Figuring out how to fish Douglas Lake in Cheboygan County

person holding a northern pike out of the waterOne of the largest lakes in Michigan is also one that has very little fishing pressure. A hidden gem of sorts, Douglas Lake in Cheboygan County is almost 3,400 acres in size and has a maximum depth of 80 feet. It is located near Pellston and has limited public access as much of the land surrounding it is privately owned.

"It's fairly undeveloped," explained Neal Godby, a DNR fisheries biologist out of Gaylord. "It's on my professional bucket list to improve public access to Douglas Lake because it has so much potential."

Much of the shoreline is owned by the University of Michigan. Their presence has been felt for more than 100 years as their biological station is located there with a classroom and research facility on-site. Their major areas of research focus include wetlands, historical biota and limnology, algal and vascular plant communities, plankton dynamics and trophic state.

The limited public access consists really of a road ending on the south shoreline that is maintained by the Cheboygan County Road Commission - this means there's limited parking for vehicles and trailers.

Despite a lack of access, Godby shared that a good predator population can be found there; including smallmouth and largemouth bass as well as northern pike.

"Smallmouth bass and northern pike are the dominant predators," he said. "There is a diverse panfish community as well, consisting of bluegill, black crappie, green sunfish, pumpkinseeds, rock bass and yellow perch."

One of the reasons the pike population is good is partially due to the pike spawning marsh near Lancaster Creek. This spawning marsh was operated by the DNR in partnership with the Douglas Lake Association from the 1960s until 2010 and it worked by allowing adult pike to migrate into it and spawn, but then it was closed off to allow for better survival of eggs and fry. Surveys have indicated the population is still in great shape (as evident by all age classes being represented) so the department has not seen a need to re-implement the marsh.

"Douglas Lake is actually a great place to go to fish for pike, especially through the ice," Godby said. "There's very limited pressure but plenty of opportunity."

Fisheries management initially started on Douglas Lake in the late 1920s, when a variety of species were stocked. These included yellow perch (1929-1938), bluegill (1932-1945) smallmouth (1933-1942) and largemouth bass (1932-1945). During this time frame the department often stocked warmwater fish in waterbodies - which is something rarely done today.

During and following that time period additional fish were stocked, including walleye, northern pike and splake. Nothing has been stocked in Douglas Lake since 1974, yet anglers and survey work have produced the occasional walleye.

The most recent survey of Douglas Lake, conducted in June 2014, helped to produce a Status of the Fishery Resource Report which can be found online.

"Non-game species are fairly plentiful in Douglas Lake as well," shared Godby. "These include white suckers, bullhead and bowfin."

For those who are willing to do their homework and make a trip, Douglas Lake is a great destination for those who love to target panfish and northern pike. Godby encourages anglers to study a lake map since the varying depths of this lake could make it tricky to find fish.

The DNR will continue to work with the Douglas Lake Association, the University of Michigan Biological Station, Munro Township, and other stakeholders to provide better public access to Douglas Lake.