St. Ignace is the perfect destination for an ice fishing trip in the Upper Peninsula. Wondering where to start? We’ve got what you need to know!
Ice Fishing in St. Ignace
Hop across the Mackinac Bridge this winter to St. Ignace to try your hand at ice fishing, a timeless tradition the locals are proud to share.
Ice fishing in the Upper Peninsula is a ritual and this small town on the shores of Lake Huron is the perfect place to become acquainted. My wife and I crossed the Straits of Mackinac on a partly-cloudy day while the frigid lake water glinted turquoise beneath the bridge. We were here to mingle with the locals, absorb some fishing knowledge and hopefully catch dinner.
Where to Ice Fish in St. Ignace
Once we got settled in town, we headed with our guides to Lake Brevoort, which sits 13 miles northwest of St. Ignace just off Highway 2. The lake is a healthy fishery thanks to DNR stocking programs and artificial “reefs” in the lake which provide fish habitat.
Here ice anglers target perch, northern pike and walleye from December until March. Public access off Dukes Road on the east end of the lake is the best location to park.
Our guides worked efficiently to get us set up on the ice in the morning light. While one of them popped up our shanty and bored holes, the other answered our questions which opened a gateway of insight and knowledge our guides have gleaned over decades of fishing these waters in every season.
Perch Ice Fishing Gear and Technique
We were provided light-weight ice fishing rods spooled with 10lb test line. On the other end were Swedish pimples with either a live minnow or a wax worm on the hook. Swedish pimples are the lure of choice for fishing for perch in the U.P.
Once we got settled in our heated shanty, we sunk our lines to the bottom and gave the reel a few cranks so the bait hovered a few feet off the bottom. The water was about 10 feet deep and clear enough to see all the way down. Next, we were instructed to “jig” the line, or move the rod tip vertically up and down to give the lure and bait movement.
Before we knew it, our rod tips were bouncing, and we were well on our way to catching dinner. You can only keep perch that are longer than 7” so we released any that didn’t meet the minimum size requirements.
From a distance ice shanties look cold, and sitting in them for a few hours seems a little … boring. Yet when the shanty door closed and we snuggled into our chairs it felt like a cozy getaway, except for the cold feet and the eerie pings of the ice shifting in the distance.
A good shanty seals out most of the daylight which allows your eyes to adjust to the darkness and peer into the water. Since sunlight filters through the snow and ice outside your shanty, your ice hole becomes a view finder, revealing the aquatic community teeming with life below you. Small perch nibble on your bait until a larger one aggressively attacks it and you feel that unmistakable tug on the line.
The ice shanty is a paradoxical retreat that provides the respite and escape many people need during the long, cold, grey days in Michigan. Inside our shanty, it was warm, dark and intimate, yet outside our shanty, the cold northwest wind carried a light snowfall in a bright white landscape. While we wiggled our toes for warmth and slowly rotated our free hand over the heater, it became more obvious why people migrate to the ice this time of year—you’re rewarded with the simplicity of silence, fresh air and time with family and friends who need it just as much as you do.
There is a profound sense of community out on the ice. Unlike chasing steelhead or salmon, ice fishing provides more time for conversation and storytelling. There isn’t a current pulling boats apart or waves drowning out conversation. Our guide also happily reminded us there are no skeeters to slap at either.
We poked our heads out of the shanty into the glistening sunshine to find neighbors, nephews and friends sharing recipes, telling jokes and chatting about their favorite crappie spots on the lake in the spring. One of our guides whipped up Bloody Mary’s in the shanty while the other traded insight on the day’s catch. There were plenty of stories to go around—my personal favorite was what happened last week when a fellow lost his hot dog through the ice and his friend found the same hot dog in the stomach of a Northern Pike he caught the same day. The hot dog looked good as new.
