17 Best Walleye Fishing Lakes & Rivers in Michigan

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Michigan has more fantastic walleye fishing opportunities than nearly anywhere else in the world. Therefore, narrowing down the best walleye fishing here is quite the task! There simply are so many great options to choose from.

With so much water, it’s no wonder Michigan has epic walleye action. There’s more coastline here than in Florida!

Surrounded by a portion of Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan, along with thousands of smaller lakes and over 3,000 rivers, Michigan has that perfect fishing spot you’ve been craving.

You just have to find it.

And that’s why we’re here.

Walleye regulations in Michigan vary by water, with some areas open year-round while others have limitations during certain times of the year. Always check the regs before heading out.

Michigan’s Top Walleye Fishing

When comparing these lakes and rivers, it’s essential to keep in mind that even the least popular walleye lakes here are probably better than the best lakes in many other states.

Simply put, Michigan is home to world-class walleye fishing.

Lake Erie

Lake Erie is widely considered the best walleye lake in the world. Luckily for those in Michigan, the state occupies over 50 miles of shoreline along Lake Erie.

Erie offers epic walleye fishing and is also a prime fishery for several other species, including smallmouth bass and yellow perch.

The best walleye fishing is around Monroe, Luna Pier, and Toledo Beach from April through July.

The conditions in these waters offer perfect spawning grounds for most of the walleye in Lake Erie as they converge on the western shore to spawn.

Walleye then move deeper in the summer, schooling up and chasing baitfish. Trolling with crankbaits, walleye rigs, and worms will bring them to the net.

Anglers who find the schools can catch limits of keepers in relatively short order, so be prepared for some fast action.

It’s also popular for Michiganders to pick up an Ohio license and chase the schools between the two states.

Winter ice fishing can be epic. Walleye through the ice is something to be experienced.

Luna Pier and Monroe offer everything you’ll need for the trip. Plenty of guides are also in the area and can make a slow day much more productive.

Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River

Saginaw Bay is a massive body of water curving inland from Lake Huron in East Central Michigan.

Breaking down the entire bay to fish isn’t possible. Instead, you’ll want to find the area that works best for you and get to know it.

Centrally located Bay City is the main area for making base camp when fishing Saginaw Bay or the Saginaw River, which runs right through town.

One of the best areas to fish is the Saginaw River’s confluence with the bay. The river closes from March 15th through the last Saturday in April for the walleye spawn.

Before the closure, early March on the river can be incredible. Depending on the harshness of the winter, you might have the best catching experience of your life.
If it’s been a harsh winter, the bite shuts down. A more moderate winter turns the bite on in early March.

Once the closure is lifted in late April, head into the lower end of the river and try your hand at vertical jigging with live minnows or plastic grubs around the confluence to catch the transitioning fish.

Walleye like to move in and out of the river during the post-spawn period and throughout the summer.

By late April, the spring runoff has often slowed, and water levels are steadier. A slower current makes the walleye more likely to bite.

Hit the river and jig with paddle-tail grubs, split-tail minnows, and curly-tail grubs. Use a ¼ oz jig and the 3- or 4-inch plastics.

The bay has some fantastic weed bed structures and drop-offs around the many marinas and ports throughout the area.

Plan your trip to either camp at one of the many campgrounds or stay in a hotel at any of the communities around the lake.

Lake Gogebic

Lake Gogebic might be the best inland walleye fishery in Michigan.

This Upper Peninsula destination is full of self-sustaining walleye. The lake gives them plenty of perfect habitat around the edges and offers deeper holes to escape the heat of the summer.

The fish here like to hold around the weed beds, drop-offs, and shallow areas post-spawn. If you find a place with a solid weed line and a drop-off, you’re in for an epic day, particularly in areas with both features.

During the post-spawn, use ¼ oz jigs with live minnows. Worms also work well, but they are more likely to bring in other fish while you’re trying to get to the proper depth.

Throughout the summer and fall, the fish move into the deeper holes and become suckers for leeches. Drop a jig down with a leech, and you’re in business.

Try the 22- to 26-foot depth on the main lake while holding over sandy or muddy bottoms. The walleye will be there, waiting for dinner.

