Fishing North and South Lake Leelanau

By: Whit

South Lake Leelanau

Channel catfish well over 10 lbs are caught every summer. Bluegills and rock bass that are boated in this lake are found on Michigan’s Master Angler Awards list on a regular basis. Over 11 million walleyes have been stocked during the past five years. Have I grabbed your attention for a bit? All of this and more can be found in South Lake Leelanau.

leelanau walleyesI haven’t mentioned brown trout and some excellent perch fishing. The brownies cruise the deep hole in the lake which is found SW of the east shore public launch site. With depths down to over 60 feet, this hole is rather confined on this 5,300 acre lake and is easily fished by drifting slowly with a SW breeze in the evening. A tactic relatively little used elsewhere is to hang a minnow off a three way swivel while drifting across deep water, bottom bouncing as you go.

Smallmouth bass are plentiful and hang on the 20 foot drop all along the east shore of this long, narrow lake. Typical live bait presentations produce some of the finest bass fishing in Northern Michigan. Gold bladed spinners are also effective. Having a hard bottom of sand and gravel near shore makes evening and early morning wading available. Although most anglers ply their boats, a select few don waders and slip quietly along casting bait and lures of choice.

Huge, slab sided bluegills fill the bill for ardent panfishing buffs in the shoal waters of the south end, and in the northern 1/3 of the lake, which narrows considerably as it flows towards North Lake Leelanau’s much deeper waters. Weed growth is sparse, but what is available seems to be a magnet to large gills of over 8 inches. A chartreuse icefishing teardrop from which is dangled a worm, or better yet, some form of terrestrial grub, and fished on a slip bobber is a surefire tactic on these fish. Some anglers have been known to secretly use perch minnows in the early morning and late evening for ‘gills.

Few fishermen target rock bass. These hard striking, dogged fighters do themselves proud with their strong brutish runs on light tackle. On the table they fair as well as any bass, especially the filleting sized hard bodies found in this lake.

In the opening paragraph of this piece, you may have thought you read something about 11 million walleyes having been planted. Well, you did. In the past five years a massive stocking effort is beginning to bring spectacular results. Crank baits and spinner baits are used to bring in numbers of walleyes and some are beginning to push the magic 10 lb. mark. Aligned with the prevailing summer winds makes this lake a perfect fit for drift fishing. Begin the float at the south end where Cedar Creek and Weisler Creek empty into the lake. Leeches dragged and twitched behind a walking sinker rig are deadly, with crawlers on a single hook harness coming in a close second. Little known, except by a few, is a fine after dark fishery in the shoals at the south end of the lake. Again typical walleye tactics work well, but also include still fishing using a three way swivel and the above mentioned baits as well as emerald shiners.

Ice fishing tactics for all of the above species are deadly in South Lake Leelanau. While it’s perch fishing is only mediocre as a rule, now and then the perch population decides to cooperate and limit catches of tasty 7-9 inch fish are taken.

North Lake Leelanau

Back in the late 1950’s there was one Michigan inland lake that offered trophy brown trout fishing, with specimens upwards of 20 lbs. there for the taking. While it’s southern neighbor held browns, it was to North Lake Leelanau that fishermen flocked in search of these brutes.

Covering almost 3,000 acres with depths of over 120 feet, this member of the Deep Six sits near the top of what might be called Michigan’s “pinkie”, in Leelanau County. The bottom consists of sand, gravel and assorted rubble in the shoal areas while deep water sits over sand, clay, and marl. A thermocline forms every summer at about 35 feet and can be a key to locating fish from trout to perch.

Fish plantings over the past several years have counted 112,000 brown trout, 94,000 rainbows and over 27,000 whitefish. Walleyes were put into the lake by the 1000’s during the early 1990’s as well. South Lake Leelanau, which is connected by a natural channel has been stocked with 11.5 million walleyes in the past five years. Yes, that is Million. These fish move back and forth between the two lakes on a yearly basis.

Two basins form this lake, the southern section being shallower, with a gently sloping bottom of sand and gravel. This is a prime area for walleyes and smallmouths. Drift fishing, using both crank baits and live bait, is a popular method. Night trolling along the 5 foot contour lines brings in fish that cruise out of the deeper water up to the shoal areas, in search of forage fish. In this same section find gravel and you will find smallmouth bass. Most fish are under 15 inches, but 4 lb. bruisers cruise these waters.

The north basin harbors trout, as well as smaller numbers of walleyes. Summer trolling along the ledges where the thermocline and bottom meet, (again key on that 35 foot depth) using a variety of lures, with silver/black Rapalas being a favorite, boats mainly rainbows. The browns tend to be deeper. Lake trout, from earlier plantings, still can be found in even deeper holes.

Four points, Brady Point and Cemetery Point on the west shore of this deep section, and Warden’s Point and Porter Point on the east shore, offer a steep pitch from shore into deep water. Smallmouths take up residence in the 25-35 foot depths and rise up to the shallows off the points in the evening to gorge themselves during post sunset hours on an abundance of minnows. The action begins about an hour before sunset with smaller bass and lasts for an hour or more after full dark. The pre and post dawn hours, until the sun hits the water, are also excellent. Besides the usual hardware and live bait, leeches are bringing in more, and many times, larger fish.

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