As we continued to pull perch through the ice, my wife inquisitively asked more about the sport, what you need and the costs to get started. If a girl from Alabama likes to ice fish, I’m convinced anyone will with the right gear and crowd. (See suggestions below).
As the sun settled and the temperature dropped, it was time to head in. Our guides graciously pulled us back to camp on a sled behind their snowmobile, saving us the labor of packing everything up. Midwest hospitality at its finest—I was beginning to feel a little spoiled. Before we left, they suggested where to eat dinner and a few local cross-country skiing trails to check out before we hit the road the following morning.
Beyond the Ice
We drove through the quiet town of St. Ignace on our way to our hotel room reveling in the experience of our first-time ice fishing in the U.P. Yet it was so much more than the perch in our cooler that made it special. It was everyone’s willingness to teach us, their enthusiasm to share their passion and their pride for their town and the land that sustains them.
We headed back to town and checked into the Super 8 in St. Ignace. The cheerful receptionist inquired about our day’s catch, where we went and offered suggestions on where to go next time. The quaint character of the town and the optimism of the people that live there seemed to be a common thread with everyone we encountered in St. Ignace. She even provided a fillet knife and cutting board so we could clean our day’s catch to prepare it for dinner the following night.
Our room had a perfect view of the Mackinac Bridge and everything we needed. In the morning, the suspension towers gleamed white with a fresh dusting of snow. After grabbing pasties at Hunt’s Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Co. in St. Ignace, we struck out for the Sands Dunes Cross Country Ski Trail before heading home, already dreaming about fried perch for dinner.
St. Ignace Amenities
- Grab a bite at The Village Inn in St. Ignace. No luck on the ice? Don’t worry, here you’ll find fresh perch and whitefish entrees. Don’t forget to order a shot of Ice Hole (peppermint schnapps) from the bar to ward off any lingering chills.
- Grab a pastie or a sweet treat at Hunt’s Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Co. for a quick to-go meal option.
- With a perfect view of the Mackinac Bridge from your room and affordable rates, the Super 8 is a cozy spot to unwind after a day on the water. Ask for a room with a jacuzzi for the ultimate way to warm up after spending the day on the ice.
- You can find basic ice fishing gear at the local Ace Hardware store in St. Ignace.
- For live bait, head to the Sunoco Gas Station on Dukes Road just off Highway 123 on your way to Lake Brevoort.
Ice Fishing Gear
A five-gallon bucket to sit on, a rod, bait and an auger are all it takes to start pluckin’ perch out of a lake. This is perfect for a sunny day when the weather is calm, unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Plan on spending about $500 for a two-person heated shanty set up with two rods. That may seem steep but just think about all that fried perch!
Ice Safety: Ice must be at least 4” thick to support your body weight. Use your auger to check ice conditions near shore before heading out or ask a local.
- Rod and Reel: Basic ice fishing gear begins with a 28”–32” ice fishing rod. A reel with a light 5–10lb test monofilament line is perfect for perch. Since most perch are small, you’ll want the sensitivity of a light action-rod to feel strikes.
- Lures and Bait: Most perch rods on the ice will be rigged with a Swedish pimple with a minnow or wax worms on the hook. Weights and colors vary but look for anything in the range of 1/4 oz in gold, white or blue.
- Ice Shanty: Most Northerners are familiar with the wide variety of homemade tar-paper and stick frame shacks that dot the ice throughout all of Michigan once the lakes freeze. Fortunately, you no longer have to be a carpenter to fish in a shanty. Portable pop-up ice shanties have made ice fishing significantly more affordable, comfortable and practical.
- Augers, Skimmers and More: You’ll need a hand-powered auger to bore a hole in the ice. Avoid the gas or battery-powered augers if you’re just starting out. An ice skimmer makes it easy to remove ice flakes from your hole after you drill it. From there, your gear selection primarily revolves around creature comforts like a propane heater, a stool to sit and a table to prep lunch and mix drinks (don’t even think about ice fishing without great food and drink).