AJ’s Walleye Lodge is a great place to stay when fishing at Lake Gogebic. They’ve got everything you need for walleye fishing and can point you to some great spots if you’re a first-timer.

When you have enough walleye for dinner, toss some bass lures into the weeds and other structures (especially at the southern end of the lake) for some of the best largemouth bass fishing action in Michigan.

Bergland, Merriweather, and White City have everything you might need for the trip. In addition, plenty of lodges and campgrounds surround the lake.

Holloway Reservoir

Holloway Reservoir might not have as many trophy walleyes as some spots on our list, but it more than makes up for in quantity. The number of walleye per surface acre here is among the highest in the state, and a good number of them are nice-sized fish.

Fish Holloway early. Troll crankbaits for big ‘eyes, or find some flats and toss a ¼ oz jig with a live minnow. Vertical jigging can be particularly good in the spring. The fish will move deeper once the waters warm.

Summertime is best, with a leech fished along the submerged river channel through the center of the reservoir. The channel edges are particularly good.

Fish near the Mt. Morris Road Bridge to raise your odds of catching a trophy. The swirling water attracts baitfish and big ‘eyes.

Holloway Reservoir has two dedicated fishing lots with spots to launch your boat.

There are plenty of lodging opportunities nearby in Flint, along with all the gear and food you need. Camping around the lake is limited to Wolverine and Oxbow campgrounds, and they fill up quickly.

Portage Lake

Portage Lake is a shallow lake connected to Lake Michigan. Giant walleyes call this place home, and the lake consistently produces trophy fish.

Located just north of Manistee, this lake is a must-fish. Include it in the Manistee Lake and Manistee River trip you’ve been planning.

Springtime at Portage Lake can be epic. The weeds haven’t grown too thick, and the fish are holding in the shallows. Once it warms up, the lake gets pretty choked with vegetation, making fishing a bit more complicated.

Crankbaits and minnows work great early in the year, though once the weeds set in, it will be time for jigging. You’ll want to bring a rod with enough heft to drag a walleye up and out of dense cover.

Toss a jig tipped with a leech into the many weed pockets around the lake and let it settle to the bottom. Twitch it to keep interest, and you should catch a fat ‘eye in no time. If, however, you don’t get a bite within a few minutes, try another spot.

There are enough walleyes in the lake to keep catch rates high.

Portage Lake has all the amenities you need, including camping, lodging, and convenience stores located around the lake.

Manistee is just down the road and is home to the next lake on the list. They have all the lodging and dining you could ask for.

Manistee Lake

Manistee isn’t exactly eye candy. It is, however, an epic walleye fishery. Used as a port for the city of Manistee, the lake more resembles a concrete basin. It’s over 50 feet deep in the center and has fairly active shipping in and out.

All that said, it’s got epic fishing just waiting for those of us willing to forego the more attractive Portage Lake to the north.

Manistee Lake is top 5 in the state for smallmouth bass and crappies, along with walleye and about 20 other species. It’s worth wetting a line.

The lake record walleye was caught through the ice and weighed 15.94 pounds. And maybe there’s a bigger hen in there somewhere.

Though unremarkable in appearance, the amount of forage hiding under the surface leads to fat walleye that will eagerly snatch a leech throughout the summer and fall.

Minnows and crankbaits work wonders in the spring.

The lake is in the city, so there are plenty of amenities to be had. Spend some time at Manistee, and you won’t be disappointed. It receives far less pressure than its northern neighbor Portage and offers monster-sized eyes.

The lake is fed by the Manistee River, one of the top steelhead fishing rivers in all of Michigan.

Lake St. Clair

Lake St. Clair is a fantastic fishery a few miles from downtown Detroit. St. Clair is connected to Lake Erie by the Detroit River and Lake Huron via the St. Clair River. The lake itself is a shallow bowl with massive fish.

Aside from the walleyes, it’s also an epic muskie, pike and smallmouth bass fishery. The lake has excellent walleye fishing, and the Detroit River is full of them from March through early May.

