The best ice fishing in Michigan leaves most states far behind. Michigan is known for its incredible, world-class ice fishing.
Michigan ice fishing will provide if you’re after walleye, northern pike, trout, yellow perch, panfish, or bass.
Crappie fishing in Michigan offers you the chance to catch dinnerplate-sized slabs. The walleye come in big, bigger, and trophy-class fish. Enormous pike and muskies patrol the water under your feet, full of fight and ready to award the angler that delivers the right bait at the right time.
All this leads to Michigan being an epic ice-fishing destination.
From the Great Lakes to smaller ponds, fish are everywhere, and ice fishing is a time-honored way of life here. So put Michigan on your bucket list for wintertime fishing.
The Gear and Tactics
Ice fishing is an easy sport to get into. All you really need is a rod and an auger. You can rent the auger, gear, and even the rods you need at most of the lakes on our list.
Check with the resorts and guide services before heading out to an ice shack. Or rent a cozy sleeper cabin and you’ll be able to watch the big game while you fish.
Baits like wax worms, nightcrawlers, and minnows work well when ice fishing with natural baits.
Swedish Pimples, Kastmasters, Rat-L-Traps, and Rapala Shad Raps are great options for artificial jigging lures. Bring along some soft plastics to tip jigs. Use colors that also glow in the dark for the best presentation.
Ice safety is essential. Have a floatation device and ice picks. Be sure the ice is at least 3 inches before walking on it, and avoid areas with slush on the surface. Guides and resorts will have ice conditions available, so call ahead.
If you’re still learning a thing or two about fishing on top of frozen water, we’ll link you over to our complete guide to ice fishing at the bottom of this article.
Michigan’s Best Ice Fishing Lakes
So you’ve decided to try ice fishing just in time for the hard deck to set in. What could be better? Spending time with friends on the ice is a tradition dating back over 2,000 years. Who are we to get in the way of history?
Time to hit the ice. Bring your gear and an ice shanty if you can, and get out on one of these lakes to experience the best ice fishing in Michigan and possibly the entire country.
Houghton Lake is massive. Its 20,000 acres of fishable ice bring anglers by the thousands year after year.
Ice forms early at Houghton Lake near the middle of the Lower Pensinula. It’s relatively shallow and freezes faster than most Lower Peninsula waters. It’s a treat to ice fish before the holidays, and Houghton usually provides for the anglers who fish it.
Resorts and cabins surround the lake, and there are plenty of ice cabins and shanties for rent. In addition, tackle is available at several bait shops, so nothing keeps you from hitting the ice here.
Ice typically lasts from the 2nd or 3rd week of December through early April. With the first safe freeze, hit the deeper edge of the weed beds around the shoreline.
Perch, crappie, and bluegill hang out here for a month before venturing into deeper water. So set your target at 5 to 9 feet of water for panfish throughout December and January. They move into deeper water as the season moves on.
Walleye take advantage of the shallower areas and are caught right along with the panfish through the early season. However, walleye can become a more difficult target when February rolls around as they spread throughout the lake.
Northern pike also hunt under the ice here and can attack both your lures or that panfish you’re trying to bring up top for tonight’s fish fry.
Add a minnow to a Swedish Pimple for the best chance at walleye. Jigs tipped with waxworms will catch the panfish.
Mitchell and Cadillac Lakes
Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac are connected via the Clam Lake Canal. Both lakes offer epic ice fishing. In addition, several resorts and rental companies are located around the lakes so you can get out on the ice in style.
Safe ice also arrives in early December most years at these lakes near the city of Cadillac. Ice-off comes around late March or into April. Those in-between months are fantastic.
Lake Mitchell is an excellent panfish fishery, while Lake Cadillac is more of a walleye and yellow perch water.
Crappie and bluegill draw big crowds on Lake Mitchell. Tip a small jig with a wax worm or nightcrawler, and you’ll find fast action. Some of the crappie are giants, though the sheer number of fish in the lake can cause the occasional stunted fish or two.
Walleye and northern pike are catchable in Mitchell, so bring the tip-ups. There are many small to mid-sized pike here, though Cadillac has the bigger walleye and pike.
Lake Cadillac fishes well for perch, walleye, and pike in the winter. Try targeting walleye; you might find the aggressive pike hitting before the walleye can get near the bait. I don’t know many people that would see this as a problem.
Anglers will find walleye and northern pike in either lake.
Lake Mitchell has higher numbers of northern pike, but the fish tend to be smaller.
