Comparing and Contrasting Michigan and Wisconsin Fishing on Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. It covers an area of 22,404 square miles and has a maximum depth of 923 feet. It is home to a variety of fish species, including salmon, trout, walleye, perch, bass, and more. Lake Michigan is shared between four states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Each state has its own regulations, seasons, and access points for fishing on the lake.
In this article, we will compare and contrast the fishing opportunities on the Michigan and Wisconsin sides of Lake Michigan, focusing on three aspects: water depth, fish diversity, and fishing quality.
The depth of Lake Michigan varies depending on the location and the season. Generally speaking, the lake is deeper on the eastern side (Michigan) than on the western side (Wisconsin). According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average depth of Lake Michigan is 279 feet, but it ranges from 10 feet near Green Bay to over 900 feet near Charlevoix.
The depth of the lake affects the water temperature, which in turn influences the fish behavior and distribution. The deeper waters tend to be colder and more stable throughout the year, while the shallower waters are warmer and more affected by wind and currents. The colder waters are more suitable for cold-water fish such as salmon and trout, while the warmer waters are more favorable for warm-water fish such as bass and perch.
Lake Michigan boasts a rich diversity of fish species, both native and introduced. Some of the most popular fish sought by anglers include:
- Chinook salmon: Also known as king salmon, these are the largest and most prized salmon in Lake Michigan. They can weigh up to 40 pounds and are found mainly in the deeper waters of the lake. They are stocked annually by several states to maintain their population.
- Coho salmon: Also known as silver salmon, these are smaller than chinook but more abundant and aggressive. They can weigh up to 20 pounds and are found in both deep and shallow waters of the lake. They are also stocked annually by several states.
- Lake trout: These are native to Lake Michigan and can grow up to 40 pounds. They are found mostly in the deep waters of the lake, especially near rocky reefs and drop-offs. They are also stocked annually by several states to restore their population after overfishing and sea lamprey predation.
- Steelhead: These are migratory rainbow trout that spend most of their lives in Lake Michigan but return to tributary streams to spawn. They can weigh up to 20 pounds and are found in both deep and shallow waters of the lake. They are also stocked annually by several states to enhance their population.
- Brown trout: These are introduced from Europe and can grow up to 30 pounds. They are found mostly in the shallow waters of the lake near shorelines and river mouths. They are also stocked annually by several states to provide additional fishing opportunities.
- Walleye: These are native to Lake Michigan and can grow up to 15 pounds. They are found mostly in the shallow waters of the lake near reefs, weed beds, and river mouths. They are also stocked occasionally by some states to supplement their population.
- Yellow perch: These are native to Lake Michigan and can grow up to 2 pounds. They are found mostly in the shallow waters of the lake near shorelines and river mouths. They are not stocked by any state but rely on natural reproduction.
- Smallmouth bass: These are native to Lake Michigan and can grow up to 7 pounds. They are found mostly in the shallow waters of the lake near rocky shorelines and reefs. They are not stocked by any state but rely on natural reproduction.
- Largemouth bass: These are introduced from other regions and can grow up to 10 pounds. They are found mostly in the shallow waters of the lake near weed beds and river mouths. They are not stocked by any state but rely on natural reproduction.
The fish diversity on Lake Michigan varies depending on the location and the season. Generally speaking, both sides of the lake have similar fish species available, but some may be more abundant or accessible than others.
The fishing quality on Lake Michigan depends on several factors, such as the season, the weather, the location, the fish species, and the fishing technique. Generally speaking, both sides of the lake offer excellent fishing opportunities for anglers of all skill levels and preferences.
However, some areas may have an edge over others for certain fish species or fishing methods. For example, according to Freshwater Fishing Advice², some of the best fishing spots on Lake Michigan for salmon, trout, bass, and catfish are:
- Menominee, Michigan: This small town sits on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin and offers access to both deep and shallow waters of the lake. It is a great spot for trolling for salmon and trout, as well as jigging for walleye and perch.
- Muskegon, Michigan: This city is located on the western side of Michigan and has a large harbor and marina. It is a popular spot for charter fishing and boat launches. It is also a good spot for fishing for salmon, trout, walleye, perch, and bass.
- Charlevoix, Michigan: This town is located on the northern tip of Michigan and has access to several islands and reefs on Lake Michigan. It is a great spot for fishing for lake trout, brown trout, steelhead, and smallmouth bass.
- Manistee River: This river is a major tributary of Lake Michigan and runs through several counties in Michigan. It is a famous spot for fishing for steelhead and salmon during their spawning runs in the fall. It is also a good spot for fishing for brown trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass.
