Three guys trolling five rods in a 12-foot jonboat is plenty challenging when you’re just trying to keep your lines untangled. Once you get the system down, though, it’s all pretty easy—even when you’re all three working on a limit of 25 panfish apiece.

That was yours truly along with good fishing buddy Al Malsch and his 6-year-old grandson Tyler on a fall day, on a lake only accessible to those with small boats that can be dragged a short distance to launch. Southern Michigan is full of such lakes, and many, like the one we were on, have good populations of fish that don’t get barraged with baits from lots of anglers. In fact, the Sunday we fished, we shared Al’s secret little lake with just a canoe with two anglers targeting crappies—very successfully I might add.

Tyler Malsch shows a dandy bluegill that ate the waxworms behind a Spin-N-Glo.

Al had told me about this honey hole for months, and finally a plan to get out and fish it came together. We met at his house in Lawton and piled into his little Chevy S-10 pickup, jonboat in the bed behind. After a quick stop at a gas station/bait shop for 100 waxworms, we were launched and fishing within minutes.

“I saw this lake on a map a long time ago and saw there was no public access, and then realized all I had to do was drag a boat a little ways through public land to get on the water,” he said. “It’s a rare trip that I don’t catch a limit of bluegills and crappies.”

Al has been a charter captain on Lake Michigan and spent a good amount of time trolling walleyes on Lake Erie. He isn’t a fan of casting or watching a bobber. So he came up with a unique system of trolling that uses Worden’s Spin-N-Glos, a couple small beads and a No. 8 hook. Add a couple of split shot a foot or so ahead of the Spin-N-Glow, impale a few waxworms and start trolling very slowly. If you’re on the right lake, you’ll start catching fish.

Al’s jonboat doesn’t have a sonar fishfinder, but that didn’t matter. With a small Minn Kota tiller electric, he slowly eased around the perimeter of the lake. I had a long, nine-foot Okuma spinning rod and reel spooled with seven-pound test, and a short, five-foot casting rod and baitcast reel with six-pound test. It was easy to keep both rods to the starboard side of the boat, lines well separated. Tyler held a six-foot spinning rod straight out to the port side, Al had a six-foot spinning rod off the port side and a super-short 30-inch spinning rod designed for ice fishing with line trailing just off the transom, with bait and Spin-N-Glo just behind the swirling prop wash from the electric motor.

“Lots of days that short rod is the hottest,” Al said. “For whatever reason, bluegills like that turbulence right back there—a lot like coho salmon do.”

Al and Tyler Malsch are ready to clean a three-person limit of Southern Michigan panfish.

Sure enough, that ice fishing rod was the most productive. Al would see the little rod dip, set the hook and hand it up to Tyler to reel in. Bites were sporadic until we got to the east side of the lake, where some weeds were visible on a large flat, perhaps 10 feet deep. It seemed to be where the mother lode of panfish were this day, and we pecked away at them while Al steered the boat in a big oval pattern around the flat. We caught very few that were too small to be worth cleaning, most of the bluegills in the 8-inch size range. After about six hours of this fun, Al’s handheld fish-counter showed 74, and, just in case we missed counting one, we headed back to shore with the count one short of our three-person limit. The final tally was three crappies, a couple of yellow perch and, as it turned out, 70 bluegills—we did miss counting one.

Back at Al’s house, we filleted the fish and readied about half of them for a fish fry the next day at a local restaurant. The rest went into freezer bags.

Michigan has hundreds if not thousands of these sorts of lakes. A great way to find them is with a DeLorme Michigan Gazetteer. Find the lakes abutting public land without a public launch ramp, and you’re in business.

For more information on Michigan fishing go to michigan.org.

Images by Dave Mull

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