Lake Mitchell Fishing Report

Master Angler Awards

The Michigan DNR has established a program to recognize anglers catching fish that meet the established minimum length for Catch-and-Keep and Catch-and-Immediate-Release entries. There is no longer a weight requirement for Catch-and-Keep entries. All fish must be taken by legal Michigan sportfishing methods, during the open season. Anglers who catch fish that qualify need to measure and photograph the fish and send information to For more information on the program go to

Lake Mitchell produces master angler caliber fish every year. The lake is considered an excellent source of large bowfin/dogfish, bullheads, sunfish, and crappie.


Minimum length for Master Angler:
-Largemouth bass 22”
-Small mouth bass 21”
-Walleye 29”
-Northern Pike 40”
-Bluegill 10”
-Sunfish 9 “
-Black crappie 14”
-Perch 14”
-Bullhead 14”
-Dogfish/bowfin 27”

Simple fishing for the occasional angler

  If you're a serious anglers, who fishes our lakes on a regular basis, this piece won't probably have much to offer you. I am writing this for the occasional angler who might only get out a few times a year or maybe isn't a fishing person but figures since you have a place on the lake, you might as well see if they can catch some fish. To get my information, I talked to Steve Knaisel, the owner of the Pilgrim Village Bait Shop. If there's anybody that knows about the fishing in Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac, it's Steve. I decided to focus on holidays since that's when folks have the time, or maybe company visiting, and want to catch some fish. A good opportunity to see if fishing works for you is during the DNR Free Fishing Weekend. Here's a chance to fish without a license. Licenses and a pamphlet on regulations (you still have to obey size and bag limit regulations) are available at the Pilgrim Village Bait Shop.
Free Fishing Weekend June 10-11 -- This is prime time for panfish. It's their spawning season and most are in shallow water. You don't need electronic fish finders. Wear a pair of polarized glasses and you'll be able to see bluegills and sunfish and their bowl-shaped beds. Although bedding fish can be found along any shoreline, the most popular fishing areas are along northeast shore of Lake Cadillac from the old Naval Reserve Building, down past the Junior High, all the way to the playground/swimming area. In Lake Mitchell the bluegill/sunfish spawning grounds tend to be in the coves where you can find sandy bottom. Check out the north shore and east side of Big Cove. Go with live bait – worms, grubs, or leeches under a bobber. And Knaisel recommends you keep moving. “If you're not catching fish or they're small, keep moving. Try another spot.”
  Crappie may be found in shallow water, but it's worth exploring deeper. Whereas bluegill and sunfish tend to be clustered toward the bottom, crappie may be anywhere from near the bottom to just a foot or two under the surface. Minnows are the bait of choice for crappie anglers. Crappie do take grubs, worms, and leeches, but they love those small silver pin minnows. These lakes produce some of the biggest crappie anywhere. It's not unusual to catch a fish that's fourteen inches long. Those looking for pike, bass, and walleye will find these fish active and feeding. With the weeds not fully mature, you may be able to troll and cast crankbaits like Rapalas. Because pike are so numerous, expect bite offs unless you are using wire leaders. Although not known as a walleye catcher, spinnerbaits might be the best bait out there for pike and bass. Fish them through the weed beds. I prefer to cast spinnerbaits, let the lure sink and then reel it in slowly. The width of the lure keeps pike from reaching the monofilament line so wire leaders aren't needed. According to Knaisel, white spinnerbaits catch the most fish.
Fourth of July Holiday --  By this time the fish have cleared out of the shallows. Weeds are abundant and the thick beds are impenetrable. The fish are hanging at the edges of weeds beds and lurking in open pockets among the vegetation. If you're fishing for gamefish, I'd recommend using at least ten pound test line as a good fish may dive into the weeds and a strong line will be needed to drag it out. Spinnerbaits continue to produce and tournament anglers will often be using plastic worms and grubs. Walleye anglers look for fish in deeper hard bottom areas free of heavy vegetation. Deep running crankbaits and nightcrawler harnesses may be productive. Typically in mid-summer it's tough to catch walleye. Look for panfish at the edges of weeds and in the gaps between plants. These can easily seen by anglers wearing polarized glasses. Try live bait under bobbers but remember to keep moving. Lake Mitchell with its many weeds and shallow waters has fish almost anywhere. In Lake Cadillac, Knaisel recommends drifting maybe a hundred or so yards off the south shore of Lake Cadillac going east from the Sunnyside Drive M-115 intersection or down at the east end of Lake Cadillac in the vicinity of the City Dock. “Good catches of crappie come from this end of the lake and along that south shore,” notes Knaisel “but you have to keep moving and try different depths.'' Fish are most active early and late in the day. Get out during those hours when the sun is low in the sky. That's when the best catches are made.
Labor Day Weekend --   This isn't an easy time to catch fish. Hope for warm weather and try to get out when the sun is rising or setting. Edges of weed beds may still hold the most fish. Try different lures and different colors. Fish may becoming acclimated to particular lures after seeing them all summer. Try different spots. Fish do move around. If your favorite spots aren't yielding fish, try new water. As fall comes on, the big fish, begin to move toward shore. You may not get the numbers but the odds improve for hooking trophy fish and because the weeds are dropping, the chances of landing the big ones improves. If it's a nice day, drop the leaf rake and pick up the fishing rod.
  In this piece, I tried to stay with the simple stuff. Plastic worms and grubs are real fish catchers, but it takes time to learn the technique. Anglers fishing after dark, especially for walleyes in the fall can do well. Electronics can make a big difference, but polarized glasses can help with fish location. And then there's ice fishing. No boat needed. Tackle needs are simple and the catches can be fantastic. Fishing isn't hard to do and most who read this can see the lake from their living room. I think you ought to get out there and see what might be biting. 


Walleye Fishing in Lakes Mitchell and Lake Cadillac -- 2013 Report 

Now that the walleye fishing in Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac seems to be on the rebound,with some help from Jim Anderson , the manager of Schafer Sports in Cadillac West, here's some tips that might improve your fishing.

Spring and early summer
Walleyes spawn in the first weeks after ice out and can readily be caught in May and into June. Although they will hit on sunny days, best catches usually come when it's overcast, at dusk or at night. When it's windy fishing is often better.

Jim Anderson recommends a shiner minnow and lead-head jig combination as a good choice for early season fishing. Live bait fishermen may want to drift fish, troll or fish a minnow under bobbers. Live bait can be effectively trolled, drifted, or fished under bobbers. Whatever method used, Anderson points out that it is important to move the bait slowly and keep it near bottom. Many fish are taken in May by anglers wading out on the Lake Mitchell side of the Canal and casting live bait or minnow type lures like the Rapala Husky Jerk. Other spots popular with boot-clad anglers are out on Camp Torenta's Point, and along the shoreline near the Rotary Pavilion in Lake Cadillac. In addition walleye will often be found on the inside of a weed line.

As the water warms, the fish will readily take night crawlers and leeches. Those that troll or drift often put the crawlers on harnesses adorned with colorful beads and spinners. Others use jigs with a plastic worm, a minnow, or piece of nightcrawler

Anglers seeking walleye look for overcast days with a chop on the water or they fish during the evening into the night. During daylight hours anglers drop hooked leeches or crawlers into holes in weed beds or along the edges of heavy plant growth. Drifting leeches on lead head jigs can also be effective. It can be hard be hard to make good catches in the summer.

The first cold snap after Labor Day often signals an upturn for fishing and all species may go on a feeding spree. Fishermen need to move around until they locate fish and then concentrate on those areas. Walleye often bite furiously just as day fades into night. This is a feast or famine time for gamefish. The fishing may be extraordinary one day and then dead the next. Imitation minnow lures are effective but using jig- minnow combinations on the edges of weedlines can be effective. Evenings you'll see anglers wading out on both ends of the Canal and, if you can avoid the weeds, try fishing off the causeway.

Invariably the best walleye action comes with first ice. Minnows fished near bottom under tipups and jigging minnow type lures as well as Swedish Pimple lures work best. Your catch may improve if you tip lures with a minnow head and use scented spray like Baitmate Max Be careful on first ice as the lake will have variable ice thicknesses.

To read about walleye planting click here. 


Lake Mitchell
Wexford County
Clam River subwatershed, Muskegon River Watershed; Surveyed 2012
Mark A. Tonello, Fisheries Biologist, Cadillac



Lake Mitchell (Fig. 1) is a 2,580-acre natural lake located just west of the city of Cadillac, MI, in southeastern Wexford County. Lake Mitchell is in the Muskegon River watershed, as the creeks flowing into Lake Mitchell are the extreme headwaters of the Clam River subwatershed. Lake Mitchell flows into Lake Cadillac via a ¼ mile long dredged channel which is navigable by most small boats. The maximum depth of Lake Mitchell is 22 feet, with approximately 90% of the lake shallower than 15 feet. According to Fusilier and Fusilier (2010), the size of the Lake Mitchell watershed is approximately 28,593 acres, and the lake flushes about once every 1.06 years. One report (Anonymous 1991) classifies Lake Mitchell as a borderline meso-eutrophic lake. Another report (Jermalowicz-Jones (2012) classifies Lake Mitchell as eutrophic, although some of the parameters in that report rank as mesotrophic. Substrates in the lake are primarily sand and organic matter, with a few areas of cobble and gravel. Although there is no dam or lake level control structure on Lake Mitchell, there is a structure on Lake Cadillac that influences the level of Lake Mitchell. The legal lake level for Lake Cadillac was established in 1967. The annual maximum level is 1290.0 feet above sea level, the minimum winter level is 1288.9 feet, and the minimum summer level is 1289.7 feet.

