Warm winters have curtailed many cold-weather pursuits in southern Michigan communities in recent years, but here in Sault Ste. Marie, we don’t have that problem. While the occasional warmer-than-normal winter causes ice to form a little later on area waterways, or sometimes delays snow cover, you can always count on being able to enjoy a weekend of ice fishing here where we know how to make the most of the winter months.
Nevertheless, it’s important to pay attention to ice conditions and remember that no amount of ice cover is considered completely safe. Pay attention to what other anglers are doing, and get advice from local bait dealers and resort owners, as well as the Department of Natural Resources field offices. Fish with a partner, if you can, and bring along “ice picks” or “ice claws,” a device you can use to pull yourself to safety should you fall through the ice.
Eastern Upper Peninsula anglers look forward to ice fishing just as much as they anticipate putting their boats in the water when the ice leaves. The Sault area offers a variety of fishing opportunities within an hour’s drive from town.
Sault Ste. Marie has played host to a variety of walleye tournaments right in town during the summer on the St. Marys River, but most ice anglers head south to Munuscong, Raber or Potagannissing bays, or west to Brimley’s Back Bay, as well as inland lakes including the Manistique Lakes near Curtis.
Ice angling for walleye is as simple as it can get. With a bucket of minnows, a few jigs and spoons and a couple of rods and reels with well-functioning drags and ice auger, you’ll be all set. Of course, snowmobiles and four-wheelers add to your mobility, but many anglers walk to their destinations. Portable or “permanent” ice shacks or shanties are wonderful to have when the weather is really cold, but if conditions permit, don’t be afraid to drill a dozen holes or more, hopping around from spot to spot to find where the active fish are swimming.
Munuscong Bay has been a favorite for ice fishermen for many years. Most anglers access the bay from the west side or through the state property at Conely Point. Look for the groups of anglers spread out through the bay and you’ll get an idea for where the current action is happening. Most of the bay is shallow – 3-5 feet – but many fishermen find big walleye farther out in 8-15 ft. depths and deeper.
Where you find walleye, you’ll likely find perch, too. Munuscong is a favorite among perch fishermen, as is Raber Bay, Potagannissing and Lake George off Sugar Island. A number of inland lakes provide good perch fishing, too, including Brevort Lake northwest of St. Ignace.
Again, the rigs are simple, and what works for walleye often works for perch, too. Most fishermen use smaller spoons or tear drops either tipped with a live minnow or just a minnow head. As with walleye, it helps to move around if possible, especially in shallow water.
The same places that provide good perch and walleye fishing also hold their share of northern pike, and every year it seems someone pulls a monster muskellunge out of Munuscong Bay.
Pike fishermen often use tip-ups baited with live minnows or chubs, or a combination of tip-ups and ice rods, but a dedicated group of anglers enjoy using spears for pike and muskies. No matter your preferred method, the St. Marys River is well-known for its northern pike fishing.
Popular during the summer months, whitefish are often ignored by ice fishermen, which is a shame, because the St. Marys River and Whitefish Bay offer some of the few places where anglers may find these fish that are more common to northern waters.
Fishermen catch a few larger whitefish in the deeper waters adjacent to Munuscong Bay, but most anglers try west of town in Izaak Walton or Mosquito Bay, in Tahquamenon Bay near Emerson, and off the mouths of any number of the small creeks that empty into Whitefish Bay along its southern shore, including Pendills and Halfaday creeks, when conditions permit. Those same creek mouths are good spots to find lake herring and young coho salmon “jacks,” which are a lot of fun to catch and delicious on the grill.
Use 4-6 lb. test line for the light-biting whitefish, with teardrops and waxworms. You may want to bring along a spear, too, as it is legal to spear whitefish. Again, keep an eye on ice conditions and the wind. Deeper water freezes later than the shallows and sometimes during mild winters some of the spots along Lake Superior and St. Marys River are not accessible.
These are just a few of the places that attract ice fishermen in the EUP. Check the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website for a more comprehensive list of ice fishing hotspots. For local fishing Charters click HERE. Don’t forget to share your EUP ice fishing photos with us by tagging them #ILovetheSoo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Guest Blogger Tom Pink