Lake Michigan Salmon Fishing: Boat And Shore Tactics

A big Lake Michigan Salmon Fishing in the Dark
John from Get Bent Guide Service in Michigan With a Lake Michigan Salmon

Lake Michigan is one of the best Great Lakes for Salmon fishing. It has large numbers of king salmon, plenty of coho salmon, some Atlantic salmon, and even pink salmon.

There are no anglers better at catching salmon on Lake Michigan than the local salmon charters and local shore anglers. I use the same methods, baits, lures, and my understanding of the feeding patterns of the salmon to catch a lot of salmon.

Lake Michigan Salmon Fishing

An Atlantic salmon
This is an Atlantic Salmon. This photo is courtesy of A Perfect Drift Guide Company.

The key to salmon fishing on Lake Michigan is targeting the fish at the right times and in the correct location.

Guides and local anglers will tell you that dialing in on the salmon and knowing where they will be throughout the seasons is critical. This means location plus depth.

But there are multiple species, so timing and locations depend on the species.

What Species Of Salmon Are In Lake Michigan?

A nice Michigan salmon caught by Alex from Fire Plug Charters
A Michigan Salmon caught with Fire Plug Charters

Chinook/King Salmon – The king salmon is the largest of the Pacific salmon in the lake.

The record set on Lake Michigan is 40 pounds 4 ounces. The population of Chinook salmon in Lake Michigan is around one million fish.

Their ideal water temperature ranges from 40°F-65°F, with 50°F the optimal temperature. Their depth ranges from the surface to about 200 feet deep.

In early May and into late July, the kings are usually deep.

Starting in late August, the kings begin to stage around river mouths and shorelines getting ready to head upstream to spawn. Fish them in shallower water or near shore from August to September and in April.

They begin their spawning runs in late summer, with peak runs in late September and October.

Chinook Salmon 42 50 60
Coho Salmon 44 54 60
Kokanee 45 55 60
Atlantic Salmon 43 54 61
Pink Salmon 42 50 58
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.

Coho salmon – also known as silver salmon or just silvers, is one of the top targets in Lake Michigan.

The best water temperatures for silvers are in the 40°F-65°F range. The best fishing for silvers is in early spring near shore and river mouths, late summer as they start to stage near river mouths for spawning, and summer out in the mid-lake.

Trolling is one of the best ways to target silver salmon in offshore waters in the spring and late summer.

You can also fish from shore with flies, bait, or lures.

The best fishing is in the Anna River watershed, which produces a good fishery for both open-water anglers in Munising Bay in spring and fall and through the ice in winter as well.

Department of Natural Resources
An angler with a Michigan Atlantic Salmon
An angler with a Michigan Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon – The populations of Atlantics are low compared to Chinook salmon.

The record for Atlantic salmon on Lake Michigan is 32.62 pounds. The best time to target Atlantic Salmon is from August into November when they are closer to the river mouths.

Pink Salmon – are not stocked in the lake, but they are present in small numbers.

The best time to target them is in the early fall months. Their ideal water temperature ranges from 40°F-65°F. The northern section of the lake is where you may find pinks.

These are the smallest of the salmon, averaging 4 to 5 pounds, and most are caught as they leave the lakes and head upriver.

How To Fish Lake Michigan Salmon

Salmon like this move into river mouth areas starting in Late August. Image provided by SBS Outdoor Action. Click this link to watch them fish Salmon from the pier.

There are two ways to target salmon in Lake Michigan.

The first is by boa,t where you can target the lake’s deep waters or troll near shore.

You can also fish from shore using a variety of techniques ranging from fly fishing to spin fishing with lures or baits.

Hot Spots To Fish Lake Michigan Salmon

Anglers on a Charter boat fishing for salmon
Multiple hookups are not uncommon when on a Charter with Fire Plug Charters

Try these spots in the spring and fall months:

  • Muskegon river mouth
  • Manistee River mouth
  • Grand Haven
  • Milwaukee River mouth
  • St Joseph River
  • Platte Bay
  • Sturgeon Bay
  • St.Mary’s River to the east
  • Sheboygan
  • Upper Peninsula river Mouths
  • Most Wisconsin river mouths
  • Anna River and Munising Bay

When Is the Best Time For Salmon Fishing On Lake Michigan

John from Get Bent Guide Service in Michigan With a Lake Michigan Salmon
John from Get Bent Guide Service in Michigan With a Lake Michigan Salmon: Check them out on Facebook

Salmon fishing will be best in different areas and at different times.

Everything is based on water temperatures, where the baitfish are, and the salmon spawning times.

The chart below can be used as a guide, however, weather and conditions can change time a little.

Salmon Fishing Times in Michigan

Salmon Fishing Times in Michigan

Salmon Species Near Shore Deep Water Near Shore And Deep Water In River
Chinook Salmon Late August to October November to March, May to August Late March to April September to October
Coho Salmon September to October November to March, May to August March to May September to November
Atlantic Salmon July to October December to May May to August July to November
Pink Salmon September November to August September to November

Some salmon will still be in the rivers in November and mixed in with steelhead and big migratory browns. Click the link to learn more.

