Types of Fish in Lake Michigan

Besides offering great scenarios, and tourist attraction sites with its shorelines, tributaries, islands, and bays, Lake Michigan boasts some of the most popular fish species in the world.

You would be surprised at the options you get here as an angler. All you need is excellent fishing skills, the best fishing equipment, and a basket for your catch. Here are some of the types of fish found in Lake Michigan.


Salomon is anadromous, and Lake Michigan boasts of some of the greatest and most exciting species. Here you will come across two types of salmon: Coho and Chinook salmons.

Coho Salmon

The introduction of Coho salmon to Lake Michigan was an experiment to prove that the lake wasn’t suitable for spawning. The researcher planned to eliminate the species by simple biological control suppose they found out that the addition of this fish was a mistake. But it proved to be a success, and they instead left it to grow.

 The Coho salmon is silver on the sides and dark blue on the back, hence its other name, silver salmon. They are not as big a to s Chinook salmons but give some exciting pound-for-pound angling action.

A typical Coho weighs about 8 to 12 pounds and measures between 24 and 30 inches in length. You can easily distinguish them from Chinook by their lack of gray gums and black spots on the lobe beneath the tail

These salmon spawn in spring and fall and are plentiful between October and November. But you will still get a massive amount of Coho salmon between May and early June.

Young Coho salmon tend to swim close to the shores to feed on the plankton. As they grow, they gradually migrate into the waters and shift their diet from plankton to small fish.  

Chinook Salmon

Chinooks came to Lake Michigan because of the success brought in by their Coho counterpart. After realizing that Coho was a sensation and that the lake was a suitable salmon spawning habitat, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources planted the giant Chinook salmon. It was part of another project to control alewife.

Chinook salmon, otherwise known as King salmon or Blackmouth, is the most prominent member of the salmon family, so expect the best angling action when targeting this giant. They spawn in larger, deeper waters than other salmon and are abundantly available in spawning nests from September to December.

They are purple, blue-green, or red on the back and top of their heads, with white ventral surfaces and silvery sides. They have black spots on the tail and parts of their bodies. They also have black gums that appear in both freshwater and saltwater.

Adult Chinooks vary in size, measuring between 24 to 36 inches in length, which at times may go up to 58 inches. They average 4.5 to 22.7 kg but may reach 59 kg.


The population of trout in Lake Michigan today results from the Lakewide Rehabilitation Plan started in 1985 by the Lake Michigan Technical Committee of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

It was a recovery strategy to save the declining population that threatened extinction. In 2019 Lake Michigan reported over 0.77 million kg, a remarkable statistic for anyone looking to target this species.

Here are some of the types of trout you can catch in Lake Michigan;

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout are meat-eating fish that largely depend on insects, mollusks, fish, fish eggs, and crustaceans as their source of food.

The rainbow trout has a potentially confusing double identity but remains a firm freshwater favorite in North America. Lake Michigan is a rainbow trout spawning haven, thanks to its numerous tributaries. These special attacks bait and lures with zeal making it an incredible and exciting target to anglers.

Light tackles are the best way to face this fish. It provides better rod-bending actions, but fly fishing is also becoming more popular amongst local anglers.

These trout are freshwater fish that love the swift runs and riffle parts of the streams. They live in lakes, small creeks, water reservoirs, and dams. They prefer cold, clean, and well-oxygenated habitats.  The best time to target this species is late in the summer as you won’t have to go to the depths of the water body.

A typical adult Rainbow trout averages 20 to 23 inches in length and can weigh between 4 to 8 pounds. Those found in great lakes like Lake Michigan can live between 6 to 8 years. However, the ones that inhabit small streams have shorter lives spanning between 3 to 4 years only.

Steelhead Trout 

Steelhead trout have much resemblance to the rainbow trout. For instance, steel trout have squarish tails with black spots and a typical trout shape with signature adipose fins. Like rainbow trout, they feed on meat from their prey.

The only difference is that steelheads are silverier with a broad pink or red stripe on the sides. Steal heads are also giant, growing between 2 and 10 times bigger.

Brook Trout 

Brook trout have olive backs with warm-like markings, and white trimmed fins, and fiery spotted flanks. They are one of the most colorful and beautiful freshwater fish. They love to feed on readily available food, small fish, minnows, and insects.

Brook trout live in clear, cold mountains, streams, and lakes, preferring water temperatures between 57 and 61 degrees. An average adult brook measure between 10 and 12 inches long and weighs around 40 to 6 pounds. They are slow-growing with lives for up to 8 years.

Yellow Perch

Yellow perch is native Lake Michigan panfish that forms a perfect table fare. The best thing is that you can always catch them with the most straightforward fishing techniques as they feed on baitfish like shiners and alewives. They may also eat invertebrates like midge larvae and water fleas.

The perch spawns from April to June and may be concentrated or scattered, depending on environmental conditions. During winter, they form schools around harbors and warm water areas like boat slips. You are likely to find pre-spawn perches about 50 to 80 feet deep into the water in springs.

They move into shallower water around 20 to 50 feet deep in summer and begin to scatter as we welcome fall.

Locating a yellow perch can be an arduous task, but they will provide some fast action once you find them. Perch typically hung deep down the lake, although the mat is available a few feet from the surface.

Most anglers in Lake Michigan systematically wander around as they make schools with their depth finders; with good electronics, you have a high chance of finding a school.

Smallmouth Bass

Lake Michigan is also famous for bass fishing, especially along the shorelines. Small species weighing between 2 and 14 pounds are a more straightforward catch, with 5 pounds being the most common.

Smallmouth bass begins to appear in spring and stay the entire summer. They especially love the southern coast of the lake because of the rocks and structures.  


Lake Michigan is also home to the walleye species. Port Indiana has warm water that attracts large schools of this species in the fall, winter, and spring.

Walleye start to spawn in spring and migrate to feeder streams. However, some do not make it that far and choose to seek shelter in weeds, shoals, and bars. In the summer, females migrate into deep waters during the day, but males stay in the spawning areas in shallow waters. Walleyes are less active during the autumn and spring.

To get the best walleye catch, make your first cast early in the morning or late in the evening. When angry, walleyes will feed on anything edible.

Adults feed on other fish species like the yellow perch, but they will eat several different fish species. They also eat minnows, snails, crayfish, frogs, small mammals, and mudpuppies.  Juvenile walleye feed on invertebrates and small.

A typical adult walleye measures 22.3 inches and may go up to 42 inches long

Can You Fish from Shore in Lake Michigan?

Shore fishing is a popular art in Lake Michigan, especially for salmon and trout. You can apply different tips and techniques depending on the fish you are targeting, environmental conditions, and the year’s time.

Summer fishing from the shores of Lake Michigan targets smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and other fish. Trout and salmon cruise on the shore in darkness, so you might target them at night.   

Are Their License Requirements for Fishing in Lake Michigan?

There are a few rules that you must follow before you can cast your net or hook in Lake Michigan. First, you must have a fishing license if you are above 17 years. If you are a minor, you do not necessarily need a license but must follow all other rules and regulations. An adult assisting a minor may also not need a fishing license.

Michigan fishing licenses vary in duration; you may pay for the per-day option or go for an annual subscription. It may cost between $10 to 76 dollar depending on the period you are subscribing for and the type of fish you want to target—an annual fishing license for all specials costs $26.

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