Most of the Lake Mitchell shoreline is heavily developed with permanent residences. Because of this, most of the shoreline of the lake has been altered with seawalls, riprap, docks, boat hoists, etc. The largest remaining area of natural shoreline is in Big Cove, where the riparian wetland remains intact. That land is owned primarily by the United States Forest Service (USFS) as part of the Manistee National Forest. There are three public boat launches on Lake Mitchell (Fig. 1). One is at William Mitchell State Park, another at Hemlock Campground (operated by the USFS) on Big Cove, and another at Selma Township Park on the western shore of the lake. Mitchell State Park offers excellent access for shore anglers, including a fishing platform at the juncture of Lake Mitchell and the canal connecting to Lake Cadillac. The canal itself is also very popular with shore anglers and is fished heavily. William Mitchell State Park also offers a very popular swimming beach.

Much of the terrain surrounding Lake Mitchell is low and swampy. The area to the west is locally known as the Mitchell Swamp. Four small streams flow from these swamps into Lake Mitchell, including Black Creek, Brandy Creek, Gyttja Creek, and Mitchell Creek (Fig. 1). The largest of these is Mitchell Creek, which enters Lake Mitchell in Big Cove off USFS land. These streams are tannin-colored, warmwater streams that are affected dramatically by surface runoff. Because they are fed by wetlands, the runoff events are more protracted in nature, as the wetlands store and slowly release water over time.

The zebra mussel, an exotic invasive species, was first documented in Lake Cadillac in the fall of 2010. They were then documented for the first time in Lake Mitchell in the fall of 2011, near the outlet canal that connects the two lakes. As of the fall of 2012, while a few zebra mussels can still be found in the canal area, they do not seem to have colonized the entire lake yet. They are much more widespread on Lake Cadillac than on Lake Mitchell.

The Lake Mitchell Improvement Board (LMIB) is the primary citizen-based group that serves Lake Mitchell. It was formed in 1993. Per State of Michigan law, the LMIB is comprised of appointed members who oversee the distribution of assessment money collected from lakefront or lake access property owners. One of the main points of focus for the LMIB has been aquatic nuisance weed control. Lake Mitchell has had a Eurasian milfoil infestation for many years, requiring treatment (typically chemical 2,4-D treatments) on an annual basis. Another citizen-based group on Lake Mitchell is the Lake Mitchell Property Owner’s Association.



Lake Mitchell was originally known as “Big Clam Lake”, and Lake Cadillac was called “Little Clam Lake”. The names were changed to Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac in 1903. Lake Mitchell was named after William Mitchell, who was an early lumber baron in the Cadillac area and one of the founders of the City of Cadillac. The two lakes were originally connected by Black Creek, which was a slow, meandering stream that flowed through a large marsh located between the two lakes, south of what is now Division Road. The canal was dug in 1873 so that logs could be floated into Lake Cadillac to the lumber mills on the eastern shores of Lake Cadillac. When the canal was finished, the water level of Lake Mitchell reportedly dropped by one foot. Although it does not carry the flow it did before the canal was dug, Black Creek still exists, and it still carries flow during periods of high water. Probably due to modifications made to the marsh by humans over time, Black Creek actually flows in both directions now. During periods of high water, it drains the eastern portion of the marsh back under M-115 and into Lake Mitchell, while the western portion of the marsh drains into Lake Cadillac.


The first documented fish stocking of Lake Mitchell took place in 1874, when lake whitefish were stocked (Table 1). Other species stocked in the 1800s included Chinook salmon, lake trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, and common carp. Due to the shallow, warm nature of Lake Mitchell, it is not possible for coldwater species like lake whitefish, lake trout, and Chinook salmon to survive for any length of time. Only 40 common carp were stocked, and they have not been documented in Lake Mitchell since then. Walleye and smallmouth bass were again stocked in 1909 and 1910. Although Table 1 displays the known stocking records for Lake Mitchell, there is some evidence that other fish stocking events occurred as well. The period from 1929-1940 saw intensive stocking of multiple species including bluegill, yellow perch, and emerald shiners (called “Great Lakes shiners” at that time). After 1940, no stocking took place until 2004, when walleye were again stocked. Since then, walleye have also been stocked in 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2012.


The first known fisheries report on Lake Mitchell was written in 1931 (Krull 1931). It documented a fish kill event in June of that year. Species affected included adult walleye and yellow perch. The author concluded that the fish kill was a natural event, and that the numbers of fish that perished would not affect the overall fishery in Lake Mitchell.


The first fisheries survey of Lake Mitchell was a creel survey conducted by MDOC (Michigan Department of Conservation, the predecessor to today’s Department of Natural Resources or DNR) from 1928-1940 (Funk 1942). Creel surveys were also conducted on Lake Cadillac during the same years. Netting with seines and gill nets was also conducted in 1941. A total of 24 species were identified through these efforts (Table 2). Funk (1942) concluded that yellow perch stocking should be discontinued, and that no walleye should be stocked in 1942 or 1943, and that attempts should be made to determine whether or not walleye natural reproduction occurs in those years. Follow up reports by Carbine and Washburn (1944, 1945) and Carbine (1947) confirmed that walleye natural reproduction was indeed occurring, and that walleye stocking should be permanently discontinued. Minimal efforts of gill netting and seining were conducted as a part of these surveys.


The next fisheries survey of Lake Mitchell was conducted in 1961 and consisted of several large seine hauls. Yellow perch were the most abundant species in this survey, but a number of other species were caught as well (Table 2).


Another fisheries survey of Lake Mitchell was conducted by MDNR in May of 1980. The survey consisted of one night of electrofishing and one night of fyke netting, with most of the survey effort taking place in Big Cove. A total of 745 fish weighing 579.2 lbs and representing 11 species (Table 2) were caught. Of those, nearly half were bullhead. Other well-represented species included walleye, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, and rock bass. Age and growth analysis from the 1980 survey indicated that all Lake Mitchell fish species, with the exception of walleye, were growing faster than the state average (Table 3).


A four-day fyke net survey was conducted by MDNR from April 12-15, 1988. A total of 1,326 fish representing 13 different species were caught in the survey (Table 2). Nearly half of the fish captured (587) were brown bullhead. In particular, the researchers were targeting walleye, which were likely spawning at that time. A total of 215 walleye were caught, representing 10 different age groups. One species observed was brook trout, represented by one 8 inch individual. This is the only known brook trout to have ever been captured in a fisheries survey of Lake Mitchell. Age and growth analysis from the 1988 survey showed that as in 1980, most species were growing faster than the state average (Table 3). The exceptions were northern pike, walleye, and yellow perch.


Another major survey was conducted from April 26-30, 1993, this one utilizing both large-mesh and small-mesh fyke nets. While data was collected from all species, the primary goal of this survey was to tag as many walleye as possible with metal jaw tags. A similar survey was conducted on Lake Cadillac during the following week. In the two surveys, a total of 543 walleye greater than 15 inches were tagged. For the next several years, anglers were asked to return tags from walleye they caught via sportfishing. Using the Schumacher method, population sizes of walleye greater than 15” were estimated at 13,271 (5.14/acre) for Lake Mitchell and 5,980 (5.20/acre) for Lake Cadillac. The vast majority of tag returns from anglers occurred in May, June, and July (likely early July). Also, the study documented 14 walleye that were caught in Lake Cadillac but had been tagged in Lake Mitchell. Conversely, no migration from Lake Cadillac to Lake Mitchell was documented in the study. Not surprisingly, 1993 saw the most tag returns from anglers, with 110 tags turned in. This resulted in an annual exploitation rate of over 20% for walleye in the Lake Mitchell/Cadillac system.


Although walleye tagging was the main impetus behind the 1993 survey, other species were collected as well. A total of 2,670 fish were collected, representing 18 species (Table 2). Brown bullhead were the most numerous, with 1,233 collected. Other species collected in large numbers included walleye (413), northern pike (220), pumpkinseed (138), black crappie (111), and bluegill (109). Age and growth analysis from the 1993 survey showed a shift from the 1980 and 1988 surveys (Table 3). In 1980 and 1988, most species were growing faster than the state average. However, in 1993 most species were growing slower than the state average, although not dramatically. Walleye in particular were growing very slowly, at 2.7 inches slower than the state average.

