Fishing for salmon on Lake Michigan is one of the most exciting angling options across North America. The lake is divided by Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, and anglers travel from all over the world to seek Chinook salmon (kings), coho salmon (silvers) as well as the occasional pink salmon as well as Atlantic salmon that are found in Lake Michigan waters.
Although Chinook, as well as coho salmon, are the most commonly pursued species however anglers are also targeting other species of salmon on Lake Michigan, including steelhead (migratory rainbow trout) and brown trout along with the indigenous lake trout.
Salmon aren’t from Lake Michigan, but they can reproduce naturally in rivers because of the neighboring states’ extensive fishing management programs. These programs aid in maintaining the levels of fish populations that make Lake Michigan a world-class salmon fishing area.
Illinois is a state in which Illinois is home to 750,000 advanced fingerling trout and salmon each year in the harbors and boat launches along the state’s 63 miles shoreline, through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The State of Michigan includes Michigan’s Little Manistee River Weir egg-take facility, which is based on Manistee. The egg-take and the salmon harvest facility redirects steelhead during the spring, and Chinook salmon during the autumn, to collect eggs while the fish move across Lake Michigan to spawn in the clear, cool water of the river. The eggs collected are then sent to hatcheries in the state fisheries which are where they develop into fingerlings, and then released into Michigan’s rivers, lakes, and streams.
The efforts of these kinds in the states surrounding Lake Michigan underscore its importance as a sought-after recreational salmon fishing lake and the desire of anglers to go to capture the catch of their lifetime.
The King salmon (Chinook) is a popular species on the bucket list of anglers. Manistee, Michigan is one of the most ideal spots to catch them during the first part of fall beginning in the latter part of July and August. The salmon begin to migrate from the upper part of Lake Michigan into rivers to reproduce. The Little Manistee River is closest to where we are based and where salmon will be staging.
Best Salmon Fishing on Lake Michigan
In the span of three full days friends set out to fish on an organized charter boat one day, and then a boat for the next days to make the most of both while we discover the salmon migration patterns and habits of Lake Michigan.
The alarm to wake up starts at 4:15 am on the morning of the day that we will take us on a charter along with Captain Paul Schlafley of Riverside Sportfishing Charters. Paul has been guiding fish on Lake Michigan for almost 40 years. He is able to accurately detect below-surface current and temperature fluctuations that are essential to understand so that you can adjust to the unpredictable character of salmon.
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In the autumn months, salmon are constantly on the move. Due to their sensitivity to the slightest fluctuations in temperature or barometric pressure eating patterns may change frequently.
One of the primary things that our captain is watching with his equipment while we leave early in the morning is the thermocline in the water. This is where warm surface water transitions into cooler, deeper water to which the salmon will tend to migrate. The temperature differences in the water column may vary by a few inches every 5 feet or by up to 10 % below that thermocline.
Chinook, as well as Coho Salmon, prefer cold water between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. the steelhead (rainbow trout) generally reside in the 45-60-degree range. All the species are likely to migrate towards the upper, more warm water column during feeding, and before flowing up the rivers, therefore being aware of temperature is crucial.
We're fishing within 100' of water, and basing our lures on the thermocline, where it is evident that there's a substantial temperature variation We put the lines in depths of 30-40 feet. However, when one of the elements shifts, so too does the depth and the presentation of lures. The changes can occur by the hour, and also by day, keeping anglers on theirs.
We're fishing at night and the pre-dawn bite is the one we are looking for since it's generally the best time of the day to fish for salmon. Our tackle consists of flashers that are colorful to draw the fish, as well as a variety of fishing J Plugs as well as spoons that shine in the darkness to be visible in dark waters. Full moons, tranquil waters, and the quietness prior to the sunrise make a difference quickly.
"Fish!" Captain Schlafley shouts while attempting to grab one of the many delicately placed rods from the sides and the back of the vessel, each one set to reach a different depth.
The explosion occurs in the place of lines in the water, therefore everyone is on alert and ready to grab and go. The captain gives me the rod as the line is snaking out of the reel at a fast rate.
"Let him go, let him go," Schlafly directs me. "Let him go and tire him out."
I resist the urge to reel in fear that I might lose too much line too quickly But a part of each new experience in angling is learning from the experts and being aware of the techniques that each species needs.
When I finally get a possibility to start reeling, I start to bend in a rhythmic fashion as I pull the line, and then turn forward until I feel. I feel the powerful pulling of a decent King Salmon as I attempt to keep it from other lines. The fish speeds up unwinding the line, moving around in the direction of the boat. At once, the line is in a slack. As soon as the salmon lands on my rod, the fish is gone.
