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Lake Michigan Fishing: The Anglers Guide

The name ‘Lake Michigan’ is derived from the Ojibwe term Michi-gami, which means “vast water.” However, we believe that this undersells the great fishing opportunities available at the lake.

It’s not just great – it’s really spectacular! It’s teeming with beaches, coastlines, coves, and world-famous seafood. And what better way to discover all it has to offer than a Lake Michigan fishing trip?

Lake Michigan Fishing The Ultimate Guide (skyline view of lake michigan)

 

Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes of North America. But there are a few characteristics that make it unique from the rest. Did you know that it is the only Great Lake that is totally contained within the United States? Furthermore, it is the greatest body of water in any one country. That’s pretty impressive!

Michigan also has some spectacular scenery, including the world’s largest concentration of freshwater sand dunes. And if urban legends and scary stories are your thing- this is the place to go.

Lake Michigan has its own “Bermuda Triangle,” where mysterious disappearances have occurred in the past, and many locals believe that the supernatural is responsible.

But don’t panic- s Something that hasn’t vanished into the elusive “Michigan Triangle” is the wide variety of fishing options there. In this article, we’ll guide you through everything you’ll ever need to know about fishing at Lake Michigan. Let’s dive in!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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What types of fish live in Lake Michigan?

Lake Michigan is home to a huge variety of freshwater fish, thanks to the sheer amount of space it has to hold lots of different species. A huge body of water such as Lake Michigan is the perfect place for many varieties of fish to live, swim, breed, and nest.

Not all of these fish occurred naturally though, as some were purposefully introduced back in the 1950s as a method of controlling some invasive species of fish. Here’s what you’re likely to find on a fishing trip at Lake Michigan:

Salmon

Lake Michigan’s salmon species prove that freshwater fish are just as thrilling to catch as their saltwater cousins. You’ll see two types of salmon here: Chinook and Coho, both of which usually make their first appearance in the water in the springtime.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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During the summer months,  the salmon fishing action really heats up. 

The Coho variety is often regarded as the fish that sparked the great salmon fishery in the Great Lakes. Because of its incredible combat skills and jumps, it’s a favorite catch among anglers. The Chinook, on the other hand, is also referred to as the “King Salmon.”

It’s certainly Great Lake royalty, thanks to the crazy hard-fighting antics it puts up and the impressive lengths it can mature to.

There are a few different approaches you can take to catch yourself some salmon at Lake Michigan. Some anglers choose to head down during July and August when the salmon makes its way to shallower waters.

Seasoned Lake Michigan anglers prefer to pack light, especially when on the prowl for salmon. The less weight you’re carrying, the easier it is to feel the bite at the end of your line. 

Bass

The state of Michigan is well-known for its abundance of bass. It stands to reason that a lake with the same name should have its own boast-worthy selection of Bass.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Largemouth and Smallmouth kinds are the headliners here, but the sheer number of Smallmouth species available is mind-boggling. And so is the fantastic angling experience they offer. 

Both of these species of bass can be found in Lake Michigan throughout the entire year, rain or shine, with Indiana’s shoreline being a particularly good place to cast the line. Smaller lakes and streams of Lake Michigan are also ideal for catching bass — look for rocky areas for the best results.

Don’t forget to bring your favorite light tackle along as well, so you can fully experience the movement at the end of your line when you inevitably get a catch.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout at the bottom of a lake

Rainbow Trout are quite peculiar creatures. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy name, as they’re also known as Steelheads in the angling community- thanks to their hardy nature. But despite this confusing duality, they’re a firm freshwater favorite across the United States and worldwide.

This also includes Lake Michigan, as people are drawn to the lake’s numerous streams and tributaries, which are home to huge rainbow trout. They also attack bait and lures with zeal, making them a lot of fun to contend with.

For the most rod-bending action, locals say you should take on the Steelhead with light tackle. Fly fishing is also growing in popularity down at Lake Michigan. If you want to catch these fish without having to go deep into the lake, go in late spring and summer when they can sometimes drift away from the shoreline.

