GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — This is the time of year when a lot of Great Lakes anglers think about heading north for northern pike fishing — north to Canada, north to the U.P., north to the Boundary Waters above Minnesota, and to other exotic locations famous for producing big springtime pike.
But it's not necessarily the case that you have to go so far to get into good fish, especially given the prices at the gas pumps these days. There are, for example, excellent pike prospects right in Michigan on the Lower Peninsula's Grand River.
At the right time of spring, and in the right places on the lower Grand, anglers have a legitimate shot at connecting with 10 to 15-pound pike, along with the occasional monster fish that can push 20 pounds.
At the river mouth of the Grand where it empties out into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven, there's a series of extensive sloughs and slow-moving backwaters. These darkly stained, out-of-the-way places provide ideal habitat for foraging pike.
Lower river wetlands are punctuated by stumps, lily pads, slow currents and lush vegetation, along with a series of deep water holes, which are sleeper spots for pike that a lot of anglers miss.
In fact, with such an emphasis on steelhead fishing on the Grand, and with springtime crappie at a seasonal zenith here, this river's pike fishing is often overlooked by local anglers — which is good news for those who take the time to target them.
Pike forage in and out of Lake Michigan via the Grand's river mouth, sometimes foraging far upstream and sometimes coming in only as far as the lower river sloughs.
There are also lots of resident fish in the sloughs that likely never leave.
Along with the excellent habitat they find, Grand River pike enjoy another advantage that their cousins in closed waterways don't: significant seasonal migrations of suckers, trout, alewives and other species that are moving upstream, sort of like a restaurant that delivers for the pike.
With the great habitat and the great opportunities for forage, this is a terrific pike fishery.
Where to start
The river mouth habitat begins as far upstream as the eastern edge of the Grand Haven SGAs. Marshland, wetlands and generally shallow lake conditions prevail where the river has left the main channel.
"The Pottawattomie Bayou is best known for northern pike," said Gary Stillson of Lakeview Marine and Tackle (24 S. Beechtree St., Grand Haven, 616-842-2770).
"The Stearns, Bruce's and Lloyd's bayous, and Spring Lake, are all good for pike."
The Pottawattomie Bayou is accessed by boaters from the river under the Mercury Drive Causeway. The nearest ramp is at the eastern entrance to the Indian Channel.
From State Route 104, take 138th Avenue south for about 4 miles. A two-lane concrete ramp and shoreline fishing are available.
Target the west end of this bayou where the submerged weeds are developing, and on both the northern and southern shorelines.
Spring Lake pike
Spring Lake is another very good place to start your quest for a local trophy. Weedbeds extend throughout much of this large bayou, and these are the best places to target fish.
The channel access to Spring Lake for boaters is about 2½ miles upstream from Lake Michigan, under the State Route 104 bridge.
Traveling north into Spring Lake will lead to the Smith and Petty bayous, both of which are definitely worth fishing as well.
One of the ramps to use for reaching the Smith is at the far northeastern end of Spring Lake. From State Route 104 take Fruitport Road north for 4 miles. The two-lane concrete ramp is just north of the bridge.
The Petty's Bayou ramp is located on the bayou's southern shore. From State Route 104 take Fruitport Road north for a mile to the concrete ramp.
Pike anglers will do well in the upper reaches of Lloyd's Bayou south of the village of Spring Lake too.
From Highway 104, take Krueger St. south for about a tenth of a mile to 153rd Ave. Go south on 153rd Ave. another tenth of a mile to the marked access road.
Two more bayous
Stearn's Bayou is another spring pike hot spot. Just about anywhere within the confines of this bayou, anglers will find great pike fishing in early May.
Look for submerged vegetation bordering deeper water.
Stearn's is out of the way, with the nearest public launch being the Indian Channel access on the north side of the river about a half-mile upstream. To reach this access from Highway 104, follow 138th Ave. for about 3½ miles to the concrete ramp.
Bruce's Bayou is at the far eastern end of the system. The northern shoreline here has lots of cover with a slight drop-off. Two ramps service the area, the best being accessed from State Route 104.
From the highway take 138th Ave. south for 2 miles, then go east on Cypress Street for a half-mile to the dead end. The access here has a two-lane concrete ramp.
How it's done
A few pointers for finding pike in these environs:
Always fish weed edges, particularly significant weed edges.
Fish underwater structure, like downed timber, wherever you find it, as pike are mighty fond of hiding around structure in order to ambush prey.
Fish all sides of points, for the same reason.
Calm water seems to be best for northerns, and they're seldom found in the faster currents.
Quiet, weedy backwaters seem to hold more pike than locations closer to the main river channel.
Since this water is often turbid, a good selection of spinnerbaits is pretty handy to have when water clarity is on the wane, which it often is.
Along with spinnerbaits, large minnow-imitating lures and inline spinners imitating the local forage base are typical pike fare on the river.
Jigs tipped with large plastic creature baits, Reapers and shad bodies are excellent choices for working the bottoms of the holes, the lake bottoms, and for ripping along weed beds.
Incidentally hooking up with bass and even walleye is always a possibility in the area.
The pike opener was back on April 29, and the season runs all the way until March 15, 2007. Pike must be 24 inches in length with a limit of two fish daily.
Call Lakeview Marine and Tackle (616-842-2770) for more information and current river conditions.
For additional information on this excellent fishery, contact the Michigan DNR's Southern Lake Michigan Management Unit (616-685-6851).
Material from Fishing & Hunting News
published 24 times a year.
Visit them at www.fishingandhuntingnews.com.