Starting in 1994, MDNR began conducting fall electrofishing surveys on Lake Mitchell, utilizing the methods from Serns (1982, 1983). These surveys are conducted after dark and are designed to target shallow, sandy flats where juvenile walleye are typically found. These surveys were conducted in 1994, 1995, and 2002-2006 (Table 4). While the 1994 and 1995 surveys were successful in capturing modest numbers of juvenile walleye, the 2002-2006 surveys were not, even with heavy stocking occurring in 2004 and 2006. Anglers were reporting catching juvenile walleye even though only one walleye from the 2004 year class was caught in the 2004-2006 surveys. There have been some lakes where Serns-style sampling was not successful in the fall, but efforts conducted in the following spring were successful in documenting the presence of juvenile walleye (Rich O’Neal, MDNR, personal communication). Therefore, in 2007, 2008, and 2010, the surveys were conducted according to the same Serns protocol, only in the spring instead of in the fall (Tonello 2007; 2010). The 2007, 2008, and 2010 spring surveys were more successful than the 2002-2006 surveys in documenting survival of stocked juvenile walleye (Table 4).


The next comprehensive fisheries survey of Lake Mitchell was conducted in the spring of 2003. The 2003 survey consisted of six large-mesh fyke nets and two small-mesh fyke nets, and was conducted from April 28-May 2. In this survey, a total of 1,994 fish were caught, representing 18 different species (Tables 2, 5, and 6). Most of the fish were caught in the large-mesh fyke nets. Well represented species in the survey included, brown bullhead, yellow bullhead, black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, and largemouth bass. The trend of slower growth for most fish species that was evident in the 1993 survey was also present in the 2003 survey (Tables 3 and 7).


While a total of 67 walleye were caught in the 2003 survey, the large-mesh fyke net catch per effort (CPE) for walleye was dramatically lower than in 1988 and 1993. In both of those surveys, the CPE was 11.3 walleye per net lift, while in 2003 it had dropped to 2.9 walleye per net lift. Also, no walleye smaller than 16 inches or younger than age 5 were caught in the 2003 survey. Smaller and younger walleye were present in both the 1988 and 1993 surveys. The most common walleye age classes caught in the 2003 survey were ages 8 and 9, which would have been the 1994 and 1995 year classes (Table 7).

 A creel survey was conducted by MDNR on Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac in the summer of 2006 and winter of 2007 (Anonymous 2007a; Anonymous 2007b). Catch estimates were generated for both fish harvested and for fish released. The open-water creel program of 2006 ran from April 29 to October 31. In that time, an estimated 8,154 angler trips were taken on Lake Mitchell, equating to 32,627 angler hours generated (Table 8). An estimated total of 53,854 fish were caught, with 41,422 of those released. Bluegill was the most commonly kept and the most commonly released species. The ice fishing creel season ran from January 19 through March 24. In that time, an estimated 4,874 ice fishing angler trips were taken on Lake Mitchell, equating to 16,674 angler hours generated (Table 9). An estimated 21,798 fish were caught by ice anglers on Lake Mitchell, with 14,800 of those released. While yellow perch was the most commonly caught and released species, black crappie was the most commonly kept species for ice anglers on Lake Mitchell. Combined, the summer and winter effort on Lake Mitchell was 13,028 angler trips, equating to 49,301 angler hours. When that effort total is combined with the angler effort from Lake Cadillac, the two lakes generated a total of 37,540 angler trips and 117,567 angler hours of fishing effort in the 2006/2007 fishing season.


Lake Mitchell has produced 123 entries into the MDNR Master Angler program since 1994 (Table 10). The most common species entered include bowfin (45 entries) and bullhead (26 entries). Other species with more than ten entries include bluegill, rock bass, and pumpkinseed.


Current Status

The most recent comprehensive fisheries survey of Lake Mitchell was conducted in the spring and summer of 2012. Status and trends netting protocols (Wehrly et al. 2009) were used for the survey. The netting portion of the survey took place from May 7 through May 11. Gear used included eight trap nets (30 net-nights) and 2 experimental graded-mesh inland gill nets (4 net-nights). Electrofishing was conducted on July 9, 2012, with three ten-minute electrofishing transects conducted with an 18-foot boomshocking boat. Seining was conducted on August 6 and 7, with a total of five seine hauls completed. Age and growth analysis on fish captured was conducted by counting growth rings on scales (panfish and smaller gamefish) and spines (larger gamefish). The purpose of this survey was to assess the entire fish community in Lake Mitchell as well as evaluate the walleye population.


During the May netting portion of the 2012 survey of Lake Mitchell, a total of 2,550 fish were caught, representing 13 different species (Table 11). Brown bullhead were the most abundant species collected, with a total of 1,453 caught (from 8-14 inches) representing 57% of the total catch by number and 46.3% by weight. Panfish species present in the 2012 netting catch included black crappie (394 fish caught ranging from 4-13 inches), bluegill (88 from 4-8 inches), pumpkinseed sunfish (58 from 4-8 inches), rock bass (14 from 6-10 inches), and yellow perch (14 from 5-9 inches). The most abundant game fish species caught in the netting portion of the 2012 survey was northern pike, with 128 caught ranging from 11-32 inches in length. Other game species present in the 2012 netting catch included largemouth bass (121 from 8-18 inches), walleye (65 from 13-27 inches), and smallmouth bass (17 from 9-19 inches). Other species caught in the netting portion of the 2012 survey included bowfin, white sucker, and yellow bullhead.


During the electrofishing and seining portions of the 2012 survey of Lake Mitchell, a total of 628 fish were caught, representing 16 different species (Table 12). Species most frequently collected while seining and electrofishing were spottail shiner (303 from 1-4 inches), bluegill (123 from 1-6 inches), and pumpkinseed sunfish (87 from 1-6 inches). Other panfish species present in the seining and electrofishing catch included black crappie (9 from 4-5 inches), rock bass (2 from 3-6 inches), and yellow perch (45 from 2-7 inches). Game species present in the seining and electrofishing catch included largemouth bass (37 from 1-17 inches), northern pike (2 from 17-24 inches), smallmouth bass (3 from 1-3 inches), and walleye (3 from 9-16 inches). Other nongame species present in the seining and electrofishing catch included bluntnose minnow, bowfin, common shiner, and white sucker.


In the 2012 survey, most species caught showed growth rates that were below the state average (Tables 3, 13 and 14). Black crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, and yellow perch were all growing at least one inch slower than the State average. The two exceptions were smallmouth bass and walleye, which were growing 1.3 and 0.2 inches faster than the state average, respectively. Walleye as old as 17 were present in the 2012 survey. These are some of the oldest walleye ever aged in a northwestern lower peninsula fish survey.


Previously recorded fish species that were not present in the 2012 survey of Lake Mitchell included banded killifish, black bullhead, blacknose dace, brook trout, central mudminnow, creek chub, fathead minnow, golden shiner, hornyhead chub, Iowa darter, Johnny darter, logperch, and mimic shiner (Table 2). Species caught in the 2012 survey that had not been identified in previous surveys of Lake Mitchell included sand shiner.


Shoreline data were collected on Lake Mitchell by DNR Fisheries personnel on July 9, 2012 according to protocols outlined in Wehrly et al. (2009). Data collected included the number of docks, submerged trees, and houses observed per kilometer of shoreline, as well as how much of the shoreline is armored or hardened with a structure to prevent erosion. Lake Mitchell averaged 28.1 docks, 3.0 submerged trees and 31.9 houses per kilometer of shoreline. Armoring structures and materials were present along 75.0% of the lake shoreline.


Analysis and Discussion

The Lake Mitchell fish community has undergone major changes in the past three decades since comprehensive fisheries surveys were first conducted. In particular, largemouth bass have become very abundant in Lake Mitchell, while the once self-sustaining walleye population has diminished to the point where stocking is now required to maintain the fishery. No walleye were stocked between 1940 and 2004 (Table 1), and for most of those years, Lake Mitchell provided an excellent walleye fishery. However, in the late 1990s, walleye reproduction began to diminish. The 2012 survey did not document any recent walleye natural reproduction (Table 13), as the most recent fish from an “unstocked” year class was from 2003, and that was only one fish. The strongest walleye year classes represented in the 2012 survey and recent Serns surveys were 2008, 2006, and 2004, all of which were stocked year classes (Tables 4 and 13). Although walleye densities observed in these surveys were all “poor” year classes according to the standards outlined by Ziegler and Schneider (2000), the fishery they have created on Lake Mitchell disputes that. Clearly, stocking is playing a major role in the current Lake Mitchell walleye fishery. However, even with stocking, the walleye population in Lake Mitchell is likely smaller than it was in the 1980s and early 1990s.

While the exact reason for the lack of walleye natural reproduction in Lake Mitchell in recent years is unknown, it may have something to do with the recent increase in largemouth bass abundance. In the 1980, 1988, and 1993 fyke netting surveys of Lake Mitchell, largemouth bass catch per effort (cpe) was relatively low at 1.4, 0.4, and 1.0 largemouth bass per net lift, respectively. In the 2003 survey, the largemouth bass catch rate was 6.9 per net lift. Largemouth bass were also very abundant in the 2012 survey, although catch rates are not directly comparable because trap nets were used. According to Fayram et al. (2005), largemouth bass can negatively affect juvenile walleye year classes by preying on juvenile walleye. Therefore it is possible that the lack of natural reproduction of walleye in Lake Mitchell in the last 15 years or so is related to the elevated population levels of largemouth bass. Exactly why the largemouth bass population has expanded in recent years is unknown, although several hypotheses have been suggested. One is that warmer temperatures in recent years might favor largemouth bass over other species like walleye or smallmouth bass. Another is the ethics change that occurred among bass anglers in recent decades. In the 1980s, catch and release angling for bass became very popular. This continues at present, with few anglers harvesting bass on a regular basis.

