Diverse fishery thriving on Barry County’s Gun Lake
By Bill Parker
A diverse fishery, supplemented by a long-time walleye stocking program, awaits anglers in southern Michigan’s Gun Lake.
Bass, pike perch, black crappie and bluegill populations are healthy in Gun. Stocking and limited natural reproduction has resulted in a decent walleye fishery, too, which is rare in this part of the state.
Resting along the western edge of Barry County, west of Hastings and adjacent to the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area, Gun Lake offers 2,680 acres of surface water. This large, spring-fed lake has a maximum depth of 68 feet. It features 17.8 miles of shoreline and 1.4 miles of shoreline in islands.
The lake has an irregular shape and two separate basins, one to the east and one to the west.
The west basin is shallow with a maximum depth of 5 feet throughout with the exception of Robin’s Bay (34 feet) at the north end, and Pickerel Cove (25 feet) at the south end.
The east basin is riddled with contours, breaklines, humps, points and islands. There are several deep holes in the east basin with the deepest reaching 68 feet.
Gun Lake has numerous inlets, including one from Hall Lake, which feeds three walleye rearing ponds on the east shore. The outlet is the Gun River, a designated trout stream for most of its length.
If you’re looking for a fish of Master Angler proportions, Gun Lake has plenty. No less than 30 fish meeting Master Angler standards have been caught in Gun Lake in the last five years. They include 11 longnose gar, seven black crappies, three pumpkinseed sunfish, three bowfin, and one each bluegill, rock bass, common carp, warmouth, bullhead and freshwater drum.
Gun has a long history of stocking by fisheries managers that dates back to 1873 when Atlantic salmon were planted. Over the years, American eel, yellow perch, bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskie and walleye have been stocked in the lake.
Since 1984 the focus has been on stocking walleyes, most of which come from the three one-acre walleye rearing ponds, which were built in 1925 are still in use today by the Gun Lake Protective Association. More than 350,000 walleyes have been stocked in Gun over the past five years including 72,617 in 2019, 66,077 in 2018, and 91,702 in 2017.
“Gun Lake is typically stocked with spring fingerling walleye from the rearing ponds,” DNR fisheries biologist Matt Diana wrote in a report following a pair of surveys of the fishery in 2015. “Fall fingerling walleye are purchased privately and periodically stocked in fall. These fish are larger and more expensive than spring fingerlings, but may have advantages in growth or survival.”
The DNR conducted two surveys of the fishery in Gun Lake in 2015. According to Diana’s report, 17,582 fish were collected representing 32 species of fish and minnows.
Bluegill was the most abundant game fish found in the survey. The ‘gills ranged up to 9 inches and averaged 6.2. There were good numbers of black crappies, averaging 10.5 inches and ranging up to 13.
The survey also turned up good numbers of rock bass to 11 inches (average 6.9), yellow perch to 12 (average 8.8), and pumpkinseed sunfish to 9 (average 7.4).
Bass, pike and walleye are the main game fish predators in Gun Lake. The surveys produced good numbers of each.
Largemouth bass were abundant. They averaged a tad over 13 inches and fish up to 19 inches were captured. Northern pike averaged 23 inches and ranged up to 35, while walleyes averaged 18.9 and ranged up to 26.
“Walleye fishing opportunities are limited in southwest Michigan and Gun Lake provides one of the premiere walleye fisheries for this part of the state and is one of the largest lakes in the area,” Diana wrote.
Light numbers of smallmouth bass also were captured. They averaged 15 inches and ranged up to 18.
“The overarching management goal for Gun Lake is to maintain a diverse fishery,” Diana wrote. “This can be accomplished through continuing to stock walleye and promote largemouth bass, yellow perch, and bluegill fisheries. Efforts should be made to enhance habitat by promoting vegetation and woody habitat in the lake. In addition increased connectivity between Gun Lake and streams that feed and flow from the lake should allow fish passage and promote natural recruitment.”
For walleyes, try drifting or slow-trolling nightcrawlers in 18 to 24 feet of water off Murphy’s Point and over the sunken island north of Hasting’s Point. Leeches and minnows will also catch fish.
Winter pike anglers rig tip-ups with large suckers and golden shiners. Good fishing is found between Blackbird Island and England’s Point. Set tip-ups at varying depths to catch pike as they transition between deep and shallow water.
Summer anglers do well on pike by fishing shiners and suckers under a bobber on the large weedy flat between the park and Bairds Cove.
Bass are caught throughout the lake. The west bay is shallow and early in the season they’ll stack up in the grass clumps. Anglers who drag bottom with crayfish imitators or cast crankbaits report good action.
As summer moves in the bass move deeper. Try casting tube baits or Rapalas in Robin’s Bay, at Turtle Rock and in Pickerel Cove.
Access to Gun lake is available at several locations including two at Yankee Springs, both off Gun Lake Road. Camping is available at the park.
Surface water………..2,680 acres
Maximum depth………….68 feet
Fish species present:
Black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, bullhead, carp, hybrid sunfish largemouth bass, longnose gar, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, smallmouth bass, white sucker, yellow perch and walleye.
DNR district fisheries office (269) 685-6851, the DNR web site www.michigan.gov/dnr, Gillett’s Bait and Hardware (269) 672-5371.