13 Best Fishing Lakes in Michigan: Our Top Picks in 2023

Best Fishing Lakes in Michigan

“Prepare to embark on an angler’s odyssey like no other as we unveil the hidden aquatic treasures of Michigan, a state where fishing dreams come to life. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice with a passion for the rod and reel, Michigan’s waters beckon with their crystal-clear allure and promise of thrilling catches. Nestled within its picturesque landscapes, Michigan harbors a secret world of 13 remarkable fishing lakes, each a unique gem waiting to be discovered. From the majestic northern expanses to the pristine southern hideaways, our journey will unveil the angler’s paradise that is Michigan. Join us as we cast our lines into these waters, revealing the top fishing destinations that promise an unforgettable adventure.

1. Lake St. Clair – A Smallmouth Bass Haven

Nestled between the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair is celebrated for its exceptional smallmouth bass fishing opportunities. The lake’s unique attributes, including its crystal-clear waters and a profusion of underwater structures, render it a premier destination for both local angling enthusiasts and visitors alike. The optimal time to plan your fishing trip here is during the spring and early summer when smallmouth bass are most active and abundant. To enhance your chances of a successful catch, consider venturing towards the numerous rock piles and submerged weed beds that are scattered throughout the lake. Popular bait choices include drop shot rigs and crankbaits, although live minnows and nightcrawlers can be equally effective in coaxing these elusive and spirited fish to bite.

Lake St. Clair

2. Saginaw Bay – Walleye Wonderland

Saginaw Bay, an extension of Lake Huron, is a walleye wonderland. The bay’s shallow waters make it an ideal spawning ground, resulting in a thriving walleye population that draws anglers from near and far. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned angler, you’re likely to find success here. The best time to fish for walleye in Saginaw Bay is during the spring and early summer, when they are actively feeding near the bay’s numerous structures and drop-offs. Jigs and soft plastics or crawler harnesses are effective bait choices to entice these prized catches.

 Saginaw Bay

3. Lake Michigan – Salmon and Trout Galore

Lake Michigan, one of the largest of the Great Lakes, presents an array of fishing possibilities, but it truly shines when it comes to salmon and trout angling. Traverse City and Ludington have earned reputations as hotspots for these prized species. The sheer vastness of Lake Michigan ensures that you can explore a diverse range of spots, guaranteeing an exciting and rewarding fishing adventure. For those eager to land salmon and trout, it’s recommended to employ trolling techniques, often utilizing downriggers and spoons, especially during the early morning or late afternoon hours. Spring and early summer mark the zenith of salmon and trout activity, making these months ideal for a memorable catch.

Lake Michigan

4. Houghton Lake – Michigan’s Largest Inland Lake

Houghton Lake, proudly bearing the title of “Walleye Capital of the World,” lives up to its esteemed reputation. While walleye are the star of the show, this sprawling lake also offers opportunities to hook northern pike, crappie, and bluegill, making it an all-season angler’s paradise. Even during the frigid winter months, Houghton Lake remains a hub for ice-fishing aficionados. To reel in walleye, targeting the deeper waters with jigs and minnows during the spring is an effective strategy, transitioning to trolling with crankbaits as summer takes hold. For ice fishing enthusiasts, setting up near drop-offs and utilizing tip-ups baited with live minnows is a tried-and-true method to secure your winter walleye haul.

 Houghton Lake

5. Torch Lake – Crystal Clear Waters

Torch Lake is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and offers outstanding fishing opportunities for lake trout, rainbow trout, and salmon. The stunning turquoise hues of the lake, combined with the lush surrounding forests, create a serene and picturesque fishing environment. For the best results, consider fishing near drop-offs and underwater structures, where these trout and salmon species tend to congregate. Trolling with spoons or using downriggers to reach the desired depths can be highly effective. Summer and early fall are the prime seasons to enjoy both the beauty and fishing opportunities that Torch Lake has to offer.

Torch Lake

6. Lake Huron – A Multispecies Playground

Lake Huron boasts a diverse fish population, making it a multispecies angler’s paradise. From chinook salmon to steelhead trout and perch, there’s no shortage of fish to target in this Great Lake. The northeastern shores, in particular, are popular among anglers. The best time to fish varies by species, but generally, spring and summer are fruitful months. When targeting salmon and trout, consider casting near rocky points and drop-offs, using lures such as spoons or plugs. If you’re after perch, small jigs and minnows are your go-to bait. Lake Huron truly offers something for every angler’s preferences and skill level.

Lake Huron

7. Grand Traverse Bay – Traverse City’s Treasure

Grand Traverse Bay offers a unique combination of smallmouth bass, lake trout, and cisco fishing. The picturesque surroundings, including the vibrant city of Traverse City, make it a must-visit destination for anglers and vacationers alike. Smallmouth bass enthusiasts will find success along rocky shorelines and drop-offs. Soft plastics or crankbaits are effective choices for luring bass. Lake trout, on the other hand, prefer deeper waters, making downriggers with spoons a reliable method. Late spring and early summer are ideal for smallmouth bass, while lake trout fishing remains excellent year-round. Whether you’re seeking trophy bass or delicious lake trout, Grand Traverse Bay has you covered.