Lake Cadillac has fewer pike, but the fish, on average, are much larger. Use tip-ups rigged with big suckers if you’re targeting pike. They get huge in Cadillac.
Both lakes have decent walleye populations, though catching them can be difficult as northern pike will often beat the walleye to your bait.
These lakes also fish very well in the soft-water season for the same species, plus add in some of Michigan’s better largemouth bass fishing when these warmer-water species start perking up in the spring.
Saginaw Bay, or The Bay, off the main body of Lake Huron, is a well-known whitefish fishing and one of Michigan’s best walleye fishing spots. Safe ice typically begins around Christmas and runs through March.
Walleye, perch, trophy whitefish, and northern pike are everywhere in the bay, though it can be challenging to know where to go. The bay is enormous, after all.
Mornings and evenings are the best times for targeting walleye, while the perch and whitefish bite sporadically throughout the day.
Anglers do best to target northern pike with tip-ups baited with large white suckers. These live baits tend to stay active for hours after being rigged up. Smaller minnows are sure to grab some walleye.
If you’re new to ice fishing, go with a guide service to find the best action.
Lake St. Clair
Lake St. Clair spreads across the international border between Detroit and Ontario, Canada. A deep shipping lane runs through it since it connects Lake Huron with Lake Erie.
Fishing at Lake St Clair can range from good to epic. Walleye, perch, northern pike, and muskie are possible catches, though walleye and yellow perch are the main draws under ice.
Muskie are renowned here, though they take plenty of wear and tear during the year, so many anglers give them a break over the winter months. However, if you target these giants, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best muskie fishing in the country.
Muskies average 15 pounds here, with 30-pounders caught regularly. Colossal fish are in the lake, and you have to find them.
Jig minnows on Swedish Pimples, Rat-L-Traps, and small Kastmasters. Target the bottom and raise your bait one or two feet up.
Muskegon Lake offers anglers excellent access, plenty of rentals and resorts, and a ton of fish. Starting the season here is a great idea if you’re after crappie. It may be the best crappie fishing in the state right after the first ice.
Start your day in Snug Harbor. Target 3 to 6 feet of water and have a go at the crappie and bluegill.
Walleye chase the usual methods here and can grow well over 10 pounds. Keep your bait moving for the best chance. Constant jigging is a must.
The northern pike are everywhere, but some of the best locations are east of Second Street by the B.C. Cobb plant. The plant releases warm water, so be careful, as the ice around it can be sketchy.
The North Muskegon Water Tower is another spot to target pike and walleye. Use spoons in blue/silver or orange/silver combos.
Muskegon Lake sits on the north edge of Muskegon near Lake Michigan, and a quick drive northwest from Grand Rapids.
Cass Lake is the perfect quick-trip destination near Detroit. It gets a lot of pressure, but it is definitely up to the challenge.
Start your trip in Keego Harbor on the eastern shore. They have all the bait, tackle, food, and equipment you’ll need.
Late December typically has safe ice and is the most crowded time on the water. However, fishing remains good throughout the season, so pick a time when there’s a bit more room.
Crappie and bluegill fishing is fantastic around the area known as “The Guts.” It’s just off Dodge No.4 State Park on the northern shore.
Try targeting walleye around sloping areas. The lake drops from 10 feet to over 40 feet deep along the slope. Find some fish on your finder and use a Swedish Pimple with a wax worm or minnow on the hook.
While fishing for walleye, anglers should consider setting out a tip-up with a larger minnow for pike.
Hamlin Lake is a reservoir on the Big Sable River. It’s teeming with walleye, decent-sized northern pike, and huge panfish, including crappie.
There are several resorts and charters around the eastern side of the lake to start your trip. Ludington State Park is another great spot to start your day. It sits between Hamlin and Lake Michigan.
Ice is typically safe before Christmas and stays solid through March. However, the lake gets crowded on weekends, so consider fishing on a weekday.
The biggest draw here is the giant bluegill and crappie. Target the edges near weed beds for the best chance. Tip a small lure or jig with a wax worm, and you’ll be catching in no time.
Fish the upper section earlier. It’s relatively shallow and forms safe ice before the rest of the lake. It’s also the most productive panfish angling on Hamlin.
Walleye are a bit finicky in the winter. They start strong, then taper off throughout the season.
Northern pike are a different story. Anglers catch plenty at 2 feet and longer.
How to Go Ice Fishing
If you aren’t inspired to give this a try after learning about the premiere winter lakes in Michigan, it’s time to sit on the coach and turn on the TV. But if you’d like to give it a try, be sure to read our simple guide to ice fishing techniques, tips and safety.