Lake Michigan Fishing: 3 Top Guides Tell You How And Where

An angler Lake Michigan Fishing from a pier.
Image Provided by SBS Outdoor Action.

Lake Michigan Fishing can be very good for boat anglers and for shore anglers. Our guides have provided their tips, tactics, and advice that will help you catch more fish.

You can fish Lake Michigan twelve months of the year using multiple methods, and you can fish for many species, including salmon, steelhead, migratory brown trout, bass, musky, walleye, and panfish.

Anglers do not need a boat to fish in Lake Michigan; ice fishing is also possible.

About Lake Michigan Fishing

Anglers Lake Michigan fishing on the boat of Fire Plug Charters
The action can be great on Lake Michigan, especially when on a charter trip or when you know where and how to find the fish. Check out Fire Plug Charters With Captain Alex Bialik on Instagram.

With over 1638 miles of shoreline and a huge list of species that excite anglers, Lake Michigan is amazing year-round.

There are places to DIY fish, launch boats, or take advantage of expert anglers through charters or fishing guides. You can target:

  • Salmon- chinook salmon, coho salmon, pink salmon, and sometimes Atlantic salmon
  • Trout – rainbow trout, brown trout, steelhead, and lake trout.

Chinook Salmon Fishing

Captain Alex Bialik and his happy client with a Lake Michigan Chinook Salmon. Click the image to see more from Fire Plug Charters.
Captain Alex Bialik and his happy client with a Lake Michigan Chinook Salmon. See more from Fire Plug Charters.

Chinook salmon, which are also known as king salmon are the most sought-after salmon. These big kings from Lake Michigan are the biggest salmon in the lake, with a record size of 40.4 pounds.

You can fish chinook salmon all year long. They are often deep in the lake and prefer to swim in water temperatures between 40-65°F.

It is helpful to use electronic devices that can pinpoint water temperatures at depth. The best fishing in the lake is from May to August.

The chinook salmon will stage closer to shore and around river mouths starting in August, with more showing up in September.

By the end of September, most mature Chinook salmon will be up the rivers, providing some awesome fishing for river anglers.

Check out our Michigan Salmon Fishing article for more information about the best times, best conditions, and best methods, baits, and lures to catch more salmon.

See Salmon Fishing Rivers: Methods and Tips From Guides.

Coho Salmon Fishing

A Silver salmon also known as a Coho salmon
The west coast is known for its silver salmon, which is also known as the Coho salmon, but these awesome salmon are also found in Lake Michigan.

Coho salmon are known as one of the most aggressive fighting fish you can battle.

The record coho salmon on Lake Michigan is 30.56 pounds. Coho are often found deep except when they stage to go spawn.

The best time to target coho salmon on Lake Michigan is in the late spring when they are near shore and near river mouths, or also during the fall months when they stage near the spawning rivers.

During the summer when the coho are in deeper water, trolling works best. Shore anglers can also use floats with suspended baits, and a method known as plunking for salmon from shore during the late summer and fall. Fly fishing coho salmon is one of the most rewarding adventures.

Pink Salmon Fishing

An angler with a hump back pink salmon
An angler with rare hump back pink salmon, which can be caught in Lake Michigan and Michigan tributaries

There are not a lot of pink salmon in Lake Michigan, but there are a few, and often, when you find them, they are on the north side of Michigan.

Pink salmon spawn on odd-numbered years, 2023, 2025, 2027, etc.

Fall is the time to target pink salmon from shore since this is when they will start moving closer to the shorelines and river mouths.

While there are not many pink salmon in Lake Michigan, it is said that their numbers are growing, and so is their popularity. 

Atlantic Salmon Fishing

An angler with a Michigan Atlantic Salmon
An angler with a Michigan Atlantic Salmon

Like pink salmon, you won’t find many Atlantic salmon in Lake Michigan. Catches of Atlantic salmon are rare in Lake Michigan.

Atlantic salmon are mostly a species that anglers target in Eastern Michigan in Lake Huron and the St. Mary’s River.

Steelhead Fishing: Rainbow Trout

A nice Michigan steelhead caught on Fire Plug Charters boat.
A nice summer steelhead caught while out with Fire Plug Charters & Captain Alex Bialik. See more from Alex @fireplug_charters.

Fishing on Lake Michigan includes a migratory rainbow trout known as a steelhead.

Steelhead fishing on the lake is very good, with many steelhead ranging from 3 to 15 pounds.

