CADILLAC — Heading into free fishing weekend this Saturday and Sunday, anglers are reporting excellent hauls of nearly every variety of local fish, from bass and pike to the coveted walleye.
DNR fisheries biologist Mark Tonello said he's heard anecdotal reports that fishing license sales spiked this year during the weeks that the state shut down many businesses and public gatherings to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Steve Knaisel, owner of Pilgrim Village Resort and Fishing Shop, told the Cadillac News a couple weeks ago that Memorial Day weekend was much busier than he's seen in recent years.
"Everybody's in a good mood," Knaisel said. "They're starved to get out and do something. They really seem to be enjoying themselves."
Tonello said while it might be the case that more people have been fishing during the last several weeks, it doesn't seem to have had an adverse effect on the fish populations.
"Fishing has been really good," Tonello said.
Anglers are even reeling in decent numbers of walleye from lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, where they have been quite sparse in years past.
Knaisel attributes the increased prevalence of walleye to DNR stocking efforts and Tonello confirmed that the population is very healthy right now.
As temperatures warm up, Tonello said walleye tend to gravitate to deeper waters. Those looking to reel in some walleye might be wise to wait until dawn, dusk or nighttime, when they are most active. Rapallas and crawler harnesses are good lures for attracting walleye, Tonello said.
Heading into the heart of summer, Tonello said bass and panfish become the most common catch around here.
Lake Mitchell is home to a lot of largemouth bass; those looking to catch some smallmouth might have better luck on Lake Cadillac, especially near rocky areas.
Bass will hit just about any lure, including Rapallas, spinners, and plastic worms, which are ideal for slower reeling in weedy areas, where bass and many other types of fish like to congregate.
For panfish such as bluegills and sunfish, which can be found in great abundance in Lake Mitchell, using a simple worm and bobber combination is often the best bet. For crappie and perch, try using a minnow and a bobber.
Tonello said lakes Cadillac, Mitchell and Lake Missaukee also sport some of the best pike fishing in Northern Michigan. Like bass, pike are attracted to a variety of lures and baits, including Rapallas, crankbaits, and large minnows under a bobber.
Of course, any type of fishing you do in area lakes likely will produce plenty of bullhead and sometimes, the occasional bowfin — otherwise known as a dogfish.
While most people don't eat dogfish, Tonello said chances are if you reel one in around here it could be Master Angler size, so make sure to take a picture and send it to the DNR for a patch.
Other lakes with similar fish communities as lakes Cadillac, Mitchell and Missaukee include Berry Lake, Pleasant Lake, Meauwataka Lake and Rose Lake.
Those who don't have a boat will find excellent shoreline fishing opportunities around Lake Cadillac. To access deeper waters, try fishing off the dock, or if you're not afraid of getting a little wet, wade into the water from one of the many public access shorelines.
As a general rule, fish like to hang out near the edges of weeds and drop-off points, Tonello said.
This Saturday and Sunday, everyone is invited to throw a line in the water, with or without a fishing license.
During Free Fishing Weekends, the DNR waives the Recreation Passport entry fee normally required for vehicle access to Michigan’s 103 state parks and recreation areas; however, the passport requirement has already been suspended until further notice.
The DNR has offered Free Fishing Weekends since 1986 as a way to promote awareness of the state's vast aquatic resources. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a perfect match.
“Being outdoors and enjoying Michigan’s world-class fisheries never gets old,‘ said Jim Dexter, DNR Fisheries Division chief. “We encourage families to plan a day of fishing for this year’s summer Free Fishing Weekend to enjoy the fun of fishing together.‘
Everyone is reminded to practice proper social distancing (at least 6 feet) from people who don't live in the same household.
Tonello said while fishing licenses won't be required this weekend, anglers still have to abide by other regulations, such as throwing fish back that are too small and staying within the maximum catch limit per species.
For more information, visit Michigan.gov/FreeFishing. Download the 2020 Fishing Guide for current regulations and information.