On the other hand, according to Great Lakes Now³, some of the best fishing spots on Lake Michigan for yellow perch are:
- Green Bay, Wisconsin: This bay is located on the western side of Wisconsin and has shallow waters that are warmer and more productive for perch. It is a popular spot for ice fishing and jigging for perch in the winter.
- Milwaukee Harbor, Wisconsin: This harbor is located on the eastern side of Wisconsin and has access to both deep and shallow waters of the lake. It is a good spot for fishing for perch near shorelines and river mouths.
- Chicago Harbor, Illinois: This harbor is located on the southern tip of Lake Michigan and has access to both deep and shallow waters of the lake. It is a good spot for fishing for perch near shorelines and breakwaters.
Of course, these are not the only spots where you can find good fishing on Lake Michigan. There are many other places that you can explore and discover on your own or with the help of local guides and charters.
Tips and Tricks
Fishing on Lake Michigan can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, but it also requires some preparation and knowledge. Here are some tips and tricks that can help you make the most of your fishing trip:
- Treat the lake as if it’s an ocean. Lake Michigan is a huge body of water that can have unpredictable weather, waves, currents, and hazards. Be prepared for changing conditions and always wear a life jacket. Check the weather forecast and marine reports before you go out and avoid fishing in storms or high winds.
- Know the regulations. Lake Michigan is shared by four states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Each state has its own fishing rules and regulations, such as seasons, limits, licenses, and permits. Make sure you follow the regulations of the state where you are fishing and respect the rights of other anglers and boaters.
- Choose the right gear. Depending on what fish species you are targeting and what fishing method you are using, you will need different types of rods, reels, lines, hooks, lures, baits, and accessories. Do some research on what works best for your desired fish and fishing technique. For example, if you are trolling for salmon and trout, you will need a sturdy rod and reel, a downrigger or planer board, a flasher or dodger, and a spoon or plug. If you are jigging for walleye or perch, you will need a medium-light rod and reel, a jig head or sinker, and a minnow or crawler.
- Learn from the locals. One of the best ways to improve your fishing success on Lake Michigan is to learn from the local anglers who know the lake well. You can visit local bait shops, fishing clubs, online forums, or charter services to get some tips and advice on where to fish, what to use, and how to catch fish. You can also hire a guide or join a charter to benefit from their expertise and equipment.
- Have fun and be safe. Fishing on Lake Michigan is a great way to enjoy nature, relax, and have fun. However, it can also be dangerous if you are not careful. Always fish with a buddy or let someone know where you are going and when you will be back. Carry a first aid kit, a whistle, a flashlight, a knife, and a cell phone or radio in case of emergency. Respect the fish and the environment by practicing catch-and-release or keeping only what you can eat. And don’t forget to take some pictures and share your stories with others!
|Fish Species||Average Weight||Best Time to Fish||Best Location to Fish|
|Chinook salmon||10–40 lbs||July–September||Deep waters near shorelines and river mouths|
|Coho salmon||5–20 lbs||May–June and September–October||Deep and shallow waters near shorelines and river mouths|
|Lake trout||10–40 lbs||June–September||Deep waters near rocky reefs and drop-offs|
|Steelhead||5–20 lbs||April–June and October–November||Deep and shallow waters near shorelines and river mouths; tributary streams|
|Brown trout||5–30 lbs||April–May and October–November||Shallow waters near shorelines and river mouths|
|Walleye||5–15 lbs||May–June and September–October||Shallow waters near reefs, weed beds, and river mouths|
|Yellow perch||0.5–2 lbs||Year-round, especially winter||Shallow waters near shorelines and river mouths|
|Smallmouth bass||2–7 lbs||May–October||Shallow waters near rocky shorelines and reefs|
|Largemouth bass||2–10 lbs||May–October||Shallow waters near weed beds and river mouths|
The bottom line is that Lake Michigan is a fantastic fishing destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you are looking for trophy fish or just a relaxing day on the water, you can find it on either side of the lake. The only thing you need to do is to plan your trip well, follow the regulations, and enjoy the experience.
9 Great Sources used to compile this article
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(2) Lake Michigan Fishing: Our Top Spots and Tips. https://finnsfishingtips.com/lake-michigan-fishing/.
(3) 12 Best Fishing Lakes in Michigan: Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, and More. https://lakeaccess.org/best-fishing-lakes-in-michigan/.
(4) The 10 Best Fishing Spots in Michigan This Summer – AZ Animals. https://a-z-animals.com/blog/the-10-best-fishing-spots-in-michigan-this-summer/.
(5) Lake Michigan | Fishing Wisconsin | Wisconsin DNR. https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Fishing/lakemichigan.
(6) East versus west: An expert weighs in on which Lake Michigan coast is king. https://onmilwaukee.com/articles/wisconsin-vs-michigan-lake-week.
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