Fishing in Michigan: Lake St. Clair, Lake Fenton & Other Top Places

The Midwestern U.S. state of Michigan borders four of the Great Lakes; therefore, it has earned the nickname of the Great Lakes State. The state contains over 11,000 inland lakes. And it has the longest freshwater coastline of any political subdivision in the world. Also, the state is a hotspot for boating and angling enthusiasts. So, read on to learn more about the 10 best fishing locations in Michigan.

Given its abundance of inland lakes and rivers, proximity to the Great Lakes, and wonderful wilderness scenery, Michigan is one of the country’s must-do fishing locations. In fact, Michigan is especially renowned as a trout fishing destination with thousands of fabulous quality trout streams and lakes accessible to anglers.

To fish legally in Michigan, you’ll need to buy a fishing license if you’re 17 or older. Fishing licenses are available online from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, via a licensed agent.  Just check the list of agents at this link or from a DNR customer service center. Note that the fishing license year runs between March 1st through March 31st of the following year when the season ends.

Our Favorite Locations

If trout are your main target, you must check out the official, biologist-verified Trout Trails, which has details of lesser-known streams well worth seeking out. Michigan boasts over 150 fish species, including different types of salmon, large and smallmouth bass, bullhead, several different types of catfish, common carp (both large and small), both white and black crappie, northern pike and hundreds of other species.

You’ll also find several other species of trout, including Michigan’s state fish, the brook trout. And if you’re into ice-fishing, you can catch most of the fish species in the Great Lakes State after drilling through the ice.

There are so many fabulous fishing spots in Michigan; it’s impossible to know where to start. So here is a review of what’s on offer in this fisherman’s paradise. Whether you’re after trout, bass, catfish, or the ever-present crappie, this list of the 10 best fishing locations in Michigan that will have something for you.


1. Lake St. Clair

Lake St Clair

Lake St. Clair (located here) is a 275,000-acre body of water that lies between Michigan in the U.S. and Ontario in Canada. The pristine waters here are teeming with a variety of fish species including:

  • Trout
  • Bluegill
  • Northern pike
  • Walleye
  • Muskellunge
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Yellow perch

Lake St. Clair is extremely popular thanks to its reputation as one of the country’s premier smallmouth fisheries. One way to get there before the crowds arrive is to visit early during the early catch-and-release season. It runs from the third Saturday in June through December 31.

During this time, bass seek the shallows and are feeding heavily. Check out the marina walls and rock piers that attract baitfish as the waters warm up, and fish here using spinnerbaits for good results.

The Lake has great habitat for walleye and perch thanks to the stained water and plentiful forage. Anglers have success with trolling worm harnesses or jigging the deep water channels.

During the winter, ice fishing is extremely popular here, and the Lake becomes dotted with ice huts. Minnows jigged off the bottom, or still-fished will catch you plenty of walleye and perch. Raps and rattle spoons are also very effective.

Lake St Clair is famous for trophy muskellunge. Visit during late fall to drop a line in search of one of these monsters that grow fat on the abundant baitfish. The average weight of muskies there is around 10 to 15 pounds. But every year, someone lands at least one fish of more than 30 pounds. Tempt a monster into striking by casting or trolling with spinnerbaits, crankbaits, and muskie lures.  Leave the baitcasting reels at home, and bring your best spinning real instead.

The fishing is so good there all year round, it’s worth extending your stay. There’s plenty of accommodation around the Lake, including camping and RV parks.


2. Pontiac Lake

Pontiac Lake

Pontiac Lake is a 640-acre lake in Oakland County right here, between the White Lake and Waterford Townships. It is a popular family destination with beaches, a boat ramp, walking trails, picnic areas and restrooms. Also, the lake is a popular location for anglers. Fish species you’ll find here include:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Panfish
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Northern pike
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Yellow perch

You can fish the lake from the easily accessible shoreline, boat, or pier. And the lake is open from dawn till dusk. Early in spring, smallmouth bass head to the warming waters of the shallow, south-facing coves and bays where baitfish and panfish gravitate. So use mini worms and stick baits to tempt lethargic bass. Later in the day when the water is at its warmest, crankbaits can yield good results.

