Michigan borders four of the Great Lakes, has the most freshwater coastline of any state in the union, and has over 11,000 inland lakes, so as one might expect, there are virtually endless opportunities to find fishing charters in Michigan. The Michigan Charter Boat Association represents over 600 professional captains working out of over 100 different ports. For anglers looking to go it alone, there are plenty of fishing boat rentals in Michigan, too. You say you’ll be traveling to the Upper Peninsula and want to spend a day fishing for lake trout and salmon? Or, maybe a visit to Saginaw Bay has you dreaming about the walleye bite? Now’s the time to start planning your trip, and soon those fishing dreams will become a reality.
If you’re unfamiliar with these waters, we have some great news: today, the fishing in Michigan has rebounded to heights not seen since the pre-industrialization days. Particularly in the Great Lakes, the strides made by restoration programs have resulted in spectacular success. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative brought together 16 federal organizations to accelerate the progress, with input from states, local governments, universities, tribes, and businesses. And as troubling as the invasive zebra mussels may be, their presence filters the water constantly and has helped improve visibility to the point that today it’s better than anyone alive can remember. Thanks to these factors and improved natural resources management practices, fisheries for multiple species of gamefish — some native and others stocked — now result in rod-bending opportunities that earlier generations could only dream about.
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has shoreline along three of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron. Charters can be found near all of the population centers close to the coasts, and there are also a number of lodges and resorts specializing in charter fishing excursions. Many of these operate with boats large enough to carry six anglers, but some will be limited to four, and some specialty guides (such as those who focus on bass or fly fishing) may be limited to two.Browse Michigan fishing charters
Michigan’s Lower Peninsula also borders three of the five Great Lakes: Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Erie. Again, you’ll find plenty of options in a wide range of locations with charters for six or fewer anglers. Remember that when you’re charter fishing on the Great Lakes, weather can be a factor. These huge bodies of water can get as rough as the ocean, so taking medication ahead of time is a good idea if you're prone to seasickness.Browse Michigan fishing charters
Many of Michigan’s inland lakes boast fishing that rivals the Great Lakes and may be even better for species like largemouth or smallmouth bass. Most inland charters operate from smaller boats, and while some can take six passengers, fewer is common. For bass angling in specific many boats are limited to just two people in addition to the captain. Also note that when it comes to bass many guides will catch-and-release fish, only, though sometimes species like walleye and perch may be kept for the dinner tableBrowse Michigan fishing charters
While there are a ton of ports close to awesome fishing on Lake Michigan, Grand Traverse Bay has one advantage over many others: due to the surrounding geography, the waters are usually significantly calmer than out on the main lake. Yet the bay is large enough and deep enough that at one time of year or another, just about all of the species found in the open lake are found here, too. King salmon, trout, walleye — you name it.View fishing boats
If walleye are your favorite species, Saginaw Bay is the destination to check out. At 60 miles long and 30 miles wide, this bay is larger than most lakes in the U.S. other than the Great Lakes themselves, and is known for being one of the best walleye fisheries in the nation. Particularly in the spring, when the fish flock here as they prepare to spawn in the tributaries, Lake Saginaw is where walleye fishing dreams are made.View fishing boats
Along the shore of Detroit, Lake St. Clair connects Lake Huron and Lake Erie via the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. And although it’s connected to the Great Lakes, the fisheries here are quite different because the water is far shallower. The average depth is just 11 feet, and the maximum depth is a mere 27 feet. As a result, fishing for species that thrive in relatively shallow waterways, like musky, pike, and especially smallmouth bass, can be utterly world-class.View fishing boats
A Michigan state freshwater fishing license is required for all anglers over the age of 17, though fees are waived for Michigan residents who are veterans with 100-percent disability or active-duty military. The requirements include anglers on charter fishing trips; out-of-state residents can buy a daily or annual license. Visit the Michigan License & Permit webpage to learn more.
What you’ll need varies radically depending on the waterway and the target species. The gear used when trolling for salmon on Lake Superior, for example, is utterly useless when it comes to fishing for smallmouth bass. Boat renters will need to do some legwork and learn the details for specific places and species. Those hiring a Michigan fishing charter will find the boat fully outfitted with all the appropriate bait and tackle.
