14 Best Salmon Fishing Rivers and Lakes in Michigan

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Michigan, the Great Lakes State, offers anglers world-class salmon fishing. From its scenic rivers to expansive lakes, the best salmon fishing in Michigan boasts a diverse range of fishing destinations that bring anglers from around the world.

Michigan’s wealth of lakes and rivers ensures that anglers have access to some of the finest salmon fishing in the country.

From the iconic Manistee River to the picturesque Platte River, epic salmon runs from Lake Huron and Lake Michigan fill the rivers every fall. Michigan is truly a bucket list destination for salmon anglers.

So, pack your gear, study the regulations, and get out there to catch a few.
Choosing the right water from among so many options can be one of the most challenging parts of the search for salmon.

We’ve narrowed down that search with this list of exceptional salmon fisheries.

The Best Salmon Waters in Michigan

Michigan is the land that just keeps giving to us anglers. Whether you want to catch a Chinook, a coho, a pink, or an Atlantic salmon, this state’s got you covered.

Manistee River

The Manistee River, situated in the northern Lower Peninsula, is undoubtedly one of Michigan’s premier salmon fishing rivers. It boasts impressive runs of Chinook and coho salmon, attracting anglers from across the country.

The Manistee’s scenic beauty and diverse fishing opportunities make it a favorite among salmon enthusiasts.

The Manistee River flows over 190 miles of the Northwestern Peninsula, and along the route, it has some very hot spots to check out.

The majority of the catch happens from the mouth at Manistee to the Tippy Dam near Wellston, a couple of dozen miles upriver from Lake Michigan and less than two hours north of Grand Rapids.

Wellston claims the moniker of the “Steelhead and Salmon Capital of the Great Lakes.” They have plenty of lodging, camping, bait shops, food, and everything else you need.

The Tippy Dam is the first major obstacle the salmon face, and as such, they stack below it in huge numbers. This section includes the Tippy Dam Recreation Area and is one of the heaviest fished waters in the state, so be prepared for a crowd.

Start your trek in the Rainbow Bend area and work your way to the Bear Creek boat launch. This reach should be loaded with salmon as early as mid-August and stay active through October.

Next, try the High Bridge Boat Launch area. Be sure to try out Sawdust Hole. The fishing there can be unbelievable, with less pressure than the main channel.

After Sawdust Hole, you’ll be in the range of Tippy Dam and possibly the best salmon section in all of Michigan.

Salmon tend to hold in deeper pools and slower-moving sections of the river, especially during the early stages of their run. These areas provide them with resting spots as they navigate upstream.

Drift boats help you deal with the strong current, as wading can be tricky.

Beyond the dam can be hit or miss, though several sections boast high catch rates. The river has plenty of shoreline access throughout its length, so if anglers overrun one spot, head a short walk upstream, and you’ll likely find room.

Above the dam, also consider turning your attention toward some of Michigan’s better trout fishing.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Manistee River

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is huge, with several cities spread along its shores.

There are massive salmon runs that stage in the lake’s deep waters starting in June and peaking between July and September as they prepare to spawn in the rivers of Michigan.

One of the best options for catching salmon here is to hire a guide service. The lake is just too big for many anglers to take on alone. Unless you’ve had success fishing in the past on Lake Michigan, a guide will more than pay for themselves.

Trolling stands out as Lake Michigan’s preferred way to catch salmon. During the summer, when salmon are at their most plentiful, they head straight for the deeper, cooler waters of the lake.

Trolling allows you to spread multiple lines throughout this massive fishery, covering plenty of ground. That will give you an advantage as you cruise over the deeper sections.

Everything you need can be found along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. There are far too many to list here, so just know you can find whatever you need for the trip.

If you want to take a break for some easier fishing, many spots along the Lake Michigan shoreline offer excellent yellow perch fishing.

Pere Marquette River (and Lake)

Renowned for its crystal-clear water and picturesque surroundings, the Pere Marquette River offers excellent salmon fishing experiences.

The stream empties into Lake Michigan at Ludington, which has some nice beaches and plenty of amenities.

Its impressive salmon runs in the fall make the Pere Marquette a must-fish destination for anglers seeking trophy-sized catches.

Salmon runs typically occur here from late August through October. Keep an eye on local reports and monitor water temperature to gauge when the salmon are most active.

