Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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Lake Mitchell, Wexford County

Multi species abound in Wexford County’s Lake Mitchell

By Bill Parker


As one of the better fishing lakes in the northern Lower Peninsula, Wexford County’s Lake Mitchell attracts a generous amount of angler attention. But that’s OK. With 2,580 acres of surface water and a healthy, diverse fishery, Mitchell holds up well to the pressure.

Lake Mitchell is known by the locals as a multi-species lake. It features good numbers of bluegills, crappies, sunfish, rock bass, perch, largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes, and northern pike. Anglers also catch a fair share of burbot and bullhead along with a few white suckers. And some of the catches are trophy-sized.

Sixteen Master Angler fish caught in Lake Mitchell were registered with the DNR between 2018 and 2019, the last years listed on the Master Angler web page. They include five bowfin between 28 and 31.5 inches, four pumpkinseed sunfish between 9 and 9.5 inches, three bluegills between 10 and 10.5 inches, a 14-inch crappie, a 14.63-inch bullhead, a 29.5-inch walleye, a 22-inch largemouth bass, and a 32-inch channel catfish.

“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,” DNR fisheries biologist Mark Tonello wrote in a summary of the most recent survey of the fishery in lake Mitchell. “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.”

According to the DNR, lake Mitchell originally was called Big Clam Lake and adjacent Lake Cadillac was called Little Clam. In 1903 the name was changed to Lake Mitchell after William Mitchell, an early lumber baron in the Cadillac area and one of the founders of the city of Cadillac.

Lake Mitchell is a relatively shallow lake with a maximum depth of just 22 feet. Most of the lake is 15 feet deep or less.

It’s located in southeastern Wexford County just west of the town of Cadillac. Mitchell is connected to Lake Cadillac via a quarter-mile long dredged canal, navigable by most small boats. The canal runs through Mitchell State Park, where camping is available and there is a public boat launch.

Most of the Lake Mitchell shoreline is heavily developed with permanent residences, according to Tonello’s report.

“The largest remaining area of natural shoreline is in Big Cove, where the riparian wetland remains intact,” he wrote. 

There are three public boat launches on Lake Mitchell. In addition to the state park, there are launches at Hemlock Campground (operated by the USFS) on Big Cove, and another at Selma Township Park on the west shore of the lake. 

Mitchell State Park also offers access for shore anglers, including a fishing platform at the juncture of Lake Mitchell and the canal connecting to Lake Cadillac. 

Lake Mitchell has a deep history of fisheries management dating back to 1874 when lake whitefish were stocked. Over the years, chinook salmon, lake trout, smallmouth bass, walleye, common carp, bluegills, yellow perch and emerald shiners have been planted in Lake Mitchell. 

The lake was not stocked between 1940 and 2004, but walleyes have been stocked regularly since then. In 2018 the DNR planted 133,854 spring fingerling walleyes in Lake Mitchell. That was followed stocks of by 50,881 in 2019 and another 116,864 this spring.

“At this point however, the walleye fishery appears to be heavily dependent upon stocking…” Tonello wrote. “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.”

Black crappie was the top game fish by number found in the DNR survey. They ranged up to 13 inches, averaged nearly 9 inches, and 78% were 7 inches or longer, which is considered acceptable size for anglers. The survey also turned up strong numbers of bluegills to 8 inches, perch to 9, and largemouth bass to 18. There also were decent numbers of walleyes to 27 inches, smallies to 19,  northerns to 32, sunfish to 8 and rock bass to 10.

The mouth of the canal to Lake Cadillac and the small gravel bar northwest of the channel attract walleyes in the spring. A deep trough just east of Small Cove on the west side of the lake holds ‘eye in the summer.

The best bluegill action occurs in the shallows in the spring when the fish move in to spawn. The weedbeds in Small Cove attract bluegill throughout the year. 

Early spring is a great time to target crappie with minnows and wax worms. Work the reeds at the mouth of Small Cove and the trough directly to the east.

Lake Mitchell

Nearest town…………….Cadillac

Surface water………2,580 acres

Maximum depth………….22 feet

Water clarity………………….Clear

Fish species present:

Black crappie, black bullhead, bluegill, bowfin, brown bullhead, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, white sucker, yellow bullhead, yellow perch.

For information:

DNR district fisheries office (231) 922-5280, the DNR’s  website, Pilgrim Village Fishing Shop (231) 775-5412.

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