For those of us who live in the Great Lakes region, great trout and salmon fishing is something we often take for granted. To my way of thinking, Michigan is center stage to some of the best cold water fishing opportunities in the five Great Lakes. No matter what fish species you covet or what your fishing budget might be, avid anglers will find a virtual “bucket list” full to overflowing with world class fishing destinations.
Choose your pick of the litter among these must experience fisheries, or go crazy and fish all four. Call it the “Grand Slam” of Great Lakes fishing trips, each of the four destinations outlined here are guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a new cover photo on your Facebook page.
The Niagara Bar
Hands down the biggest rush in freshwater sport fishing comes to us thanks to the introduction of king salmon into the Great Lakes back in the 1960s. No other species pulls as hard, strips more drag or makes our hearts pump faster than an adult king salmon.
While salmon fishing in the Great Lakes has seen some ups and downs over the years, historically one destination provides not only the most consistent fishing success, but also the biggest fish. A classic piece of fishing structure known as the Niagara Bar located near the mouth of the Niagara River on Lake Ontario routinely produces limit catches of not only king salmon, but also coho, brown trout, lake trout and steelhead.
Because the Niagara Bar is only a few miles offshore, this fish magnet is accessible not just to for hire charter boats, but also to recreational fishermen who own and fish from small boats. Salmon and lake trout stack up along the Niagara Bar in early spring soon after ice out when water temperatures creep into the 40 degree range. Fishing is literally red hot in April and May, with most of the catch being king salmon, cohos, lake trout and the occasional Atlantic salmon.
As the surface waters gradually warm, the salmon and trout slip off the bar, set up in deeper water and steelhead join the party. During June and July this region of Lake Ontario provides the most consistently excellent open water salmon and trout trolling in the Great Lakes.
By late August and throughout the month of September adult salmon are back up on the Niagara Bar staging to make spawning runs into the Niagara River.
To learn more about the fishing opportunities of the Niagara Bar visit the site www.niagarafallusa.com for a complete list of captains and motels that cater to visiting anglers.
Lake Erie Chrome
Steelhead are found in all five Great Lakes, but hands down the best offshore steelhead fishing is found in the Great Lake you would least expect to support these cold water fish. Lake Erie has more steelhead than the other Great Lakes combined, thanks to some aggressive stocking efforts by the Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Ontario fisheries divisions.
During the middle of the summer, the majority of the steelhead planted in Lake Erie migrate to the north shore where the water is deeper and cooler. Between the ports of Wheatley and Erieu, Ontario, a summer trolling fishery for steelhead thrives that has to be seen firsthand to be fully appreciated.
Steelhead are normally associated as being a “bonus catch” in most places of the Great Lakes. Catching a few of these silver bullets on any given day is considered excellent fishing. Along Erie’s north shore, limit catches of steelhead are the norm and the limit is generous at five fish per person!
Countless times in recent years I’ve taken a four man limit of steelhead without breaking a sweat. No place else in the Great Lakes can make this claim. For the avid angler who loves to target open water steelhead, the place to be is the north shore of Erie in summer.
Stannard Rock Trout
To the angler who appreciates the native lake trout, no place can match the trophy potential of Stannard Rock. This five mile long reef system located over 40 miles offshore in Lake Superior, is only visited by a handful of avid anglers, adventure seekers and charter captains in any given year.
I’ve had the pleasure of fishing Stannard Rock six times in recent years and I would jump at the opportunity to return as many times as my schedule and the weather will allow. Weather is the big issue in that no one with half a brain is heading to Stannard Rock unless the weather window is perfect.
Late June and the month of July are the most stable weather months in the Great Lakes and the best times to plan a trip to this lake trout mecca. During this time of year the surface waters at Stannard Rock are also typically in the 50 degree range, setting the stage for finding trophy fish in shallow water and also near the surface.
Jigging is the most popular means of targeting these fish, but a growing number of anglers are casting oversized swimbaits in an effort to target the mega-giants this region of Lake Superior is famous for producing.
At Stannard Rock a 20 pound lake trout is nothing but an average catch. What anglers who make the trek to the “rock” are really looking for are fish north of 30 pounds and the chance of catching something approaching 40 pounds! No place else in the Great Lakes can an angler catch more and bigger lake trout than at Stannard Rock.
If you decide to target Stannard Rock, it’s a good idea to make your first few visits with a seasoned captain who is familiar with the waters and the most productive fishing tactics. In our book, Captain Travis White who owns www.keweenawcharters.com is the guy who has the best handle on what it takes to put trophy lake trout in the boat.
Milwaukee Is Brown Town
When I was just cutting my teeth in the sport fishing industry, Lake Michigan was the place to be if you wanted to catch lots of brown trout and trophy sized fish. Those days are but a distant memory and currently the best brown trout fishing is found on the western shore of Lake Michigan from Racine to Sheboygan Wisconsin.
Milwaukee is smack in the middle of the best brown trout fishing an angler could hope for. In part the fishing in this region is exceptional because of the aggressive stocking efforts, but Milwaukee also has lots of near shore structure that holds these trout in predictable places, warm water discharges and inflowing rivers that concentrate fish and a huge marina system that provides a ton of protected waters readily accessible to the angler who’s looking for a personal best brown trout.
The average brown trout taken in this region of Lake Michigan during April and early May would be about eight to 10 pounds. However, browns north of 20 pounds are very common here and a few 30 pound giants are taken every year!
Wisconsin still stocks the Seeforellen strain of brown trout that grows to enormous size on a steady diet of alewives, gizzard shad, smelt and round goby. Because these browns are gorging themselves on a wide variety of baitfish, wobbling plugs fished behind in-line planer boards tend to be the best set up in the springtime.
The Fishing 411 team has visited this region of Lake Michigan each of the past three springs and has found that the 3.0 and 3.5 Yakima Mag Lip produces limit catches just about every day on the water. A host of colors have produced browns for us over the years, but the two most consistently productive colors are Metallic Gold Flame and Metallic Silver Red Herringbone or NFL for short.
Summing It Up
These four red hot trout and salmon destinations are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of noteworthy places to fish in the Great Lakes region. Pick your poison and get out often, because the Great Lakes are also full of great fisheries.