Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Michigan Lake Profile – Deer Island Lake, Gogebic County

Lunker smallies await adventurers on Deer Island Lake


If you’re longing for some quiet fishing time and a wilderness adventure, the western Upper Peninsula’s Deer Island Lake might make your dreams come true.


Deer Island is a aesthetically appealing wilderness lake in Gogebic County where you can catch some real lunker smallmouth bass. Since it’s all catch-and-release fishing for bass, they tend to grow to fairly large proportions, especially for an Upper Peninsula lake.


In 2017, Frank Barber of Lapeer, registered a 23.50-inch smallie he caught on Deer Island Lake in the catch-and-release category of the DNR’s Master Angler program. A couple of 21-inch-plus smallies also were registered with the Master Angler program from earlier in the 2000s.


Deer Island Lake is one of 34 named lakes in the Sylvania Wilderness Area, which is in the Ottawa National Forest. Deer Island Lake is a clear, pristine 346-acre lake located along the Michigan/Wisconsin border, about six miles southwest of the town of Watersmeet.


It’s a visually appealing lake, completely surrounded by a virgin forests dominated by hemlock and pine. The spring-fed lake features cold, clear water, an irregular shoreline, steep drop-offs and several islands. The largest is Deer Island, located towards the south end, and nearly divides the lake in half.


There is limited vegetation in Deer Island Lake. Most of the fish habitat is provided by sunken logs, rocks and gravel rubble.


Fishing Deer Island Lake is not for the faint of heart. Access to the lake is difficult with launching limited to carry-down crafts only throughout the wilderness area. No motors are allowed on watercraft in the Sylvania Wilderness Area.


To access Deer Island Lake, canoeists and kayakers must paddle across Clark Lake, portage to Loon Lake, paddle across Loon then portage over to Deer Island Lake.


Nearby Sylvania Outfitters, rents canoes and kayaks and also has a full line of fishing equipment and licenses.


Once you get to Deer Island Lake, because its one of the most remote lakes in the wilderness area, there likely won’t be anyone else around. And the fishing is outstanding.


“It’s a very nice lake and has good bass fishing and some perch fishing, too,” says DNR fisheries biologist George Madison.


Bass fishing has been reported as very good around both ends of Deer Island and in the coves at the north end of the lake.


Small crankbaits and top-water presentations work pretty well. Soft plastics like crawlers and swimbaits are also reported to attract bass on Deer Island Lake. Barber caught his Master Angler smallie while drifting with a Twister Tail.


Since the lake is in a wilderness area there are special fishing regulations to keep in mind. Only artificial lures with barbless hooks are allowed. (Use a pair of pliers to flatten the barbs on your hooks.) Bass must be immediately returned to the water. Perch may be kept following general state regulations.


The Sylvania Wilderness Area is highly regulated and anglers are urged to call the Ottawa Visitor’s Center for a list of regulations (906) 358-4724.


The Sylvania Wilderness Area covers 18,327 acre and is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.


Reports indicate that lumberjacks and businessmen formed the Sylvania Club in the late 1800s and purchased much of what later would become the Sylvania Wilderness Area. They built lodges and cabins and formed a rather exclusive resort.


In 1967 the U.S. Forest Service purchased the land, removed all the buildings and structures and opened it up to the public. It was managed as a special recreation area until 1987 when Congress passed the Michigan Wilderness Act, designating the Sylvania Tract, the Nordhouse Dunes, the Sturgeon River Gorge and other areas as protected wilderness areas and part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.


From May 15 to Sept. 30 all visitors to the Sylvania Wilderness Area must register at the entrance station in Watersmeet. From Oct. 1 to May 14, users can self-register for day permits at trailheads and camping permits may obtained at the kiosk at the entrance. There are no fees between Oct. 1 and May 14.


Deer Island Lake a wonderful lake to fish, but don’t overlook the other lakes on the way in or on your way out. Most of the lakes in the Sylvania Wilderness Area offer some pretty good fishing opportunities.

— Bill Parker

Deer Island Lake

Nearest town Watersmeet

Surface area 346 acres

Maximum depth 53 feet

Water clarity Clear


Fish species present:

Smallmouth bass, white sucker, yellow perch.


For information:

DNR district fisheries office (906) 353-6651, the DNR’s website, U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station (906) 358-4551, Ottawa National Forest Visitor’s Center (906) 358-4724, Sylvania Outfitters (906) 358-4766.

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