There's not much time to grieve the loss of our first catch of the day since it was quickly remediated by the rumbling noise of drag coming from a different line. Then another, and then another. In a flash, three fish are hooked and the commotion to catch them all starts with another. One Three, two amazing King salmon fighting on the lines.
The three anglers who are on the boat twirl their reels as Captain Schlafley sprints to pull in the other lines in order to prevent them from becoming tangled with the fish who is swaying. He is grabbing the net to reel the fish into the net as they each come to the boat. Every one of us catches King salmon between the 25- and 30-pound weight range one by one.
Exuberance and high-fives make the boat awash however there's no time to be celebrating because the bite of the day is on and could stop at any time.
This is the moment to realize that the next step could be fishing. I am awestruck as our captain continuously alters the presentation options after we realize that J Plugs appear to be the most popular choice for salmon. He alters certain lines according to and swaps a spoon to a J plug on a line running at one depth, and then a different colored paddle on a different rod that is with a different length.
As the sun sets the bite slows down but stays steady as we catch more kings, as well as several enormous coho salmon. When the bite slows and even more we are able to play with presentation and depth to determine what else could be effective.
After a few hours, the bite ceases completely and we are left there are nine fish (six coho and three kings) then we return towards the harbor. When we get into the harbor the fishfinder flashes with colors and indicates that large numbers of salmon are moving and heading towards the river.
With confidence in our hands, We set out the following day to take on fishing for salmon on our own. However, the environmental and water elements have changed, and what was successful yesterday might not work today or is likely to be effective today.
We test several spots and travel over 50 miles but not as much as a single fish. Then, a storm that's fast-moving comes into the area earlier than we expected and forces us to pack early to head back. While we chat with charter captains finishing their morning tours We discover that they didn't have much luck nor did they catch much.
Six way Salmon Fishing on Lake Michigan
1. Types of Salmon to Catch
Chinook Salmon (Kings)
Chinook salmon often referred to as the king salmon, are thought of as Lake Michigan royalty and what anglers drive distances to capture. In summer, these fish pop in huge numbers, testing the strength as well as endurance of fishermen's rod-bending actions that weigh thirty pounds and more.
The Chinook salmon typically move into the deep water in Lake Michigan from May to the beginning of June. The most common time to hunt for the kings of Lake Michigan occurs during the year-long run of salmon that usually runs from late July to September. This is the time when Chinook move towards the rivers that they were born naturally or released as fingerlings.
In this period there is a lot of fish big, aggressive, and in size. The annual run continues through October, but it ends in November. Fishing in the deep lake waters is a well-known method to chase Chinook however, if you would like to test your angling techniques, you can try fishing for them onshore using lightweight tackle.
The southern part of Lake Michigan near Illinois has diverse trout and salmon populations which are ideal to hunt offshore during the fishing season in summer for anglers looking for more variety. Alongside Chinook Salmon, the other species you can choose to catch and target from Illinois are coho salmon rainbow trout, lake trout (Skamania steelhead and Arlee varieties) as well as brown trout.
Coho Salmon (Silvers)
While anglers hunt for Chinook salmon to see how big, coho salmon are popular because of their abundance within Lake Michigan. Although they're generally smaller than Chinook, however, they offer anglers with incredible rod action. Coho salmon prefer shallower waters as opposed to their Chinook counterparts.
Coho salmon reproduce during autumn and spring months and fall, which makes May through June, and September to November an ideal time to hunt coho in large numbers. Trolling is one of the most popular methods for coho. However, since they're smaller than Chinook Many anglers love playing around with the fish with a light tackle which increases the fishing thrill.
Coho is among the sought-after species of fish that anglers can catch in the Illinois areas of Lake Michigan, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The Coho are abundant and benefit from the healthy stocking programs in the state.
Pink Salmon/Atlantic Salmon
Although they aren't as popular to be caught as Chinook as well as the coho salmon Pink salmon, as well as Atlantic salmon can occasionally be seen in Lake Michigan waters near the Illinois coast and in Michigan streams that are located in the Upper Peninsula.
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2. Where to Go
Lake Michigan has many departure points that are perfect for fishing salmon, and since it is surrounded by four states, you are able to choose your base from where you're coming from or choose what you want to pursue and the most optimal times of the year to fish them.
Michigan is home to more than 3000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, so choosing which shoreline to explore to fish on Lake Michigan can be a difficult choice for anglers. It is possible to narrow down your choices by choosing the species you'd like to hunt and the season when they're most productive.
Southern Lake Michigan is best in springtime for coho salmon, and occasionally also for Chinook salmon because these waters get warmer first and usually offer larger bait. Good spring ports for coho salmon, and occasionally Chinook include New Buffalo, St. Joseph, South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland, and Grand Haven.
