By Howard Meyerson
Little out-of-the-way lakes often have a special allure. Small and quiet with no shoreline development, they are wild-feeling places where fishing is just fun.
I was reminded of these little gems recently. It was misty and overcast when I launched a canoe at Fish Lake, a 165-acre Barry County water surrounded by state land. Only one angler was out, but I was greeted by a natural chorus of sandhill cranes calling in the distance and a bevy of red-winged blackbirds trilling in the cattails.
I’d come prepared to drift along the shallows, casting poppers and rubber-spiders to entice bluegills and bass. I’d rigged a light spinning rod with a countdown Rapala too, just in case. Both tactics were productive, the fly rod especially so. The fish weren’t big, but the fishing was fun.
Fish Lake has narrow, rocky shallows and a steep drop-off that plunges to 56 feet. The lake was managed by the Michigan DNR for many years. Its last survey, in 1994, turned up bluegills, perch, largemouth bass and black crappies, a few northern pike and brown trout and ciscoes. The trout were last stocked in 1979, but they now naturally reproduce in Hough Creek which feeds the lake.
“The growth rate for the bluegills and pumpkinseed is slower than average, but they are still acceptable, 7 inches to 9 inches. Occasionally, you find 10-inchers,” noted Kregg Smith, fisheries biologist with the DNR’s Plainwell office. “It’s a lake that appeals to anglers who want to canoe and belly-boat.”
It should be said the lake also produced a state master angler red-ear sunfish in 2013. The fish was 11.6 inches long. It took a worm in June.
Fish Lake is one of many waters around the state where anglers can fish for panfish without the roar of a jet-sled or bass boat. It has an undeveloped and shallow launch that won’t accommodate anything much larger than a canoe, kayak or small, trailered rowboat.
Do your homework
Finding the lakes can be a challenge. It requires a little homework and topographic maps, and county maps are a good place to start. Pick a county, find a lake surrounded by state or federal forest, and perhaps you’ll see a two-track leading there.
Whether it fishes well is a different question. You may be able to answer it by checking the DNR website. Click Fishing. A variety of databases and tools can be found there.
Some out-of-the-way waters, like Wakeley Lake, outside of Grayling in the Huron National
Forest, require walking in or wheeling a small boat to water’s edge. The loons, bald-eagles and ospreys make the effort worthwhile. The fishing season at Wakeley opened June 15 and runs to August 31. It is strictly catch-and-release.
“You for sure get that kind of (wild) feeling there,” notes Dave Borgeson, fisheries
supervisor for the Michigan DNR’s Northern Lake Huron Management Unit. “Another one in Montmorency County is South Blue Lake. It’s similar to Wakeley and has bluegills and bass. It’s also a catch-and-release.
“What I tell people who want that kind of fishing experience is ‘do your homework and then call the DNR. Ask about it.'”
Heather Hettinger, the DNR’s fisheries biologist in Traverse City said “We have a ton of those kinds of lakes up here. There are lakes in the Sand Lakes Quiet Area and handful of lakes in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.”
Hettinger offered Shell, Bass and School lakes as examples in Benzie County. Just north of that are Otter and Deer lakes.
“They are all good for panfish and have a decent number of bass, small boat launches and a rustic, wild feel,” she said. “Benzie County has Little Lime Lake. The cool thing there is it is a hike back to it. But it is stocked with walleye fry every couple of years and the perch are decent.”
Mark Tonello, the fisheries biologist at Cadillac suggests Pine Lake in Manistee County, good for largemouth, bluegill and perch. He too says: Call the DNR.
“We’ll tell ya what we know,” Tonello offered. “We have files on most lakes that date back many decades. Hopefully, we can at least give some hints.”
Appears in MLive Media Group newspapers and MLive Outdoors.