Several scenarios come to mind when I think of walleye fishing in Michigan, ranging from silently slipping the current and vertically jigging on the Saginaw River, to slow trolling crankbaits in Brest Bay out of Monroe. There’s stealthy night trolling with electric motor in the channel between Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan, or casting crankbaits in the stillness of the night on Lake Leelanau. I’ve even waded into the Upper Peninsula’s Lake Gogebic and caught walleyes casting Rapalas beyond the waving reeds.
Note that none of these scenes include lots of whining jet skis or ski boats pounding out both rap music and big wakes under a bright mid-day sun.
But when the urge to struck to catch a walleye or two on Saturday—Memorial Day weekend—and I had a limited window of opportunity, I loaded up my kayak and headed for Magician Lake, one of the many smaller inland lakes the Michigan DNR stocks with walleyes. I launched at about 2 p.m.—not exactly prime time for tranquil walleye fishing.
“Sheez, if I wanted to go to the Indianapolis 500, I’d have headed to Indianapolis,” I thought as my 14-foot Hobie bobbed in the wakes of the various gas-powered water toys.
But one fishes when one can, and over the years, skiers and personal watercraft have gradually grown less annoying. The fish certainly have adapted and keep eating despite the surface din these machines make. When fish bend the rod, rumbling inboard motors and the “wa-wa-wa-wa” of jet skis fade into the background of consciousness. Plus, Michigan lakes are for everybody, not just anglers, and it’s a waste of energy to get upset about the non-angling crowd sharing a lake.
To make a long story short, I didn’t catch any walleyes, although I gave it my best shot, drifting a jig and nightcrawler along the deep breaklines that Magician features. But Magician, located on the Berrien/Van Buren county line in the southwest part of the state, is an excellent fishing lake for lots of species. With live bait, I cashed in. Big time.
After giving up on the deep jigging program, I pedaled the foot-powered craft into shallower water at the east end of the lake and started casting and catching small largemouth bass on the jig. After awhile, I got tired of picking weeds off my offering, and added an in-line bobber a few feet above the little 1/8-ounce glow-head. Success with bass continued—made especially fun by the nine-foot, six-inch ultralight G. Loomis spinning rod, its reel spooled with two-pound-test, micro-thin line.
Watching a couple aboard a pontoon harvest several nice bluegills closer to shore, I moved about a hundred yards away from them and anchored in five feet of water. First cast with the jig-and-crawler produced a dandy sunfish that made the reel’s drag screech.
After a few incidents of fish stealing my ’crawlers, I added a short leader of three-pound-test fluorocarbon and tied on a tiny ice jig, baiting with a pair of wiggly waxworms. And the panfish action kicked into higher gear. Several nice bluegills and another big sunny came to the kayak. I was no doubt sharing a big area full of spawning beds with the folks in the pontoon.
When the action ceased, I wound up the anchor and moved farther down the lake to a flat that came off a lily pad-rimmed point in an area that was too tight for the ski crowd to negotiate. Still lots of action, but the panfish were much smaller. So I let the wind push the ’yak back slowly towards the original hotspot, casting the jig-n-bob along the way and anchoring when another decent bluegill took the bobber down.
Re-baiting with fresh waxies, I lobbed the offering parallel to shore and the bobber immediately plunged under. This fish was no panfish, reacting to the hook-set with strong head shakes and a straight run towards deeper water. I thought at first I’d lucked into one of Magician’s many northern pike, but it was a keeper-size largemouth that erupted from the water. It made for some real fun on the micro line and long graphite wand, and I eventually subdued the 15-incher (the Hobie has a ruler decal on its port handrail), took a few pictures and released it.
After a couple more bluegills and a juvenile smallmouth—and already way past the time I’d told my better half I’d be home—I pedaled toward the public ramp. For a walleye trip without a walleye, it had been a pretty darn good day.
Images by Dave Mull