Ice Fishing: A Local Angler’s Top Lakes & Tips | Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council

Ice Fishing: A Local Angler’s Top Lakes & Tips

ice fishing mike cox ice shanty

When you love to ice fish, you can’t wait for the temperatures to drop below freezing. The frosty air helps harden Southwest Michigan’s inland lakes so you can safely walk on the ice, drill a hole, and drop your line to the hungry fish below. 

We asked Josh, a local angler, to share his insights on where to fish and how to reel in dinner. Here’s his guide to success on the ice.

Where to Fish | Catch These Fish | Proven Techniques | Things to Bring | Safety Tips | Where to Stay and Eat


Public access to inland lakes is available throughout Southwest Michigan’s three counties. Free parking is within walking distance of the lakefront. The link below shows a detailed map of each lake’s location.

tri county map highlight of area

Berrien County

  • Hess Lake, Baroda
  • Middle Grand Mere Lake, Lincoln Township
  • Paw Paw Lake, Coloma
  • Pipestone Lake, Sister Lakes
  • Singer Lake, Baroda Township

Cass County

  • Big Fish Lake, Marcellus Township
  • Bogart Lake, Newberg Township
  • Chain Lake, Calvin Township
  • Dewey Lake, Silver Creek Township 
  • Diamond Lake, Calvin Township
  • Donnell Lake, Penn Township
  • Driskels Lake, Cassopolis
  • Forked Lake, Newberg Township
  • Fox Lake, Newberg Township
  • Harwood Lake, Newberg Township
  • Hemlock Lake, Marcellus Township
  • Juno Lake, Mason Township
  • Kirk Lake, Penn Township
  • Klinger Lake, Cassopolis
  • Long Lake, Newberg Township
  • Magician Lake, Dowagiac
  • Paradise Lake, Calvin Township
  • Stone Lake, Lagrange Township

Van Buren County

  • Brandywine Lake, Pine Grove Township
  • Cedar Lake, Lawton 
  • Clear Lake, Pine Grove Township
  • Eagle Lake, Paw Paw Township
  • Fish Lake, Almena Township
  • Hall Lake, Lawrence Township
  • Jeptha Lake, Columbia Township
  • Lake Eleven, Columbia Township
  • Lake Fourteen, Columbia Township
  • Lake of the Woods, Hamilton Township
  • Maple Lake, Paw Paw
  • Reynolds Lake, Lawrence Township
  • Rush Lake, Hartford Township
  • Saddle Lake, Columbia Township
  • School Section Lake, Waverly Township
  • Scott Lake, Columbia Township
  • Shafer Lake, Lawrence Township
  • Three-Legged Lake, Bloomingdale Township
  • Three Mile Lake, Paw Paw Township
  • Van Auken Lake, Bangor
  • Wolf Lake, Almena Township

Map of Public Access Lakes

ice fishing fish in ice hold perch


In the winter, you can reel in these four main species and a few additional panfish. Many seasoned anglers swear fish taste better when pulled from the icy cold water. Here is what bites in winter. 

  • Bluegill: Find in shallower areas with vegetation. Small jigs tipped with wax worms or spikes are effective.
  • Perch: Look for them near the bottom in deeper waters. Use small jigs or minnows.
  • Walleye: Find these tasty fish most often in deeper waters. Jigging with larger spoons or minnows works, especially during early morning or late afternoon.
  • Northern Pike: Find at varied depths in a few of our inland lakes. Use larger baits and consider using tip-ups with live minnows.


  • Jigging: The most common ice fishing technique involves lifting and dropping the lure or bait in a rhythmic motion to mimic injured prey. Experimentation with speed, amplitude, and duration of jigging is key to finding what attracts the fish.
  • Tip-Ups: These devices allow anglers to fish multiple holes simultaneously. A flag on the tip-up signals when a fish takes the bait.
  • Location and Depth: Fish tend to be at different depths depending on the time of day and temperature. Early morning and late afternoon are often the most productive times. Using a portable fish finder can help locate fish and determine the right depth.

child ice fishing on a frozen lake


Josh says not to go out on the ice without this gear: 

  • Ice Auger: Essential for drilling holes through the ice. Manual augers are lighter and suitable for thinner ice, while heavier power augers make it faster to cut through thicker ice conditions.
  • Shelter: Portable shelters range from basic windbreaks to fully insulated shanties. They provide necessary protection against the elements and can significantly improve comfort. Shelters must be removed from Southwest Michigan inland lakes by March 1 or before if the ice is not safe to support them. 
  • Fishing Gear: Bring a specialized short and light ice fishing rod with a reel. Choose your line weight based on the target fish species. Use lighter lines for panfish such as bluegill and heavier for northern pike. Josh recommends using live minnows, waxworms and wigglers. You can also try catching fish with jigs and spoons, choosing the color and size based on the fish species and the clarity of the lake water.
    Also, bring a portable fish finder and a heavy-duty sled to haul your gear. Pack something to sit on, too. 
  • Safety Equipment: Essential items include ice picks for self-rescue, a life vest for buoyancy in case of ice breakage, and a first aid kit. Experienced anglers recommend using a spud to check ice consistency and thickness. There is not a reliable  "inch-thickness" to determine if lake ice is safe to walk on. Read these Michigan DNR Ice Safety Tips before you go.
  • What to Wear: Dress in layers, starting with long underwear followed by a fleece or windbreaker. Add thermal socks, a scarf and waterproof boots made for hours in the cold. Wear a hat, a pair of gloves and a jacket to keep you toasty.
  • Small, but Essential: Carry at least two bottles of water for hydration. Remember to pack the water so it doesn’t freeze. Bring a cell phone for emergency calls, GPS guidance and its camera to record your trophy catches. Pack portable snacks for you and your fishing companions to share. 
  • Fishing License: You must have a fishing license if you are 17 or older. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations before you head out. 


As thrilling as it is to pull fish through a hole in the ice, this sport is dangerous. Always check local ice conditions. Never fish alone. Inform someone where you are going and what time you will return. Prepare for emergencies and have an escape plan in case of ice breakage. There is no such thing as being too safe when ice fishing.

becky son ice fishing child holding a fish


Michigan offers free fishing on the Saturday and Sunday of Presidents’ Day Weekend. On those two days, Michigan waives all of its fishing fees. This applies to out-of-state and in-state anglers. So, try the sport or share your love of fishing with family and friends that weekend. 

Free fishing applies to all the inland lakes with public access in Southwest Michigan. 


After a day on the ice, extend your stay by booking an area hotel. Southwest Michigan boasts a range of amenities and rates that create perfect places to relax and unwind. 

Explore the local dining scene as well. Southwest Michigan is home to various restaurants, from charming cafes to exquisite places with lake views. Many chefs insist on serving fresh, locally sourced ingredients to enhance their menu flavors. 

Welcoming ice anglers is something we do best in Southwest Michigan. 

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