Boat Fishing Lake Michigan

An angler reeling in a salmon.
An angler reeling in a salmon.

Trolling is one of the top fishing techniques for early spring and for targeting chinook salmon and coho salmon before they begin to stage for spawning.

Near-shore trolling is used as the salmon move toward their spawning runs.

Anglers will use Downriggers, Dispy divers, and lead core lines to get deep. Wire lines and flat line methods are also used.

Planner boards are utilized to spread out multiple lines.

See my article Trolling For Salmon for details on these methods.

Best Lures For Lake Michigan’s Salmon

A box of lures for great lakes brown trout

Spoons in silver patterns remain a good tool for salmon fishing on Lake Michigan.

  • Cut-baits – Cutbaits like herring strips are one of the top trolling setups used by charter boats.
  • Spoons – Shiny spoons cast off the shore can be good, but trolling anglers will use flutter spoons, which are sometimes hard to beat.
  • Crankbaits – multi-joint Rapela in bright colors for coho and minnow mimics for chinook.
  • Spinners – Near-shore fishing bright greens and silver for coho and silvers, blue and mixed colors for chinook.
  • Plugs – Yellows, oranges, and mixed warm tones are good bets.

DIY Trip To Catch Salmon On Lake Michigan

The Size Of The Boat Required?

A huge silver Lake Michigan Salmon caught by John from Get Bent Guide Service in Michigan
A huge silver Lake Michigan Salmon caught by John from Get Bent Guide Service in Michigan: Follow them on Instagram

Lake Michigan conditions and waves can change quickly making it dangerous for smaller boats.

Many sites recommend at least 23-foot boats, but the laws and regulations will vary based on which state you are in.

Gear Needed To Fish Salmon From A Boat

Rods in rod holder out on the big open water.

For boat fishing, there are some things that you will need to be more successful.

Sonar Units

You will need a sonar unit, also known as a fish finder or depth finder. You can go inexpensive at around $200 for a Humminbird Helix 5 Sonar G2 Fish Finder or get into advanced ones for over $1000. For safety and to catch more fish, I prefer a sonar and GPS unit like the Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder.

Salmon Rods

Fishing rods and reels should be suitable for the methods and for the size and strength of the salmon. Rods are a must-have item. Other guides and I prefer longer rods in the eight to 9’6″ range.

You could fish with a regular spinning rod and reel setup. However, you will likely risk losing more than you catch.

Instead, go with a decent trolling rod that is within your budget, consider these three rods:

  1. FishUSA Flagship Trolling Rod $79 – $109
  2. Shimano Talora A Trolling Rod $139 -$179
  3. Okuma Great Lakes Trolling Combo – $89 – $104

Trolling Reels

Normally, trolling reels with line counters are best; however, it is not required.

Heavy lines of 25 to 30 pounds are what most guys are using.

Downriggers and Divers

When trolling, especially when the salmon are deep, Dispy Divers or trolling divers are one way to get your lure to medium depths.

If the salmon are very deep and you want to be exact with your depths, I use downriggers.

One or both of these methods are often required to adjust the depth of your lure or bait.

When the salmon are in shallower, lead-core lines, deep diving lures, and Dipsy divers are all you need.

Cannon Optimum 10 BT Electric Downrigger

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on downriggers. You have the option of manual downriggers that can run you around $100 or electric downriggers with all the bells and whistles that can be over $1500.00.

If you are in the market for a downrigger, consider these:

Planer Boards

Planer boards are a great way to spread out your lines. Check out FishUSA Premium Self-Righting Mini Planer Boards.


Guys also use flashers to attract the salmon. Check out Dreamer and Michigan Stinger 360 Flashers

Salmon Nets

A large landing net with a long handle is best. I use my Frabil musky net for landing salmon.

Salmon Trolling Lures

It is a good idea to have a variety of lures available so that you can adjust to the fishing situation – deep water, near-shore, trolling, floating, etc.

Most guys troll with trolling spoons, cut bait rigs, or trolling flies.


Trolling snubbers attach between your downrigger cable and your downrigger weight. A trolling snubber will absorb shock, provide electrical insulation, and help prevent snags.

Depth Temperature Gauge

Fish Hawk X2 Trolling System

The experts know one thing that new Lake Michigan Salmon fishermen don’t, and that is that most of the salmon will be in their preferred temperature zone, and if you fish in this zone, you will catch a lot more salmon.

Unfortunately, your fish finder only tells you the water temperature on the surface. That’s why an item like the Fish Hawk X2 Trolling System is a really good tool to help you catch a lot more salmon, especially when they are deep.

Waves and High Water Issues

The lake can be dangerous to boats during a wind event or storm. The wind can pick up quickly and cause 3-foot waves in a short time.

How To Find The Salmon, Locations, and Depths

Michigan Salmon Fishing
Michigan Salmon Fishing; Image from Get Bent Guide Service

The fishing reports are one of your best resorts. They are generally a week behind but put out weekly.