The river has over 60 miles of pristine, free-flowing water from the mouth. It’s the longest undammed river in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

Most of the stretch is limited to fly fishing only. Therefore, it gets less pressure during the runs and is perfect for the fly anglers among us (we know you’re there!).

Large, brightly colored flies such as egg patterns, streamers, and leech imitations can trigger aggressive strikes.

Opt for heavy sink tips or sinking lines to reach the desired depth. Swing your fly across the current or dead drift it near likely holding spots, paying close attention to the movements of the fish.

Drift fishing is a popular technique on the Pere Marquette River, especially for Chinook (king) salmon.

Use a medium to heavy spinning rod paired with a quality reel. Employ a drift fishing setup consisting of a slip sinker, bead, and bait such as cured salmon eggs or spawn bags.

Cast your bait upstream and allow it to drift naturally with the current, periodically bouncing it along the river bottom to mimic natural prey.

Check with current regulations to ensure you’re in an area where bait is allowed.

Another great spot on the river is at the mouth, where the river flows into Pere Marquette Lake in Ludington. The lake is a multi-species fishery, and you also can load up on yellow perch just about year-round here.

Early season runs happen when a north wind blows colder water into the area. Once the salmon find the cold water, they’ll run into the lake, where jigging in 40 to 60 feet of water can be very effective.

Trolling in the same 40-60 feet depth range is also effective.

Big Chinook fill the upper portion of the lake, making their way to the Pere Marquette River on the east side. Troll back and forth through the deeper sections for your best chance.

The Pere Marquette River is also a fantastic steelhead fishery that is close to other prime fishing spots like the Manistee River and Lake Michigan.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Pere Marquette River

St. Mary’s River

Connecting Lake Superior and Lake Huron, the St. Mary’s River is a prime location for salmon fishing.

The St. Mary’s strong currents and abundant forage make it an ideal habitat for Chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon. Anglers can enjoy a unique fishing experience as they navigate these dynamic waters.

Focus on areas with structure, such as rocky outcrops, drop-offs, and deep holes. Look for current breaks, eddies, and seams where salmon tend to congregate.

Pay attention to temperature changes and baitfish presence, as these can indicate where the salmon will likely be holding.

The peak season typically occurs from mid-August to early October when Chinook (King) and coho salmon make their way upstream.

Late every June, the 2- to 5-year-old Atlantic salmon travel upstream from Lake Huron through the St. Mary’s River. Atlantic salmon stage behind the Sault Edison hydro plant, which makes for a premier fishery from June through August.

Fly anglers from around the world travel to the St. Mary’s River to fish Atlantic salmon every summer.

Atlantic salmon are known for their fight. Pound for pound, they’re considered one of the strongest fighters in the fishing world. Incredible flying jumps, burning runs down to the backing, and violent head shakes are common.

Getting into the backing on your fly reel is a jaw-dropping experience. These fish are on fire and aggressively smash flies.

Betsie River

Known for its fall salmon runs, the Betsie River provides epic angling opportunities. Its proximity to Lake Michigan ensures a constant influx of salmon, offering anglers the chance to hook into both Chinook and coho salmon.

The Betsie River experiences two primary salmon runs. The Chinook typically start arriving in late August, and fishing peaks in September, followed by coho, which peaks around mid-October.

You can catch salmon in the Betsie River from both the bank and boats. Drift fishing with spawn sacks, plugs, and spoons is a standard method. Cast your bait upstream and let it drift naturally downstream, mimicking the salmon’s prey.

Center pin reels are popular among some anglers for float fishing techniques. This technique involves using a float, shot weights, and bait to present your offering at a more precise depth and drift.

Fly fishing for salmon can be super productive, especially during the early stages of the runs. Large streamer patterns like woolly buggers or egg-sucking leeches can bring on epic battles.

The Betsie River offers several access points for anglers. The most popular fishing areas are near Homestead Dam, Railroad Bridge, and the Betsie Valley Trail Bridge.

Reach out to local bait shops. They can provide up-to-date information on fishing conditions, techniques, and any recent regulation changes. They will typically also offer advice on tackle.

Elberta and Beulah have plenty of hotels, campgrounds, and all the food you’ll need for the trip.

