When winter arrives in Northeastern Lower Michigan, a whole new level of excitement comes with it in the form of ice fishing. Ice shanties can be found on lakes and ponds throughout the region, but you’ll find some of the best spots for ice fishing in Alpena Michigan.
Our winter guide will give you all of the details for planning a getaway on the ice in the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.
The History of Alpena Fishing
Northeastern Lower Michigan has more than 100 bodies of water, and Alpena is a fantastic base for fishing expeditions. In fact, did you know that Alpena Michigan is steeped in fishing history?
The first settlement in the area was a fishing village just off the mainland coast on Thunder Bay Island. The village was established in 1835 and became one of the bases (along with Sugar Island) for the area’s fishing fleet of sailing vessels by the 1840s.
Thunder Bay and Presque Isle shipped 12,000 barrels of fish in 1846 — accounting for more than 15% of fishery production in the United States and Canada.
For generations, fishing skills have been down in families, making fishing the oldest tradition in Alpena Michigan. From fly fishing and river bank fishing to trolling and ice fishing, this all-season sport continues to be part of the local culture and lifestyle.
Where to Go Ice Fishing in Alpena Michigan
With so many frozen lakes and ponds in Greater Alpena, you might struggle to decide where to go — especially since they’re home to a range of species. Plus, the best ice fishing spots in Alpena are on the largest inland lakes and ponds in Michigan.
Just north of Alpena, Long Lake is the 20th largest inland lake and is known for its clear water. During the winter, it becomes a frozen wonderland of its own with a 5,652-acre surface and 25.3 miles of shoreline.
You’re likely to catch smallmouth and largemouth bass, rock bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, whitefish, and yellow perch.
Just north of Long Lake is the 19th largest inland lake in Michigan. Grand Lake has a 5,660-acre frozen surface during the winter with 35.5 miles of shoreline. Also, the lake is dotted with small islands.
There are more than 15 species of fish in this lake, so some that you won’t find in the other lakes on this list include bluntnose minnow, bullhead catfish, common carp, common shiner, logperch, longnose gar, rainbow trout, and white sucker.
To the south (and slightly west) of Alpena and Thunder Bay River Forest, Hubbard Lake is Michigan’s 13th largest inland lake at 8,850 acres of surface area and 19.3 miles of shoreline. While it has some shallow sections, its deepest section is 85 feet!
The lake is known for having incredibly clear water, and you can expect to catch northern pike, panfish, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, and yellow perch while ice fishing. Beware of pressure cracks on this body of water.
If you thought that Hubbard Lake was big, you might be surprised that Fletcher Pond is slightly larger. At 8,970 acres, it’s the 12th largest inland lake in Michigan but only 10 feet at its deepest point.
The pond is known for being filled with stumps that create an ideal habitat and for having trophy-size northern pike. You can catch black crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed sunfish, and yellow perch too.
Alpena Ice Fishing Essentials
Before you head out ice fishing in Alpena, there are a few essentials that you need to pack. In our list below, we cover more than just the ice fishing gear and fishing license.
The Right Fishing Gear
One of the main things that you need for ice fishing is, of course, the bait and tackle. There are several places around Alpena Michigan and the popular lakes that sell everything you need:
- Clems Bait & Tackle near downtown Alpena at the 9th Ave Bridge
- AW Jigs LLC not far from downtown Alpena on La Forest Ave
- Gonzo’s Bait And Tackle on Long Lake
- Derby’s near Grand Lake
- Jack’s Landing on Fletcher Pond
That’s not all you’ll need, though. Don’t forget to pack a gas or hand auger, jig pole, knife, spud bar, and a 5-gallon bucket (which you can also use as a chair). And if it’s really cold or windy, you’ll need an ice shanty and heating element to avoid freezing.
So that you don’t have to carry everything by hand, we recommend pulling it out onto the frozen water on a sled.
A Fishing License
Another essential that you’ll need for ice fishing is a license. There’s no specific license for ice fishing — a regular fishing license will suffice — and anyone aged 17 and older needs one. You can get a license at retailers or online with proof of residency and an ID.
Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
Typically, ice fishing in Alpena takes longer than just a couple of hours. You’re bound to get hungry during your excursion, so you’ll want to bring snacks. While you can stock up at a grocery or convenience store, we have a few other suggestions for your trip:
- Nowicki’s Sausage Shoppe has all kinds of ready-made bites, from jerky and cheese to cooked brats.
- The Fresh Palate and Blue Moon Cafe make panini and sandwiches that you can get to go for a heartier snack.
