Photos © Ken Schultz
With more big-water coastline than Florida and Oregon combined, plus 11,000 inland lakes and 3,000 rivers, Michigan has a plethora of places to fish. Fittingly, it also has a very diverse array of freshwater species to pursue. So it’s a tall order to identify the best fishing spots in Michigan. That necessarily directs the focus on fishing spots to the following big lakes and rivers.
1. LAKE MICHIGAN
The third largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan has excellent fishing for coho salmon, chinook salmon, and steelhead in offshore waters, primarily from late April through August. Grand Haven, St. Joe, and Ludington in western Michigan are top ports for this action. Keep in mind that when it comes to salmon and steelhead, each year is different, and catch success may vary.
2. PERE MARQUETTE RIVER
Sixty-six miles of the Pere Marquette, from Baldwin to Ludington on Lake Michigan, is designated a National Wild and Scenic River. This section is a chinook salmon magnet from late August through October, and also sees a good burst of steelhead in the fall. There’s plenty of access and if you use a guide, you can float by drift boat to some lesser fished areas.
3. MANISTEE RIVER
A renowned fishery, the Manistee is a first-rate salmon and steelhead river and would be part of every list of best fishing spots in Michigan. Cohos and chinooks arrive in late summer, with steelhead a bit later in the fall. Some large brown trout move in from the lake then, too. Flowing through large swaths of state and federal forest land, the Manistee has lots of public access.
4. GRAND RIVER
Another river along the western Michigan coast, the Grand, is also one of the best places to fish in Michigan. The Grand has fine fishing for salmon and steelhead, as well as spring and summer runs of big rainbow trout. The Grand also has plenty of smallmouth bass in riffles and largemouth in its backwaters. The Portland State Game area downstream from Lansing is especially notable.
5. SAGINAW BAY
At 60 miles long and 30 wide, Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron is larger than most any other lake in the U.S. except the five Great Lakes. One of the best places to fish in Michigan, Saginaw Bay is known nationally for its fabulous walleye fishery, with large specimens especially caught during the spring spawning run in April and May. Good walleye action continues through the year into the winter.
6. LAKE ST. CLAIR
Two miles east of Detroit, this is an extraordinary lake one for muskies, walleye, and smallmouth bass, all of which come in jumbo sizes. St. Clair is a shallow bowl connecting southern Lake Huron and eastern Lake Erie. Muskies abound, with trolling the main technique. Walleyes are plentiful in the lake and the Detroit River, especially the latter during the March-April spawning run. Smallmouth, too, are prominent in both places.
7. LAKE ERIE
Lake Erie is absolutely one of the best fishing spots in Michigan, although many forget that 50 miles of its western basin are in the Wolverine State. This is the same Lake Erie that is considered the best walleye lake in the world, and one of the top smallmouth waters in the country. Luna Pier and Monroe are Michigan departure ports, and many Michigan anglers find themselves also visiting Ohio’s western-basin waters (with an appropriate fishing license, of course).
If you’ll be visiting Michigan for a short- or long-term fishing trip, remember to get a fishing license