Michigan's White Lake Charms Boaters
By Richard Martin
It's almost traditional for Ohio boaters to head for Michigan sometime during the fall months. The days are often still warm down here, but normally cool and crisp up there. There's a bonus of clear water, white barked birch and aspen and a hint of pines and wood smoke on early morning air. Most visitors head for such well known tourist spots as Petoskey, Alpena, Grayling, and Houghton Lake to do some boating, fishing and fall color watching, but there are also little known places that have a lot to offer - such as White Lake.
White Lake is a good-sized body of water that lies about halfway up the west coast just north of Muskegon. It's only a modest drive from northern and central Ohio with two charming little towns on its north end, Whitehall and Montague, separated by the White River. I've visited most parts of Michigan at least once, but I've returned to White Lake three times. Why? Because it's a great place for outdoor types who need to bring their families along. I was there in early August this year, staying at the Weathervane Inn, a lovely motel right on the water in Montague, and as twice before, hated to leave.
Because White Lake is an ideal spot for boaters there are several first class marinas around its shores. There are two in the north end with good facilities for visitors. Several state-of-the-art launch ramps exist including a three-space cement public ramp with plenty of parking and a fine stainless steel fish cleaning station with hose, water and a garbage disposal. There are several small gravel ramps too, and more facilities around the lake, including a number of resorts with docks and cabin complexes.
Many visitors like to combine fishing with their boating, and an often sought after fish is northern pike, a species rare in Ohio. I love to fish for northern pike too, and these toothy water tigers are always my first choice when I head north. I've caught some dandy northerns in White Lake while fishing with veteran guide Ken Clark on his FishMas boat. "We always catch pike." Ken said, as we stowed gear. "No one fishes for them here, just walleye, perch, and panfish, but we catch them on everything from perch minnows to nightcrawler harness, and usually throw them back."
I'd picked a lousy day to do my piking. Black clouds were boiling on the horizon in all directions and suddenly a silvery wall of water obscured the shoreline and came racing toward the boat. We fished anyway, starting with Rapalas in various colors trolled up and down the north end, then switching to nightcrawler rigs near bottom. It rained and rained again as we grew wetter and colder, but we still caught fish - northern pike, huge sheepshead, lunker bluegills, perch, white bass, and largemouth bass. We were the only idiots on the lake by four in the afternoon, but the fish didn't mind the rain, so we didn't, either.
I was a little surprised to see several small boats anchored in 15 feet or so of water tightlining for bluegill and redear sunfish. Ken said, "They're a favorite here, and we get some huge ones. Most of the truly large fish are in about 20-25 feet of water, so you need to look for them, then use waxworms with a sinker below."
The next day I went out with another veteran guide, Bob Bellinger, and his friends David Knapp, Doug Nichols, and knowledgeable first mate, Joshua Frantz. That was a fun trip. We went through the White Lake channel that leads into Lake Michigan, ran out about five miles and set both downriggers and dipsy divers for cold water fish. Spoons were the choice, mostly Michigan stingers, and Bob placed his rigs at depths of from 25 to 40 feet. We bagged a high leaping steelhead first, then a nice lake trout, and finally a chinook (king) salmon. Not a bad day, given the weather and a rapidly changing lake temperature, and we enjoyed some good conversation and war stories of other trips.
Boaters with their own craft can trailer to White Lake and fish for incoming salmon and steelhead through most of October. Many are close to shore, directly in White Lake, or in the White River, and action can be very good.
There's more to White Lake than fishing, though. My wife spent long hours shopping in quaint and picturesque little shops in Montague and Whitehall, and hauled back many purchases - all on sale, of course. There's a long bike trail beginning in Whitehall and ending in Hart and excellent bird watching for everything from warblers to water birds right near the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hunting can be good come fall on thousands of acres of public land, and hikers along forest trails might see everything from wild turkeys to deer and black squirrels. We found excellent food at such places as Crosswinds Restaurant at Crosswinds Marina or Diamondback Steak House in Whitehall. There are plenty of fast food restaurants (including the last existing Dog ‘n Suds), supermarkets, bait and tackle shops, and other useful places. Add canoeing and kayaking on the White River, plenty of camping around the area, and horseback riding at the Double JJ Resort, and it's not likely that visitors will be bored.
Call the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce at 800-879-9702 or visit www.whitelake.org for details. Call Ken Clark at (231) 894-8718 for up-to-date fishing information, or just drive up. Some good things are waiting here.