The Upper Peninsula Fishery: Inland Waters

Where I grew up in Texas, we fished what I call the trifecta: bass, crappie, and catfish. When I thought of recreational angling, that was my universe. However, I found my universe changed drastically when I moved to the Upper Peninsula. In fact, it changed so much, I got dizzy!

To demonstrate, I’m going to spend some time talking about fishing in the Upper Peninsula. It’s such a broad topic, I have to break it down, so I’ll start with inland waters. You don’t hear as much about these spectacular fishing opportunities because the Upper Peninsula is sandwiched between two Great Lakes. But inland fishing is something you don’t want to miss.

Remember how I fished the “trifecta” in Texas? Back then, I considered it a whale of an outing if I caught bass, crappie, and catfish in a single trip. Well, I went with a friend recently to a small inland lake not far from home, Gene’s Pond, because late Spring in the Upper Peninsula means great bluegill fishing. The water starts to warm up, and these little powerhouse panfish get hungry and agressive. But, while we were targeting ‘gills, we caught largemouth bass, perch, rock bass, bluegill, crappie, and pumpkinseed – all in a single evening. Every catch is a treat, but the bluegill were a blast. Big bluegill, too.

Slab bluegill out of Gene’s Pond

Locating the bluegill was an adventure. This time of year, you often find them on beds in sandy shallows. We saw a few in spots like that, but we decided to get into some dead, flooded trees for an hour or so to see if any bass hit on topwater lures. It’s a touch early for topwaters, but we had time to burn and wanted to give it a try. While we caught several bass, bluegill kept swiping at our topwaters. So, we went back to light action poles with a bit of crawler suspended under a slipbobber. The action was immediate and nonstop for the rest of the evening. We caught and released well over 50 big bluegill. That, my friends, is perfect Spring fishing.

Although this is a great time to target bluegill, there are plenty of options when it comes to inland fishing. You can access lakes with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, pike, walleye, perch, trout, and panfish from pretty much anywhere in the Upper Peninsula. Sometimes you have to target each species differently, but you can frequently catch multiple species using the same bait and presentation. For example, pike and bass are both larger, voracious feeders, so they’re frequently caught together. Perch and panfish are smaller, so I’ll often catch them together when fishing small jigs or worms. Crappie seem to fall right in the middle, and I’ll catch them while targeting both larger and smaller fish.

One of the things I like about inland lakes is the ease of fishing them through the ice in the winter. You can walk straight out, pick your spot, drill a hole, and go. I know plenty of people who fish with finders and Vexilars, but I prefer it the old-fashioned way. You catch pretty much all the same fish you would any other time of the year.

Panfish and crappie on ice, copyright The UP Traveler, no use without prior authorization

You can’t neglect the rivers, either. In the Upper Peninsula, you encounter the same plethora of species in the rivers you find in the lakes. However, unless you’re fishing a trout stream, smallmouth and pike are what you’ll catch most frequently. I don’t often keep smallmouth, but they are one of the hardest fighting fish you’ll find on a pound for pound basis, so targeting them is a blast. I typically use a medium action rod with 8-pound test, so catching is a ton of fun. Personally, I like to kayak the rivers when I fish. It’s good exercise, and I can move around and get myself to spots I might overlook if I was in a larger boat.

Now, are you new to fishing? If so, never fear. Sure, you can turn on the television and watch professionals jet around lakes on $100k boats with the most recent fish finder tech as they talk about barometric pressure and lake conditions, but none of that is required to have a good time on the water. I like a cheap kayak with a couple of rod holders to give me mobility, a decent but inexpensive rod and reel combo like an Ugly Stick or a Pfleuger President (in medium action), and enough bait to give me a few options – sticks, jerks, swimbaits, jigs, spinners, and topwater plugs. Once you have that, you experiment and get to know other people who enjoy fishing as much as you do. Gradually, you figure things out, which is half the fun.

The other reward of fishing these inland lakes? Peace, quiet, and beauty. The other night on Gene’s Pond, the sunset over the water was strikingly brilliant. Frogs and peepers sang in the background, and the occasional call of a sandhill crane carried over the still surface. I snapped the picture below, which perfectly reflects the clouds over the water and the last rays of a setting sun.

Good friends, excellent fishing, and superb natural beauty. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Sunset over Gene’s Pond, copyright The UP Traveler, no use without prior authorization

Location: Gene’s Pond, Dickinson County, Michigan

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