The Great Lakes are among the world’s most impressive natural marvels. Their shores are dotted with charming little towns and dazzling views. Whether it’s a relaxing retreat or an adventure of a lifetime, the Great Lakes have you covered. Speaking of adventure, these vast waters are also home to some of the most spectacular reel action on the continent. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list featuring the best Great Lakes fishing towns in the US.
For our list, we picked the towns that will put you on some hard-biting fish, while also giving you ample activities to choose from. Seriously, these places will put some Caribbean paradises to shame. In no particular order, our picks for the best Great Lakes fishing towns are:
Buffalo, Lake Erie, NY
If you’re looking for a variety of fishing opportunities, look no further than Buffalo. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think the place was set up as a “fishing 101” practice range. The historic town is nestled between three bodies of water, each more breathtaking than the other. Set up camp in Buffalo, and wet your line in Niagara River, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, all in a single weekend!
The upper Niagara River will put you on some giant Muskies, often weighing 35 pounds. These guys know how to put up a fight, so you better bring your A-game if you want to catch one. Coming in from the north, you can expect great numbers of Coho and Chinook Salmon. Lake Erie and Ontario are also teeming with Steelhead, Walleye, as well as Smallmouth Bass.
You’ll quickly see that variety is the name of the game in Buffalo. From classy to sassy, and everything in between, there’s no shortage of things to do in this town. Boasting picture-perfect scenery, the newly revamped waterfront is perfect for relaxing walks and endorphin-filled activities. With every step you take, there’ll be something to see or do. From craft beer and fine dining to concerts and arts and crafts, the Buffalo waterfront is a playground like no other.
The town might have poured half a billion dollars into its waterfront, but don’t think for a second that that’s all it has to offer. The array of art galleries, stunning architecture, and sports activities are bound to spoil you for choice. Oh, and did we mention that Niagara Falls is just 20 minutes away? Whether you plan your visit ahead, or just wing it, one thing’s for sure – Buffalo will leave you in awe.
Holland, Lake Michigan, MI
If you ever wondered what the quickest way to Europe is, this is it. Holland is a living testament to Dutch heritage, and a bona fide time machine. It’s also one of the very best Great Lakes fishing destinations.
The town lies on two lakes: Lake Macatawa and its bigger brother, Lake Michigan.
In mid-spring, fishing comes alive in this part of Lake Michigan. This is when you can catch keeper Brown Trout, Coho Salmon, and the mighty Chinook. If it gets windy, just stay in the smaller Macatawa Lake. Apart from some welcome shelter, you’ll also find great numbers of Bluegill, Perch, and Walleye here.
What comes to mind when you think of the Netherlands? Tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes, right? Well, you’ll find no shortage of those in this charming lake town. If you thought spring fishing was great, wait until you’ve seen the rest of the town. Take a walk through a field of blooming tulips in Windmill Island Gardens, as the 250-year-old De Zwaan windmill stands tall.
The one place in Holland you can’t miss has to be the Holland State Park beach. If the vast expanse of white sand doesn’t leave you in awe, the astonishing view of Lake Michigan ahead surely will. The beach is where you’ll find loads of opportunities for water sports, as well as grills and picnics.
There’s always a sailboat or two passing by. Speaking of boats, if you’re looking for the best way to experience the eastern coast of Lake Michigan, hop on a cruise aboard the Holland Princess. This Victorian style paddle-wheel boat will let you enjoy scenic views of the lake and its many shoreline villas. As your cruise is winding down, enjoy a delicious dinner while the sun sets on Lake Michigan behind you.
Mackinac Island, Lake Huron, MI
If you’re looking for a deep water fishing expedition that’s close to home, Mackinac Island is the place for you. This picturesque island is the perfect base for a fishing adventure. You can get here by plane or ferry. Whichever of these you choose, get ready for some spectacular views.
Just off the Island, the Straits of Mackinac are a great spot to catch various types of Salmon, as well as Lake Trout, Steelhead, Muskie, and Walleye. Fishing this far north on Lake Huron will really give you a sense of how intact and well-preserved this place is.
Back on the island, you’ll have no shortage of lakeside accommodation to choose from. The area around the bay is dotted with delightful bed-and-breakfast villas and cottages, offering mesmerizing vistas of Lake Huron. If you want something a little more indulgent, the historic Island House and Grand hotels are right next door.
There’s a lot that makes Mackinac Island special. Almost the entire island is a state park, and the oldest one in Michigan, at that. The island is also home to the only state-provided Governor’s mansion in the States. The Victorian work of art is open for free public tours every Wednesday throughout the summer.
Towering over downtown, the Revolutionary War Fort Mackinac stands sentinel. Spend an hour learning about the fort’s role in the war and experience the cannon demonstrations up close and personal.
Oh, and you simply have to try the island’s signature delicacy – the Mackinac fudge.
