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Seven Great Michigan Fishing Destinations

Summer is the perfect time for a road trip to some of Michigan's best fisheries.

Seven Great Michigan Fishing Destinations

Schools of walleyes inhabit the shallows of Lake Erie through early summer. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

Finding a destination to plan a summer fishing outing in the Great Lakes State is not difficult.

The hardest thing is deciding what you want to do and what you want to catch. Summer is one of the hottest times for a variety of fishing, so numerous species are potential options.

Here are seven destinations that offer hot summer fishing definitely worth a visit.

LAKE ERIE

Lake Erie may be poised for one of the best years in decades. Successive good reproductive years followed by a banner year have set the stage for some outstanding walleye angling. Three solid year-classes mean there are a lot of fish in the pipeline. A bumper crop of 17- to 19-inch ’eyes last year should push 19 to 22 inches this year.


Schools of walleyes inhabit the shallows of Lake Erie through early summer. The walleyes are hungry after the spawn as they drop out of the Detroit, Maumee and Raisin rivers. If temperatures stay cool, the walleyes remain in Michigan waters well into July.


“I’ve had the best success with Flicker Shads the last few years,” admits Captain Jim Balzer of DoubleJay Charters (517) 715-3620. “Use a real long lead of 75 to 100 feet off the boards that get them down to 15 feet or so. Fire tiger is a good color, and there are days when they want purple. Crawler harnesses work all the time and are a go-to when the cranks aren’t producing, but the crankbaits are a lot easier to fish.”

Visiting anglers can stay at Sterling State Park and be a stone’s throw from the best fishing. For information on other accommodations and amenities in the area, contact the Monroe County Convention and Tourism Bureau.

If You Go

You can take the clubs and play more than 20 courses in the area, visit the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, take in the Monroe County Museum and the Monroe County Fair.


LAKE ST. CLAIR

Lake St. Clair makes the annual list of the BASS Top 100 every year. Anglers come from states far and wide for the outstanding smallmouth fishing for which the lake is known. But Lake St. Clair has more than just smallmouths. The lake is equally famous for its Great Lakes muskie population, walleyes have been making a comeback in the lake, and the panfish population is relatively untouched.

On a trip to LSC a few years ago our intention was to sample the smallmouth fishing, but we had some extra time, so we decided to spend an afternoon chasing panfish. Even though it was June, Joe Balog assured us that we could still find some panfish in the shallows. We went back into a canal that had docks with some pretty good-sized boats moored in them. Balog told us to pitch our Custom Jigs and Spins jigs and Beetle Spins in around the pilings and under the boats. Slab black crappies were waiting.

Balog knew chunky pumpkinseed sunfish took up residence off of Selfridge Air National Guard Base in the weed beds. Casting the same panfish jigs and Beetle Spins, we caught a half dozen brilliantly colored pumpkinseeds, bluegills, smallmouths, rock bass, largemouths and several small muskies. The smallmouths alone are worth venturing to Lake St. Clair. Add in all the species, and it’s a can’t-miss destination.


If You Go

Fine dining is one reason to go to the big city. Fishbones in downtown Detroit is a favorite. It’s always a great time visiting Comerica Park to see the Tigers play whether they win or lose. Take a nostalgic step back in time while visiting Deerfield Village in Dearborn.

SAGINAW BAY

It’s kind of a toss-up on which is the hottest walleye fishery on the Great Lakes: Saginaw Bay or Lake Erie? Lake Erie has more walleyes, but it’s a much bigger body of water, and only a small portion of it is in Michigan. Saginaw Bay is just as good for putting a smackdown on walleyes.

Walleyes stay in the Inner Bay for a prolonged period of time. When there’s expanded weed growth found in the bay, some walleyes never leave, preferring to take up residence in the weeds to gorge on perch, gobies and shiners all summer.

Linwood offers quick access to some of the deepest water in the bay, and there is generally a prevailing westerly wind, keeping the east side of the bay relatively calm and cooler. Trolling is the first option. What you pull varies. Walleye spoons made by Warrior, Yeck, Dreamweaver and Wolverine Tackle tempt walleyes and catch fewer trash fish. A kaleidoscope of colors will work. The lure du jour changes daily.

Pulling crankbaits behind in-line boards is another option. Deep-diving Yo Zuri Crystal Minnows, Live Target Rainbow Smelt and Storm Deep Jr. Thundersticks produce slightly larger walleyes and fewer unwanted fish. Use two or three colors of lead core to cover the entire water column.

Meat always produces in the Bay. Crawler harnesses tempt even the most finicky walleyes. Choose harnesses with big No. 4 or 5 Colorado blades in metallic colors like perch and fire tiger. Or try Ghost Blades by Dutch Fork Custom Lures for an ultra-slow presentation with UV or transparent blades.

