Lake Michigan Fishing
Marlin Levison/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Lake Michigan Fishing: All There is to Know

Here's what you need to know about fishing in Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America. It is the second largest by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron. It is also the only one of the five Great Lakes that is completely inside of U.S. territory.

Lake Michigan has borders in Wisconsin, Michigan (the Upper Peninsula), and a small bit of both Illinois and Indiana. The lake's shore is home to some of the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world.

For sportsmen and women who would like to try some of the lake's great angling opportunities, it's worth it to point out there's some work involved.

The average water temperatures make it into the 60s in July and August and can sometimes make it into the 70s, but overall it's a cold water lake. Lake Michigan's average water depth is about 280 feet and its maximum depth is 925 feet, which can make fishing this lake seem large and daunting except for those who have fished it for a long time.

Lake Michigan Fish Species

This is one of the five Great Lakes and just about anything goes when it comes to species, but for the most part sportfishing involves targeting the salmonid, walleye, and bass populations. Here's a simple list of what you'll find, and possibly catch:

  • Rainbow Trout/Steelhead
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Coho Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Brown Trout
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Walleye
  • Tiger Muskie
  • Northern Pike
  • Yellow Perch
  • Catfish
  • Crappie

Lake Michigan anglers might also see lake sturgeon, gar, bowfin, sheepshead, and others. 

Fishing Lake Michigan

Whether you're open water trolling, shore fishing, ice fishing, or tributary fishing, the water of Lake Michigan can produce some exciting experiences.

As with much of Great Lakes fishing, the trout and salmon fishery is strictly put-and-take. This means that Lake Michigan is stocked with both trout and salmon and has little to no natural reproduction beyond some lake trout populations. Water clarity has increased over the years, and there's reason to think it's an improving fishery, but invasive zebra mussels are part of the clarity changes, which doesn't bode well.

With this information has come an entirely new set of stealth trolling standards for targeting wary coldwater species. This includes the use of fluorocarbon line and planer boards to keep the angler's bait well away from the boat with a spool of line that virtually disappears in the water column.

Dipsy divers and dodger and flasher combos to troll salmon flies are still a tried and true technique for hooking up with big chinook salmon. Even trolling with cut bait such as herring, alewife, or smelt works well with the right set up.

For those that prefer the warmwater species, both small and largemouth bass fisheries are excellent and very available to anglers from all four states and beyond. In one of those unexpected turns in any freshwater fishery, the arrival of the goby, an invasive species brought via the illegal dumping of ballast water, fishermen have found a new way to target smallies by mimicking this new food source.

Maybe one of the most overlooked species to target in Lake Michigan is the monster walleye. Interestingly, there are but a few walleye anglers who fish Lake Michigan waters regularly, but I think they're so quiet about it because they don't want to give up what might be one of the big lake's best kept secrets.

I've heard that fish up to 15 pounds with a girth of over 30 inches have been dredged up in gill nets meant to survey the trout and salmon fishery numbers, but you may not get any of the locals to admit it!

Lake Michigan Fishing Opportunities

As it is anywhere on the Great Lakes, fishing charters are the way to go for those new to the game or for those who have the desire to do the best fishing possible. Charter boat captains will have the best fishing reports available and the intel on every game fish. Plus, they'll have reliable gear to use.

They can get you the correct fishing license and put you on the best fishing locations with plenty of water to choose from. A reputable fishing guide is the only thing that stands in the way of you and a great day of fishing on the big lake.

One visit to the Department of Natural Resources website and you find all the information that you will need for a day of boating that you will never forget. Lake Michigan is a very large body of water ripe with opportunity.

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