Michigan Salmon Fishing: A Guide to the Best Fishing Spots

Michigan, the Great Lakes State, is an angler’s paradise, especially when it comes to salmon fishing. With its stunning rivers and expansive lakes, Michigan offers a diverse range of fishing destinations that attract anglers from all over the world. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, Michigan’s wealth of lakes and rivers ensures that you have access to some of the finest salmon fishing in the country. In this article, we’ll explore the best salmon waters in Michigan and provide you with valuable tips to help you catch more salmon. So, grab your gear, study the regulations, and let’s dive in!

The Best Salmon Waters in Michigan

Michigan is a true haven for salmon fishing enthusiasts. Whether you’re targeting Chinook, coho, pink, or Atlantic salmon, this state has got you covered. Let’s explore some of the top fishing spots in Michigan:

Manistee River

The Manistee River, located in the northern Lower Peninsula, is undoubtedly one of Michigan’s premier salmon fishing rivers. With its impressive runs of Chinook and coho salmon, the Manistee River attracts anglers from all across the country. Besides its stunning scenic beauty, the Manistee River offers diverse fishing opportunities, making it a favorite among salmon enthusiasts. From the mouth at Manistee to the Tippy Dam near Wellston, this river has some incredible hot spots to explore. Wellston, known as the “Steelhead and Salmon Capital of the Great Lakes,” provides plenty of lodging, camping, bait shops, and everything else you need for a successful fishing trip. The Tippy Dam is a major obstacle for salmon, so they tend to stack below it in massive numbers. This section is heavily fished, but there are plenty of other areas along the river where you can find room to fish. The river above the dam also offers excellent trout fishing opportunities.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, is a massive body of water with several cities spread along its shores. It’s home to massive salmon runs that stage in its deep waters from June to September as the salmon prepare to spawn in the rivers of Michigan. If you’re planning to fish on Lake Michigan, hiring a guide service is highly recommended. The lake is vast, and unless you’ve had success fishing it before, a guide will more than pay for themselves. Trolling is the preferred method for catching salmon on Lake Michigan. During the summer months when salmon are abundant, they head for the deeper, cooler waters of the lake. Trolling allows you to cover a large area and increase your chances of success. Along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, you’ll find everything you need for your fishing trip.

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Pere Marquette River (and Lake)

Renowned for its crystal-clear water and picturesque surroundings, the Pere Marquette River is a fantastic salmon fishing destination. This river, which empties into Lake Michigan at Ludington, is famous for its impressive salmon runs in the fall. If you’re seeking trophy-sized catches, the Pere Marquette River should be on your list. Salmon runs typically occur here from late August through October. The river offers over 60 miles of pristine, free-flowing water from the mouth, making it the longest undammed river in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Most of the stretch is limited to fly fishing only, which means less pressure during the runs—perfect for fly anglers. Opt for large, brightly colored flies like egg patterns, streamers, and leech imitations to entice aggressive strikes. Drift fishing with a medium to heavy spinning rod and a drift fishing setup can also be highly effective, especially for Chinook salmon. Check the current regulations to ensure you’re in an area where bait is allowed. The mouth of the river, where it flows into Pere Marquette Lake in Ludington, is another great spot to explore. This lake is a multi-species fishery, and you can also target yellow perch here.

St. Mary’s River

Connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron, the St. Mary’s River offers prime salmon fishing opportunities. The river’s strong currents and abundant forage make it an ideal habitat for Chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon. As you navigate these dynamic waters, focus on areas with structure, such as rocky outcrops, drop-offs, and deep holes. Look for current breaks, eddies, and seams where salmon tend to congregate. Pay attention to temperature changes and the presence of baitfish, as these can indicate likely holding spots for salmon. The peak season on the St. Mary’s River typically occurs from mid-August to early October when Chinook and coho salmon make their way upstream. For fly anglers, the St. Mary’s River is a must-visit destination during summer. Atlantic salmon, known for their incredible fight, are a prized catch in this river. Pound for pound, they’re considered one of the strongest fighters in the fishing world. To catch Atlantic salmon, focus on the Sault Edison hydro plant area from June through August. Don’t forget to stock up on flies that imitate natural prey and prepare for an awe-inspiring angling experience!

