2018 Michigan Family Fishing Destinations

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Fishing can add some excitement for all the members of the family regardless of your vacation destination during the summer months. Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Looking for an outdoor vacation getaway that the whole family can enjoy? Then you surely will want to hit some of these locations this summer.


Michiganders are known for their "up north" mentality. It's tradition to head north whether it's just for the weekend or on an extended vacation. Many families make it a point to include wetting a line on the journey. It may be a trip to the family cottage for a week or to a new destination, like one of our state parks. Either way, there's a good chance that fishing is going to be in the mix.

Following are some great fishing destinations that also offer plenty of things to see and do along the way.


Manistee is a favorite destination of vacationing families because there's plenty to keep you occupied when you're not on the water. Manistee is considered the birthplace of Michigan's Great Lakes salmon fishery and is still one of the best ports on Lake Michigan. Quick access to deep water and fish-attracting structure makes it a major draw for salmonids.

While some silvery kings typically show up in late May, it's really June before there's great big-lake fishing. That's when offshore breaks begin to form concentrating steelheads along scum lines to the northwest and southwest off Big Point Sable in water as deep as 700 to 800 feet. The rainbows are generally within a fathom of the surface and can be caught on in-line planers and shallow-set divers. The cartwheeling rainbows provide spectacular family fun. In July, a hodgepodge of salmonids can be caught near "The Ledge" in 60 to 120 feet of water straight out of the harbor. August finds schools of mature king salmon headed for the Big Manistee and Little Manistee rivers, congregating in the same area. Manistee has one of the most active charter boat fleets in the state.

Fishing opportunities at Manistee are not limited to Lake Michigan. Manistee Lake is noted for producing lots of hand-sized bluegills, largemouth and smallmouth bass, trophy pike and Master Angler-sized walleyes. Anglers also will find good action for a variety of species on nearby Portage and Bear lakes.

Along the Way: Manistee's beautiful beaches and stunning bluffs are a major attraction for tourists from other states and countries as well as for Michiganders. There are thousands of acres in the Huron-Manistee National Forest where visitors can hike, pick berries and birdwatch. The Manistee and Pine rivers offer exciting canoeing adventures.

A favorite of visitors to Manistee is to stroll the River Walk on a warm summer evening or walk the pier to the North Pier Lighthouse. You can take in the Manistee Historical Museum and the Ramsdell Theater. The Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary is a fun destination for avid birders. There's the Little River Casino if you're feeling lucky. The Manistee National Forest Festival in early July attracts thousands of visitors.

For more information on things to see and do in Manistee, contact the Manistee County CVB at visitmanisteecounty.com or call 877-626-4783.


Houghton Lake is an ideal destination for families looking to get a little fishing in while on vacation. Houghton Lake is ringed with resorts that cater to fishing families providing everything from boat rental, docks, tackle and guides. 

Michigan's largest inland lake, 20,044-acre Houghton is basically a big shallow bowl with little water deeper than 20 feet. For that reason, subtle changes in depth and weedlines are prime places to contact all species of game fish. The south shore has some humps that attract walleyes and panfish.

The Middle Grounds is a good place to anchor and float some bobbers. The East Bay has some of the deepest water in the lake and is a good place to try in midsummer. Locals refer to the west shoreline as Walleye Alley. There are public launch sites on all four corners of the lake.

You won't need a guide if you're not concerned about what you're going to catch. Drag or drift with a crawler injected with a little air on a slip-sinker along the bottom, or anchor along the edge of a weedbed and suspend a minnow or leech under a bobber. Houghton Lake gives up some trophy panfish. Houghton Lake is one of those you-never-know-what-you'll-catch kind of places. Could be walleye, bass, panfish, perch or a northern pike.

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Along the Way: When not fishing, there's plenty to do in Roscommon County. Hartwick Pines State Park is just a short drive up I-75. The park has educational memorabilia from the lumbering days and some massive white pines that avoided the saw.

Several amusement parks in the area offer everything from miniature golf, a haunted house, go-karts, batting cages, bumper cars, moonwalk, power wheels (3-6 years) and boats. A dozen championship golf courses are just a few of the attractions in the area.

Houghton Lake commemorates the Fourth of July with a big parade. You'll find canoeing on the South Branch of the Au Sable River in nearby Roscommon. There are festivals almost every weekend during the summer celebrating everything from Michigan's Free Fishing Weekend to the Kirkland's Warbler.

For more information, contact the Houghton Lake CVB at visithoughtonlake.com or call 989-422-2002.


Located exactly on the 45th parallel, Gaylord is smack dab in the center of the Tip of the Mitten. It's a short drive to Traverse City to the west, north to the U.P. or east to Lake Huron. There's plenty of great fishing to be found in between.

At 1,972 acres, Otsego Lake just south of Gaylord, has a potpourri of species that makes a family fishing outing exciting. You never know what you're going to catch. Drop a slip-bobber with a worm or minnow and you're likely to catch some good-sized bluegills or perch for a fish fry.

Large predators abound. The Michigan DNR has been planting walleyes in the lake regularly, and their population is expanding. Otsego Lake is known for its smallmouth bass, pike, muskies and lake sturgeon.

Prime locations for predators are off the east side near Point Comfort, Arbutus Beach and Otsego State Park. Look for panfish in the bays in between. There is a boat launch at the state park on the southeast end of the lake, and there is a county ramp on the west side. For bait, tackle and licenses stop at Jay's Sporting Goods, 1151 S. Otsego Avenue or call 989-705-1339.

