A look at the what, where, and when of salmon fishing in Lake Michigan, the Westernmost of the five Great Lakes
by Debbie Kay
Though the native salmon and trout populations on the West Coast are taking a beating, their transplanted cousins are doing well in the Great Lakes, and are open for fishing. Here is a look at the what, where and when of salmon fishing in Lake Michigan, the westernmost of the five Great Lakes.
A Brief History of Great Lakes Salmon
In the 1800s, there was a native population of Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario. However, the extensive use of mill dams on the streams entering the lake prevented them from spawning, and they became extinct. Mill-dammed streams were the norm in all the Great Lakes, and were a large part of the reason that none of the dozens of plantings of both Atlantic and Pacific salmon species were successful until the mid-1960’s. From 1966 to 1970, the first successful planting of salmon occurred in Lake Michigan, where both coho and Chinook were established. Today, the kings can get as large as some of the Alaska streams, growing close to 3 feet in length and 30 to 50 pounds. They also face population decline pressures due to development, pollution, and rising temperatures.
Where to Go
With 1,660 miles of coastline and hundreds of tributary rivers, there is no shortage of Lake Michigan fishing. The southern end of the lake is more populated, and though it offers locations for public pier fishing and some access points for tributary streams, the north end of the island is more remote, on both the Michigan (eastern) and Wisconsin (western) coasts. The southern coast offers some possible points, but the Indiana and Chicago coastlines are highly industrial, and make for better departure points for a boating trip.
Boating Lake Michigan
Fishing by boat is a fun and rewarding endeavor here, but if you’ve never been to the Great Lakes, then don’t be fooled by the term “lake.” At 83 miles across, it’s larger than most coastal sounds, and can often make for rougher seas. Be certain to have a boat that is large and seaworthy enough to handle swells. Solo boat charters and fully guided fishing charters are available from all four states that border Lake Michigan. Major fishing and boating cities include Winthrop Harbor and Waukegan, Illinois, East Chicago, Indiana, St Joseph (for both lake and St Joseph river access), Michigan in the South of the state, Muskegon, Michigan to the North of the state, Ludington in the center of the coast and dozens of smaller charters along the 800 miles of coastal towns. In Wisconsin, Kenosha, Door County, Sheboygan, Port Washington, Manitowac, Algoma, and many more towns provide boats and/or fishing guides.
When to Go for Lake Michigan Salmon Fishing
Check with the DNR in your state of choice before making your trip. Chinook have been struggling lately, so catch limits and fishing seasons may be limited, and they can vary slightly in each of the four states. Coho is faring better, and the season for Lake Michigan salmon fishing gets good beginning in early May.