 Grand Traverse Bay

8. Hamlin Lake – A Hidden Gem

Nestled within the boundaries of Ludington State Park, Hamlin Lake is a hidden gem for anglers seeking a tranquil and unspoiled fishing experience. This lake is home to a variety of fish species, including largemouth bass, northern pike, and panfish. The park’s natural beauty, including its serene forests and pristine waters, adds to the charm of this fishing destination. For those targeting largemouth bass or pike, fishing near submerged vegetation and fallen trees can yield excellent results. Consider using live bait or artificial lures to entice these species. Early morning and late evening are prime times to enjoy the peaceful serenity of Hamlin Lake while catching a variety of freshwater species.

Hamlin Lake

9. Lake Charlevoix – Smallmouth Bass Haven

Lake Charlevoix, known for its deep and clear waters, is a smallmouth bass haven in the heart of Michigan. The lake’s diverse underwater structure and abundant forage make it an ideal spot for bass enthusiasts. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the nearby Jordan River for even more angling opportunities. To target smallmouth bass, focus on fishing around rocky points, docks, and submerged structures. Soft plastic baits and jerk baits are effective choices. Spring and early summer are prime times for bass fishing, but you can also target other species, like pike and walleye, in this beautiful northern Michigan lake.

Lake Charlevoix

10. Pere Marquette River – Fly Fishing Paradise

For avid fly fishermen, the Pere Marquette River is a true paradise. It has gained renown for its steelhead and trout runs, offering thrilling fly fishing experiences amidst lush, forested surroundings. This meandering river provides a serene escape for anglers in search of tranquility and pristine nature. The fishing experience varies depending on the section of the river you choose. For steelhead, focus on the fall and spring runs, employing nymphs and streamers to tempt these elusive fish. When it’s time to target trout, try dry flies during the summer months. The Pere Marquette River promises a tranquil and rewarding fly fishing experience in the heart of Michigan.

Pere Marquette River

11. Au Sable River – A Trout Enthusiast’s Dream

The Au Sable River is renowned among trout enthusiasts for its abundant brown, brook, and rainbow trout. It stands out as a fly fishing destination like no other, thanks to the river’s meandering flow through the picturesque Huron National Forest. Anglers can explore various stretches of the river, each offering a unique angling experience. When targeting trout, consider using dry flies, nymphs, or streamers, depending on the prevailing conditions. Spring and early summer are ideal for hatches and active trout feeding. Whether you’re a seasoned fly angler or a beginner, the Au Sable River promises an unforgettable trout fishing adventure amidst pristine natural surroundings.

 Au Sable River

12. Burt Lake – The Inland Waterway Gem

Burt Lake, part of Michigan’s Inland Waterway, serves as a treasure trove for walleye, pike, and muskie. Anglers have the opportunity to explore connecting rivers and lakes, creating a comprehensive and exciting fishing adventure. When pursuing walleye, targeting shallower areas during their spring spawning runs can be highly productive, utilizing jigs and minnows. For pike and muskie, trolling or casting near weed beds and drop-offs often yields success. Late spring and early summer are prime times for these species, but you can enjoy fishing on Burt Lake and its surrounding waters throughout the year, making it a versatile and appealing destination for anglers of all skill levels.

Burt Lake

13. Crystal Lake – Pure Michigan Beauty

Last but certainly not least, Crystal Lake stands out for its stunning natural beauty and excellent fishing opportunities. This picturesque lake is a great spot for bluegill, perch, and bass, making it an ideal destination for families and solo anglers alike. To target bluegill and perch, explore areas near weed beds and drop-offs, employing small jigs or live bait to entice bites. When pursuing bass, soft plastic worms or crankbaits can be effective around submerged structures. The clear waters of Crystal Lake provide the perfect backdrop for a peaceful day of fishing, combined with the chance to reel in a variety of freshwater species that call this serene northern Michigan lake home.

crystal lake

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a fishing license to fish in Michigan?

Yes, most anglers aged 17 and older are required to have a fishing license in Michigan. You can purchase one online or at local bait shops.

Are there fishing tournaments held in these Michigan lakes?

Absolutely! Many of these lakes host fishing tournaments throughout the year. Check with local fishing organizations or event calendars to find out about upcoming tournaments and how to participate.

What’s the best lake in southwest Michigan for fishing?

The best lake for fishing in Southwest Michigan is typically Gull Lake. This picturesque lake is known for its abundant population of game fish, including bass, walleye, pike, and panfish. With its clear waters and scenic surroundings, Gull Lake offers a rewarding and relaxing fishing experience. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a beginner, this Southwest Michigan gem is a top choice for a successful day of fishing.

what is the best bass fishing lake in Michigan?

When it comes to bass fishing in Michigan, Lake St. Clair stands out as the best. This renowned lake is a haven for smallmouth bass enthusiasts. Its clear waters and ample underwater structures provide an ideal habitat for these feisty fish. Anglers flock to Lake St. Clair during spring and early summer for an exceptional bass fishing experience.

What is the best walleye fishing lakes in Michigan?

The best walleye fishing lakes in Michigan include Houghton Lake, Saginaw Bay, and Burt Lake. Houghton Lake is often referred to as the “Walleye Capital of the World,” while Saginaw Bay offers prime walleye fishing due to its shallow waters. Burt Lake, part of Michigan’s Inland Waterway, is also known for its walleye population, making it a top choice for anglers seeking these prized fish.