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Best Bets for Great Lakes Fishing

Best Bets for Great Lakes Fishing
Jim Balzer of Howell caught this plump walleye, fairly typical of those caught in June, while fishing a spoon off a downrigger. Photo by Mike Gnatkowski.

Michigan anglers who like to troll can't wait for summer. Things start to warm up then. Weather patterns are more stable and fishing more predictable. About the only hard part is deciding what kind of fish you want to catch. If you have a trailerable boat, you've got plenty of options.

June signals the beginning some of the best walleye fishing of the year. Walleyes begin schooling in shallow, open basins of the Great Lakes where trolling is the most practical and productive way to fish for them. Thermoclines begin to form, which help to concentrate Great Lakes salmon schools and kicks their metabolisms into high gear. Currents and upwellings in the northern part of Lake Michigan beckon steelhead from all over the lake in June.

Thermal barriers and scum lines cause lake-run rainbows to gather within a fathom of the surface over the deepest water found in the lake. Lake Superior's best lake trout fishing takes place in June and into the summer months. Cool water has lakers still concentrated in relatively shallow water in June.

Anglers willing to trailer their boat to the northern parts of Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior will find great fishing for native trout and a hodgepodge of other species.

The hardest thing for June trollers to decide on is where to go. There are some tough choices to be made concerning the fishing for trout, salmon and/or walleyes. Here's a list of destinations that might just help make that decision a little easier.


Post-spawn walleyes dropping down out of the Raisin, Maumee, Detroit and Sandusky rivers begin to fan out in the shallows of Lake Erie in June. Spring run-off has ended, the lake is clearing and the tepid waters are filled with baitfish. Ravenous schools of walleyes can be found from LaPlaisance Bay and Woodtick Peninsula throughout Brest Bay and off Stony Point. There's no need to go too far because you'll find plenty of walleyes in the 12- to 18-foot depths well into July during a cool year.

"A really good spot is off Stony Point, the Bell Buoy and the Banana Dike," offered Howell angler Jim Balzer. "You've got to watch the wind and set up your troll accordingly, but once you hit on a troll it's pretty easy to take a limit in a couple of hours."

Target 15 to 18 feet of water. Most of the walleyes in the Michigan waters of Lake Erie will range from 15 to 20 inches, but there are still some trophy fish to be had in June when the walleyes begin a steady migration to the east. Wise anglers have an Ohio fishing license in their pockets too, as some of the better fishing takes place just on the other side of the Ohio state line, and there's no line on the water to delineate when you're in one state or the other.

Walleyes can be caught in June by drifting, jigging or casting, but trolling allows anglers to cover more water, to cover more depths, and to stay on roaming schools. Crankbaits and spoons are popular with Lake Erie trollers with the walleyes preferring some gaudy, bizarre colors most days. It might be because of the water clarity or it might be that the gaudy-colored lures just look like something out of the ordinary.

Balzer advised anglers to bring along some crawlers, just in case. On days when the fish are fussy, Balzer said that real meat can be counted on to produce a limit. You'll tend to catch more of the non-targeted species with nightcrawlers, but you're also likely to catch some of the bigger walleyes on meat. Balzer runs brightly colored crawler harnesses off Church Tackle in-line boards and adds weight ahead of the harnesses to get them deep.


"Watch your graph for signs of suspended walleyes and then position your baits just above them," he advised. "Once you catch a few fish, a pattern will become evident."

Balzer added that a little spring rain that dirties the water slightly can produce great fishing.

Anglers have a variety of option for launching on Lake Erie. Launch sites are available at Luna Pier, Otter Creek, Bolles Harbor, Sterling State Park, at Detroit Beach and in the Raisin River. For bait, tackle and fishing reports contact Jeff's Bait & Tackle at (734) 289-4901, or Bottomline Bait & Tackle, (734) 379-9762.


There may not be a hotter walleye fishery in the country right now than Saginaw Bay. The bay is chock-full of walleyes; anglers who know how to troll can take easy limits during the early summer months.

"The hot trolling bite really starts in June," claimed Charter Captain Jeff Godi, who fishes out of Linwood Beach Marina and Campground. "The walleyes really start to school up and it's really pretty easy fishing. Last year, there were tons of 14- to 17-inch fish. This year, those fish should be 16 to 20 inches so the fishing should be even better."

Capt. Godi said that trolling is a go-to tactic whenever you're fishing Saginaw Bay, but what you're pulling changes throughout the season.