Platte River

Nestled in the incredible Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Platte River is a haven for salmon fishing. Known for its large runs, the Platte is a great destination fishery for salmon.

The river also produced the largest official coho salmon caught in Michigan, setting the state record mark at over 30 pounds.

The salmon run from late summer to early fall, usually peaking in September. Spinners, flies, and drifting bait are all productive. Streamers like leeches should produce for fly fishing.

Drift an egg sack through deep pools and just above the riffle sections. This can prove to be the most productive technique on the river.

The stretch of river below the lower weir, the mouth of the river where it enters Lake Michigan, and the deep holes and runs throughout the river are perfect places to start your search.

The lower weir is by far the most popular and can get pretty busy. It’s always a good idea to ask at the local bait shop for the best spots and techniques based on current conditions.

Overall, salmon fishing in the Platte River can offer exciting opportunities to reel in some impressive fish. Enjoy the beauty of the river and the thrill of the chase as you pursue these prized salmon species in a scenic Michigan setting.

Clinton River

The Clinton River meanders through northern Detroit. It’s definitely worth fishing, despite being in the center of suburbia. Chinook, Atlantic, and coho salmon migrate into the river every fall in significant numbers.

The Clinton River has a few spectacular spots to try your skills. Yates Dam is the most popular (crowded), but there are enough salmon in the water around Yates Park to keep everyone happy.

Downstream a few miles is the River Bends Park. This park allows you to get away from the crowds at Yates Dam and spread out a bit along trails through the woods.

The river is wide enough in this section to provide a good setting for fly fishing or spin cast fishing with spinners, spawn bags, or wax worms under a bobber. Salmon fishing can be great as they move upstream to the Yates Dam area.

Try the confluence with Lake St. Clair and troll the area. It can be fast action if you catch it just right; once the water cools, the salmon launch upstream.

You should have no problem finding every amenity you need in the surrounding city.

Saginaw Bay

Saginaw Bay offers some epic salmon fishing and shouldn’t be overlooked. Head to one of the small towns that line the bay for easy access to the water.

Chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon fill the bay. This is an excellent place to troll with plugs or natural bait. Troll the coastline for good results. The area can get a little crowded during peak season, so be prepared for a lot of boats.

Tossing lures from the shore might net a few coho, though the Chinook are going to hold deeper. Saginaw Bay is massive, so trolling is the most productive way to cover the water.

Smaller coastal towns around the bay have boat launches and bait shops. Dining and lodging are readily available throughout the area, so you shouldn’t have an issue replacing that one thing you forgot at home.

Saginaw Bay offers a variety of fishing, including some of the state’s best smallmouth, muskie and walleye fishing.

Au Sable River

The Au Sable River, renowned for its exceptional trout fishing, also offers fantastic salmon angling. During the fall runs, Chinook, coho, and Atlantic navigate up this picturesque river, along with steelhead in significant numbers.

The Au Sable River has healthy runs of Chinook, coho, and Atlantic salmon. The salmon fishing season typically starts in late summer and continues through the fall. September and October are usually the peak months for Chinook and coho, followed shortly by Atlantic salmon.

Fly fishing for salmon is productive throughout the season. Sections of the river stand out as Trophy Waters for trout, steelhead, and salmon. Fly patterns such as egg-sucking leeches, woolly buggers, and nymphs are favorites.

Spin casting and drift fishing are also popular methods. The choice of technique often depends on the water conditions, fishing spot, and personal preference. Drifting can be highly successful.

When targeting salmon on the Au Sable River, some productive areas are the stretch of river below the Foote Dam, known as the “Holy Waters” for its epic trout and salmon fishing, and the lower river closer to Lake Huron.

These areas tend to concentrate salmon during their spawning runs.

Rainbow Bend State Forest Campground has some great spots near the water, and the small Au Sable Canoe Campground is a boat-in destination with river access.

Plenty of lodging and amenities are available throughout the area. Grayling is a great little town to stop and stock up.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Au Sable River

Grand River

Stretching across the state, the Grand River is Michigan’s longest river and a popular salmon fishing destination.

With its diverse sections and proximity to urban areas, including Grand Rapids, anglers can experience rewarding salmon fishing adventures while still having nearby amenities. Lodging and food are no problem to locate along the river.

The Grand River receives runs of Chinook and coho salmon. The salmon run typically occurs from late summer through the fall, with peak numbers in September.

