Salmon fishing, always a big part of the summer angler’s agenda in Michigan, heats up in the second half of summer as the weather stabilizes and fish begin moving into the areas they’ll stage in before making their annual spawning runs. Now’s the time to book that trip on a charter boat or call your salmon fishing buddies to see if you can sneak aboard for a day or two, as before you know it, it’ll be fall.
The first question on many an angler’s mind is: Where do I go? And if action (meaning the most salmon) is the goal, Lake Michigan outshines the other Great Lakes in terms of producing fish. Among Lake Michigan salmon fishing destinations, two ports stand out for their catch rates (the number of salmon caught per angler per hour): Ludington and Manistee. Both regularly vie for the best catch-rates for salmon among both charter boats and recreational anglers, and both have significant rivers running into them (the Pere Marquette River and the Manistee River, respectively) that cause salmon to school up off their shores in late summer. As a bonus, both are delightful northern Lake Michigan port cities for a summertime visit.
“They’re neck and neck,” said Tracy Kolb, the fisheries biologist who follows recreational fishing results for the Department of Natural Resources. “They’re virtually identical.”
But they’re not the only options. Following closely behind is Montague/Whitehall, which is just north of Muskegon and is a lot closer to home to a lot more people than Northern Michigan ports. Onekama, Pentwater, and Frankfort are just a cut below Montague/Whitehall. Right behind them in terms of salmon catch per effort are South Haven, Grand Haven, and Rogers City.
Did you notice that one of that last trio is not like the other? Rogers City is in northern Lake Huron, roughly between the middle and fore fingers of the Mitten. Lake Huron’s salmon fishery has declined in recent years, due largely to a crash in the alewife population (the salmon’s main food item), though Rogers City continues to produce salmon at about the same rate as a couple of the better southern Lake Michigan ports. And though Lake Huron’s Chinook (aka king) salmon population has declined, it has an ace in the hole: Atlantic salmon.
Atlantics, which are reared in a facility run by Lake Superior State University on the St. Marys River, have helped fill in the gap left by the dwindling Chinook population. The St. Marys is the best Atlantic salmon fishery anywhere inshore from the East Coast, and salmon fishing charters on Lake Huron on the eastern Upper Peninsula catch them regularly in late summer.
Lake Superior, similarly, lacks a large population of king salmon, though a number of Lake Superior ports—led by Marquette, with Grand Marais and Au Train following close behind—boast some of the best catch rates in the state for coho salmon, the somewhat smaller (and some say tastier) cousins of the kings. There are few places anywhere more beautiful than the Lake Superior shore in summer.
Keep in mind, too, the amenities other than fishing when picking a salmon fishing destination. Grand Haven is just a short jaunt from Grand Rapids, a major metropolitan city with plenty of attractions for visitors. Saugatuck and Douglas, at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, are major tourist destinations for the artsy and shopping crowd.
There are a myriad of choices when it comes to Great Lakes charter boat fishing. But if it’s salmon—especially king salmon—that you have on your mind, Ludington and Manistee are the top ports when it comes to salmon caught per hour of effort and both have a large fleet of charter boats ready to show you what Great Lakes salmon fishing is all about.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images by Bob Gwizdz