If you’re a walleye fisherman in Michigan, March is bitter sweet. Savvy anglers are very aware that March can produce some of the hottest walleye action of the year, but the walleye season closes on March 15, except on the Great Lakes and connecting waters.
During the last couple of brutal Michigan winters, there’s been good ice on even southern Michigan lakes well after March 15. Anglers were still ice fishing on Saginaw Bay last year in April. But that’s not really typical. In recent decades, anglers would be fishing from boats on the Saginaw and Tittabawassee rivers the first two weeks in March. Regardless, fishing in Saginaw Bay can be very good either on the ice or from boats in March and April.
There are other species that can product great angling, too during March regardless if it’s on the ice or in open water. Pike, crappie and perch are all early spawners and can be found staging under the ice or actively spawning in open water if spring comes early. Anglers just have to figure out whether to leave the shanty in the back of the pick up or hook up the boat.
Saginaw River System
When I was growing up in Saginaw, the Saginaw River never froze. Joke was you could take some water from the river and put it in your car’s radiator if you needed some antifreeze. To say the river was polluted was an understatement. In recent years, the river has frozen solid for three months. A sign of cleaner water or global warming that Al Gore has been proclaiming? Either way, fishing can be very good in the Saginaw River and it’s tributary, the Tittabawassee River, in early March before the season closes.
With an estimate 2 to 4 millions adult walleyes in Saginaw Bay and the majority of them running up the Saginaw River to spawn, there are plenty of walleyes that provide targets for anglers. Walleyes that enter the system during the fall and winter gradually work their way upstream with many stopping at the Dow Dam on the Tittabawassee River near Midland. Anglers can put in at the public access at Gordonville Road and run upstream and fish the runs and holes below the dam until the season closes March 15. Casting a jig tipped with a minnow and/or plastic is a good tactic. The idea is to let the jig bounce and roll through the run as slowly as possible.
Fresh-run walleyes stack up in the Saginaw River during March from the confluence of the Tittabawassee River all the way to Bay City. Spawn-laden females, which theses days will run from 6 to 8 pounds, stack up in the deeper holes either side of the Zilwaukee Bridge to Veterans Park in Bay City. Most anglers slip-the-current and vertical jig with jigs and minnows, but some pull crank baits with good success. There are usually plenty of aggressive males in the mix, so if you’re looking for fish for the freezer take the precocious males and let the fat hens go to spawn.
For tackle and fishing reports contact the Gander Mountain store in Saginaw at 989-791-3500.
Crappies are some of the first fish to move shallow in the spring to spawn and it appears that 1,250-acre Sanford Lake is poised for some good crappies fishing in the coming years. “We’re just wrapping up a creel census on Sanford this summer and it appears that there is a decent population of crappies in the reservoir right now,” claimed Jim Baker MDNR fisheries supervisor who works out of the Bay City Operations Center. “A lot of the fish the creel clerks were seeing were 8 or 9 inches, but there were some bigger ones, too.” That bodes well for anglers that like to target specks on last ice or just after ice out.
Other reservoirs that are part of the Tittabawassee River System, such as Smallwood and Secord, have produced Master Angler-sized crappies in the past. 1,950-acre Wixom Lake near Edenville, is located just above Sanford Lake and produces a similar crappie fishery on last ice and in the spring. There are both black and white crappies in the system.
Baker stressed that all of these reservoirs are hydro electric-producing bodies of water. Water levels and ice conditions fluctuate greatly. Anglers should use caution when ice fishing and stay away from the main current and river channel in the reservoirs when on the ice. On Sanford, ice fishermen concentrate in the area known as the “fills” by locals, which are bays off the river that usually have solid ice and are locations where pre-spawn crappies collect. Similar locations can be found on all of the Tittabawassee River reservoirs. Anglers also do well on bluegills, walleyes and pike in early spring.
Baker said it’s pretty hard to beat the classic pink jig head with a white twister tail for spring crappies. For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Sanford Sports Shop at 989-687-5161 or on-line at sanfordsportshop.com.
“We’re usually still ice fishing in March,” offered MNDR Cadillac District Fisheries Biologist Mark Tonello. “Heck, the last five of six years we’ve still been fishing in April on Cadillac and Mitchell and fishing can be really good then. I’ve yet to ice fish in May though!”