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Betsie River

The Betsie River is famous for its fall salmon runs and offers epic angling opportunities. Located near Lake Michigan, this river constantly receives an influx of salmon, providing anglers with the chance to hook into both Chinook and coho salmon. Salmon arrive in two waves: Chinook typically start arriving in late August, with fishing peaking in September, followed by coho in mid-October. You can catch salmon in the Betsie River from the bank or boats. Drift fishing with spawn sacks, plugs, and spoons is a standard method. The Betsie River offers several access points for anglers, with popular fishing areas near Homestead Dam, Railroad Bridge, and the Betsie Valley Trail Bridge. Don’t hesitate to reach out to local bait shops for up-to-date information on fishing conditions, techniques, and regulations. Elberta and Beulah are nearby towns that provide plenty of amenities for your fishing trip.

Platte River

Nestled in the incredible Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Platte River is a haven for salmon fishing. Known for its large runs, the Platte River offers exciting angling opportunities for salmon enthusiasts. The salmon run typically takes place from late summer to early fall, with September being the peak month. Spinners, flies, and drifting bait are all productive methods for catching salmon in the Platte River. Drifting an egg sack through deep pools and just above the riffle sections can prove to be the most effective technique. The lower weir, where the river enters Lake Michigan, and the deep holes and runs throughout the river are perfect places to start your search for salmon. While the lower weir can get crowded, there are other spots along the river where you can enjoy solitude. Make sure to ask at local bait shops for the best spots and techniques based on current conditions. Salmon fishing in the Platte River promises exciting opportunities to reel in impressive fish while immersing yourself in the beauty of Michigan’s scenic landscape.

Clinton River

Despite being located in the center of suburbia, the Clinton River in northern Detroit is a hidden gem for salmon fishing. Every fall, a significant number of Chinook, Atlantic, and coho salmon migrate into the river. The Clinton River has a few spectacular spots to try your skills. Yates Dam is the most popular, but there are enough salmon in the water around Yates Park to keep everyone happy. Downstream a few miles is the River Bends Park, which allows you to get away from the crowds and enjoy fishing in a more secluded setting. Spin casting and fly fishing with spinners, spawn bags, or wax worms under a bobber are productive methods for salmon fishing in this river. You can also try trolling near the confluence with Lake St. Clair. Keep in mind that the area can get crowded on the weekends, so try to fish on weekdays if possible. You’ll find all the amenities you need in the surrounding city.

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Saginaw Bay

Saginaw Bay should not be overlooked when it comes to salmon fishing. Located in the northeastern part of the state, this bay offers some epic salmon fishing opportunities. Head to one of the small towns along the bay for easy access to the water. Chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon are abundant in the bay. Trolling with plugs or natural bait is an excellent method for targeting these species. Troll along the coastline for the best results. If you prefer shore fishing, tossing lures from the shore can yield a few coho, although the Chinook are typically found in deeper waters. Trolling is the most productive way to cover the vast expanse of Saginaw Bay. Keep in mind that peak season can get crowded with boats, so be prepared for a lively atmosphere. Smaller coastal towns around the bay offer boat launches, bait shops, dining, and lodging options. Saginaw Bay is also known for its smallmouth bass, muskie, and walleye fishing, so you can enjoy a variety of fishing experiences in this area.

Conclusion

Michigan truly offers some of the best salmon fishing in the country. From the iconic Manistee River to the picturesque Platte River, anglers have an abundance of options to choose from. Remember to check the regulations, study local reports, and monitor water temperature before heading out to your chosen fishing spot. Whether you prefer fly fishing, trolling, or drift fishing, Michigan’s rivers and lakes provide the perfect environment for a successful salmon fishing adventure. So, pack your gear, hit the waters, and experience the thrill of reeling in trophy-sized salmon in the beautiful state of Michigan!


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