Be careful fishing the Detroit River too early. Unexpected ice flows and weather can make it unsafe. April is a good time to hit it. In the cold weather, you’ll likely catch fewer fish, but the ones you get will be huge.

Early spring, from March into April, vertical jigging with live bait will trigger a bite. The bite heats up with the water temps. April through June can provide an angler a full stringer in no time.

Mid-June has the fish heading back into the deeper sections of the lake. Hit them with crankbaits while trolling. Keep your speed around 1.0 to 1.5 mph for the best presentation.

Since the lake is next to Detroit, there’s no lack of lodging, dining, and supplies. It’s a popular place in the summer, so be prepared to tangle with the power squad.

Houghton Lake

Houghton Lake is the largest of Michigan’s inland lakes. Located in central lower Michigan, this place is an angler’s paradise.

Walleye, pike, bluegill, and bass offer fast action. It’s a great place to take a new angler to introduce them to quality fishing.

You’re likely to catch walleye here any time of year. Ice fishing can be epic, while the spring and summer bring the big hens onto the flats.

Hit the shallows in springtime before the weeds get too thick. For starters, troll a crankbait around the Cut River confluence. The shallow areas here have several spots where the walleye group up.

Summertime is perfect here. Troll a shad 30 to 40 feet behind you at 1.3 to 1.8 mph across the flats along the west side. The fish in this area stay active through most of the summer, and the weeds don’t get too thick until mid-July.

Once the weeds set in, a jig or bobber set-up tipped with a minnow or leech can be epic, depending on whether you find the pockets in the weeds or not.

Houghton Lake’s weeds become dense enough that walleye tend to stack up in these pockets and compete with each other for food. There’s no concern of them being stunted, though, as the lake provides plenty of forage for them.

While working the weed pockets anyway, switch to a rod rigged with a watermelon flake Senko for big bass.

Houghton has plenty of amenities and recreational opportunities. Several dining and shopping places are around the lake, and there are some great beaches for the family.

Mullett Lake

Mullet Lake has plenty of big walleyes. It’s common to bring in a fish between 5 and 10 pounds. Bigger fish are in here; you just have to find them. The lake is ideal for trolling, with the perfect bottom structure to bring in big fish.

Set up your trolling rig with planers and crankbaits. Head to the west side and troll along the reefs in about 15 feet of water.

At the beginning of the season, target the gravel bottoms near any drop-offs you find.

As the water warms, the walleye head deeper. Hit the west end in roughly 10 feet of water along the reefs throughout the area. The outer side drops from 10 to 60 feet pretty fast.

Toss a crankbait or troll across the reefs to find active fish. Work the water column from the bottom to 6 feet.

If you’re not getting any action, switch to a jig tipped with a leech. A split shot or slip bobber setup works great as well.

Summer fishing can be difficult as the fish suspend in deeper water.

Ice fishing can be epic at Mullett Lake. Depending on the weather, the bite can be super-fast.

Mullet Lake also is an excellent spot to catch northern pike.

There are several dining and lodging options around the lake, and bait shops will also give you tips on what they’re biting on.

Kent Lake

Kent Lake is one of Michigan’s most fished lakes. The lake is in the Kensington Metropark in Milford. It stays productive due to the speed limits imposed on the entire water and the fact that the Michigan DNR heavily stocks here.

Walleyes tend to be easily spooked, so fishing next to power boaters can turn them off the bite.

Hit the river channel that runs throughout the reservoir. The structure and drop-offs along the submerged river course hold big ‘eyes. Use a minnow or leech-tipped jig and fish the bends in the channel for your best chance.

Worms and spinners work great throughout the summer. Use bright colors as water temps climb.

Other fish include bass, bluegill, black crappies, yellow perch, and northern pike.

West Boat Launch and Turtlehead picnic area are great access points. There are several restaurants and accommodations around the area, so you’ll be able to find whatever you need.

Gun Lake

Gun Lake is just south of Grand Rapids, about halfway to Kalamazoo. It has several boat launches, a marina, and plenty of lodging, dining, and bait shops for you to choose from. Camping is also an option.

Recreational boaters love this place. That makes weekends rather tricky for anglers. Weekdays or early mornings can produce some fantastic walleye fishing.