Steelhead head upriver to spawn during the fall months. That journey can take them until the following March.

Before their spawning runs, you can target steelhead in the lake, especially where they start to congregate before their spawning runs.

Fall Steelhead from Fire Plug Charters Captain Alex Bialik
Alex with a silver sided fall Steelhead. Fire Plug Charters

Anglers will troll near shore in fall and spring for steelhead. During the summer months, most steelhead will be far out in the lake in deeper water.

This is where trolling while using downriggers, dipsy divers, and planner boards with lures like spoons and crankbaits.

Steelhead are not a native species to the lake. They have been stocked in the lake and tributaries for over 50 years.

John Wielinga Get Bent Guide Service Michigan
A beauty January Michigan steelhead caught by John Wielinga from Get Bent Guide Service in Michigan.

Lake Michigan also provides an opportunity for a summer run steelhead known as a Skamania steelhead.

These summer run steelhead can be caught anytime in the Lake, and they are known for powerful runs and lots of jumps.

You can find out more at Skamania Steelhead Fishing.

For more information, check out these articles:

Great Lakes Migratory Brown Trout

Lake Run Brown Trout
Photo by Photographer Matthew Kuesel – Instagram @wisco_castin

Lake Michigan brown trout, known as lake-run brown trout or migratory Brown trout are another option.

These large migratory brown trout spend much of their lives between the lake and the rivers that feed into it.

Brown trout spend a lot more time near shore, providing good angling opportunities for anglers to catch them by boat or from shore using lures and baits.

Brown trout prefer warmer waters, so the river mouths, piers, harbors, and marinas are known hotspots for lake-run brown trout. These areas can be dense with baitfish, and if there is food, there will likely be brown trout around.

36.81 pounds was the Lake Michigan record for a brown trout which was beat in 2013 by a 42-pound 1 oz brown trout.

Yellow Perch

A catch of perch from Fireplug Charters
A catch of perch from Fire Plug Charters.

Yellow perch are native to Lake Michigan. The record is 3.75 pounds, and the perch are plentiful.

They not only are fun to fish, but they are excellent for dinner or shore lunch.

You will find perch hanging around underwater structures or swimming the current in schools. Bays, harbors, and marinas are good areas to try for perch.

Jigs are a good option for bottom fishing perch.


Eli from SBS Outdoor action with a fat smallmouth bass.
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a fat smallmouth bass. Click on the picture to watch the videos of the guys catching big smallmouth on lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is home to smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.

Smallmouth bass are often fished around underwater structures and near the mouths of rivers that empty into the lake.

Largemouth bass are fond of quiet bays with weedy beds.

Expect largemouth bass in the 3-7 pound range, while the trophy largemouth bass in Michigan is over 11 pounds.

Smallmouths are generally in the three-pound range. Spring fishing is a hot time before they start spawning in the shallows, making them a perfect target for shore fishing or drift boat fishing.

Other Species

There are plenty of other species for anglers to choose from catfish, garpike, burbot, and a variety of panfish like rock bass that most anglers wouldn’t think of.

There are also some pretty big game fish available too. See below.

Freshwater Drum

John From Get Bent Guide Service with a nice Freshwater drum.
John From Get Bent Guide Service with a nice Freshwater drum.

Freshwater Drum is best fished in the shallows of western Lake Michigan, near estuaries.

Drum are also known as sheepshead. Anglers will fish and catch them in bays, harbors, piers, and river mouths.

Watch the guys from SBS catch some big Lake Michigan Drum while fishing for bass at Michigan Pier Fishing With SBS.

Lake Trout Fishing

A fat Lake Michigan Lake Trout caught while out with Fire Plug Charters.
A fat Lake Michigan Lake Trout that was caught while out with Fire Plug Charters.

Lake trout are native to Lake Michigan. Lake trout can be caught all over Lake Michigan throughout the year.

Lake trout can get very large, and the current record in Lake Michigan is 39.16 pounds.

Anglers will fish for lake trout in the shallow water areas of Lake Michigan in spring and fall using a boat or from shore.

Lake trout are cold-water fish that like the water to be around 40°F. In the summer, they are deep and you will need to fish them like you would salmon with down riggers.

Watch the guys at SBS Outdoor action catching spring lake trout at Pier Fishing the Lake Trout Spawn – BEATDOWN! or while fishing on the pier at Michigan Pier Fishing – GIANT Lake Trout!

