January in northern Michigan is an excellent time to take advantage of many different angling opportunities. For those who want to get out on the ice, this is a great time to venture out on smaller bodies of water that have just formed safe fishable ice. Another January option is hitting the river for trout and steelhead. Both options will provide anglers with active fish and lower levels of angler competition due to the time of year.
First ice conditions can be an excellent time to encounter active panfish, perch, walleye, and pike. Panfish love the shallower weed flats this time of year. Fishing on top of and adjacent to small depth changes and structure can be very effective. Size 12 teardrops tipped with spikes accompanied by 2-4 lb. fluorocarbon can be most effective. While targeting panfish in the shallows, anglers can go after cruising pike on the edges of weed beds and close to adjacent drop offs. Tip-ups with sucker minnows provide a great bonus option while searching for panfish. Presenting your sucker minnow right above and slightly into standing weeds can produce nice pike this time of year.
Walleye can be found cruising the drop offs at daybreak and dusk. Depending on the lake, most active depths will range from 15-25ft. Jigging Rapalas, Buckshot Spoons, and smaller jig heads tipped with a minnow can be a good rod and reel option at this depth range. Anglers fishing tip-ups in this same zone will have great success as well. Big Blue minnows and Greys on a size twelve treble weighted by a ¼ ounce egg sinker will work for most tip-up rigging. When jigging this depth range, good electronics are critical for finding active fish and interpreting the type of jigging cadence that is most desired for that specific day. Both pike and walleye often inspect offerings for quite a while before striking.
January steelhead fishing can be an absolute riot! If you can get past the cold fingers and frozen rod guides, this is great time to pursue low-pressured fish and not encounter a large number of anglers. The active fish can be found in deeper slower sections of the river mostly keying in on the tail outs of runs and holes. Anglers presenting spawn and beads under floats will have great success. For those who prefer to tackle these hungry fish on the fly, intruder, egg, and leech patterns will produce fish when presented at the right depth.
We at Sport Fish Michigan would like to caution all anglers fishing first ice, to please use good judgment when venturing out and always fish with a friend. Ice doesn’t always freeze uniformly, and weak spots can be common during this first ice period. Good luck, tight lines and we hope to see you on the water this January!