Angling Fame Is Its Diversity…
There is a growing cadre of anglers who claim that Ludington, is the best port on the Great Lakes. It’s a statement that would be pretty hard to argue with.
Ludington’s claim to angling fame is its diversity. Pick a month, any month during the open water season, and there’s some great fishing to be had at this west Michigan port.
Spring finds rotund brown trout patrolling the near-shore waters, pier heads and Pere Marquette Lake. By mid-May, silvery king salmon that are surging north and average 5 to 20 pounds, make an appearance and provide hot near-shore action until mid-June.
Temperature barriers, scum lines and offshore steelhead beckon anglers to make the 10- to 20-mile run to explore chilling fog banks, ooohh and aaahh over spectacular jumps and watch rainbows smack spoons trailed behind in-line boards within a fathom of the surface. July is smorgasbord time at Ludington and is the best time to take a Great Lake’s Grand Slam.
Cohos, kings, steelhead, lake trout, and browns are common catches. Pink and Atlantic salmon and even coaster brook trout add to the variety. August and September finds schools of both naturally reproduced and planted king salmon amassing off the structure between Ludington and Big Point Sable before heading upstream to procreate. There are locals who claim the steelhead fishing in October and November off the breakwalls and in the big-lake is surreal.
Add to this the incredible natural beauty that the Ludington area is famous for, sand dunes, the pristine beaches, thousands of acres of national forest to explore, canoeing and fishing the Pere Marquette River, great boating facilities, nearby Hamlin Lake, White Pine Village, Ludington State Park, the car ferry Badger and you’ve got the total package. Lodging facilities abound. It’s no wonder Ludington is a favorite destination for angling families.
Anglers begin to creep out on to the Ludington piers in March most years. The piers can be ice-covered and treacherous then, so caution is advised. Their quarry is browns and steelies that are cruising the shallows after waking from their winter torpor. The trout greedily gobble up offerings of spawn and minnows anchored in the surf via pyramid sinkers tethered to rods watched intently by pier groupies. Menominee whitefish add to the mix.
The spring brown trout fishery off Ludington is a favorite with small boat anglers. The fishing is uncomplicated. Most anglers troll with long lines trailing body baits like Rapalas, Bombers or Rebels on flat lines or off in-line boards. A prime area is a mile or so north of the harbor off the mouth of the Lincoln River. Troughs, irregular structure and the tepid input from the river collects spring trout there. The browns average three to five pounds, but fish topping 20 pounds are taken every year. Inside the harbor can be a hotspot on blustery days. The color line where the Pere Marquette River spills into Lake Michigan is a natural attraction, too. South of the harbor try off Buttersville and south of the Consumer’s Energy Project along the beach in 10 to 20 feet of water.
Spring kings are often an enigma, even at Ludington. During normal years, the silvery Chinooks show up by mid-May along with lake trout and a spattering of steelhead. Usually the kings can be found in 50 to 100 feet of water in the top 40 feet. Shallow divers and half-cores excel then. Magnum-sized spoons are the bait of choice. Anglers visiting Ludington don’t want to head out without some Yeck or Dreamweaver spoons. The locally made products gained their reputation by proving that kings can’t resist them. Two all-time Ludington favorites are the M&M Glow and Wart Frog. No tackle box should be without them. Other Ludington producers include Pro Kings, Fishlanders and Silver Streaks. Green and yellow shades highlighted with glow tape are tops for kings.
Ludington is the starting point in north central Lake Michigan for fantastic offshore steelhead action. Upwelling currents, cold water and wind cause thermal barriers to begin forming off Ludington beginning in mid June. The breaks and water then gradually work north and dissipate as the season progresses. Until it does, the fishing has to be seen to be believed. I personally have had five tail- walking, cart wheeling steelhead on at one time. Talk about a fire drill!! Surface temperature maps (www.coastwatch.msu.edu) help pinpoint the breaks and savvy captains then use their eyes and surface temperature gauges to locate productive water. Bump up the trolling speed to 3 or 3.5 mph, deploy a spread of in-line planers and shallow divers and go on the hunt. You can use any color spoon you want- as long as it’s orange. Fishlander’s “Jelly Bean” in the #1 size was hot last year, as are Pro King’s Fireball and Dreamweaver’s Ruby Red. Smaller baits turn the trick on the lake-run rainbows.