Head to Robbins Bay in the southwest. It has several deeper holes that hold walleye throughout the day.

Murphy’s Point and Hasting’s Point have big drop-offs that can lead to epic days on the water.

Hit the lake at night in the shallows for some consistent bites. Troll a crankbait relatively shallow, and you should be on fish in no time.

Lake Leelanau

Lake Leelanau is a 21-mile-long lake that’s separated into two sections. The northern portion is the better walleye fishery and has a max depth of around 120 feet. The southern lake is shallower, with spots hitting 60 feet.

There are lots of fish here: In addition to walleye, northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, sunfish, rock bass, brown trout, lake trout, and yellow perch round out the gamefish species in Leelanau.

The lake is also full of forage fish. The resident walleye take full advantage and grow quickly.

Hit the flats on the south end of the northern lake with spinners or trolling a worm harness. If you find a pocket with stacked fish, use a jig with a leech.

Another big draw here is the massive carp population. These fish will put you to the test. In fact, the lower lake is often referred to as Carp Lake.

Several boat ramps, public access points, and bait shops line the lake, which is just west of Grand Traverse Bay. Resorts, lodging, camping, and dining are readily available nearby.

Big Manistique and North Manistique Lakes

Manistique Lake, a.k.a. Big Manistique Lake, is a large inland lake on the Upper Peninsula. Located near Manistique, there are plenty of access points, boat ramps, and lodges around the water.

The lake is full of walleye, smallmouth bass, perch, northern pike, muskie, and bluegill. So there are plenty of options for the angler to go after.

Speed is the name of the game here. Fast retrieves will get ferocious bites. Toss a crankbait and bring it in faster than you usually would for walleye. Trolling should be done at 1.5 to 2.0 mph.

The lake opens for fishing on May 15th each year, with the action coming fast. Ice fishing is open from December through early March.

Crayfish dominate the forage here, followed closely by shad. Any craw imitations and shad-type lures should pay dividends.

Most of the bottom is gravel with occasional deeper holes and artificial structure. The shallows get heavily weed-covered, so target the pockets with jigs tipped with leeches.

North Manistique Lake gets much less pressure than the big lake. Like the big lake, artificial structure has been added over the years to provide fantastic habitat for big walleyes. Brush and log piles are strewn along much of the bottom.

Hit the deeper holes along the bottom with jigs or slip bobbers tipped with worms or leeches.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake is home to some great fishing. Located west of Traverse City, the lake has all the amenities you could ask for other than camping. There are a couple of RV parks.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, there isn’t a Camp Crystal Lake on this water like there was in “Friday the 13th.” So Jason fans will have to keep searching.

There are a lot of walleyes, so that makes up for the missing slasher flick tie-in. Crystal Lake gets a lot of pressure for excellent pike and perch fishing. There are plenty of those to steal your walleye bait.

There are several great structural points throughout the lake, and just off the island in 20 feet of water tends to be very productive when jigged vertically.

Try through the ice with some Rosy Reds. The walleye love them.

The northeast side has public access, so start there and find the area near where the skating rink is set up in the winter. The water is 6 to 7 feet deep in there, and the bottom is flat. Lots of perch and the occasional large walleye will keep you busy all day.

The public fishing area has a bait shop, and plenty of lodging and dining options surround the lake.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is well known as a salmon, lake trout, and steelhead water. The walleye fishing here goes widely unnoticed. That’s good for those that target walleye since the ones cruising in here are freaking monsters.

Most of the walleye in Lake Michigan are transients. They’ve found the lake after being planted in the rivers and now feast on invasive round gobies on the bottom.

They’re fat and happy, mainly because they’re left alone by most anglers.

Head to Grand Haven, Ludington, or St. Joe to start your day and troll crankbaits under a planer. If that approach isn’t working, locate rocky bottoms and outcroppings to drop jigs tipped with live minnows.

Lake Michigan is massive and has such a vast shoreline that you’ll have no issues finding everything you need for the trip within a short drive of the water.

Catch More Walleye

We have a simple guide to walleye fishing, including top techniques, lures, baits and other tips.