Another parameter that has changed over time in Lake Mitchell is fish growth. In 1980 and 1988, most fish species in Lake Mitchell were growing faster than the state average (Table 3). However, starting in 1993, growth rates began to diminish to the point where in 2012 only two species (walleye and smallmouth bass) were growing faster than the state average. The cause of this growth shift in Lake Mitchell is unknown, although there are several possible explanations. One possible cause of reduced growth in some species could be reduced walleye abundance. Walleye are known to be effective predators on many panfish species, and their reduced abundance in recent years could be allowing more intraspecific competition in panfish species, leading to slower growth. Another plausible explanation is the loss of mayflies that has occurred on both Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell in recent years. Mayflies are known to be an important food item for many fish species.


In the past, both Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell were known for having large annual brown drake (ephemera simulans) mayfly hatches. However, in the last 20-25 years (no invertebrate data is available for Lake Mitchell, so exact timeframes are not clear), the mayflies have almost completely disappeared, with very few individuals observed. Although the exact reason for the disappearance of the mayflies in unknown, it may be linked to copper sulfate. Copper is known to negatively affect invertebrate populations, and mayflies in particular (Warnick and Bell 1969; Wisconsin DNR 2012). For many years, Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell were treated with large amounts of copper sulfate in an attempt to combat swimmer’s itch. This practice resulted in an accumulation of copper in the sediments of both Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac (Anonymous 2003), which may have negatively affected the mayfly population. Although the practice was ceased in the mid-1990s, the mayflies have not returned in any significant numbers. A light number of mayflies was observed in the summer of 2012 (Steve Knaisel, personal communication), which was more than has been seen in many years. While the role of mayflies in the ecology of Lake Mitchell has never been studied in depth, it is possible that their loss has some part in the decline of Lake Mitchell fish growth (Table 3).


Other changes have taken place in Lake Mitchell in the relatively recent past as well. While Lake Mitchell has always been a shallow weedy lake, aquatic macrophyte growth has increased. In particular, Eurasian milfoil became a major nuisance in Lake Mitchell in the early 1990s, requiring treatment with 2, 4-D in most years. Currently, the Eurasian milfoil infestation of Lake Mitchell is held at bay only by annual 2, 4-D herbicide treatments. Recent evidence indicates that hybrid milfoil is now present in Lake Mitchell (Jermalowicz-Jones 2013). Hybrid milfoil can be more resistant to traditional treatments and require higher doses of herbicides than Eurasian milfoil. If untreated, over time the Eurasian and hybrid milfoil would undoubtedly dominate much of Lake Mitchell, making it unsuitable for many popular activities, including fishing. It could also create negative effects on Lake Mitchell fish populations.


The largemouth bass fishery of Lake Mitchell is extremely popular. Starting in the 1980s, bass tournaments became popular nationwide, and since then Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell have been very popular for tournaments. Currently, there are tournaments on the lakes on most summer weekends and some weeknights as well. These tournaments are welcomed by local businesses for the economic activity they generate. However, it is possible that the tournaments have affected the species distribution on Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell. For example, tournament anglers typically catch fish from all over on both lakes, and then release all the fish at one boat launch on whichever lake the tournament started on (often Kenwood Park on Lake Cadillac or Mitchell State Park on Lake Mitchell), even though it is technically illegal to catch fish from one lake and then release them into another lake. It is possible that over the years, this practice may have had some impact on the species composition of both lakes. For example, Lake Cadillac historically was dominated by smallmouth bass, but in recent years largemouth bass have become more abundant; even to the point of being more numerous than smallmouth bass in the 2012 survey. Bass anglers often justify their tournament procedures by pointing out that instead of releasing their fish alive, they could simply harvest them.


The data generated by the 2006-2007 creel surveys (Tables 8 and 9) demonstrate the popularity of the Lake Mitchell fishery. While the study showed an estimated 37,540 angler trips and 117,567 angler hours for Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell combined (both summer and winter), those estimates are likely lower than the effort generated in a normal year. The winter of 2007 was not a good ice fishing season. Ice did not form on the lakes until mid-January in 2007, while in most years there is fishable ice by early December. This results in over one month of lost angler effort. In particular, ice fishing can be very popular over the Christmas/New Year holiday. Despite the lower-than-normal effort in 2006-2007, the 37,540 angler trips on Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell still resulted in over $900,000 in economic activity generated for the Cadillac area, assuming a daily expenditure of $24 per angler-day (U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, Census Bureau 2006). It is highly likely that in a more normal year, the fisheries in the two lakes generate more than $1,000,000 for the local economy of the Cadillac area.


Compared to other lakes in Michigan, the shoreline of Lake Mitchell has been dramatically altered by human activity. In particular, Lake Mitchell is very heavily populated with docks and dwellings (Table 15). In the 2012 survey, Lake Mitchell had 31.9 dwellings per kilometer while the average large shallow lake in Michigan had 11.2 dwellings per kilometer (Wehrly et al. in press). Lake Mitchell also had 28.1 docks per kilometer of shoreline, while the average large shallow lake in Michigan had 8.9 docks per kilometer (Wehrly et al. in press). Lake Mitchell also had much less submerged woody debris (3.0 trees/km) than other large shallow lakes in Michigan (average=17.3 trees/km; Wehrly et al. in press). Lake Mitchell also had very heavy shoreline armoring (75.0%) compared to other large shallow inland lakes in Michigan (average=28.4%; Wehrly et al. in press).


Management Direction

Lake Mitchell remains as one of the best and most popular fishing lakes in the northwestern lower peninsula with a large, diverse fish population that is relatively healthy. When combined with Lake Cadillac, the two lakes provide nearly 4,000 acres of fishable water. The fishing activities on the two lakes are extremely important to the Cadillac area, likely generating over $1,000,000 annually for the local economy. Therefore, it is of critical that the ecosystem of the two lakes be protected and maintained with the utmost diligence. In particular, the aquatic macrophytes of Lake Mitchell should continue to be managed on an annual basis. The emphasis should be on controlling Eurasian milfoil and protecting native plant species that are not at nuisance levels. If Eurasian milfoil is not controlled, it could dominate large areas of the lake. This would inhibit most lake recreational activities, including fishing.


Native species like black crappie, bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, largemouth bass, and northern pike should continue to thrive in Lake Mitchell without direct management efforts. At this point however, the walleye fishery appears to be heavily dependent upon stocking. The 2012 survey and recent Serns survey efforts have failed to document any natural reproduction of walleye in the last ten years. Therefore, spring fingerling walleye (Muskegon River strain) should continue to be stocked into Lake Mitchell, at a rate of 50/acre (130,000 fish) every other year. Since a full complement of walleye was stocked in 2012, they should again be stocked in the spring of 2014. Fall walleye electrofishing surveys should be conducted in years when walleye are stocked to assess the survival of these stocked fish. By looking at older walleye in addition to age-0 fish, the contribution of natural reproduction from non-stocking years can also be determined. Walleye stocked into Lake Mitchell will likely continue to come from the Mason County Walleye Association rearing pond, as well as other MDNR walleye rearing ponds around the State.


Comprehensive fisheries surveys of Lake Mitchell should be conducted by the DNR at least once every 10 years, though every five years would be preferable. Future fisheries surveys should continue to include electrofishing and seining efforts. While netting is often the most effective technique for catching panfish and sport fish, the electrofishing and seining efforts often catch juvenile and smaller minnow-type species, providing a better picture of the overall fish community. Also, another creel survey should be conducted on both Lakes Mitchell and Lake Cadillac, similar to that conducted in 2006/2007. Creel surveys provide important information about the use of the fishery by anglers, and can also be used to estimate generated economic activity. Creel surveys can also be used to gauge angler desires and concerns. Even if another creel survey is not conducted in the near future, DNR Fisheries personnel will continue to work with Lake Mitchell citizens groups, businesses, and anglers to monitor the fishery.


Other opportunities for data-gathering on Lake Mitchell include conducting invertebrate surveys and sediment samples. Invertebrate surveys could be used in an attempt to explain the loss of mayflies on Lake Mitchell, and whether it would ever be possible for them to return to the lake. Sediment sampling could be conducted to determine the extent of copper present, and whether or not that is the reason for the disappearance of the mayflies. These investigations would have to be conducted by agencies or groups other than DNR Fisheries Division.