Most charter fishing operations will send you home with the catch of the day, but the services each offer may differ. Resorts and lodges usually have cleaning on-site, and many pack the catch for shipping. Large marinas may or may not. Smaller operations and individual guides often don’t consider it part of the deal. If you plan to pack and ship fish, see the Fedex webpage on How to Ship Perishables.
Largemouth bass are the most popular gamefish in most of the nation, but in Michigan smallmouth bass rule. The cooler, clearer waters found here are ideal for smallmouth, and many world record smallmouth catches, including the all-tackle fly fishing, six-pound line class, and eight-pound line class record fish, have been set in Michigan. Though few anglers eat these fish, they’re valued for being rugged battlers, and many anglers believe that pound for pound, they out-fight largemouth bass.
Walleye are some of the most prolific sportfish in Michigan’s waters, and many anglers will argue they’re the best tasting fish on the planet. “Walleye fries” are a classic meal in this neck of the woods. But these fish are no pushover — they have a set of sharp teeth that can cut your leader, often swim down deep in the water column, and can be hard to predict, so if you’ve never fished for them before, it’s best to go with a pro.
King salmon, also called Chinook, was first introduced to Michigan’s waters in 1870 from the Pacific and today has become the dominant apex predator in many parts of the Great Lakes. They’re loved not only for their fighting abilities and quality as a food-fish, but also for their sheer size. When targeting king salmon, you may tie into fish in excess of 20 pounds, and the state record beats the 46-pound mark.
When targeting deep-water species like salmon and trout pros often troll with downriggers. Downriggers consist of a spool of cable, a boom, and a weight of several pounds. A release clip holds your line to the downrigger and when a fish strikes, the clip opens and frees the line for the fight. The technique takes some learning and requires very specific gear, so most anglers will learn downrigger trolling by fishing with charters before attempting it on their own.
Pulling lipped or diving crankbaits, which will swim at a reliable depth when trolled at certain speeds, is another very popular way of trolling and is often used by walleye anglers. Sometimes inline planer boards, which swim the line off to the side as you tow them, are also employed. This is a particularly good tactic to try when you don’t know exactly where the fish are and need to cover lots of ground until locating them.
One of the most popular panfish in Michigan is the small but tasty yellow perch, and one of the top ways to catch them is using live minnow. They can be weighted and sent down on a bare hook, or many anglers will tie a small bucktail, dart, or jig onto the line and then tip it with a live minnow. Minnow are also popular for walleye at some times and places.
It’s ice fishing season!
It’s ice fishing season!
As March begins ice fishing will still be a thing, but by the end of the month some areas may thaw enough, to allow boat anglers to take an early longshot at walleye (where allowed, as some waterways may be closed for spawning season) or yellow perch.
Many species begin their spring wakeup this month, but one standout is the steelhead. Particularly near the river mouths, you can intercept these fish as they head back to deep water after their spawning run.
This is usually the month when smallmouth bass fishing hits its spring peak and fishing for them in the inland lakes can be spectacular.
In June, musky move up close to shorelines in many areas, looking for weedy edges and structures to feed by. That means casting to them with large plastics and plugs — one of the most exciting ways to hook a musky — becomes a viable tactic.
Mid-summer is a great time to fish deep and look for those lake trout. Several other trout species, as well as salmon, may well grab your offering, too.
As the heat of the summer continues, much of the fishing remains focused on deep water bites, with trout and salmon the most common targets.
By mid-month the temperatures should begin falling, and as they are, just about every species of fish begins fattening up for winter. Walleye, salmon, bass, you name it — now’s when the fishing can be off the hook.
The fall feed is in full swing though October, and it’ll be hard to find a species that’s legally in season but won’t be biting. True, the weather may begin to get a bit tougher, but this is a peak month for many species of fish.
Depending on the weather fishing can get iffy, especially in open water, but some species like brown trout and steelhead reappear in pre-spawn areas near the rivers in some parts of the state.
Steelhead will be biting in some of the rivers but the temperature is falling fast and for most anglers, this is when they’ll winterize the boat and brush the dust off their ice fishing gear.