Thanks to Hour Detroit for this:
For the uninitiated, the idea of voluntarily spending a day on the ice in the depths of a Michigan winter might seem borderline bonkers. But listen to those who are hooked on the sport of ice fishing, and you just might find yourself dropping a line.
Lake St. Clair
At 430 square miles and teeming with a wide variety of fish, Lake St. Clair is easily metro Detroit’s most popular ice fishing location.
Perch and walleye are the main draws, but you can also catch: panfish, pike, steelhead, bass, muskie, and bluegill.
“Lake St. Clair is such a great ecosystem that supports aquatic life. From the seaweed to fish flies hatching, fish have plenty to eat and grow on,” Murray says. “There are just so many fish out there and you never know what you are going to reel in. I’ve seen 4-inch perch and even 150-pound sturgeon.”
Some of the best access points are: Lake St. Clair Metropark, Harley Ensign Memorial Access (South River Road), and Brandenburg Park (Chesterfield Township). There are also DNR launch sites in Harrison Township (Crocker), near Selfridge Air National Guard Base, and in the village of Fair Haven. See lakestclairguide.com for details.
The 1,280-acre gem in Waterford Township is Oakland County’s largest and deepest lake and best known for jumbo perch and sizable crappies. Bluegill, sunfish, panfish, walleye, and northern pike are also reeled in here.
The best access point is Dodge Brothers No. 4 State Park.
Situated within Kensington Metropark in Milford, this 1,000-acre lake boasts a thriving walleye population. Other fish commonly caught in winter include bluegill, black crappies, yellow perch, and sometimes northern pike.
Access points include the West Boat Launch and Turtlehead picnic area.
The best access point is Sterling State Park near Monroe. Lagoon areas near the parking area are known for bluegill as long as 8 inches. Anglers can find walleye off Brest Bay, which borders the north end of the park.
Bolles Harbor Boat Launch is another access point.
The Detroit River is known for walleye hot spots. Detroit Princess Riverboat launch, Renaissance Center, and Belanger Park are all places to check out. Perch and panfish are also usually plentiful.
Stony Creek Lake Impoundment, located within Shelby Township’s Stony Creek Metropark, is 498 acres. The lake is shallow, but fishing from most of the shoreline is permitted. There are good populations of crappie, sunfish, northern pike, sucker, carp, and walleye.
The Basics of Ice Fishing in Michigan
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ upcoming Free Fishing Weekend (Feb. 13 and 14) is a great time to give the sport a try. No license is required. (Details are available at michigan.gov/dnr.) In the meantime, here’s a rundown of ice fishing basics.
First things first: Unless it’s Free Fishing Weekend, you’re going to need a license.
They’re available online for $26 at Michigan DNR eLicense
With that out of the way, make sure you’re prepared to dress for the cold. Bacarella’s advice will sound familiar to anyone who’s survived even a single Michigan winter: He urges ice fishing novices to wear warm layers that can be peeled off or added on as the temperature fluctuates. That’s often the difference between an enjoyable outing and a miserable one. Avoid cotton and wear thermal clothing, including socks and underwear, that wicks away moisture.
Insulated rubber boots and waterproof gloves that allow manual dexterity are ideal. Boots should be equipped with a traction aid such as safety spikes. Also, be sure to leave a dry set of clothes in your car just in case.
Next, you’ll also need to buy or borrow some basic gear. There are shorter rods and lines specifically designed for ice fishing. Another option is to use tip-ups, which feature small reels submerged in the water. When fish bite, a flag pops up, signaling it’s time to pull the line. Most anglers use live bait such as minnows, maggots, or worms. Bright-colored lures and jigs are the best artificial bait. Don’t forget a bucket or folding chair to sit on. A skimmer is also needed to remove the icy slush that forms at the top of fishing holes. A float suit or life preserver provides extra protection in case of a fall through the ice.
Once you’ve geared up and are out on the ice, Bacarella suggests using a spud bar (ice chisel) to check ice thickness if you’re fishing in the early and later parts of the season and an auger if it’s midseason, when ice is likely thicker.
For a more successful outing, you might want to invest in specialized equipment. Electronic gear such as underwater cameras and flashers, like the Garmin Echomap Plus 73SV, which can locate schools of fish under the ice, makes finding fish much easier. “Watching fish on the screen like that is a good way to keep kids occupied if you bring them along for the experience,” Bacarella notes.
Remember that an ice shanty provides ideal protection against the elements. Portable ones that fold up, like the Eskimo Quickfish 6, are available online and through many outdoors shops. Eventually, if you get hooked on the sport, you might want to deck out a wooden shanty with creature comforts such as a portable heater, grill, and comfortable benches.
Murray and Bacarella both stress that a little common sense can go a long way toward preventing dangerous situations: Never fish alone; always have a charged cellphone handy; pack an extra pair of gloves and ice picks, along with at least 20 feet of rope, in case of a fall through the ice. Don’t fish on ice less than 4 inches thick. Clear ice with a blue tint is strongest, while weaker ice appears milky or slushy. Avoid ice that is under snow. “Even if ice is around 4 inches thick everywhere that you’ve cut a hole, you still could step into an old hole and break a leg or ankle,” Bacarella notes.
“On larger bodies of water like St. Clair, the ice you’re on can break away from the main ice, but just pay attention to the wind,” he adds. “If it’s blowing toward shore, ice is not going anywhere. If it’s blowing away from shore, that could be dangerous.”
Getting trapped on an ice floe usually requires rescue by Coast Guard helicopter. Murray says he’s heard about such incidents happening in Saginaw Bay and to a lesser extent on Lake St. Clair. One important thing to keep in mind: “They rescue people, not equipment,” he says. “You will leave all that behind.”
One last bit of advice that probably goes without saying: It’s a good idea to pack a thermos filled with a hot beverage as well as some bottled water to keep yourself hydrated.
Or … Just Hire a Pro
If all of that is more than you’re ready to take on, you might want to consider booking a guided outing, though local options are limited.
MI Guide Service, run by veteran Michigan fisherman Jeremy Ullmann, offers ice fishing outings on Lake St. Clair. Shanties, heaters, gear, and bait are provided. Details can be found at miguideservice.com.
Otherwise, Murray and Bacarella suggest searching for guides who serve Saginaw Bay or Ohio’s Lake Erie shore. “The Ohio shore, especially between Toledo and Cleveland, is less developed than Michigan’s Lake Erie waterfront,” Murray notes.