Check out the stump-filled lake edges and small islands that provide perfect largemouth habitat. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and Texas-rigged plastics are all great producers. However, topwater lures will get you the most exciting fishing. Fish the west end of the lake early in the season before the weed growth reaches the water surface.

For those who want to stay for more than just a day, there’s lots of decent accommodations and camping on offer around the lake.


3. Lake Orion

Lake Orion

Lake Orion in Oakland County is a 482-acre lake that drops to a maximum depth of 58 feet. There’s a boat ramp and a public beach. And the Lake is popular with recreational boaters and anglers. There’s no camping around the lake, but you’ll find plenty of available hotel accommodations nearby. Check out the pretty village of Lake Orion that borders the lake for restaurants and shops.

Fish species you’ll find in Lake Orion include:

  • Largemouth bass
  • Catfish
  • Northern pike
  • Panfish
  • Yellow perch
  • Bluegill
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Rock bass

The lake has numerous bays and coves that absorb the early spring sunshine, attracting swarms of baitfish and bass feeding after the winter. Lake Orion is a major bass producer, largely thanks to its ideal habitat and a land-locked population of alewives that the bass devour.

Your success is largely dependent on mimicking the color of the baitfish. Use spinnerbaits with blue or green for the best success. Crankbaits in white or shad are also effective. Later in the season when the aquatic vegetation gets thicker, try Yamamoto grubs.


4. Lake Fenton

Lake Fenton

Lake Fenton is an 845-acre body of water in Genesee County to the north of the town of Fenton. The lake is around 90 feet deep at its deepest point. Also, it is a popular bass fishing location with several tournaments there during the season. The lake is home to a variety of fish species, including:

  • Yellow perch
  • Sunfish walleye
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Rock bass
  • Northern pike
  • Largemouth bass
  • Bluegill
  • Black crappie

The accessible shoreline is irregular with lots of bays, coves, points, and breaks. But this is where submerged and emergent vegetation provides an excellent habitat for many species, especially bass. Despite the Lake being heavy with boating traffic during the summer, the water quality remains good.

And there are plenty of places for anglers to escape the recreational lake users. Check out Crane’s Cove to the west side of the lake where you’ll find some of Fenton’s monster largemouths. Other largemouth hotspots are the weed lines on the west side and the narrows at the south end of the Lake.

Try spinnerbaits and worms for success with bass. Early season is the most profitable time to fish here. You can find more information on accommodations in the Fenton area from the Fenton Area Chamber of Commerce.


5. Duck Lake

Duck Lake

Duck Lake is a 628-acre body of water in Calhoun County just north of Albion. Although it’s known as a popular bass fishery, other species in the lake include:

  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth bass
  • Northern pike
  • Rock bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Sunfish
  • Yellow perch

The lake has a marshy perimeter and lush, thick weed beds. This makes it an ideal habitat for a number of species, including bass. There are sloping drop-offs, sunken islands, and shallow coves to fish. You can cast a line from swimming rafts, boat docks, and moored boats. During the summer, check out the weedy edges in 10 to 15 feet of water for patrolling predatory fish.

The area around Duck Lake is developed. Also, public access is from the northwest side of the lake off Monroe Road. Note that there is a shallow boat ramp that can’t accommodate larger craft. There’s lots of accommodations near Duck Lake at various prices to suit every budget, including camping.


6. Paw Paw Lake

Paw Paw Lake

Paw Paw Lake (located here) is in Berrien County close to the town of Watervliet. The Lake has picnic tables and rustic restrooms. The 857-acre lake was once connected to the Paw Paw River.

But due to flooding problems, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blocked-off the channel that fed into the River. Thanks to this, Paw Paw has a large population of alewives that feed the resident largemouth bass population.

As well as largemouth, you’ll find carp, Northern pike, white and black crappies, yellow perch, and sunfish in the lake. You can fish from dawn until dusk from the accessible shore, by boat, or from a nice fishing pier. Try using worms, minnows or artificial lures for success. For more information on cottages and other accommodations in the area, contact the Southwest Michigan Tourist Council.


