The Best Fishing in Michigan: Our Top 8 Lakes
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Where Can I Find the Best Fishing in Michigan
So here’s a question: in a state with more than 11,000 lakes, how do you narrow that down to the top eight? Draw straws? Reader polls? Navigate through thousands of pages of historical data?
In reality, there is a ton of subjectivity that goes into this list (or practically any other list you are going to find on the internet), but some things can be stated without question. For instance, Michigan is the only state situated on four of the five great lakes (Erie, Michigan, Huron, and Superior). Very few will dispute that these lakes will have a tremendous advantage in terms of fish species (both quantity and quality), amenities, resources, guide services, marinas, tournaments, lodging, etc.
Likewise, few will likely suggest that their local, 8-acre lake will provide a more complete overall fishing experience than some of the mammoth lakes that Michigan houses.
Fortunately, however, there are excellent fishing spots scattered throughout the state. While our list is meant to chronicle the best of the best, that certainly does not dismiss or disqualify any of the hundreds of other solid lakes throughout the state.
How We Decided Where to Find the Best Fishing in Michigan
In determining where to find the best fishing in Michigan, the Premier Angler team had to consider the following:
- History of Success: For each lake featured below, we considered how many quality fish anglers have caught on those waters both historically and in recent years. A proven track record goes a very long way. Lakes get a particularly large nod if they hold one or more Michigan state fishing records.
- Available Species: We also looked at data provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to determine the diversity of each body of water. Some lakes may have tremendous success producing one or two species, but lack the variety of other locations. Sometimes having a niche is good, but we also strongly consider variety and diversification.
- Accessibility: Michigan is a decent-sized state with perhaps the most unique geographical composition in the country. A trip from Ironwood in the UP to Lake Erie (near Monroe in southeast Michigan) would take drivers approximately ten hours in a vehicle. We took size, location, and access points into consideration. Also, it is worth noting that no private ponds appear in our list.
- Social Signals: What’s a good list without a human touch? In 2014, an impressive 888,983 anglers purchased a Michigan fishing license. By frequenting fishing forums, Facebook groups, and speaking with individuals who know the lay of the land, we took the “insider” route in fleshing out our list.
Honorable Mentions: Some Great Michigan Fishing Spots
As we said, Michigan has over 11,000 inland lakes. Would it really be fair or comprehensive to limit our list to a mere eight lakes? Let’s take a look at some excellent fishing locations in Michigan that’s didn’t quite make our Top 8 list:
Muskegon Lake: Located in the town of Muskegon, the lake’s namesake puts anglers in close proximity to Lake Michigan. At an impressive 4,150 acres, Muskegon Lake is home to the state record freshwater drum — a 28.61 pound, 34.02 inch fish caught in 2015. Walleye, northern pike, and various species of bass are popular on Muskegon.
Union Lake: Located in the eastern part of the state (northwest of Detroit and Lake St. Clair in Oakland County), Union Lake has been a popular recreational fishery for over a century. Covering 465 acres, Union Lake is only the tenth largest and third deepest in the county. That said, it is known to have some of the best walleye fishing in all of Michigan.
Cass Lake: Covering a healthy 1,280 acres, Cass Lake offers a wide variety of fishing species and quality ice fishing. Anglers fishing Cass Lake can expect to find a tremendous diversity of species, including crappie, yellow perch, carp, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, sunfish, walleye, yellow perch, and various species of catfish.
Lake Leelanau: Leelanau has two major factors working in its favor: first, it is located just inland from Lake Michigan, giving anglers a fantastic location. Second, it covers an impressive 14,000 acres, making it one of the largest inland fisheries in the state. It provides of 41 miles of scenic shoreline. Leelanau offers excellent trout, sunfish, perch, bass and walleye fishing as well.
And now, we take a look at the list of eight lakes that we determined the best in the state. Please note than no rivers or private waters were included in this list.
The 8 Best Fishing Lakes in Michigan
Sharing a border with Ontario, Canada, Lake Huron is one of four Great Lakes bordering Michigan. It is the third largest fresh water lake on the planet and covers an astounding surface area of 23,007 miles. It goes without saying that anglers will have more than enough area to fish for a lifetime on Huron alone.
With dozens of chartered and guide fishing options available, there is really no shortage of available species on Lake Huron. Depending on location, anglers can expect to encounter numerous species, including lake trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, sunfish, whitefish, various species of catfish, trout and salmon, walleye and white bass.
While Lake Erie is more closely associated with Ohio, Michigan anglers can capitalize on roughly thirty miles of shoreline that extends into the state. For those familiar with Erie, it is no shocker that thirty miles is more than enough to get into some incredible fishing.
Considered to have perhaps the best walleye fishing in the entire world, Lake Erie covers nearly 10,000 miles of surface area.
While Erie currently holds no Michigan state fishing records as of this writing, the sheer volume and diversity of species is astounding.
Anglers fishing these waters can expect to find world-class walleye, as well as rock bass, yellow and white perch, white bass, crappie, norther pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, muskie, and numerous species of both trout and salmon.