In the summer months (June and the beginning of July) Salmon are abundant all over the lake. fishing is slow, with the exception in the port of Fairport as well as Manistique, which are generally good in the summer months.
Anglers fishing for salmon should go to the northern and central ports in Michigan at the beginning of August. the fish travel to rivers where they are born naturally or are in the process of being stocked. Whitehall, Pentwater, Ludington, Manistee, and Frankfort are excellent options at these months.
The best places to fish in the autumn are the most popular places to catch return coho salmon is Frankfort as well as Platte Bay, Grand Haven, and St. Joseph. All ports have autumn yields from Chinook along with coho. The salmon will sometimes stage at ports, and on other occasions, they'll flow right through the rivers in a flash.
One thing that makes the salmon fishing experience exceptional on Lake Michigan from the Michigan ports is the fact that the rivers are home to the wild Chinook salmon. Michigan is active in protecting the river and restoring habitat which has included dam removals that allow salmon to move upriver and discover habitat that is suitable to spawn in.
The Indiana shoreline that runs along Lake Michigan has a number of excellent ports from which to launch. Hammond, East Chicago, Portage/Burns Harbor along Michigan City all have boat launches and fishing facilities available for anglers to utilize. In addition, they stock Chinook and coho salmon as well as brown trout The state's most popular stocking program is designed for Skamania steelhead in the summer season. Indiana is also the primary supplier for Skamania eggs from the Lake Michigan basin and stocks many of them.
If you're thinking of shore fishing on Lake Michigan from Illinois, it is recommended to locate yourself close to any of the ports run through the Chicago Park District in places such as Belmont, Navy Pier, Montrose, Calumet, Burnham, and DuSable. There is a complete list of accessible harbors and boat launch locations on the Illinois Irish website.
If you intend to go charter fishing for salmon then you should be near North Point Marina, Waukegan Harbor, or the Chicago harbors of Montrose, Belmont, Diversey, Burnham, Calumet, and 31st Street, which all have an active fleet of charter sportfishing boats available for charter.
In the spring beginning around April, the coho fish migrate to the north. This makes for excellent fishing opportunities in Racine as well as Kenosha counties, and occasionally, all the way to Door County. There are numerous access points that connect Kenosha up to Door County, with boat ramps in every Wisconsin coastline county.
Even though Lake Michigan is abundant with salmon across the entire lake, anglers should take a look at the creeks and tributaries that flow out to the west with salmon-rich fishing opportunities. Some of the tributaries to Lake Michigan which is ideal for fishing salmon are ones like the Kewaunee River which flows through Kewaunee, Fischer Creek in Manitowoc, Milwaukee River, and Sheboygan River in Wisconsin, and Port of Manistee and St. Joseph River in Michigan.
3. When to Go
Spring along with the early autumn is the best time to fish for coho as well as Chinook salmon within Michigan waters. In spring, move towards the southern part of Lake Michigan, where the waters first warm, and bait is abundant. The salmon run in the fall generally begins in August when Coho and Chinook salmon head to the rivers in which they hatch naturally or where and then stocked. The first months of summer, June, and early July are more sluggish but it is not impossible to catch salmon, which are scattered throughout the lake that runs off of the shoreline. Michigan shoreline.
Indiana is the state with the best early-spring fishing of any state. anglers can catch salmon immediately after the ice is gone on shores and boats. Indiana is unique in the sense that the U-shape shape of the coastline allows anglers shelter from all winds than other states with an east-west coastline.
From March to May is the ideal time to fish for salmon in Indiana in which the majority of salmon live in the southern part of the lake because of environmental factors like more shallow, warmer water. Coho salmon are spotted in March and the fishing action is generally steady until May. Chinook salmon usually appear in the latter part of April and are caught in large numbers throughout May. Indiana is the sole state to have huge amounts of the summer-run Skamania steelhead, which is why the months of June and August are the best time to catch the fish, as they are returning to Indiana streams.
It is possible to catch salmon in all seasons in the ocean from Illinois. It is possible to target them along the shoreline during autumn, spring, or summer upwellings when the water temperature is low. Anglers who fish from Illinois are targeting coho salmon since they are plentiful during the period from late April to June. Chinook salmon as well as rainbow trout can be caught off the coast in the months of July and August. In autumn, the adult Chinook or coho as well as steelhead return to the harbors where they were stocked, resulting in fantastic fishing from the break walls, particularly near Waukegan, Diversey, and Jackson harbors.
The best coho salmon fishing on the Wisconsin shoreline to Lake Michigan starts in April as the fish move towards the north. They are found through Racine as well as Kenosha counties to Door County. The fishing season for summer is Chinook steelhead, coho lake trout, as well as brown trout, starts as the lake swells, and anglers are able to target 50-degree waters.