Any remaining riparian wetlands adjacent to Lake Mitchell should be protected as they are critical to the continued health of the lake's aquatic community. Future unwise riparian development and wetland loss may result in deterioration of the water quality and aquatic habitat. Healthy biological communities in inland lakes require suitable natural habitat. Human development along the Lake Mitchell shoreline has changed and diminished natural habitat. Appropriate watershed management is necessary to sustain healthy biological communities, including fish, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and aquatic mammals. Generally for lakes this includes maintenance of good water quality, especially for nutrients; preservation of natural shorelines, especially shore contours and native shoreline vegetation; and preservation of bottom contours, native aquatic vegetation, and wood structure within a lake. Lake Mitchell ranks very low in submerged woody debris. One potential restoration effort for Lake Mitchell would be to add woody structure to the lake. Submerged woody structure is important habitat for a number of Lake Mitchell fish species.


In particular, the Lake Mitchell shoreline has been heavily impacted by human development. Nearly 75% of the shoreline has been hardened with seawalls or riprap, resulting in a loss of critical shoreline habitat. Also, many Lake Mitchell lawns are mowed right down to the water’s edge. This results in a loss of native vegetation species, many of which would help to prevent erosion if they were allowed to grow. All remaining natural shoreline along Lake Mitchell should be protected with the utmost diligence. Wherever possible, hardened shoreline should be restored to a natural state. This should include not mowing down to the water’s edge. Instead of seawalls, softer measures should be used to control erosion. These can include installing biologs, planting native vegetation, and allowing native vegetation species (both aquatic and terrestrial) to grow. If these methods do not work in a particular situation, then fieldstone riprap should be utilized, with native aquatic vegetation species planted in front of the riprap. Guidelines for protecting fisheries habitat in inland lakes can be found in Fisheries Division Special Report 38 (O'Neal and Soulliere 2006).



Anonymous. 1991. Lake Mitchell EPA Phase 1 Diagnostic-Feasibility Study Final Report. Prepared by Progressive Architects, Engineers, and Planners, Grand Rapids, MI.


Anonymous. 2003. An investigation of copper sulfate concentrations in sediment and water samples and sediment toxicity in three Michigan Lakes; Cadillac, Mitchell, and Houghton. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Report 02/25. Report prepared for MDEQ by Great Lakes Environmental Center, Traverse City.


Anonymous. 2007a. Survey report for Mitchell-Cadillac, Wexford County, Summer 2006. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing.


Anonymous. 2007b. Survey report for Mitchell-Cadillac, Wexford County, Winter 2007. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Lansing.


Carbine, W. F. and G. N. Washburn. 1944. An examination of Cadillac and Mitchell Lakes (Wexford County) to determine success of walleyed pike spawning. Fisheries Research Report #966, Michigan Department of Conservation, Ann Arbor.


Carbine, W. F. and G. N. Washburn. 1945. An examination of Cadillac and Mitchell Lakes (Wexford County) to determine success of game fish spawning. Fisheries Research Report #1022, Michigan Department of Conservation, Ann Arbor.


Carbine, W. F. 1947. An examination of Cadillac and Mitchell Lakes (Wexford County) to determine the success of game fish spawning. Fisheries Research Report #1105, Michigan Department of Conservation, Ann Arbor.


Fayram, A. H., M. J. Hansen, and T. J. Ehlinger. 2005. Interactions between walleyes and four fish species with implications for walleye stocking. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 25:1321-1330.


Funk, J. 1942. Fisheries Survey of Cadillac and Mitchell Lakes, Wexford County. Fisheries Research Report #767. Michigan Department of Conservation, Ann Arbor.


Fusilier, W. E. and B. Fusilier. 2010. Lake Mitchell Water Quality Studies 2002-2010. Water Quality Investigators, Chelsea, MI.


Jermalowicz–Jones, J. 2013. Lake Mitchell 2012 Annual Progress Report. Restorative Lake Sciences, Custer, MI.


Krull, W. H. 1931. On the mortality of fish in Lake Mitchell, Wexford County, Michigan. Institute for Fisheries Research Report 73, Ann Arbor.


O'Neal, R. P., and G. J. Soulliere. 2006. Conservation guidelines for Michigan lakes and associated natural resources. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Special Report 38, Ann Arbor.


Serns, S. L. 1982. Relationship of walleye fingerling density and electrofishing catch per effort in northern Wisconsin lakes. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 2:38-44.


Serns, S. L. 1983. Relationship between electrofishing catch per effort and density of walleye yearlings. North American Journal of Fisheries Management 3:451-452.


Tonello, M. A. 2007. Inland lake fisheries surveys: Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, 2006-2007. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Cadillac.


Tonello, M. A. 2011. Inland lake fisheries surveys: Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, 2008-2010. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Cadillac.


Warnick, S. L. and H. L. Bell. 1969. The acute toxicity of some heavy metals to different species of aquatic insects. Journal- Water Pollution Control Federation 41:280-284.


Wehrly, K.E., G.S. Carter, and J.E. Breck. 2009 Draft. Standardized sampling methods for the inland lakes status and trends program. Chapter 27 in Manual of Fisheries Survey Methods. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Division internal document, Ann Arbor.


Wehrly, K. E., D. B. Hayes, and T. C. Wills. In press. Status and trends of Michigan inland lake resources, 2002-2007. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Special Report, Lansing.


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. 2012. Copper Compounds Chemical Fact Sheet. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Publication WT-968, Madison.


U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S.

Census Bureau. 2006. 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.


Ziegler, W. and J. C. Schneider, 2000. Guidelines for evaluating walleye and muskie recruitment. Chapter 23 in J. C. Schneider editor. Manual of fisheries survey methods II: with periodic updates. Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Special Report 25, Ann Arbor.


Lake Mitchell fishing Report  December 2011
By Mark A. Tonello

Lake Cadillac is a 1,150-acre eutrophic lake located entirely within the city limits of Cadillac, MI, in southeastern Wexford County. Its maximum depth is 28 feet, with approximately 50% of the lake shallower than 15 feet. Lake Cadillac is in the Muskegon River watershed. The Clam River, a noted brook trout stream, flows out of the north shoreline of the eastern basin of Lake Cadillac. There is a lake-level control structure on the Clam River just downstream from the outlet of Lake Cadillac. Lake Mitchell is located directly upstream of Lake Cadillac, as the two are connected by a ¼ mile long channel which is navigable by most small boats. There is very little natural shoreline remaining on Lake Cadillac. Other than one small wetland area remaining on the northern portion of the lake, the shoreline consists entirely of houses, condominiums, roads, or public parks. The parks (including William Mitchell State Park, Kenwood Park, and the Keith McKellop Lakefront Walkway) provide outstanding access to Lake Cadillac. Each has a boat launch with parking for a number of vehicles and trailers, although the William Mitchell State Park boat launch on Lake Cadillac is used primarily by campers at the park. There is a public dock and fishing pier located on the eastern end of the lake near the downtown business district. Another public fishing pier was installed on Lake Cadillac at William Mitchell State Park in the summer of 2006. Lake Cadillac has had issues with Eurasian milfoil in recent years, requiring treatment with 2,4-D.

Lake Mitchell is a 2,580-acre eutrophic lake located just west of the city of Cadillac, MI, in southeastern Wexford County. Its maximum depth is 22 feet, with approximately 90% of the lake shallower than 15 feet. Lake Mitchell is in the Muskegon River watershed, as the creeks flowing into Lake Mitchell are the extreme headwaters of the Clam River watershed. Lake Mitchell flows into Lake Cadillac via a ¼ mile long channel which is navigable by most small boats. Most of the Lake Mitchell shoreline is heavily developed with permanent residences. The largest area of natural shoreline is in Big Cove, where the riparian wetland remains intact. That land is owned by USDA Forest Service as part of the Manistee National Forest. There are three boat launches on Lake Mitchell. One is at William Mitchell State Park, another at Hemlock Campground (operated by the US Forest Service) on Big Cove, and another at Selma Township Park on the western shore of the lake. Lake Mitchell has several small streams that drain into it, the most notable of which is Mitchell Creek, which enters Lake Mitchell in Big Cove off US Forest Service land. Lake Mitchell has long had issues with Eurasian milfoil, and has been treated for many years with 2, 4-D.

Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell had self-sustaining walleye populations for many years. However, shortly after the year 2000, anglers began to comment about a decline in the number of walleyes in Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell. Fall walleye electroshocking surveys (Serns 1982, 1983) were done on both Lake Cadillac and Lake Mitchell in 2002 and 2003 to determine whether or not natural reproduction was occurring, and general fisheries surveys were conducted on both lakes in the spring of 2003. Although fair numbers of walleye were caught from both lakes in those surveys, most of them were older fish that had been produced prior to 1999. For some reason, it appears that walleye have not had a strong natural year class on either lake since prior to the turn of the century. Other game and panfish populations looked very healthy in the 2003 netting surveys. Therefore in the summer of 2004, MDNR Fisheries Division personnel stocked 67,549 spring fingerling walleye into Lake Cadillac, and 94,431 spring fingerling walleye into Lake Mitchell . These were the first walleye to have been stocked into Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell since the 1930s. In the spring of 2006, a total of 7.5 million walleye fry were stocked into Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell, and another 20,470 fall fingerlings were added later that year. Nearly 90,000 fall fingerlings were again stocked in 2008. In 2011 another 32,000 spring fingerlings were stocked.

