Salmon Fishing in Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan Salmon Fishing


A couple weeks ago, I participated in a fishing tournament out in Lake Michigan. It was out of Ludington, Michigan - which we spoke about in the Midwest travel blog not too long ago. From Chicago, Ludington is about a 4/4.5-hour drive depending on traffic and construction. Ludington is a great fishing port and has a lot of other outdoors options to take part in (biking, camping, disc golf, golfing and many more).  Depending on the time of year there is always something to do outside. The Pere Marquette River is what dumps into Lake Michigan and starts miles East, close to the town of Baldwin. The Pere Marquette is known for its fishing but there is a lot of history here. The Pere Marquette River was the first river in the United States to be stocked with Brown Trout from Germany!   


The fishing tournament was a great time with friends and enjoyed being outside on the water. This was a tournament out on Lake Michigan, specifically trying to catch salmon and trout. I enjoy fishing with friends, but the added competitive part and strategy of a tournament makes it more exciting for us all. The secrets of where people are finding fish and the friendly rabble rousing are all part of the fun.

We were able to find fish each day and be competitive. Finishing near the top of the field each day and even winning big fish for the amateur division for the main pro/am. A 25lb salmon won us this spot! I could talk for days about different techniques, where we fished and fishing in general but the main point of me writing this is to talk about the history or salmon in Lake Michigan and all the great lakes.


Did you know there are salmon in Lake Michigan?

king salmon from Ludington


What is a fish from the Pacific Northwest doing here? Their story starts with the alewife, a small baitfish related to the herring. The alewife entered the Great Lakes through shipping. By way of the St. Lawrence Seaway, through the Wellland Canal that bypasses Niagara Falls and from there the fish slowly made it way through the Great Lakes. This baitfish flourished and population exploded. The alewives populated the lake so much that the lake could not sustain the population. Every year there would be massive die offs and the alewives would wash up along all the beaches around Lake Michigan. Backhoes would bury them on the beaches or scoop them up to be used as fertilizer. You or your parents may remember this happening. How do you fix a problem like this, what could you do to combat a small invasive species that has gotten out of control?

Howard Tanner, the newly appointed Chief of Michigan’s Department of Conservation Fish Division was told by his boss to, “Do something. And if you can, make it spectacular.”

He had to idea of turning this into a recreational fishing opportunity by introducing a non-native species that would be a great predator for the alewives. His thought was to introduce Coho salmon. Tanner had some experience working with coho salmon in his previous role in Colorado.

In 1964 he obtained a batch of kokanee salmon eggs from a hatchery in the Pacific Northwest. In the spring of that year, the fingerling salmon were dumped into a northern Michigan creek but never seen of heard of again. Fast forward two years and the same experiment was tried again with coho salmon. Several hundred thousand fingerling coho salmon were dumped into the Platte River and Bear Creek in Northern Michigan. This time the salmon thrived, and biologists saw returns of salmon to the rivers they started their life in. Today, great lakes recreational fishing is roughly a $7 billion industry and this all started from an experiment. Pretty Wild!! This is a condensed version and you can learn more about this great story.

Out West, the life cycle of a salmon is that its born in a river, spend the first year or so growing in the river then go out to the ocean to grow before returning to the river they grew up in to spawn and create the next generation. Here in the Midwest, the salmon have quickly adapted to not being in salt water. It’s amazing though how an animal can quickly adapt to a new environment like this.

Today, hatcheries help manage to fish populations. One being the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery in Southwest Michigan. Mattawan, Michigan which is just a little West of Kalamazoo. It is a family friendly place to check out and learn about the process of how a hatchery operates for managing fish populations.

If you ever want to chat local fishing, let me know!

Salmon fishing Lake Michigan

1 comment

  • Tammy

    Thank for settling an argument between my husband and me. During a recent Michigan getaway, he said there were salmon in the lake. I said there couldn’t possibly be any because they are only in the Pacific Northwest. Then I read your blog. My husband won. Though I think I should get partial credit because the salmon aren’t native species to Lake Michigan. 😁

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published