If You Go

Take in a Great Lakes Loons minor league baseball game, stroll the 1,400-foot canopy walk at Dow Gardens, cruise down the river on the Princess Wenonah, have a great burger at Castaways or enjoy one of the largest fireworks display in the state.

LUDINGTON

If there’s salmon fishing happening on the Great Lakes, you can bet it’s happening at Ludington. With the Great Lakes fishery so dependent on naturally reproduced salmon, Ludington is a natural destination. Smolts reproduced in the Pere Marquette, Big and Little Manistee and Pentwater rivers naturally gravitate back to the structure found off Ludington.

“The Ledge” located north of Ludington draws salmon and anglers. Traffic can be brutal on peak weekends in July and August, but there are fish to be had straight out and south of the harbor, too. The main targets are mature king salmon that will occasionally top 30 pounds, but lake trout, Coho salmon, steelhead and the occasional brown trout or Atlantic salmon make for a nice mixed bag.

Downriggers, divers, lead core and wire all take fish when the time is right and boat traffic permits. Dreamweaver Spin Doctors with KRW Trolling Flies or meat rigs are a great combination for kings. When targeting a mixed bag of species over deep water, Yeck, Dreamweaver and Silver Streak spoons in colors from PK Special to Orange Pearl Fireball excel.

Ludington State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Michigan. It borders both Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan. Hiking trails through the Nordhouse Dunes attracts adventurers. There are 355 campsites that await visitors, including three mini-cabins. The park is approximately 5 miles north of Ludington on M-116.

If You Go

You can’t go wrong with a stack of homemade French toast at Old Hamlin. White Pine Village provides a glimpse of Michigan’s lumbering era. Floating down the Pere Marquette River can be a delightful way to spend a summer afternoon.

THUNDER BAY

Thunder Bay near Alpena is a great place for anglers to hedge their bets. The shoals and reefs in the area teem with smallmouths that see little fishing pressure. Walleyes from Thunder Bay and Saginaw Bay converge over the abundant structure found offshore during the summer. Deep water to the north off Presque Isle and Rockport brims with a hodgepodge of salmonids. It’s a “cant’ miss” destination.

Captain Ed Retherford operates “Trout Scout V” out of Presque Isle and says he routinely catches five to seven species on a single trip. The potpourri can include Chinook, Coho, Pink and Atlantic salmon; steelhead; lake trout; brown trout; and walleye. Retherford says the key these days is to run smaller spoons. Retherford is a big fan of Silver Streaks and spots them throughout the water column using downriggers, divers, lead core and wire when targeting a variety of species.

The sheer amount of smallmouth structure on Thunder Bay is mindboggling. Try near Sugar and Gull islands off the tip of North Point, in the inner bay off Partridge Point and Sulphur Island, to the south off Scarecrow Island and everywhere in between. It’s not uncommon to encounter 5- to 6-pound smallies, and 25 fish would be an average day.

If You Go

Book a seat on a shipwreck tour to view the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary or rent scuba gear and take a firsthand look. Nautical museums in the area celebrate the region’s rich nautical history. Try your luck in the annual Brown Trout Festival.

MANISTEE

Thermal barriers set up over the deepest portion of Lake Michigan in June and July and collect steelhead from all over the lake. The breaks are easily accessible from Manistee. Upwelling cold water sets up over 500 to 800 feet of water and collects debris and bugs on the surface. Rainbows cruise the edge.

The trout are within a fathom of the surface, so in-line Yeck planers and Slide Divers excel. Getting the baits out away from the boat is key. For some reason orange is a hot color for the offshore rainbows.

You can get detailed surface temperature maps online that will help pinpoint the breaks. Look for birds, fog and debris to find the spot on the spot. The sight of three or four steelhead cavorting in unison is surreal. Visit the Michigan Charter Boat Association website to find a captain.

If You Go

Manistee beaches are one of its biggest draws. There are scenic trails for hiking and biking, including the North Country Trail. Strolling along the river walk and shopping or taking in the sights is fun.

LAKE MICHIGAMME

Located 17 miles west of Ishpeming, 1,200-acre Lake Michigamme is one of the Upper Peninsula’s premier walleye waters. Besides walleye, you’ll find jumbo perch, slab crappies and ornery muskies in the lake.

Prime areas for 2- to 3-pound walleyes are right off the mouth of the Peshekee River on the east side of the lake near the state park. Trolling back and forth across the river mouth with gold/orange Rapalas is a proven tactic. Another hotspot is near a cluster of islands in the center of the lake. Try a crawler-tipped jig or bottom bouncer. A slip-bobber above a leech fished near stickups, downed timber and old beaver huts is likely to catch a hodgepodge of perch, crappies and walleye. Big jerkbaits and bucktails should also raise muskies off the Peshekee River.

If You Go

Van Riper State Park features 147 modern campsites, 40 rustic sites and mini-cabins. There are five hiking trails in the park. The Iron County Museum is located nearby as well.

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