Brown Trout

Brown trout at the bottom of the lake

However, rainbow trout are not the only species found in this bountiful location. First and foremost, there are massive Brown Trout to compete with. These tenacious fish make for a formidable opponent, perfect for adding to your Great Lakes fish bucket list.

Male Brown Trout have a tendency for attacking other male Brown Trout. Get some lures in the same colors to throw them off.

 

Lake Trout

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Lake Michigan is also home to another species of trout known as Lake Trout. These are sometimes also referred to as trophy trout, as they’re known to weigh upwards of 40lbs! You’re most likely to find trophy trout from the months of June all the way through to September, in any water that’s shallower than 120 feet.

But if you plan on visiting during Spring, you can find Lake Trout in waters as shallow as just 10 feet.

There’s also the “forgotten king” of Lake Michigan – prize Lake Trout, a native Lake Michigan fish. Visit from late June to September for a chance to hook a massive 40+ pound species and explore waters up to 120 feet deep.

 

 

Yellow Perch

Yellow Prech On Ice

If you enjoy catching good table fare, you’ll be glad to know that Lake Michigan boasts a strong Yellow Perch population. Because of the vast number of other species available, these fish are frequently forgotten, but they become the true main players in the winter.

This is because they are the ideal target as the weather cools and the lake begins to freeze.

You also don’t have to go far to find them. 

Go to one of the many ports or harbors that dot the lake’s perimeter. These locations are especially profitable during the colder fall and winter months when Perch migrate to them in search of warmer water. Bring the kids and introduce them to Great Lakes fishing — they’ll love it!

Other fish

Even though we’ve already listed our top Lake Michigan fish, they are far from the only ones. Walleye and Sauger are popular winter targets, and Carp, Muskie and Pike can also be found in these waters, both of which make for a great catch.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Ways to fish at Lake Michigan

Fishing from a boat

If you’ve never been fishing at Lake Michigan before, you’ll probably find this little piece of advice useful- “approach the lake in the same way you would approach the ocean.” You’ll often hear locals say this, and it’s true!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Thanks to the sheer size of Lake Michigan, it really can be approached as if it’s an ocean- and this is what makes it so ideal for boat fishing. 

We recommend hiring a charter boat and a local guide to take you around, as they have years of experience with these waters and masses of knowledge to share.

As you already know, Lake Michigan is huge – so navigating it with someone who knows it and the fish that swim in it is invaluable, making the experience one you’ll remember forever. 

Fishing from the shoreline

With almost 1,600 miles of shoreline to explore, Lake Michigan is ideal for anglers who prefer to fish by foot. Each state has a myriad of lucrative shore fishing areas, with harbors, ports, and piers being the most popular.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Many of these locations also provide guests with the option of renting rods and reels, so all you have to do is show up, you won’t have to worry about packing and lugging around lots of heavy fishing equipment. 

Anglers go out on foot to catch the Salmon run in the fall. The spring season is ideal for catching Brown Trout, Steelhead, and Coho Salmon. Want to make the most of the summer weather? The most popular species are perch and smallmouth bass.

You can also go out at night and use the darkness to your advantage to help you catch larger salmon and trout.

Fishing from a kayak

Kayak fishing is an excellent opportunity to soak in the scenery while also catching your dream prize. Kayak fishing on Lake Michigan is also surprisingly diversified.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Trolling for Salmon and Trout, traveling to bays and streams in search of Bass, and even anchoring in the lake’s shallow waters for some wading fun are all possible here.

Before you jump into your kayak, keep in mind that this type of fishing takes a particular level of expertise and strength. You’ll have to maneuver your boat while also gripping a fishing rod. Lake Michigan’s waters can also be erratic and rough, so check weather and water forecasts before venturing out.

Ice fishing

Any angler who has fished the Great Lakes knows that it can get pretty cold around here, especially in the winter! Despite this, records dating back to the 1800s reveal that Lake Michigan has never frozen completely- ever!

Despite this,  It doesn’t mean that ice fishing on this gorgeous stretch of water is out of the question altogether.  All you have to do is choose your location wisely. 

