Slab-sided bluegills are the dream of every panfish angler who harbors more than a passing fancy towards catching these tasty fish. Most every lake in Michigan is home to a population of ‘gills. Some even have excellent reputations for turning out fish in the seven- to nine-inch range with some regularity. To the eyes of many adherents, these are more than adequate to fill a bucket.
However, there are those who have higher ambitions while Michigan bluegill fishing and search out lakes that toss up fish of Master Angler proportions.
Here in Michigan , four inland lakes, year in and year out, have become known for their offerings of such ‘gills. In the past seven years, they have produced over 120 award-winning fish. Keep in mind that we are talking about bluegill that range over 10 inches in length and move across a yardstick (a ruler is too short) to 14 inches. Yes, that’s twice as long as most of us would consider a “decent” ‘gill.
WAKELY LAKE , CRAWFORD COUNTY
This small, 125-acre lake rests just north of M72 about 10 miles east of Grayling. There is no boat launch, so whatever watercraft you use must be toted down a 1/4+ trail leading to this shallow bowl of a lake. This is a special regulation lake so the angler must be cognizant of what is legal and what isn’t on this lake.
Wakely Lake is open for fishing from June 15 through August 31. It is closed to fishing for the rest of the year. Artificial lures must be used and it is illegal to posses any type of bait while on the lake. This is also a no-kill, catch-and-release body of water.
Being rather small and with no easy place to launch a boat, this lake is perfect for a float tube. The use of swim fins when using a belly boat is highly recommended. Flies, dry or wet, and poppers are the ticket to catching bluegill. Being rather shallow, with water less than 10 feet deep throughout the lake, there is no bottom contour structure upon which to focus. Rather the knowing angler cruises the weedline edges attempting to entice a wide-sided ‘gill to take in whatever is offered.
Largemouth bass and northern pike are also plentiful and give the angler plenty of action.
LONG LAKE , GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY
Long Lake , totaling almost 2900 acres in size, is a complex body of water to fish. Its many bays, points, islands, weedlines, and steep drop-offs present plenty of structure-harboring bluegill. The best fishing is during the summer months. Known more for its smallmouth bass, perch, and walleye fishing, Long Lake also offers the panfish aficionado plenty of hand-sized bluegill.
Exploring weedlines that separate shoal areas, of which there are plenty, especially east of Fox Island , is the ticket when the fish are not actively spawning. Typical bluegill gear using worms, waxworms, crickets, grasshoppers, wrigglers for bait will give the angler plenty of action. For the Master Angle-sized fish, light line is a key with leaders of one- to two-pound test mono being required. If flies are used, both dries and wets will garner fish. Between ice-out and the spawn, when the fish are in deeper water, wet flies in partridge and orange work well. A black wholly bugger is the favorite of many who fish this lake tossing fur and feathers.
Being a larger body of water, the lake requires the angler to explore. If one is of the ilk to fish for spawning ‘gills, the beds are easy to spot. However, it must be kept in mind to not deplete a bed of fish. These Master Angler bluegills are genetically superior to their stunted brethren and they do need protection. After the spawn the males hang around the bed to protect the eggs and fry as they hatch. By removing all of these larger males, the newly-hatched fish become even more vulnerable to predation.
Public boat launches are located at the north end of the lake off West Long Lake Rd. and County Rd.610 .
OTSEGO LAKE , OTSEGO COUNTY
Located south of Gaylord and just off I-75 as the highway cruises up the spine of Michigan , this 1900 acre lake is easily accessible. Two public boat launches are available. The Otsego County Park launch is located on the northwest shore of the lake off West Otsego Lake Dr . There is also a launch at the Otsego Lake State Park (state park sticker is required). This access site is best if you plan to fish the southern half of the lake.
June through August have brought anglers 23 Master Award-winning bluegill from Otsego Lake . Typical bluegill gear works well. A glass bead-head nymph in bright green with a pearl flash-a-bou tail is a most favored fly tossed by a few stalwart anglers who ply this lake.
This is not a deep lake, with 20+ feet being as far down as you’ll find. This deep area, west and a bit south of Arbutus Beach Point on the southeast shoreline can be excellent just after ice-out and after the spawn.
As with most bluegill lakes, finding weedlines, either emergent or, best of all, submergent in deeper water is invaluable. The larger ‘gills will not suspend far from bottom and a slip bobber is a must. Cruising and drift fishing along the 15-foot contour lines, which are plentiful in this lake will bring the angler into these areas of submergent weeds.
HOUGHTON LAKE , ROSCOMMON COUNTY
Huge: 20,000+ acres
Shallow: Averages eight feet deep
Weedy: Emergent and submergent weedbeds abound throughout the lake
Master Angler Awards: Over 50 in the past five years with many, many more having gone unreported.
Simply put, Houghton Lake may be the best slab-sided bluegill lake in the state. Most of these fish are boated from May through August. Of course, this is when most anglers are out and about on the lake.
Four public boat launches are scattered around the lake from Houghton Heights on the southwest shore, north to the launch east of the Muskegon R. outlet, thence to the access site on the northeast shore and another in Prudenville on the southeast shoreline.
Again, typical bluegill gear, with light line, and offerings are used. One slightly peculiar method, or seemingly so, is flyfishing with rubber spiders far out away from shore. It just seems odd to be flyfishing, usually associated with shallow water, so far offshore. Yet this is one of the best methods of taking large bluegill.
The Middle Grounds, a large flat area located about a mile west of the Cut River inlet on the northeast shore, is home to untold numbers of bluegill, many of them of Master Angler proportions.. It was here that I first found out about fishing with a Colorado spinner tipped with a small piece of nightcrawler.
My buddy Bob and I were drift fishing in a favorable wind out on the Middle Grounds early one evening in late July. We were catching a little bit of everything this lake has to offer, but nothing of any size. Off to our starboard side we noticed a boat with a single angler. He was drifting much as we were and we noticed that, with regularity, he was netting fish. Being about 200 yards away, we couldn’t see what kind of fish he was taking. Again and again he could be seen fighting a fish and then deftly netting it with a smaller net.
After almost an hour of this, curiosity got the best of Bob and me and we motored over to the fellow, approaching with caution so as not to disturb his fishing.
“What in heavens name are you catching?” Bob asked.
The gentleman, Stan, as it turned out, laughed a bit and chortled, “Bluegill!”
To make a most enjoyable exchange between fishermen short, Stan was catching bluegill of over 10 inches, with a few touching the 13-inch mark, by drift fishing a small, gold Colorado spinner tipped with a small piece of nightcrawler. The proof was in his catch and he was more than willing to share his secret.
I need not say that Bob and I scrambled around our ample tackle boxes until we found the required spinner. While we did not match Stan’s productivity, nor the awesome size of his fish, we did manage to boat a fine mess of ‘gills which we promptly filleted, fried and ate upon our return to the cottage that we were calling “home” for a few days.
If angling for Master Angler Award-winning bluegill is your cup of fish, then indeed, pay a visit to these four lakes. You’ll be on the threshold of “Bluegill Heaven”.