Photos © Ken Schultz
With more large coastlines than Florida and Oregon combined, plus 11,000 inland lakes and 3,000 rivers, Michigan has a variety of places to fish. Fittingly, there is also a very diverse selection of freshwater species. So identifying the best fishing spots in Michigan is a big job. This necessarily directs the focus on fishing spots to the following large lakes and rivers.
1. Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan, the third largest of the Great Lakes, has excellent fishing opportunities for Coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead in offshore waters, mainly from late April through August. Grand Haven, St. Joe, and Ludington in western Michigan are prime havens for this action. Remember that with salmon and steelhead each year is different and catching success can vary.
2. FATHER MARQUETTE RIVER
Sixty-six miles of the Pere Marquette from Baldwin to Ludington on Lake Michigan is known as the National Wild and Scenic River. This section is a Chinook salmon magnet from late August through October and also sees a good breakout of steelhead in the fall. There is ample access and if you use a guide you can swim the drift boat to some less fished areas.
3. MANISTEE RIVER
The Manistee is a renowned fishery and a world class salmon and steelhead river. It’s on everyone’s list of the best fishing spots in Michigan. Cohos and Chinooks arrive in late summer, Steelhead a little later in fall. Then some large brown trout also move in from the lake. The Manistee flows through much of the state and federal forest lands and has plenty of public access.
4. GRAND RIVER
Another river along Michigan’s west coast, the Grand, is also one of the best spots for fishing in Michigan. The Grand has good salmon and steelhead fishing, as well as spring and summer runs for large rainbow trout. The Grand also has plenty of smallmouth bass in rifles and largemouth bass in its backwaters. Of particular note is the Portland State Game area downstream of Lansing.
5. SAGINAW BAY
At 60 miles long and 30 miles wide, Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron is larger than most other lakes in the United States except for the five Great Lakes. Saginaw Bay, one of the best places to fish in Michigan, is known nationwide for its fabulous pikeperch fishing, which catches large specimens especially during the spring spawning runs in April and May. Good zander action continues all year round into winter.
6. LAKE ST. CLAIR
Two miles east of Detroit, this is an exceptional lake for musk, walleye, and smallmouth bass, all of which come in jumbo sizes. St. Clair is a shallow bowl that connects the southern Lake Huron with the eastern Lake Erie. Muskies abound, with trolling being the main technique. Pikeperch are abundant in the lake and the Detroit River, especially the latter during the spawning run from March to April. Kleinmaul is also prominent in both places.
7. LAKE ERIE
Lake Erie is absolutely one of the best fishing spots in Michigan, though many forget that 50 miles of its western basin is in Wolverine State. This is the same Lake Erie that is considered the best pikeperch lake in the world and one of the best small mouth waters in the country. Luna Pier and Monroe are departure ports in Michigan, and many Michigan anglers visit the waters of the western Ohio basin (with a license, of course).
If you’re traveling to Michigan for short or long term, make sure to get a fishing license.