There’s Excellent Fishing on the Manistique Lakes, but You’ll Need Good Technique and the Right Equipment – Including a Thermometer
By Rick Fowler
Located in the heart of the UP in Mackinac County, two of the three Manistique Lakes are known for high quality fishing – “The Big Lake”, and “South Lake”, connected by Portage Creek in the small community of Curtis. The lakes have something for nearly everyone; fishermen have harvested many eater walleyes and battled nice-sized pike in these waters. Other anglers go after bluegill, which can be landed by the buck in the lakes’ numerous bays and inlets. If you’re a bass angler, both lakes offer up some nice 3 to 4 pound smallies and an occasional big bruiser of a largemouth, especially around the one island in South Manistique and the three in Big Manistique.
There’s a catch of sorts, though; summer angling on the Manistique Lakes can be productive, but you’ll need the right lures presented correctly, and a willingness to adjust to changing conditions. To help you with that, here’s our definitive guide to fishing these beautiful northern lakes.
A tackle box outfitted for the Manistique Lakes needs a variety of jig heads, top water lures, spinners, and enough #8 snelled hooks and sinkers to satisfy a charter expedition. If you prefer fishing live baits you’ll want leeches, blue shiners, and heavy night crawlers. However, for many (myself included) the best recipe – it’s especially good for walleye – is a simple combination of a jig with a plastic trailer. Many crappie and perch fishermen like to use only the back half or cut pieces of the plastic with smaller hooks of the #14 or #16 varieties. I attach the entire trailer to a #8 or #10 jig head, making sure the presentation is horizontal, especially for walleye. With the darker waters of the lakes the color of the jig head will make a difference, and at other times changing the plastic might be the right decision.
Like most anglers I have my own quirks and eccentricities with respect to how I like to fish. One is that location and lure selection don’t change drastically from hard water to summer waters, especially on shallow inland lakes. But having said that, I also feel that a thermometer might be the most important piece of equipment you can have. Measuring water temperature is extra-important in the Manistique Lakes because they’re so shallow, and warm up immensely by mid-summer.
It’s practically a cliche at this point that a successful angler must think like a fish. However, fish seem to behave more from reflex than instinct or reason, and it may be more accurate to say we must feel like a fish. These creatures are cold-blooded, with body temperatures similar to their surroundings. The local water temperature will determine where this fish breeds, lives and rests. According to Barry Atkison in Angling from the Fish’s Point of View, “Fish are able to detect variation in temperature of as little as one degree. This remarkable sensitivity gives them warning of change and so enables them to take action to avoid the discomfort of large and sudden variation.”
In winter month a fish in cold water will take in less food, since the colder makes their digestion slower. Up to a certain temperature, the inverse is also true – the warmer the water, the faster the digestion and the more the fish eat. Thus, according to Atkison, “in general, fish will move to water that is within 10 degrees of their optimum feeding temperature, other things such as breeding, oxygenation etc. being equal.”
That’s where your thermometer comes in. The fish will be most active near structure that’s a little warmer than the surrounding water. Test the temperature, find a good target area and cast – if you’ve done it right, the line should start sizzling.
Fishing in the Upper Peninsula is a rare privilege, and if you’ve had experience there we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment. Either way, happy fishing!