Covering an unbelievable 31,700 square surface miles, Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the entire world. Do we even have to mention the fact that there are an astonishing number of fish in that lake?
The biggest knocks on Superior would have to be its location (you’re making the trip to the UP for this one) and the fact that most anglers could never comprehensively fish the entire lake in a lifetime. That said, size isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case.
As of this writing, Lake Superior currently own the Michigan state record for both lake trout and lake whitefish. The Michigan state record lake trout weighed a hefty 61.5 pounds while the lake whitefish scaled in at a respectable 14.28 pounds. Both fish were caught in the 1990s — the trout in 1997 and the whitefish in 1993.
What other species can anglers expect to catch on Lake Superior? In addition to numerous species of trout and salmon, the lake also features yellow perch, walleye, white bass, northern pike, white perch, carp, muskie, sauger, and dozens more.
Since our list does not necessarily rank these lakes in any particular order, it makes sense to wrap up the Great Lakes with Lake Michigan.
By surface area, Lake Michigan spans 22,404 square surface miles, making it the third largest of the Great Lakes. An interesting factoid is this this surface area makes it slightly smaller in size than the state of West Virginia.
Fittingly, Lake Michigan is home to several Michigan state fishing records as of this writing. The Michigan state record rainbow trout, round whitefish, and Atlantic salmon were all caught on these waters.
What species of fish can be found on Lake Michigan? There are dozens of species on these waters. Like the other Great Lakes, anglers can find various species of salmon and trout on Lake Michigan.
The lake also produces both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass, whitefish, sunfish, yellow perch, lake sturgeon, muskie, and northern pike.
The Premier Angler staff went back-and-forth between Burt Lake and two of our honorable mentions when it came to choosing only one for the list. Ultimately, we went with Burt for a “Top 8” spot and we believe it was the right decision.
Located in Cheboygan County, Burt Lake at one point held the record for largest lake sturgeon caught in the United States. Spanning 17,120 acres, the lake is also absolutely massive. It offers roughly 35 miles of scenic shoreline.
Situated in the northern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Burt Lake’s excellent location was a deciding factor. Not only is it close to other inland lakes like Douglas Lake, Mullet Lake, and Black Lake, but it is a relatively short drive to both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It is also reasonably accessible to anglers who want to migrate down from the upper peninsula.
While Burt Lake does not include any current Michigan state fishing records as of this writing, the Popular species on Burt Lake include smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye and muskie.
Located toward the northeast side of the LP, Hubbard Lake covers a sizeable 8,850 acres of surface area, spanning two miles wide and seven miles long. It also spans the towns of Hawes, Alcona, and Caledonia.
This location separates Hubbard from other notable inland lakes but leaves it a short drive from Thunder Bay River State Forest and Lake Huron.
Surprisingly, Hubbard is not home to any current Michigan state fishing records as of this writing. That said, the lake does offer excellent fishing for numerous species.
Hubbard Lake is known to be well stocked with trout, tiger muskie, walleye, and northern pike. Locals regularly tout fantastic smallmouth bass and largemouth bass fishing as well.
The lake has a maximum depth of 85 feet and is known to offer excellent ice fishing.
If you like massive bodies of water, Michigan is definitely the state for you. If you’ve made it this far, however, you already know that.
Covering 1,143 square miles of surface area in the “thumb” of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Saginaw Bay is located slightly north of the city of Saginaw. It offers a prime fishing destination within a reasonable drive of larger cities like Lansing and Detroit.
As the bay feeds into Lake Huron, it also provides a quality fishery for anglers across five counties: Tuscola, Iosco, Arenac, Huron, and Bay.
The Michigan state record white bass was caught on Saginaw Bay in 1989. The 6.44 pound, 21.9 inch record was caught while trolling a Hot ‘n Tot.
Saginaw Bay offers numerous other popular species. As it is warmer and shallower than the main basin (Lake Huron), however, anglers can expect a different fishing experience.
Lake whitefish, yellow perch, and walleye tend to be the most popular species. Anglers can also expect to find good size and quantity of carp, bullhead, smallmouth bass, sunfish, sucker, northern pike, and largemouth bass.
Lake St. Clair
Finally, we have the world-famous Lake St. Clair.
Sandwiched between Detroit-area Michigan and Chatham-Kent, Ontario, Lake St. Clair may offer the best metropolitan proximity of any non-Great Lake in the state.
With a surface area of 430 square surface miles, St. Clair is yet another massive lake in the Wolverine State. St. Clair currently holds three Michigan state fishing records: Mooneye (1.69 pounds, caught on a worm in 1995), gizzard shad (4.12 pounds, caught on a Long Bomber in 1996), and American eel (7.44 pounds, caught on a live shad in 1990).
While these may not be the most exciting or popular game fish in the country, the lake has certainly produced its fair share of quality catches.
Some of the most popular fishing species on Lake St. Clair include northern pike, walleye, muskie, rock bass, white bass, bluegill, rainbow trout, sunfish, channel catfish, and white crappie.