In addition to satisfying your hunger, you need to stay hydrated — even during the winter. You can put water bottles in an insulated thermos to prevent the water from freezing. Or, you can take your favorite hot beverage — such as coffee or hot cocoa — in a battery-heated thermos.
Layers, Layers, Layers
Any outdoor winter adventure in Alpena Michigan requires warm layers of clothing, especially when you’re out on the ice. So, we have five layering tips for you:
- Wear a base layer of synthetic and wool fabrics.
- We suggest wearing an insulating vest or jacket made of down, fleece, or wool fabric for the middle layer.
- It stands to reason that — since you’re fishing — your top layer should be waterproof.
- Lined winter snow pants are the best option for ice fishing in Alpena. If you decide to wear jeans, though, we recommend putting on long underwear underneath.
- Don’t forget your other extremities. Wear waterproof gloves, a warm face mask and hat, and wool socks with boots.
If you don’t have an ice shanty, pack chapstick, sunscreen, and sunglasses to protect your lips, face, and eyes from the wind and sun.
Ice Fishing Events in Alpena Michigan
If you want to be more competitive with your ice fishing expedition, you can join one of the tournaments in Alpena Michigan. There’s even a free fishing weekend during winter, so keep reading to learn more!
Fish Frenzy Outdoors Ice Fishing Tournament
In late January, the annual Fish Frenzy Outdoors Ice Fishing Tournament is held on Long Lake. For a nominal entry fee, you have the chance to win money and other prizes for catching the longest specimens in the division in which you sign up.
The Reel Fun Ice Fishing Tournament
Benefiting the Thunder Bay River Center, The Reel Fun Ice Fishing Tournament in late February is a unique Northeast Michigan competition run by The River Center Fundraising Committee.
The tournament is kicked off the evening before with Festivus on the River, a fundraising event that features cocktails and dinner catered by a local restaurant. You can enter raffles for prizes, such as gift certificates, fishing gear, ice shanties, and more.
On the morning of the tournament, you can find your perfect spot on the ice from 9 a.m. The contest starts at noon and lasts for three hours, at which time you’ll weigh your catch and release. The 30 largest weights and fastest times registered will earn a prize.
Free Fishing Weekend
Also in late February, Free Fishing Weekend is held across all of Michigan. All fees for fishing licenses are waived for these two days. And, you won’t need a recreation passport if you decide to go ice fishing within a state park.
Alpena Michigan Restaurants to Warm You Up
After spending a day on an icy lake or pond, you might be more than ready to warm up with a great dinner. There are many wonderful restaurants around Greater Alpena that serve delicious meals in the warm indoors. Here are a few of our favorites.
The Sand Bar & Grill
Located on the west side of Long Lake, The Sand Bar & Grill is a full-service restaurant and bar with mouthwatering food and an amazing view. The chef-driven menu features seasonal ingredients for every mood, while the bar has 16 local beers on draft and Michigan-made wines.
Sand Bay Trading Co. and Woody’s Grand Lake
Sand Bay Trading Co. and Woody’s Grand Lake is an awesome little place with year-round food and liquor to warm you up after ice fishing on Grand Lake. The menu specials change daily, but some dishes have included wet burritos and quesadillas, perch and whitefish dinners, and honey-glazed salmon.
If you’ve been ice fishing on Fletcher Pond, the Depot is an excellent stop nearby. The home-style entrees will give you the comfort that you’re looking for after being in the cold outdoors for hours. Plus, the garlic sticks and pizza are more than satisfying.
Austin Brothers Beer Company
If you head back to Alpena in time for dinner, you can’t go wrong at Austin Brothers Beer Company. The menu changes daily at this microbrewery, but you can always expect tasty pub food — including sandwiches and burgers — and top-notch beer.
Where to Stay While Ice Fishing on Fletcher Pond
Alpena Michigan has several outstanding lodging options for ice fishing trips. However, two of them are ideal if you choose Fletcher Pond for your getaway.
With 14 waterfront cabins and duplexes, Fletcher’s Landing is a popular destination for fishing all year. Each rental has a campfire pit and its own kitchen. Additionally, the property has a live bait and tackle shop and a fish station, and you can rent heated ice shanties.
Offering lodge rooms and separate cottages, Jack’s Landing is also a popular place to stay for fishing in all seasons. The property has an on-site restaurant and bar that serves home-cooked meals alongside a nice selection of beer and wine.
More Lodging Options for Ice Fishing in the Alpena Michigan Area
No matter where you plan to go ice fishing in Greater Alpena, you can find great lodging. For instance, Presque Isle Lodge is located near Grand Lake, while Holiday Inn Express & Suites is located in downtown Alpena.