Fisheries surveys have been conducted to assess walleye natural reproduction and the success of the stocking efforts. The surveys have been electrofishing efforts targeting young walleye based on the Serns survey protocol (Serns 1982, 1983). Surveys have been conducted in the falls of 2004-2006, and the springs of 2007, 2008, and 2010 (Tables 3 and 4). Initially the surveys were not productive and few walleye were caught. However, when the surveys were conducted in the spring (2007, 2008, and 2010), more walleye were caught. In particular, the fall fingerling stocking efforts of 2006 and 2008 appeared to have been successful.

Current Status
The most recent surveys of Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell were conducted on April 29, 2010 . On Lake Cadillac, 24 walleye from the 2008 year class and five from the 2006 year class were caught. On Lake Mitchell, 46 walleye from the 2008 year class and six from the 2006 year class were caught. In addition, the spring and summer of 2011 brought some of the best walleye fishing seen in the lakes in a number of years (Steve Knaisal, Pilgrim Village, personal communication). Therefore, it appears that the stocking efforts conducted in recent years by the DNR have been at least moderately successful. While the walleye fishery may not be quite as robust as it was 10-15 years ago, it has again become a viable fishery in which anglers can directly target and regularly catch walleye.


1. Walleye in Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell still do not seem to be naturally reproducing to the extent that they did throughout much of the 20th century. The reason for this remains unknown, although expanding largemouth and smallmouth bass populations are suspected of limiting recruitment.

2. The walleye stocking efforts conducted by DNR between 2004 and 2011 have been moderately successful, at least partially restoring the walleye fishery in both Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell. Fishing for other gamefish species, including northern pike, smallmouth bass (Lake Cadillac) and northern pike, and largemouth bass (Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell) continues to be excellent. Fishing for black crappie also continues to be excellent on both lakes, with some decent catches of bluegill, pumpkinseed sunfish, and yellow perch also to be had.

Management Direction

1. MDNR Fisheries Division will continue to manage Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell for a number of game and panfish species, including walleye. Hopefully, at some point walleye natural reproduction will resume and stocking will no longer be necessary. Until that point we will continue to use stocking as a tool to overcome the current lack of natural reproduction.

2. Walleye should again be stocked into Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell in 2012. Although fall fingerling stocking efforts have been successful in recent years, fall fingerling walleye production is extremely variable and not always reliable. Therefore, we recommend that spring fingerlings be stocked into Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell. While some walleye were stocked into Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell in 2011, the numbers stocked were well short of stocking goals. Therefore, in 2012, 60,000 spring fingerling walleye should be stocked into Lake Cadillac, and 130,000 spring fingerling walleye should be stocked into Lake Mitchell. If spring fingerlings are unavailable, fall fingerlings can substituted if they are available, including up to 30,000 for Lake Cadillac and 60,000 for Lake Mitchell.


Lake Mitchell Fishing Report 2010 -- By Dave Foley

Fishermen, including myself, get into ruts. We tend to fish the same spots, use the same techniques, and tie on the same baits. That may fill your stringer with fish. Or it may not. I've learned that when the fishing gets tough, I talk with other fishermen. Locally I often end up checking out the seen with the folks selling bait on Shaffer's Bait and PilgrimVillage. This year's Fishing Report is based on stuff I learned from others and a good dose of fishing wisdom passed on to me by Steve Knaisel, the owner of Pilgrim Village.

Early Spring
Just after the ice goes out, the crappie head for the shallows in the back of the coves and the Causeway on Lake Cadillac. Swimming among the emerging weeds these black and gold panfish will hit small bait-like pinhead minnows, as well as maggots and waxworms impaled on teardrop hooks. Use light line and tiny bobbers. Some do well with miniature plastic grubs.

After the April 30 Pike and Walleye Opener
The gamefish are hungry. Narrow minnow Rapala type lures and spinnerbaits cast over and through emerging weeds will bring savage strikes from northerns. At dusk or on dark days, walleyes bite. During the first half of May, fans of live bait will do best with big shiners suspended under bobbers. Later in the month nightcrawlers and leeches may be the right choices for walleye.

The actual spawning of bluegills and sunfish may not begin until late in May, but nevertheless the fish are cruising the shallows. Using a small black spider garnished with a waxworm under a bobber can be effective. Bass fishermen find success casting fat crank baits with a bluegill pattern in areas where bass are bedding. Keep moving until you find a concentration of fish.

Early Summer: June to the 4th of July
The bigger hand-sized bluegills are late spawners and typically bed in deeper water. After spawning these fish head to 10-15 feet of water. Anglers find success fishing bait under bobbers in openings in the weeds.

Pike and walleye fisherman break out the weedless lures, typically spinner baits, and rip them through weeds. Not all weeds are equally productive so perseverance pays off for those who keep exploring.

The larger fish move deeper and relate to weed edges. With electronics anglers search for isolated weed beds in deeper water. Deep running crankbaits and weighted spinner baits are productive. Bass anglers use a variety of plastic grubs and worms.

On hot nights anglers cast Jitterbugs and buzzbaits listening for the sound of a big largemouth smacking their lure.

The first cold spell, occurring around Labor Day, seems to snap the fish out of their summer lethargy. Big fish become catchable again. It is feast or famine fishing. Some days the catching is good while on others you can't buy a bite. As the water gets colder, fish crankbaits and spinner baits more slowly. Look for green vegetation. Avoid weed beds of dying plants.

Walleyes begin to feed at night along drop-offs and near the canal. The blue and gold Rapala Husky Jerk is productive. Peak fishing may occur around Halloween or during deer season.

Ice fishing
First ice finds all fish ready to take on whatever food offerings are available. Crappie anglers search for schools of fish, which may be anywhere from hovering just below the ice surface to hugging the bottom. Minnows work well. Bluegill anglers favor tiny grubs on teardrops as they search among the weedbeds for eating size fish. Often gills school by size so if you catch little ones, assume the adults are elsewhere.

Though great catches of jumbo perch are uncommon. Those fishing 10 to 15 feet with minnows or grubs occasionally are rewarded.

The tipup still seems to be the weapon of choice for pike and walleye. Keep moving until you find the fish. More 30-inch plus size northerns come through the ice than at any other time of the year. Those who would rather not depend on a pike's need to feed on hooked minnows, sit in shanties with spears poised. Spear anglers probably land the majority of big pike.

Pike on Ice

Fishing through the Seasons on Lake Mitchell – 2009


Spring (April and May)

Typically the ice goes out around April 10. The first warm blast of spring air brings crappies into the shallow waters of the coves where they are catchable using plastic grubs and pin minnows under bobbers. Anglers also flock to the Causeway on Lake Cadillac.


As the water warms the pike get active and are ready to inhale Mepps type spinners, crank baits, spinner baits, and big minnows swimming under bobbers. Look for northerns in the emerging weedbeds and in the coves. If the spring is warm, bluegills will become active in the shallows late in May. Sunfish are often more eager to bite than bluegills in the spring. The walleye fishery, though not what it was twenty years ago, is coming back. Dark days and nights are most productive, with most fish being taken along the south and east shores. Casted and trolled crankbaits as well as night crawler harnesses work best. .


Summer (June, July, and August)

The bass typically finish spawning in early June, while the bluegills continue to bed throughout the month. With bass season opening Memorial Day weekend, the tournaments return and these anglers know where to find bass. Watching them may give you an idea where to fish and what to use. On warm summer nights, try fishing top water and large blade spinnerbaits for largemouth bass.


Pike continue to be active though most of the larger fish have moved into the main lake weed beds. After spawning, bluegills and crappies move to deeper water. Savvy fishermen keep trying different spots until schools of larger fish are found. Look for the edges of weed beds and pockets in the vegetation, especially milfoil, to find summer fish. Using artificial grubs, tubes with weed guards, and spinner baits allow anglers to fish in the weeds.


Fall (September, October, November)

Fall is a feast or famine time for fishermen as changing weather and water temperatures affect the fishes’ propensity to bite. The first cold snap after Labor Day often gets bass and pike biting. As weeds die and drop, crankbaits can be used again. Typically you catch fewer fish this time of year, but they are often bigger. Look for bass to be active on bright warm days. Smallmouth move to 4’ to 6’ feet flats over sandy bottom. After dark, walleyes are at their best and readily take crank baits retrieved slowly by fishermen wading out in front of the canal and shorelines near drop offs.

For up-to-date fishing information check with Steve Knaisel at PilgrimVillage on M115 or Jim Anderson at Schaefer’s Bait on M55.


Winter (December, January, February)

Winter is the best time of the year to catch pike over 30". To find pike, set up out from the mouths of Big, Little, and Franke coves or try the north end of the lake. Tipups and spear anglers do the best. Spear season now runs from December 1 through March 15. New regulations now permit anglers to use three lines (or tipups). The Big Cove area produces bluegills using wax worms, maggots, and grubs. Minnows are the bait of choice for crappies which can be found almost anywhere in the lake. Crappies often bite best and dusk and on into the night. Be sure to move bait to different depths since crappies suspend.

