s your first time going ice fishing. Remember, all these spots have specific regulations and restrictions, so check with the authorities before you go ice fishing.

Diana Nadim
Fishing Expert
Diana began fishing at the age of seven, as it has been a long-time family tradition. From catching small bullheads to catching strippers on the backwaters of Bighorn, she loves to get out in the wild and have a marvelous day on the water. Her dad was an expert angler, and he taught her fishing along with her two siblings. They used to go to the Bighorn River in Montana and Henry’s fork, Idaho. As a pragmatic person, she is obsessed with creating well-researched and practical guides and reviews of the best fishing methods and gear.
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