Thermoclines, structure and baitfish begin to concentrate salmonids in July of Ludington. “The Ledge” between the Bath House at Ludington State Park and Big Point Sable begins to collect fish then. When a downrigger pops you never know what will be on the other end. Variety is the spice of life at Ludington in July. Top rigs are full cores, ‘riggers and super-ringed divers spotted from 40 to 70 feet over the 80- to 300-foot depths. Good locations besides the ledge are straight out of the harbor five miles and south off the Consumer’s Project.
Huge schools of pre-spawn kings converge on Ludington during August and September, as do hordes of anglers. It’s not uncommon to see upwards of 300 boats on the water off Big Point Sable when the kings are tightly schooled. Anglers have two options- join the fray and take your lumps or find your own little piece of heaven. Doing so isn’t difficult. Anglers will find elbowroom and plenty of kings straight out of the harbor from as shallow as 50 feet west to 200 feet. Start shallow at first light and then head west young man. Off the Consumer’s Project anglers will find solitude and a gauntlet of Indian trap nets. Use caution.
Tools for the late summer kings include flasher and fly combos, plugs and super mag-sized spoons. Dreamweaver’s Spin Doctor in white and green mated to green or mirage Action Flies, KRW Flies and Weapon Lure’s Tri Fli are hot combinations when the kings get an attitude.
Late August and September find Pere Marquette Lake packed with pre-spawn Chinooks bound for the Pere Marquette River. Anglers in crafts of all shapes and sizes converge on the “swamp” where weekends resemble Detroit rush hour traffic. Downriggers with long leads and divers pulling chrome/redhead, pearl, or green/yellow-belly/black ladder-backed #4 J-plugs and flasher/fly combos irk temperamental kings into lashing out.
Once the Chinooks enter the river anglers will find great sport using in-line spinners, crankbaits and flies as the salmon begin their spawning ritual from Scottville upstream to Baldwin on the P.M.
Salmonids aren’t the only thing with fins swimming off Ludington. The once-famous perch fishery off the Project has fallen on hard times in past years, but there are signs that it’s making a comeback. Yellow-bellies up to 16 inches can be taken during June and July. A tremendous smallmouth bass fishery exists along the breakwall riprap, off the structure found off the Lincoln River and in P.M. Lake. Few take advantage of it. Brown bass in the four- to five-pound range are no big deal. A gang of tight-lipped locals has tried to keep the burgeoning spring walleye fishery quiet. Zealots fling Countdown Rapalas off the breakwalls throughout the night for ‘eyes that will average 7 or 8 pounds. Northerns are almost a menace in P.M. Lake when searching for other species, like the platter-sized crappies the lake is famous for.
Five thousand acre Hamlin Lake, five miles north of Ludington, claims one of the state’s best warm-water fisheries. Bordered on the west and north sides by Ludington State Park and Huron-Manistee National Forest, Hamlin Lake is home to a hodge podge of game fish. The main draws are slab bluegills, walleye and lots of chunky smallmouths. Resorts that cater to fishing families ring the lake.
Ludington has the total package. Great fishing, great facilities and plenty of things to see and do. It’s no wonder it’s such a popular vacation/angling destination.
Geared to serving tourists and anglers, Ludington and Mason County has plenty of great places to stay and eat.
Places To Eat
Michael’s Bar and Grille, (231) 845-7411, casual dining featuring pizza, steaks, seafood and an awesome bourbon-basted pork chop.
Old Hamlin Restaurant, (231) 843-4251, to-die-for homemade French toast and pies and it opens early for anglers.
P.M. Steamers, (231) 843-9555, casual dining overlooking the Ludington City Marina and P.M. Lake.
Place to Stay
Vista Villa Motel, (231) 843-9320, clean, reasonable and caters to fisherman.
Snyder’s Pier House, (231) 845-7345
Lighthouse Motel, (231) 845-6117.
Country Haven Resort, (231) 845-5882.
Waterside Resort & Marina, (231) 843-8481.
North Bayou Resort & Marina, (231) 845-5820.
Ludington Area Charter Boat Association, (800) 927-3470.
For More Information
Ludington Municipal Marina, (231) 843-9611.
Harbor View Marina, 231) 843-6032.
Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 800) 542-4600, www.ludingtoncvb.com