Anglers flock to the Grand River during this time to try their luck catching these prized fish, meaning the shorelines can get a little crowded near cities.

Fly fishing, spin casting, and drift fishing are popular techniques. Depending on the specific location and water conditions, anglers can fish from the shore, wade in the river, or use boats for stretches of the river.

Some of the most productive spots for salmon fishing in the Grand River include deep holes, pools, and runs. Areas near the river mouth where it meets Lake Michigan can also be productive during the salmon run.

The Grand River also has one of Michigan’s better stream fisheries for smallmouth bass.

St. Joseph River (Berrien Springs)

St. Joe is known as one of the best steelhead rivers in Michigan. Located outside South Bend, it gets overlooked as a great salmon river, but that’s changing. What was once a small run of Chinook and coho has grown into one of the state’s best.

Coho and Chinook start up the river in late August, with the best fishing from mid-September through October. Steelhead will overlap the salmon runs in early fall run the river through April, so you have lots of opportunities to catch big fish here.

The Berrien Springs area is well-known as a salmon haven. The Berrien Springs Dam causes the salmon to stack up, preparing to go up the fish ladders.

You can fish above and below the dam, though below provides significantly better action. Another spot to try your luck is Shamrock Park, which offers room to fish, launch and camp just downstream from the dam.

Try drifting egg sacks or casting lures from shore. The area can get a little crowded on the weekends, so hit it on a weekday.

Berrien Springs has everything you’d need for a comfy fishing trip. Lodging, dining, and plenty of tackle shops will keep you on the water. Plan your trip ahead of time to ensure there’s availability.

Muskegon River

The Muskegon River, known for its steelhead and salmon runs, is a fantastic river for those searching for a bit of room to fish. The Muskegon River is near Muskegon, which makes a good base camp a quick drive from Grand Rapids.

The Muskegon River receives runs of Chinook, coho, and steelhead. Like most of Michigan’s waters, the salmon run typically occurs from late summer through the fall, with peak activity usually in September and October.

Drift fishing is very productive for salmon. Tossing spinners or flies can be equally good. Spend your time focusing on the area below Croton Dam. Check in at a local bait shop to get current conditions.

Salmon fishing on the Muskegon River can be an epic angling experience. There are plenty of excellent areas to spread out and enjoy the sheer beauty of the area while bringing salmon to the net.

Parts of the Muskegon River also are among the best places to catch muskies in Michigan.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Muskegon River

Thunder Bay River

The Thunder Bay River is a hidden gem for salmon fishing in northeastern Michigan. Anglers can enjoy the tranquility of this beautiful river while targeting Chinook, pink, and coho from August through October.

The river flows into Lake Huron, and it is known for its runs of salmon and steelhead.
Spinners, plugs, and bait work well. Drift an egg sack through the deeper pools for Chinook. Coho are going to be a bit shallower, so adjust your line.

The best areas for salmon fishing in the Thunder Bay River include deep pools, runs, and the river mouth where it meets Lake Huron.

Alpena at the river’s mouth on Thunder Bay makes for a great base camp. There are campgrounds along the river, along with tackle shops, amenities, and anything else you might need in Alpena.

Escanaba River

The Escanaba River offers a secluded salmon fishing experience in the Upper Peninsula. Anglers can immerse themselves in the serene beauty of the surrounding wilderness while pursuing chinook and coho salmon in this pristine river.

The Escanaba River gets solid runs of Chinook, coho and pink salmon, plus steelhead, that return to the northern end of Green Bay. The salmon run typically occurs from late summer through the fall, bringing in anglers worldwide to target these fish.

You can employ various techniques when salmon fishing in the Escanaba River. Fly fishing and drift fishing are popular methods. Use the same techniques for fly fishing here as the other rivers. Streamers are your friends.

Drifting with an egg sack is always a good option. Hit the mouth of the river where it meets Lake Michigan, and you should find success.

Trolling in the summer through the Little Bay De Noc can also be an excellent spot for salmon. July and August find them staging in the bay before heading upstream.

Escanaba (a.k.a. “Esky”) has all the amenities you’ll need for the trip. You can find campgrounds and a few RV spots along the river.

Catch More Salmon

Read our complete guide to salmon fishing techniques and tips.