You can ask around at the bait shops, harbors, etc.

You can also follow the charter boats discreetly but please keep your distance and DO NOT cut them off, and they should offer you the same respect.

Watch The Charter Boats To Help Locate Salmon

To successfully catch salmon on Lake Michigan, you need to know where the salmon are and what depth they are swimming.

Charter boats are one of the best bets for finding salmon without doing all the hard work. They likely already know where the fish are and at what depth.

If you see the charter boats in close you know the salmon are there. But, if the charter boats are 20 miles out, the salmon are out there.

What Methods Are Best For DIY

An angler shore fishing for great lakes brown trout
An angler shore fishing for Great Lakes brown trout, salmon, and steelhead.

Fishing from shore is the safest and easiest for most anglers. You don’t have to incur the cost of a boat, insurance, and all the gear.

Plunking, float fishing, and drifting are three methods you can use from a boat or from shore.

See Salmon Fishing From Shore and Shore Fishing For Steelhead.

Charter Boat Salmon 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. Check out Fire Plug Charters

A charter boat salmon fishing trip is one of the best ways to target salmon on Lake Michigan.

The charter captains will already know the lake and the seasonal patterns of the salmon.

They will be dialed into the local news and fish reports so that they can successfully deliver you to the best fishing waters on the given week when you charter.

A big plus of charter boat fishing trips is that they supply the gear. All you need to do is show up with your license.

They are going to help you rig and manage the fishing gear, provide the bait, etc.

A charter boat might seem expensive, but in the wider view of what you are doing, they save you a lot of time and often put you right where the fish are.

  • Fire Plug Charters is our preferred and recommended charter service, but book your charter early as they are award-winning, and get booked up fast.

Other Charter Services:

  • Windy City Salmon Fishing Charters – Waukegan, IL – Chinook Salmon and trout fishing trips.
  • Coldwater Charters – Joseph, MI -Salmon, Trout, and Perch
  • Silver King Charter – Milwaukee, WI – Chinook, Coho, and Trout
  • Action Charters – Muskegon, MI – Salmon, Steelhead, and Trout
  • Deep V Sportfishing Charter – Holland, MI – Salmon, Lake Trout, Steelhead.

Fishing Lake Michigan Salmon From Shore: Baits and Methods

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.

Late-summer and into the fall are the prime shore fishing months for salmon.

During these times, the fish are staged near their native creeks and rivers. From the lake, you want to fish near where the rivers empty into the lake.

The best methods will vary depending on what the fish are doing.

Lure Fishing – Leave the light tackle at home and break out the heavier and longer rods. A long casting rod will improve distance and be able to handle these massive salmon. Spend time fishing spoons, spinners, and plugs. Aim for brighter colors and silver tones. See Lure Fishing For Salmon

Plunking: Plunking is a still fishing method used on the West Coast and on the Great Lakes. It can be used in the rivers or in the lake. Live bait like a minnow and organic baits like spawn bags and skein are go-to baits. See Plunking Method For Salmon.

Float Fishing: Float Fishing is also good when you want to keep the bait or lure off the bottom. In deeper water, use a slip float and just enough weight to get the bait close to the bottom. Normally, you want to be 3 to 6 feet off the bottom. Baits like spawn bags, minnows, beads, flies, and skein are go-to baits. See Float Fishing For Salmon.

Drift Fishing: Drifting Fishing is good at the river mouths, especially ones with significant current. Live baits like roe bags, minnows, beads, flies, and skein are go-to baits. See: Drift Fishing For Salmon and Steelhead

Fly Fishing: Fly fishing is less common, but is used at river mouths. Streamer flies are options and a way to target fish throughout the water column. See Fly Fishing For Salmon.

Guide Tip: In some areas, multiple lines are permitted but check the fishing regulations for each state first.

Is There A Salmon Fishing Season?

You can catch salmon legally all year long on Lake Michigan in the state of Michigan. The surrounding rivers may have an open and close date based on the river and fish.

Lake Michigan is part of the State of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

Depending on where you fish, there may or may not be an official salmon season. It is best to always check the regulations issued by the state in which you are fishing.

Licenses and/or Salmon Stamps?

Michigan does not require a salmon stamp, but the States of Wisconsin and Illinois have salmon stamps.

Every angler must possess a fishing license from the state they’re fishing from. Check the fishing regulations to be sure you are following the correct rules for you.

Incidental Catches: Steelhead, Brown Trout, Lake Trout.

Lake Michigan is full of fish, and other species can be caught while salmon fishing.

In addition, salmon anglers hook up with steelhead and migratory brown trout, lake trout, rainbow trout, drum, carp, and other species like pike or bass.

You have just read the shortened version of this article. To see the full article, which include more in-detph information, click HERE.

Tight Lines



Pink Salmon Water Temps:,temperature%20of%2025.8%20%C2%B0C.

Maximum Temperature Limits for Chinook, Coho, and Chum Salmon – Study

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