 Along the Way: The Pigeon River State Forest is a favorite of nature lovers and hikers. Families can venture out on the many trails that can be found in Otsego County whether it's for a morning stroll or a more prolonged adventure. There's a good chance that you'll see Michigan wildlife in the form of elk or a Kirtland's Warbler. Numerous trails are available for casual bikers or the more extreme cyclist. Many rivers in the area offer canoeing, kayaking and tubing excursions.

Known as Michigan's Alpine Village, the alpine-themed shopping district is a gathering place for community events and entertainment, a twice-weekly farmers market and a vast array of events and activities. The Gaylord Alpenfest (gaylordalpenfest.com) in July is a highlight of the summer. Gaylord is one of the premier golfing destinations in the country, with numerous world-class courses within easy driving distance (pun intended). For more information contact the Gaylord Area CVB at gaylordmichigan.net, or call 800-345-8621.


It's not easy to get to Rogers City, but it's worth the trip. It's one of Michigan's most picturesque ports and the fishing on the big lake there is unique. While numbers of chinook salmon on Lake Huron have declined, other species have prospered. It's uncommon to go fishing out of Rogers City for a day and not catch lake trout, walleyes, steelhead, cohos, chinook salmon and Atlantic salmon. There's no Great Lakes destination that offers more variety.

With a hodgepodge of targets anglers can hedge their bet by running stickbaits and spoons higher in the water column off in-line boards, divers and short lengths of lead-core line. Silver/blue lures that imitate smelt produce the greatest mixed-bag catches. Fishing heats up in June and just gets better as the summer goes on as chinook salmon return to Swan Bay. To book a charter out of Rogers City, contact Captain Ed Retherford at troutscoutcharters.com, or call 989-675-2681.

Just to the south, angling families will find great sport for smallmouth bass, walleyes and perch on 5,660-acre Grand Lake. For smallmouths and walleyes try on the island edges north off Whiskey Point. Ten-inch yellow perch are likely to be found in 25 feet of water during the summer.

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Along the Way: That the Nautical City has a rich Great Lakes heritage is evident to tourists visiting the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum, Lakeside Park and 40 Mile Point Lighthouse. P.H. Hoeft State Park is a great place for fishing families to set up base camp and enjoy the pristine, dog-friendly beaches and nearby Rockport State Recreation Area. The Huron Sunrise Trail offers bikers and hikers miles and miles of solitude and recreation. For more information on the Roger City area, contact the Roger City Area Chamber of Commerce at rogerscity.com.


St. Ignace is the gateway to the U.P.'s biggest attractions and its best fishing. Just a short drive to the east is the Les Cheneaux Islands. The Les Cheneaux are famous for perch and pike fishing and they've made a big comeback in recent years. There are lots of resorts in the area that rent cottages and boats.

To the west is 4,230-acre Big Brevoort Lake. Perch are a given off Fox Point and are sure to keep kids busy reeling them in. You'll have to sort some to secure a perch dinner, but there'll be no shortage of action. Pull some crawler harnesses in the deeper portions of the basin for the chance at some 2- to 3-pound walleyes. Bluegills and crappies can be found in the bays, off south-side points and around old fish shelters placed decades ago.

Take a scenic drive along U.S. Highway 2 and you'll come to lakes Milakokia and Millecoquin. Both lakes serve up 6-pound walleyes, 30-inch pike and foot-long jumbo perch. There's a boat launch on the east side of 1,956-acre Milakokia and a ramp on the west side of 1,062-acre Millecoquin.

Along the Way: St. Ignace is the closest jump-off point to one of Michigan's most popular tourist destinations — Mackinaw Island. From St. Ignace, it's only a short ferry ride to the island. Within a 30-minute drive are museums, gift shops, guided kayak excursions, a boat-building school, casino gaming, and more.

Continue another 30 minutes to charming DeTour Village, where lighthouse tours, a historical museum, botanical gardens, and waterfront parks provide a beautiful respite. Cross to Drummond Island via car ferry and discover biking and hiking trails, 140 miles of shoreline, and a perfect paddling destination.

It's only an hour's drive to Paradise where you can discover the Whitefish Point Lighthouse, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and Tahquamenon Falls State Park. For more information on amenities, accommodations and attractions in the area contact stignace.com.


I've said many times that if I had my druthers I'd spend winter in Punta Gorda, Florida, and summer in Escanaba. For me, it would be the perfect scenario because I could fish open water year 'round.

The big draw at Escanaba is Little and Big Bay De Noc. Those bays are known for producing outstanding catches of walleyes, smallmouth bass, perch and northern pike. They are big bodies of water. If it's your first time fishing the bays consider hiring a guide. Sall-Mar Resort (sallmarresort.net/) can hook you up with a guide and accommodations, or tackle, licenses and maps if you want to give it a go on your own.

Along the Way: When you're done fishing, you can visit the Delta County Historical Museum, the Fayette Historic Townsite, Kitch-iti-kipi Spring at Palms Brook State Park, the Maywood History Trail, the Peninsula Point Lighthouse Interpretive Trail or Sand Point Lighthouse.

Summer events include the 55th Annual National Trappers Convention and Outdoor Expo, and the Upper Peninsula Michigan State Fair. The Bays de Noc host many fishing tournaments throughout the year. For more details, go to visitescanaba.com

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