7. Baseline Lake

Baseline Lake

You’ll find 175-acre Baseline Lake in Allegan County, south of the town of Allegan, close to the Allegan-Van Buren County Line. Some fish species you’ll find here include:

  • Bluegill
  • Largemouth bass
  • Yellow perch
  • Black crappie

Public access to the lake is on the northwest side. From there, you can fish the docks and canals on the north side that are best known for their largemouth population. Other good fishing spots include the south side where the Carpenter Drain enters the lake or where Baseline Creek flows out of the lake on the east side.

The best time to fish for bass is in the spring as the fish retreat into deeper water during the summer months. At its deepest point, the lake drops to a depth of around 44 feet. You can obtain details on accommodations, resorts, and tackle stores from the Allegan County Tourist & Recreation Council.


8. Manistee River

Manistee River Michigan

The Manistee River (located here) flows for 190 miles through northwestern Michigan, passing the villages of Mesick, Sharon and Smithville before emptying into Lake Michigan at Manistee.

The best fishing area is at Bear Creek, the largest tributary of the River below the Tippy Dam. This U.S. Forest site offers the opportunity to fish the creek and the river from an accessible fishing pier, as well as the shoreline and by boat. The fish species you’ll find at this location include:

  • Chinook salmon
  • Brown trout
  • Steelhead
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Coho salmon

You can fish there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. The river boasts one of the premier salmon runs in the Great Lakes State. The action starts in late July and accelerates as the water cools and Coho and Chinook salmon ascend the river to their spawning grounds. The steelhead run begins later in the year when you’ll most likely find a few lake-run brown trout, too.

Streamers or big jerk baits are productive during the salmon run, so egg sacs or egg patterns work well for steelhead. Fly-fishing above the Tippy Dam is great for huge rainbows and browns. You can also catch bass and Northern pike below the dam. Access to this fishing location is easy via the numerous forest trails. Also, there are plenty of campgrounds throughout the forest.


9. Saginaw Bay

Saginaw Bay

Saginaw Bay is an expansive, shallow basin that lies on the western side of Lake Huron to the north of the city of Saginaw. The fishing is excellent with a variety of species including:

  • Bullhead
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Northern pike
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Sunfish
  • Yellow perch
  • Walleye
  • Channel catfish

And you can fish there from dawn till dusk. Saginaw Bay is fertile, leading to incredibly rapid growth rates for walleye. The fish can grow to as big as 15 inches in just two seasons. In spring, the walleye swim upriver to spawn. You’ll find them in the lower regions of the bay after spawning ends.

For the best success, check out the outer bay and use jig-and-bait combos, drifting in six to 10 feet of water. Crankbaits and spoons also work well. Don’t forget to go after the perch and channel catfish, which are abundant there, too. Also, there’s plenty of nice accommodations to choose from around this area.


10. Isle Royale

Isle Royale

If you’re in search of a true fishing adventure, you must take a trip to Isle Royale (located here). This large island is within the Isle Royal National Park wilderness area. In fact, you can only reach it by seaplane or passenger ferry. Hiking, kayaking, and canoeing are popular on the island, too.  People are also known to fish from kayaks from this area.

And if you’re lucky, you might see moose or even a wolf. Take care if you are out on the water, as weather conditions can change quickly here. The fish species you can go after while visiting this stunning location include:

  • Lake trout
  • Northern pike
  • Salmon
  • Walleye

The lake trout here grow to a huge size. Come equipped with spinners, spoons or jigs and concentrate your fishing efforts around structure if possible. There are fishing regulations in place for the Isle’s waters that you can see in full here. And lastly, there’s plenty of decent accommodation within easy reach of the Isle, as well as campgrounds.


Finding Your Spot

Here are the best fishing locations in Michigan. But Michigan is a beautiful, scenic state with so much to offer. So, you should add it to your list of must-see fishing vacation destinations. Visit the Great Lakes State to pursue salmon, trout, walleye, and bass during the spring, summer, and fall. Or come during the winter time for some exceptional ice-fishing amid stunning winter landscapes.

If fishing isn’t your thing, there’s a number of different activities you can explore, and hundreds of other lakes you can explore that we didn’t mention here in our top 10.  There are also much bigger lakes, which might be a bit more obvious, including Lake Huron, which is one of the Great Lakes that across several states.

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