Tonello said both lakes produce good numbers of crappies for anglers that persist on last ice. “It’s fun fishing because the crappies are right under the ice and you’re basically sight fishing for them,” said Tonello. “I know minnows are supposed to be best for crappies, but I’ve had the best luck with a teardrop and a wax worm on last ice.” That may be because crappies are keying in on the freshwater shrimp that are common in the lakes. Tonello most specks will run from 8 to 10 inches, but bigger slabs are common. “I have no problem filleting an 8-inch crappie,” joked Tonello.
Hot spots on 1,150-acre Lake Cadillac are off the library and Kenwood Park on the northeast corner of the lake in 10 feet of water and off the causeway along M-55 where a small pond across the road empties into the main lake.
On 2,580-acre Lake Mitchell, Tonello said last ice and ice-off fishing for specks can be good in Big Cove on the southwest corner and at the mouth of Little Cove. Tonello added that pike and walleye fishing heats up just before the season closes., too. Locations vary so it pays to drill holes and keep moving. Anglers in search of pike spot tip-ups with lively gold shiner minnows. Those in pursuit of ‘eyes jig with Jigging Rapalas or jiggin’ spoons, like Swedish Pimples and PK Flutter Fish.
For information on amenities and accommodations in the area contact the Cadillac Area CVB at 231-775-0657 or on-line at www.cadillacmichigan.com.
Pere Marquette Lake
While some anglers may be targeting steelheads on last ice on the east end of 554-acre Pere Marquette Lake, others are taking advantage of the schools of pike and perch that move in from Lake Michigan.
Pike in excess of 40 inches are caught every winter on last ice off the Sand Dock and Buttersville Park. The big pike move in to chase baitfish and in preparation for spawning in the marshy areas of PM Lake and the lower Pere Marquette River.
If you want to catch lots of pike, spot tip-ups with golden shiners; if you’re after trophy northerns use giant suckers or herring. You won’t get as many bites, but the chance for a gator exists.
Most anglers use at least one rod for perch while they’re waiting tip-ups to go off. Sag-belly yellow bellies move in from the big lake to spawn. Perch to 14 inches aren’t uncommon. You’ll catch more with wigglers, but big, walleye-sized shiners will take bigger fish.
For bait, information on ice conditions and lake maps contact Captain Chuck’s II at 231-843-4458 or at www.capt-chuck.com.
Gun and Gull Lakes
Ice conditions can be iffy in March in southern Michigan, but that hasn’t been the case the last few winters. “The past couple of Marches we’ve had good ice all month long,” claimed Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit Fisheries Manager Jay Wesley. “There’s some really good crappie fishing on last ice and just after ice out on both Gun and Gull lakes, but not many people take advantage of it.”
A lot of the better crappie action on both lakes is along the channels, boat docks and cuts that come off the lakes. They are the first places where the ice melts and warms up as the sun beats down on these dark-bottomed canals. Pre-spawn crappies move into them to chase minnows and spawn later. Action can be good on last ice and just after the ice melts.
On 2,030-acre Gull Lake, try the east end and off the Prairieville Township Park on the northeast corner. Standard crappie fair works for slabs that will run 8 to 12 inches. Teardrops tipped with larva or minnows on the ice and jigs or minnows in open water.
For bait, tackle and information on fishing conditions contact Gillette’s Bait & Hardware in Shelbyville at 269- 672-5371.
While Barry County’s 2,6680-acre Gun Lake can be good for last-ice and ice- out crappies it can also be red hot for walleye. “Gun Lake is doing very well for walleyes and is probably one of the top lakes for walleyes in southern Michigan,” said Jay Wesley. Wesley said to target the southeast corner on last ice where the bottom is composed of mainly rock and gravel. Walleyes gravitate to the areas because the area has the best conditions for spawning, but it’s doubtful any are successful. “The walleye fishery is all dependent on plants,” advised Wesley. There are humps here that rise to 10 feet with water of more than 60 feet nearby, exactly the kind of contours that attract walleyes. The area between Murphy’s and Hastings points is worth checking out, too.
Wesley said that there are at least five strong year classes of walleyes in Gun Lake thanks to MDNR plants of between 40,000 and 50,000 spring fingerlings in past years and plants by the area lake association. The spring fingerlings only average 1 to 1-1/2 inches, but the MDNR has also planted fall fingerlings that average 8 to 9 inches. The fall fingerlings are legal-sized fish in two years thanks to an abundance of shiners and perch in the lake.
For fishing reports and tackle contact D & R Sports Center in Kalamazoo at 800-992-1520 or on-line at www.dandrsports.com.
March weather and fishing can be fickle in Michigan. Be prepared to take advantage of hot last-ice action, but have your open water gear at the ready.