Lake Mitchell Fishing Report 2008

The abundant vegetation in Lake Mitchell provides ideal habitat for pike, bass, bluegills, crappie, and sunfish. The best fishing months are May and June, but savvy anglers make consistent catches throughout the summer. Some of the biggest pike for the year can be taken by those out on the lakes during the fall. The lakes froze on the 22nd of November and ice anglers appeared during the first week of December and, when it wasn’t storming, the fish were biting.

Winter is an excellent time to fish Mitchell as the weeds gradually drop down so anglers on foot and snowmobile can fish spots that are weed-choked during the open water months. Lake Mitchell may be one of the best lakes in the state for ice anglers to try for pike and crappie. Spearing season now has been expanded throughout the ice fishing year and lasts until pike season ends March 15. It is probably the ideal way to land trophy pike.

Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are favorite destinations for bass tournaments and almost every summer weekend the roar of boats at dawn signals the start of a fishing competition. Tournament anglers usually weigh-in (and release) full boat limits averaging two to three pounds per fish. Bass over four pounds are not uncommon. Of the two lakes, Cadillac and Mitchell, the largemouth bass tend to prefer Mitchell while smallmouth are more likely to be taken in Cadillac. The east and south sides of Mitchell are considered good for small mouth. Tournament anglers prefer tubes, grubs, and plastic worms but also do well with crank baits and spinner baits.

Pike are plentiful and found in every part of the lake. A big minnow swimming under bobber or spinner bait fished in and along weed edges usually puts northerns in the boat. Before the weeds get high, crank baits work well. In the winter pike are voracious feeders. Ice anglers fishing tipups, jigging spoons or jigging Rapala minnow-type lures don’t usually go home empty handed.

Walleyes are starting to be caught again. Trophy fish in the seven to nine pound range were taken during the winter. Most of these big females were released so they could continue to spawn. Anglers, who persistently and patiently, troll live bait rigs, crank baits or wade out from shore to cast minnow lures in the fall occasionally land a walleye. Practicing catch-and-release with walleye helps our lakes rebuild that fishery.

The crappie fishing has never been better. Limit catches can be made anytime of the year to anglers willing to keep moving until they find schooling fish. In the first weeks after ice out in April, the Lake Cadillac causeway and Mitchell’s coves are magnets for crappie. Pinhead minnows under bobbers and tiny grubs are the favored baits. Unlike most fish which hang near the bottom, crappie suspend so adjusting bait depth can make a real difference in your catch.

Though occasionally a good catch of perch is made, most of the fish are less than eight inches long. There are plenty of perch available, but they need to have a growth spurt.

Likewise there are a lots of miniature bluegills nibbling on hooks. The bigger fish tend to school deeper after the spawning season in June. Anglers fishing bait under slip bobbers along weed edges in open spots in the vegetation catch hand-sized fish. Sunfish often run bigger than bluegills and Master Angler-sized ones are caught with surprising frequency.

Steve Knaisel, who owns Pilgrim Village provides regular fishing reports on what’s happening on area lakes as well as Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac. Check his site for current information Jim Anderson over at Schafer’s Bait on M-55 near M-115 by Cadillac West also is a good source of information.

Mitchell and Cadillac receive DNR Walleye planting

In 2007 planting of walleye was suspended due to the fatal fish disease Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia or VHS. DNR Fisheries Biologist Mark Tonello, after ensuring that walleye fingerlings had tested negative for VHS was able to get permission for a planting in our lakes. This fall 81,000 walleyes, 3 ½ to 4 inches long, were planted. Mitchell received 53,000 while Cadillac received 28,000.

An evening survey in the spring on a DNR shock boat provided proof that walleye stocked in 2005 had survived and were growing toward maturity.

Bass Tournament Release Program works 9 tournaments

Lake Mitchell Association members were concerned that while the vast majority of bass taken by tournament anglers were caught in Lake Mitchell, almost all the fish were released in Lake Cadillac after the weigh-ins. It was believed at least some of these fish should be returned and redistributed in Lake Mitchell.

Last summer a volunteer group of Lake Mitchell Association members attended nine bass tournament weigh-ins in Lake Cadillac collected 268 bass and returned them to various points around Lake Mitchell. The Bass Tournament Release Program was formed in 2007 by the Lake Mitchell Action Committee, a sub-committee of the Lake Mitchell Improvement Board. Once a plan for releasing bass was devised, the committee members needed to procure and equip a release boat. Mark Pentecost, the owner of Cadillac Track and Trail, donated a pontoon boat and motor as well provided the boat registration. To equip the boat, Brent McCumber provided a livestock watering tank while Ron Moelker came up with a battery and a water pump. Craig Hewett offered docking at Four Winns Test Center. Encouraged by the success this year, the bass release program will continue in 2009.

Lake Mitchell Fishing Report 2007

Lake Mitchell continues to have a reputation as one of the best lakes in the region for producing pike, crappie, and largemouth bass. In addition Lake Mitchell also has the dubious distinction of being just about the best place to catch trophy-sized dogfish in the state.

In the winter, tip-ups and jigging spoons or Rapala type minnows are favored by pike anglers. Once the season resumes in late April, pike are taken with minnows under bobbers, spinner baits, and assorted crank baits fished in and around weed beds. As with all species, the catching is easiest in spring and early summer, but pike are available all season long if you are persistent.

Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac’s reputation as a productive bass fishery draws tournaments from all over the Midwest. These anglers routinely catch fish in the three and four pound range with the occasional five-pounder mixed in. Typically bass from Lake Mitchell make up about 70% of the tournament’s catch, but the majority of small mouth bass come from Lake Cadillac.

The walleye stocking that was done in 2005 and 2006 is starting to show results as undersized fish are once again being caught. Skilled anglers still take fish in the 22 to 27 inch range. Night crawler harnesses trolled during the day and crank baits cast at night have been the best options for walleye. Though still a far cry from the good old days, there is cautious optimism that a good walleye fishery will someday be available in our lakes.

Crappie are king among panfish, as thousands of these thin-lipped fish are pulled through the ice in winter and taken by open water fishermen. Minnows and small jigs are the most productive baits. Crappie suspend and may be caught anywhere between the surface and lake bottom. Because these fish travel and feed in schools, anglers should keep moving until they find fish.

Although bluegills are numerous, and eating-sized fish aren’t hard to catch, the big ones are elusive and not as common as they were a few years ago. If you catch one that is nine or ten inches long, it is likely to be a sunfish.

The perch population, which was decimated by a virus a few years ago, still has not rebounded. Although some lucky anglers accumulate enough for a fish fry, a good catch of perch is the exception rather than the rule.

Steve Knaisel provides regular fishing reports on what’s happening on area lakes as well as Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac. Check his site for current information -  

Bass tournament fish release program to continue

Last year the Lake Mitchell Action Committee instituted a program to redistribute bass caught during tournaments to the north, west, and south sides of Lake Mitchell. Concerns had been raised by lakeshore residents that the tournaments practice of releasing their catch at public docks on Lake Cadillac was reducing bass populations in Lake Mitchell. Research done by LMAC members found that in studies done on tagged bass throughout the United States yielded data indicating that most bass would remain within a mile of where they were released for at least several months. Some of the major bass tournaments in southern states routinely take tournament caught bass and redistribute them throughout the waters that had been fished.

During the 2007 fishing season, about a dozen tournaments were staged on our lakes. Most of these tournaments were contacted and asked to return 50% of their catch to one of five release points located along the south, west, and north side of Lake Mitchell. Members of the LMAC met with tournament anglers at the weigh-ins and helped insure that the release took place.

Improvements for 2008 bass release program

Whereas last year, the committee was relying on the tournament anglers to use their own boats to carry the fish back into Lake Mitchell, this year Mark Pentecost owner of Track and Trail Marine will supply a pontoon boat and motor that will be equipped with a tank and aerator so LMAC committee members can handle the release of the bass. With about a dozen tournaments to cover, the LMAC is looking for volunteers who will help release bass after tournament weigh-ins. It is hoped that the committee can be expanded to about a dozen members so each member might only have to help with one or two tournaments; to collect and release fish involves about two hours on a weekend afternoon. If you would like to help or learn more about the Lake Mitchell release program, contact Dave Foley at  

VHS threat curtails walleye planting and effects bait sales

VHS is a deadly virus that has killed large numbers of fish in Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. In April 2007 it made its first appearance in an inland lake, killing bluegills, crappie, and muskellunge in Clare County’s Budd Lake. To protect the state hatchery system from the deadly virus the DNR has taken a one-year moratorium on planting walleye, northern pike, and muskellunge. The planting of walleye in Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac scheduled for 2007 was cancelled.

Suspecting that the VHS virus entered Budd Lake through infected live bait, which may have introduced by fishermen on that lake, the DNR has put some restrictions on the sale and transportation of live bait. Anglers buying live bait are given a receipt saying that the bait is VHS-free. Purchasers of bait must carry that receipt with them. This is to discourage the transporting of bait from one lake to another. In other words minnows caught in Lake Mitchell must be used in that lake (or Lake Cadillac) and not transported for use in another body of water. Be sure and only use live bait that you were given a receipt by the bait dealer. Do not catch and bring in live bait from other waters.