The most popular spots for ice fishing are usually around the lake’s many ports and harbors. Because the water is shallower and produces a thicker coating of ice in these spots, your safety is not jeopardized. There are also a number of ice fishing guides available to help you if you need them.

Due to the lake’s notorious volatility, you should always go with an experienced guide; both for your own safety, and to make the most of your trip.

Top Fishing Locations in Lake Michigan

Chicago, Illinois: You might not think of the Windy City as a top angling destination, but one throw of a line here will show you just how much potential it truly has. It features a huge Navy Pier that is a must-see for shore anglers. There are also numerous charters to pick from.

Gary, Indiana: This city is close to the Indiana Dunes National Park and is located right on Lake Michigan’s shore. This lovely location offers breathtaking scenery, kayak, and boat launching, plus some fantastic on-foot angling action.

Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan: This harbor, located on another arm of the lake, is the spot to go if you’re hoping for a Bass bonanza. If you’re looking for a charter that will take you out to the bay and beyond, consider traveling to Traverse City.

Mackinaw City: Located at the border of Lakes Huron and Michigan, this city is ideal for on-foot angling. Visit Wilderness State Park, which has access to nearly 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline – as well as massive Salmon and Lake Trout. 

Milwaukee, WI: Despite the fact that several cities border Lake Michigan, not all of them can boast of owning the bulk of state records for fishing, apart from Milwaukee. All of the lake’s favorite species can be found here.

At Milwaukee Harbor, charter vessels can be found docked and usually don’t require prior booking.

How do the seasons affect Lake Michigan?

Just like any other body of water, the seasons have a huge effect on Lake Michigan and the likelihood of you catching certain species of fish can differ dramatically depending on what time of the year you visit. Here’s a brief summary of what you can find during certain seasons at Lake Michigan:

Spring 

Coho salmon thrive during the spring, and more so during early spring- so be sure to head down as soon as you can to bag the best chances.

Just like the rest of the year, you’ll be able to catch some Lake Trout during the spring, and you’re most likely to find the Rainbow and Brown varieties during this time of year.

Summer

As the sun heats up the surface of Lake Michigan, more varieties of fish begin to thrive and migrate. In the early summer months, you can expect to see plenty more Coho, as well as tons of Rainbow Trout by the time June rolls around.

If you’re planning a trip to Lake Michigan during August and the last weeks of summer, you have great chances of catching a trophy Chinook-  something that’s definitely worth celebrating.

Fall

Local fishermen adoringly refer to this time of year as, “trophy time”- and it certainly lives up to its name.

During the months of Fall, you can expect to find lots of Brown Trout, tasty Perch, Smallmouth Bass, and bountiful Salmon in both varieties. If trophy fish are your thing; visit Lake Michigan during the Fall.

Winter

While the larger fish tend to retreat as the chills of winter creep around, there’s still plenty of species just waiting to be caught. Yellow Perch are particularly popular during this time of year, as is Walleye; both of which can be caught via the ice fishing method.

If you branch out to the lake’s tributaries, you’ll notice a lot of Steelheads nestled away. If you plan on sticking around the ports, piers, and harbors, you can expect to find lots of the usual Lake Trout.

Are there any rules I should know about?

Yes. All fishing locations will have their own rules and regulations that must be followed to keep the spots safe and bountiful, and Lake Michigan is no exception. However, as the Lake overlaps several states, the rules and laws will differ depending on which one you land in.

Before starting your fishing trip, we recommend checking out the rules and regulations for the area you plan on starting from. 

The rules often aren’t too restrictive, but it will usually involve purchasing a freshwater fishing license from the state’s wildlife and fishing department. You may also need to purchase a Great Lakes fishing stamp.

Take the plunge, head to Lake Michigan!

You should now have a solid idea of where to fish in Lake Michigan and what you can expect to catch when you arrive.

The lake provides a plethora of fishing possibilities, and it attracts angling enthusiasts all year round who want to fish from the shore or from a boat, and sometimes even from the ice. If you’re ready to see the Great Lake in all its glory and catch a trophy-worthy fish- head to Lake Michigan!

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