In the state of Michigan, ice fishing is a way of life. For those outside of the Great Lake State, a trip up north for some ice fishing action makes for an unforgettable winter vacation. If you’d like to try your hand at catching walleye, perch, and bluegills through the ice this winter, use this article as a guide to some of the best hotspots when you go ice fishing in Michigan.

The Best Hotspots For Ice Fishing in Michigan

1- Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac

About The Lakes

Two of the best ice fishing lakes in Michigan happen to be located right next to each other. Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are actually connected by the Clam Lake Canal, which was built during Michigan’s logging era to float logs from the wooded shores of Lake Mitchell to the sawmills located on Lake Cadillac. Now, the lakes provide abundant ice fishing opportunities with easy access.


Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are located in Wexford County, just off the M-55 causeway near the town of Cadillac. There are several resorts, hotels, and campgrounds around the lakes giving you plenty of options for places to stay.

When to Visit Lakes Mitchel and Cadillac

Both lakes ice up in early December and offer safe ice conditions well before Christmas. First ice offers the best chances to catch fish on Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac, but great fishing can be had all winter long until ice out in late March or early April.

What Will You Catch?

Both lakes have large populations of panfish, including bluegill, crappie, yellow perch, and a variety of sunfish. Lake Mitchell is known to produce more bluegills, crappies, and sunfish while Lake Cadillac is better known for its winter perch population.

Where To Go Ice Fishing in MIchigan

Walleye and northern pike are also found in Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac. Lake Mitchell has higher numbers of northern pike, but the fish tend to be smaller, whereas Lake Cadillac has fewer pike but the fish are much larger. Both lakes have decent populations of walleye, but catching them can be difficult as northern pike will often beat the walleye to your bait.

Local Tips

While Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are hidden gems among the ice fishing lakes of Michigan, both lakes receive plenty of fishing pressure. That’s not to say that you won’t catch any fish. If you want to consistently catch fish on these lakes, use sensitive, delicate rods, light lines, and spring bobbers to detect the subtle bites of wary fish.

Small minnows are the best bait for catching crappies, while maggots and spikes are killer for bluegills and sunfish. If you want to catch a trophy pike, rig a tip-up with jumbo suckers or smelt and get ready to haul in a monster!

2- Houghton Lake

About the Lake

At 20,000 acres, Houghton Lake is Michigan’s largest inland lake. And since it’s relatively shallow, it’s one of the first lakes in the Lower Peninsula to freeze and offer safe ice conditions. If you want to get in a great ice fishing trip before the holiday season kicks in, Houghton Lake should be high on your list!


Houghton Lake is right in the center of the northern portion of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula between Highway 127 and I-75. There are many different resorts and cabins around the entire lake along with bait shops and places to rent ice shanties.

Best Places For Ice Fishing in Michigan State

When To Visit Houghton Lake

Similar to Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac, Houghton Lake has safe ice as early as the second week of December. The lake offers excellent fishing all winter long and anglers regularly fish the ice until early April.

What Will You Catch?

Bluegills, crappie, sunfish, and walleye are found in high numbers throughout Houghton Lake. Panfish are generally found in 6 to 8-feet of water throughout the season. Walleye will be shallow early in the season, but tend to move into deeper water — 12 to 14-feet — later in the season and can be more difficult to catch.

Local Tips  

During first ice, anglers have good luck fishing the weed beds along the south shore. As the season progresses, the fish head deeper and the best fishing takes place in the middle of the lake.

Panfish can be found from top to bottom, so it’s important to fish the entire water column. Chartreuse and gold teardrop lures are local favorites for catching panfish, and jigs tipped with wax worms or spikes almost always produce bites. For walleye, a Swedish Pimple lure sweetened with a minnow head should be your go-to lure all throughout the season.

3- Cass Lake

About The Lake

Ice anglers looking for a quick escape from the city should head to Cass Lake. While it’s one of the most popular ice fishing lakes in Michigan, Cass Lake’s 1280 acres of prime ice provide plenty of room for all to enjoy the bounty of winter fishing.


Cass Lake is located in Oakland County, within close proximity to Metro Detroit. Keego Harbor is a small town on the east shore of Cass Lake and provides a great jumping-off point to stock up on supplies before heading out on the ice.

When To Visit

Cass Lake typically freezes over in mid-December and has safe ice conditions in late December or early January. In the beginning of the season is when anglers see the most fishing action, but the fishing remains good all season long on Cass Lake.

Best Lakes For Ice Fishing in Michigan

What Will You Catch?

Cass Lake is well-known for producing gorgeous crappies, but it’s even better known for its jumbo perch. Bluegills and sunfish are also abundant and walleye and northern pike are available for anglers after a bigger catch.

Local Tips

If you’re after panfish, head to an area known as “The Guts” just off Dodge No.4 State Park on the north shore of Cass Lake. Use spikes, wax worms, and mousies for bluegill and sunfish, and small minnows to catch your limit of crappies.

For the best walleye action, you’ll want to find areas of the lake that slope down from 10 feet to 40 feet. Keep moving and using your electronics until you locate fish. A Swedish Pimple sweetened with a minnow works wonders on Cass Lake walleyes.

4- Hamlin Lake

About The Lake

One of the best places to go ice fishing in Michigan, is Hamlin Lake. It is a large reservoir formed by the damming of the Big Sable River. The river provides a steady flow of nutrients to the lake, creating fertile waters that sustain healthy populations of the fish ice anglers love to catch.


Hamlin Lake is located right next to Lake Michigan on the far western side of the state. Ludington State Park sits between Lake Hamilton and Lake Michigan and provides great access to the ice. Ludington is the nearest town with all the amenities you’ll need, and there are many resorts along the east shore of the lake along with several charter companies that will get you set up with an ice shanty to rent.

When To Visit

Hamlin is deeper than the other lakes on this list, but it still manages to freeze over in December and provide safe ice conditions before Christmas. Fishing is best during first ice, then gradually slows down as the season advances. Weekends bring hundreds of anglers to the ice, so if you’re looking for a more tranquil experience, save your fishing for the weekdays.

What Will You Catch?

Hamlin Lake has earned a reputation for producing bigger-than-average bluegills and other panfish. In the early season, walleyes are ready to be caught but become increasingly difficult to catch as the season passes. Northern pike are also abundant in the lake with fish in the 28 to 36-inch range frequently caught.

Local Tips

The upper section of Hamlin Lake is shallower and is the first water in the lake to freeze. Fish the upper lake on first ice for some of the hottest fishing action of the season. The big bluegills and sunfish like to hang out in the weed beds feeding on aquatic insects and small baitfish. Try to locate these areas and use a teardrop lure tipped with a wax worm to get big bites. If you’re after walleyes and northern pike, use live golden shiners.

The fish in Hamlin tend to get finicky late in the winter. Be sure to use extra sensitive rods, light line, spring bobbers, and small lures and baits to increase your chances of catching the wary fish.


If you’ve never had an ice-fishing experience, Michigan is one of the best states to drill some holes and do some jigging. Whether you’re a local or an out-of-towner looking for a great winter destination to take the family, head to any one of the lakes on this list and you won’t be sorry. And don’t forget: if you’re an ice fishing newbie and don’t have any of your own gear, you can always hire a guide to take you out on the ice and put you and your family on some fish.

The Author: Hi! My name is Wesley Steiner from I love fishing as well as traveling. When I am not on the road or in the boat, you will find me behind the computer writing about my experiences.

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