4. Ways to Catch Salmon
Hire a Charter
If you're a brand novice to fishing for salmon or have no experience with salmon fishing on Lake Michigan, it is best to get an experienced guide. Salmon are delicate creatures that react to constantly changing elements in the lake, from the temperature and current to biological factors that provide them with the natural desire to migrate in or out of river and lake systems at various seasons.
A knowledgeable charter captain will offer you the best chance to catch the fish. The majority of harbors that line the shoreline of Lake Michigan shoreline will have charter boats available. If you intend to fish during fall or spring salmon runs, it's recommended to reserve the charter in advance, or even one year in advance.
Take Your Own Boat
Many anglers with boats are interested in trying fishing for salmon by themselves on Lake Michigan. Although this can be done, it's essential to research since salmon fishing requires a different set of tackle and methods than other kinds of fish species. You can conduct research online and ask assistance from anglers or even officials from the Department of Natural Resources in the state you'll be departing to develop a game plan. It is also essential to look into the weather patterns and choose options that are suitable depending on the season you are planning to travel.
Fish from Shore
The entire Lake Michigan shorelines along the four states that share a border with the lake have plenty of options for fishing on the shore. Find the top suggestions in the Department of Natural Resources websites for each state, and also get information on the most productive shorelines by visiting local tackle stores. The rivers' mouths are excellent places to fish off the shore in the time of salmon runs. The majority of boat harbors have piers, which provide plenty of shore fishing opportunities.
5. Fishing Techniques & How to Fish for Salmon
It is possible to fish in search of Lake Michigan salmon from a boat or by the shore. The most common method is to use a reliable charter company that will get you into the best waters at the appropriate season and set you up equipped with the right equipment and instruction in technique. No matter if you employ charters, fish on your own vessel, or attempt it at your shoreline, you can use certain methods that are recommended in order to achieve success in salmon fishing.
Trolling has become the most well-known method to catch Lake Michigan salmon because you can put up a range of lures in a variety of shades, depths, and presentations simultaneously. In summer salmon are attracted to cooler and deeper lakes. Trolling provides the opportunity to cover the greatest amount of ground simultaneously and then easily adapt to different depths during the day.
Coho salmon troll in less shallow waters than Chinook and require downriggers in order to move lines into deeper water. Another tool you can use when trolling is a planer board, that allows the user to reach a greater area of water from the rear of the boat.
Speed is another element and one we used when fishing on our alone at Manistee, Michigan. Captain Hensley utilizes a range of speeds as an important factor to draw salmon.
"Speed is crucial and, even more, important the speed you achieve at your average depth of the lure. It can be quite different from the speed you experience at the surface, due to the wind and currents pulling and pushing the boat. The slower speeds are 2.0 up to 2.2 miles an hour during the spring when the fish are less active and around 2.5 up to 2.7 miles/hour during the summer can be fairly normal," says Hensley.
In terms of attractors, there's no limit to limit to what you can put in your lure, and the preferred salmon can change each day. Try the combination of bright-colored or shiny spoons as well as J Plugs paddles, and other lures that attract salmon to begin. Once you know what's the most effective, you can alter it during the day.
Fishing from Shore
Fishing from boats gives you the advantages of flexibility and the capability to hunt for different depths with numerous lines. However, a lot of anglers succeed in fishing for salmon along the shoreline. There are certain times of the year when salmon are caught in the calmer waters of the harbors. This means fishing along the shoreline or on a pier using an angler's rod or spinning rod could be very productive.
In the season of springtime, coho salmon hang around the harbors and piers in Michigan as well as during the fall run of salmon and you'll be able to catch huge coho or Chinook around these locations as they make their way toward the rivers.
Make sure you have a range of fishing gear available for fishing from shore with heavier spoons available in a range of colors. Silver and blue spoons are popular.
Fishing for fish in the harbor or river is more than a reaction, instead of a feeding bite The idea is to put your lure right in front of them so that they respond to it. Heavy spoons are an excellent choice for casting from shore and crankbaits are also well-known choices.
6. Licenses and Regulations
Lake Michigan is surrounded by four states, therefore it is essential to know and comprehend the rules for fishing salmon which apply to your trip to the state you'll be fishing from.
The first step is to get a valid fishing permit for the duration of your fishing trip. There are many states that offer one-day and multiple-day permits for residents as well as non-residents. Make sure that you apply for the right license.
Then, be sure to check out the regulations on salmon catch and keep limits because they differ between states, and can vary every year. There are details on licenses and regulations at the state's Department of Natural Resources fisheries division.