Sandusky, Lake Erie, OH
The western side of Lake Erie is notorious for its Walleye and Perch fishing. Many call this area the Walleye Capital of the World! This is why the entire area from Toledo to Lakeside Marblehead is dotted with fishing charters.
Even if the open waters of the lake get rough, the sheltered Sandusky Bay is teeming with fish from April all through October.
That’s not to say that you can’t fish on Lake Erie in the winter. The Sandusky area is actually renowned for its ice fishing. If you haven’t tried ice fishing before, just know that there are few things as heart-pumping as catching fish on a gigantic body of frozen water for the first time. So if you’re up for an adventure, get your gear ready and suit up – your Walleye feast awaits.
And while ice fishing may be great, we still recommend experiencing Sandusky in the summer. This is when the town truly comes alive with attractions and outdoor opportunities.
As May turns into June, the largest motorcycle rally in the Midwest passes through town. If bikes aren’t your thing, take a walking tour through the 200-year-old downtown area. And if strolling in the sun leaves you tired, head to the nearby Kelley’s Island State Park beach for a dip, you won’t regret it.
Sandusky may have amazing Walleye fishing, but that’s not what put this town on the map – it’s the flagship amusement park Cedar Point. This 364-acre field of joy is the second oldest amusement park in the country. It offers a wide range of rides and attractions for youngsters as well as the young at heart.
Green Bay, Lake Michigan, WI
Blessed with incredibly abundant waters, Green Bay offers a year-round variety of fish anglers just can’t say no to. With Fox River and its tributaries flowing right through town, it won’t take you long to find a spot to wet your line.
This is a fantastic Smallmouth Bass fishery, and the big river’s tributaries are known for their Walleye bites. Of course, there’s also great reel action out in the Bay. In this part of Lake Michigan, you’ll have your hands full with Muskies and Perch.
Originally set up as a French trading post in the 1700s, Green Bay is one of the oldest permanent European settlements in America.
Today, Green Bay is a multi-cultural town, offering a wealth of attractions for people from all walks of life. Families will love the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, a 600-acre refuge with picture-perfect nature and dozens of exciting animals to see.
Downtown, a 150-year-old house will welcome you to some of the best wine tasting you’ll ever experience. The locals are happy to tell you how good the wines go with some of the best cheeses Wisconsin has to offer. But that’s not it – the town has a proud cultural scene, too. Green Bay’s Meyer Theatre is an ornate performance hall capable of housing a thousand people. The venue hosts a number of live concerts and theatre plays year round.
You can’t talk about Green Bay without mentioning one of the most storied franchises in sports history. The massive, 80,000-seat Lambeau Field is home to the Green Bay Packers, a source of pride and joy for thousands of NFL fans across the globe.
Duluth and Superior, Lake Superior, MN & WI
The gin-clear waters of Lake Superior are home to as many as 80 species of fish. That might have been a big number for another lake, but for this giant, it kind of goes unnoticed. Setting out from Duluth or Superior, this pristine fishery looks more like a sea than a lake.
From May through October, this place is one of the best King Salmon and Lake Trout fishing destinations in the country. Of course, there’s plenty of other spots to wet your line here, each more productive than the next. The backwaters of Spirit Bay and St. Louis River hold ample numbers of Walleye, Crappie, as well as Steelhead.
Duluth and Superior might be two towns in two states, but they’re actually just 5 miles apart.
A relaxing stroll though Duluth will take you along the scenic Lakewalk to Canal Park. The park gives way to Duluth’s most famous landmark, the Aerial Lift Bridge. This architectural masterpiece dates way back to 1905. Past the bridge, the promenade takes you along a pebbled beach, dotted with vacation houses overlooking the lake.
There are a number of colorful eateries across town, many of them serving the Lake’s prime catch. The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is a cultural gem you really should check out. The museum houses treasures like Egyptian sandstone carvings and ship models, Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics, and many others.
Boasting the same captivating setting as Duluth, Superior’s lakeside walks will make all your troubles go away. The town’s backdrop is home to some of the most beautiful parks you’ll lay eyes on. From Superior Municipal Forest to Pattison State Park, the area offers breathtaking scenery wherever you look.
The latter park is named after 19th-century entrepreneur Martin Pattison. His remarkable home, the Fairlawn mansion, endures to this day, serving as a museum of the family and the town’s history.
Scratching the Surface
These towns are some of the best Great Lakes fishing destinations you’ll ever see. Of course, the Lakes offer countless more charming fishing towns, each more captivating than the last. There are fishing spots all around the Great Lakes, and it would take you a lifetime to explore them all. All we can say is, time well spent.
Your turn. Have you ever fished in one of these towns before? What are some Great Lakes fishing towns you think we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below.
Sean is an optometrist who left his day job to write about fishing. He calls himself a lucky angler because his favorite fish, Mahi Mahi, can be found almost anywhere – even though he’s lost more of them than he’s willing to admit. Obsessed by all forms of water sports, you’ll find him carrying one of three things: a ball, a surf board, or his fishing rod.