Will tribal treaty affect Lake Mitchell fishing?

On September 26th the DNR, the United States and five Michigan Indian tribes signed an agreement on tribal inland hunting, fishing, and gathering rights covering the 1836 treaty area of Michigan. This agreement with Indian tribes could affect fishing in Lake Mitchell as Indians now have the right to harvest 855 walleyes from Lake Mitchell and 392 from Lake Cadillac each year. The fish must be used for subsistence only and cannot be sold. If Indians plan to spear walleye or fish out of season they must notify the DNR. Tribal fishing laws allow Indians to use four lines in open water and seven during the ice season. In addition they may use trap nets (no gill nets) and spears. They are limited to ten fish per person per day. According to the treaty, non-walleye species may also be taken by Indians with nets. Bag limits for these species are also greater than those allowed anglers who obey Michigan’s fishing laws.

This treaty covers the inland lakes in the northwest part of the state. The likelihood of Indians exercising their fishing rights in Lakes Mitchell or Cadillac is not known.

More information on the terms of the treaty can be found at under "Proposed 2007 Decree."

2006 Fishing Report

Pike, Bass, Crappie abundant, while Perch and Walleye remain elusive

Limit catches of pike, crappie, and largemouth bass were not uncommon this year. Ice anglers occasionally landed a few pike that were 30+ inches while good-sized crappie were jigged up by fishermen on the ice at dusk. Spring-time crappie anglers also did well. The first month after the Memorial Day Weekend opener produced many bass, although Saturdays and Sundays found local anglers often competing for fish with 60-100 bass tournament boats on the lakes. While large mouth bass are found all over Mitchell, the smallies favor the east side of Mitchell and all of Lake Cadillac.

Jumbo bluegills were not common, although most fishermen could catch tons of bite-sized gills; however, it is not unusual to land master-angler length sunfish. Perch, although more available than other years, still remain small. Occasionally a lucky or skilled angler found bigger ones. Although a few experts regularly take walleyes, most who fish for them have little success. The ones that are caught, though, are usually at least twenty inches long.

More walleye to be planted next two years.

The November survey of Lake Cadillac and Mitchell found no walleye from the plant in Cadillac while only a few were taken in Mitchell. As a result, this spring a million-and-a-half quarter inch fry will be put in our lake while Cadillac will receive a million. The following year, 100,000 inch- and-a-half fingerlings will be planted in Mitchell and a smaller number in Cadillac.

A recent study conducted by the Wisconsin DNR and the University of Wisconsin may help explain why walleye populations have plummeted in our area. The study, Interactions between Walleyes and Four Fish Species with Implications for Walleye Stocking, found that bass, not pike, are the primary consumers of young walleye. With bass numbers high in the lakes in recent years, young walleye may be losing out to the abundance of largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Changes in bass season coming this year.

Starting this spring, the catch-and-release bass season will begin on the same date, the last Saturday in April, as the pike and walleye openers. However, bass may not be kept until the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. It is important that anglers, especially when fish are in bedding areas, return the fish immediately to water. Studies show that if bass are kept for more than a couple minutes, they may abandon the nest and the likelihood that predator panfish may eat the eggs becomes great.

What about the red sores found on pike?

You may have caught pike with reddish sores on their fins or sides. These sores are a contact-transmitted virus spread from fish to fish during spawning. This disease is found on pike throughout the United States and Canada.

The disease is not known to be infectious to other animals or man; however infected fish should not be eaten. Legal size fish should be kept and disposed of, to keep the disease from spreading.

Fish with yellow grub and black spot.

Yellow grubs and black spots are found in fish in many area lakes, including Mitchell and Cadillac. Black spot looks like grains of pepper on the skin or fins. Yellow grub appears as a white or yellow worm, about one inch long in the flesh and does not have any external signs. These parasites are larval stages that infest birds, but spend their life cycle in snails and fish. The bird host for the black spot is the kingfisher while the Great blue heron is the bird host for the yellow grub.

The parasites do not impact growth and longevity; however young fish may experience mortalities.

The parasites are killed by proper cooking and the flavor of the fish is not impacted. Neither of the parasites is capable of infesting humans.

The incidence of these parasites is increasing and this can be attributed to the greater numbers of kingfishers and Great blue herons in our area. The presence of both of the birds is sign of a healthy environment.

2005 Fishing Report

Last summer the DNR planted 94,431 1 ½ to 2 inch walleyes in Lake Mitchell, while another 67,549 were introduced into Lake Cadillac. The cost was prohibitive for planting larger fish. A good return might have 10% of the planters reaching legal size within five years.

The absence of good walleye catches and the very few undersize fish found in net surveys indicated that the natural reproduction of walleye wasn’t happening. DNR fisheries biologist Tom Rozich theorized that overfishing and adverse weather conditions during the spawning season caused the reduction of fish.

In October a DNR boat equipped with electroshocking equipment toured the shorelines of the lakes. No young of the year walleye were found in Lake Mitchell and only a handful were seen in Lake Cadillac. Although this was not a hopeful sign, Rozich noted that the warm weather in the fall may have kept the fish from moving into the shallows into the evening. Another electronic shocking survey is planned for this fall.

So how was the fishing in 2004?

Lake Mitchell’s large pike population provided consistently good fishing for anglers, especially for ice anglers and those who got out on the lake in during May and June. While some fish over thirty inches were taken, most northerns hooked were 20 to 25 inches in length.

The lake continued to be a Mecca for bass anglers. Whether the anglers were residents, tourists, or tournament fishers, it wasn’t hard to catch bass until mid-July when the fishing slowed. Lake Cadillac and Mitchell’s east side were the best bets for smallmouths, while the largemouth favored the weedy waters along Mitchell’s west side.

Crappie, sunfish, and bluegills are bountiful in both lakes providing good fishing to those who were willing to keep moving until they found the fish.

The lake’s jumbo perch population seems to be missing, although there are multitudes of fish under eight inches in length. Walleyes, that seem to be mostly caught by savvy local anglers, rarely are smaller than twenty inches and frequently are 24 to 27 inches in length.

For those seeking to collect a DNR Master Angler patch, bait your hook for the bowfin (dogfish) and bullhead.

What about the red sores found on pike?

You may have caught pike with reddish sores on their fins or sides. These sores are a contact-transmitted virus spread from fish to fish during spawning. This disease is found on pike throughout the United States and Canada.

The disease is not known to be infectious to other animals or man, however infected fish should not be eaten. Legal size fish should be kept and disposed of, to keep the disease from spreading.

Fish with yellow grub and black spot.

Yellow grubs and black spots are found in fish in many area lakes, including Mitchell and Cadillac. Black spot looks like grains of pepper on the skin or fins. Yellow grub appears as a white or yellow worm, about one inch long in the flesh and does not have any external signs. These parasites are larval stages that infest birds, but spend their life cycle in snails and fish. The bird host for the black spot is the kingfisher while the Great blue heron is the bird host for the yellow grub.

The parasites do not impact growth and longevity; however young fish may experience mortalities.

The parasites are killed by proper cooking and the flavor of the fish is not impacted. Neither of the parasites is capable of infesting humans.

The incidence of these parasites is increasing and this can be attributed to the greater numbers of kingfishers and Great blue herons in our area. The presence of both of the birds is sign of a healthy environment.

Concerns about bass tournaments on the lakes

Each year Lakes Mitchell and Cadillac are the site of a couple dozen bass tournaments. Bass clubs launch as many eighty boats on the lake for a day or weekend of catch and release fishing. It is a vital boost to the tourist industry here, bringing needed dollars to this community. However it has raised some concerns among lakeshore residents who are worried about the effect of tournaments on the bass population. With about two-thirds of the tournaments releasing captured bass in Lake Cadillac, the effect is the illegal (Michigan fish may not be transplanted from one lake to another without a permit from MDNR) transplanting of many Lake Mitchell bass into Lake Cadillac resulting in a net loss of Mitchell fish. In addition bass are often in the spawning phase during the first two or three weeks of the bass season; this is also among the most popular dates for tournaments. If a bass is removed from a bed and not immediately released, the bed will be destroyed as fish will prey on the eggs.

As it stands, bass tournament fishing, with the illegal transplanting of Lake Mitchell fish to Lake Cadillac and delayed catch and release, could have a negative impact on our lake’s bass population.

Currently the DNR is looking at revising the bass season statewide so only immediate catch and release would be allowed during the spawning season; this could do much to rectify the problem. As for the transplanting of Lake Mitchell bass to Lake Cadillac, we can only hope more tournaments weigh-ins would be done on Lake Mitchell. Bass tournaments should be for either Lake Cadillac or Lake Mitchell, but not both.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is currently in the process of reviewing the existing bass regulations. See here for more info:,1607,7-153-10364-92248--,00.html. If you have questions or would like to comment about the proposed new bass regs, feel free to contact Todd Grishke at (517)373-1280.