Lake Michigan Walleye Fishing

Alex from Fire Plug Charters with a nice Walleye
Alex from Fire Plug Charters with a spring nice Walleye. Click the image to see more or to book your trip.

Walleye are amazing to eat and fun to fish. In some areas of Lake Michigan, they can be plentiful.

The best time to target them is in the early mornings or just before dusk.

Lake Michigan Pike Fishing

Lessor known and not as popular is the Northern Pike. Pike are often caught by anglers in harbors, marinas, and some river mouths. If there are baitfish and weeds in the area there are probably some pike too.

Anglers ice fishing in the bays and harbors will catch some pike.

Musky Fishing Lake Michigan

Me with a possible 60 pound musky
The author with a 60-pound Great Lakes musky that I caught when I guided for musky.

Did you know that parts of Lake Michigan have massive muskies over 50 pounds and maybe over 60 pounds.

In fact, some say the next world record musky could come from Green Bay which is a massive bay off of Lake Michigan.

You can find some great musky charters in the area that will take you out for trophy Musky, walleye, and bass.

How to Fish Lake Michigan

Anglers fish from shore or from large or small-sized boats. Some anglers will even use canoes and fishing kayaks.

Ice fishing is another way anglers can fish parts of Lake Michigan.

Boat Fishing

Fireplug charter boat at the docks ready to go!
Charter boat trips are a great way for anglers without a boat to get out and catch lots of fish. Fire Plug Charters.

You can hire a fishing guide or book a charter to fish on Lake Michigan.

You can also DIY in your own boat as there are many places for in-shore anglers to find amazing fishing locations.

You can also launch your own boat at the many boat ramps.

In the harbors, marinas, inlets, and bays anglers can find calmer water that will hold a variety of fish species.

Boat fishing out in the lake, especially in the summer, generally involves techniques like trolling with lures.

Downriggers are a must when fishing for salmon in the heat of summer since they are often 80 to 110 feet deep. Cut-baits, and trolling spoons are the go-to baits for most charter boat captains.

Dipsy divers and lead-core lines can also be used to get moderate depths when the salmon are not super deep.

A large summer Salmon with Fire Plug Charters
Lake Michigan salmon are often very deep during the summer so downriggers are the way to go. Image by Fire Plug charters.

Often, guides will run multiple lines off the downriggers to target the exact depths the salmon are at.

They will also run dipsy divers or lead core lines higher in the water columns to get some steelhead which tend to be higher in the water column.

Planner boards are also used at times to spread the lines and cover more water. I use planner boards in the spring when the salmon, steelhead, lake trout, and brown trout are higher in the water column and closer to shore.

You don’t need a large boat to fish Lake Michigan. Generally, a boat of 16 feet and up can be good enough, however, lake Michigan can get massive waves over 5 feet so it is highly recommended that if you decide to venture out into the open water, that you know the forecast and pay close attention to the weather and wind.

Anglers will even use canoes or fishing kayaks to fish the sheltered inlets and harbors.

Shore Fishing Lake Michigan

Our photographer Matt from @ wisco_castin with a salmon caught in a Marina.
Our photographer Matt from @ wisco_castin with a salmon caught in a Marina.

For most anglers, shore fishing is the only way to go, but don’t think that this means fewer fish because local shore anglers can catch a lot of fish at times.

The key is knowing what areas to fish, how to fish different species, and when these species will be in close to shore.

Lake Michigan Shore Fishing

Eli with good success fishing the pier in August - SBS Outdoors Action
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action having good success while fishing the pier in August – Click the image to watch the video

The lake is huge and acts more like an ocean. Many people fish from the shoreline and are successful if they are in the right spots at the right times.

You can target steelhead, trout, salmon, perch, walleye, and many other species while casting from the shoreline.

The success of shore fishing has a lot to do with timing and water temperature as well as the location.

Salmon and steelhead tend to head up rivers in the late summer and fall, and they will stage in areas close to shore and close to the river mouths for many weeks before the conditions are good enough for them to run the rivers.

Near shore fishing for great lakes brown trout
It’s not uncommon to see the shorelines near rivers lined with anglers waiting for cruising trout and salmon.

That means when they stage near shore and by the mouth of a river, anglers have a good chance of catching more than one.

Pier Fishing

Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a Lake Michigan Pier.
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a Lake Michigan Pier. Click the image to watch the video.

Piers are a popular place to fish and for good reason. They are considered an underwater structure as they will attract smaller fish and draw in larger fish, especially walleye and smallmouth bass.