"In June, we use a lot of spoons and crawler harnesses and troll fairly slow," said Godi. "But as a water warms up, we'll kick up our trolling speed and use more crankbaits. We can cover more water that way, and the fish seem to prefer the more animated action of a crankbait then."

Godi said that the chances for trophy fish are better in June on Saginaw Bay, but the fishing remains good right through July most years.

Last year, Sue Tabor and I had the opportunity to join Godi on Saginaw Bay in late July during my Michigan Fishing Odyssey. One of the great things about fishing on Saginaw Bay for walleyes was that we didn't have to get out at the crack of dawn. The leisurely pace suited me just fine. Godi confided that it was a little after prime time on the bay as waters had warmed and the walleyes had begun migrating to deeper water, but there was still enough fish around to make things interesting.

Godi idled out of the channel from Linwood Beach Marina and pointed it southeast toward the shipping channel where he had found schools of walleyes the day before. Once we reached 17 feet of water, Godi and I began setting lines. We let out 1/4-ounce Hot-n-Tots 50 to 75 feet behind in-line boards and added a couple of divers with small spoons. Before we had all the lines out, Godi's sharp eyes spotted one of the boards starting to trail back and quickly handed the rod to Sue.

It was give-and-take for a little bit before Sue gained the upper hand and brought the walleye to net. "That was fun!" she exclaimed. "They're not as hard as trying to catch a salmon." Indeed, walleyes are tailor-made for female anglers and kids.

Godi pointed the bow of his Sportcraft downwind and it was pretty much nonstop action for the next 2 hours. Many of the fish were small and under the 15-inch minimum size limit, which bodes well for Saginaw Bay's future, but there were enough 17- to 20-inch 'eyes to keep us busy. The wind started to kick; if you fish Saginaw Bay, you know it can blow up in a hurry. We decide to call it a day with a respectable box of fish.

The wind was still huffing when we met Capt. Tim Bristol of Fish Heads Charters the next morning so we were glad to be in Tim's big, seaworthy SeaRay. We headed out to the same general area as the day before. The fishing was a little slower, but the fish we caught were a little bigger. As the waves built, we decided to head in with a one-man limit of walleyes.

To schedule a walleye charter on Saginaw Bay, contact Captain Jeff Godi at (989) 686-7345, or Captain Tim Bristol at Fish Heads Charters, (989) 165-9797 or online at Linwood Beach Marina and Campground at (989) 697-4415; offers slips, camping and ready access to Saginaw Bay for anglers wanting to bring their own boats.


If you want the most bang and variety for your trolling buck, a trip to Alpena should be in your cards. The waters of Thunder Bay and Lake Huron off Alpena offer the chance to catch walleyes, brown trout, lake trout and king and Atlantic salmon on the same trip. There are not too many other places you can do that.

"That's kind of my big thing now — variety," shared veteran charter skipper Ed Retherford. "I'm promoting the fact that we can catch several different species on the same trip, especially in June. Most of the time, we're fishing the same way, so it's just a matter of changing up the lures a little bit."

Retherford said he generally uses smaller Silver Streak spoons for walleyes and small- to medium-sized spoons if trout are also in the mix. Body baits are also a go-to lure when targeting trout and immature salmon in late spring through early summer.

Alpena was once hailed as the brown trout capital of Michigan, but that claim has since gone by the wayside. No one is sure why, but it might be due to a burgeoning walleye population and predation by cormorants.

"We still have a few browns around in June and early July," said Retherford. Added to the mix are Atlantic salmon from plants made by Lake Superior State University via their aquaculture program and increasing numbers of Chinook salmon. Walleyes now are almost a given catch on virtually any trip.

Retherford said that visiting anglers would be wise to target the area around the Nordmere Wreck, North Point north to Presque Isle in 25 to 60 feet of water for smorgasbord catches. Anglers can make good catches of 'eyes right in Thunder Bay from ice-out well into the summer.

In June, Retherford advised working between Sulphur and Scarecrow islands in 5 to 20 feet or water for 5- to 10-pound walleyes. Once a night bite, Retherford said, since the alewives have disappeared anglers have figured out how to catch walleyes during the daylight hours on Thunder Bay.

For information on lodging, boat slips and bait and tackle shops in the area, contact the Alpena Convention and Visitors Burea at To cut your angling learning curve, contact Capt. Ed Retherford at (989) 675-2681 or at

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