Piers also enable anglers to fish much further out into the lake than they would be able to from the shoreline and this can put you into deeper and colder water that might hold more salmon, steelhead, and trout.

If the pier has lights, it is possible to target fish that are attracted to light at dusk and where permitted at night. Fishing at night can be an awesome way to catch baitfish as well.

Finding piers are easy using Google Maps
Finding piers are easy using Google Maps. You can even see where the parking spots are and which sides of the pier are deepest.

Not sure where to go pier fishing. It can be as simple as looking on google maps in the mouth area of popular steelhead and salmon rivers and seeing if there is a pier.

Many of the bigger rivers flowing into Lake Michigan will have a pier extending out into the lake.

The bigger the peir, and the bigger the runs of migratory fish, the better the fishing can be.

River Mouth Fishing

There are many rivers that empty into Lake Michigan, and and at times, the salmon, steelhead, and brown trout will congregate around these rivers.

August and September are prime months for king salmon and coho salmon. Steelhead are caught in these areas in late fall and early spring.

Michigan Steelhead Feed behind big salmon like this one.
Michigan salmon like this one caught by John from Get Bent Guide Service will move into river mouths and hold and feed there until conditions are suitable for them to run up the river.

The mouth of rivers that empty into Lake Michigan can be crowded during run times. You can fly fish, fish from a boat near the shore, cast lures, spin fish, float fish, plunk, or drift fish. Most anglers are successfully using lures, spoons, salmon roe, and even minnows.

If you are not sure what to use for bait or lures, we’ve got you covered. We share the most effective lures and baits guides and other anglers use on these pages:

Ice Fishing

I’ll admit that ice fishing is not my specialty, however, some of my buddies and some of our guides ice fish. In mid-winter, I generally prefer to find an open river somewhere and go catch some winter steelhead. See Winter Steelhead Fishing Michigan.

Depending on the local conditions, ice fishing season can begin in late December and run as late as early April though generally, the ice breaking ends the season in March.

Many of our guides, myself included will fish and guide all winter so we have learned how to stay warm and comfortable. Check out our guide tips and how we do it at Winter Fishing: Stay Warm And Dry.

During ice fishing season, you might catch salmon, steelhead, lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, walleye, bass, and perch.

CAUTION: ice that forms over current areas such as rivers, can be very unpredictable and dangerous, so it is best to avoid ice fishing in these areas.

Inlets, bays, harbors, and marinas are often the best and safest areas to ice fish.

A good tip for local ice fishing on Lake Michigan is to chat with your local bait shop about lake conditions and ice thickness. They will be able to tell you where to go and how to keep yourself safe during ice fishing.

Best Areas To Fish Lake Michigan

You could fish and catch any species anywhere on Lake Michigan, even out in front of a large Michigan City, as well as cities and towns in Indiana, or Illinois. Anglers could be catching fish from the shores around Chicago Illinois, or Milwaukee.

Some of the more popular fishing areas include:

Menominee – In Michigan and on the border with Wisconsin, the town of Menominee on the Upper Peninsula. You have access to the Menominee River – including runs of salmon and brown trout.

Muskegon – Near the Grand Rapids area, Muskegon sits right on Lake Michigan and hosts the mouth of the Muskegon River.

This is the Lower Peninsula and an excellent spot for fishing all year round. You can target Salmon, Steelhead, brown trout, and rainbows.

Manistee – Sits on the shores between Lake Manistee and Lake Michigan. It is an excellent location for fishing, and with three world-class beaches, there are plenty of options for DIY fishing. The mouth of the Manistee River is here, and you can target salmon, including Atlantic salmon, brown trout, and Steelhead on the river, at the mouth, and in Lake Michigan.

St Joseph – The town of St. Joseph and the St Joseph River is another good spot for most freshwater gamefish, and is one of the better rivers for summer steelhead fishing. Check out, Fishing The St Joseph River.

Fishing Regulations For Fishing Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan regulations encompass several states.

It is a good idea to know where you are fishing, which state you are in, and what the regulations are for that area.

A guide will help keep you legal and allow you to focus on fishing over worrying about regulations.

If you have any questions, tips, or advice about Lake Michigan Fishing that you would like to share with us, let us know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


References and Sources:

  • Science Direct: Study on native and introduced species compatibility.
  • Michigan Tech:- Angler Demographics around the Great Lakes. See More
  • : Lake Michigan Water Clarity and impacts.

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