There’s hardly a better freshwater fishery in the world than the Great Lakes. Not only is this the biggest group of lakes on the planet, but they all also offer some of the greatest angling action in the US and beyond. With a total surface of over 90,000 square miles, these inland seas are the playground of all the most coveted freshwater species you can think of. The Great Lakes fishing scene will not disappoint, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned angler.
The largest of the “Big 5” is Lake Superior, followed by Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and finally Lake Ontario. Four out of five lakes straddle the border between the US and the Canadian province of Ontario and, wherever you cast a line, you’re in for a treat.
If you’ve never fished one of these watersheds before, deciding where to go and when might seem a bit intimidating. But don’t worry, we can help. Here’s what you need to know about fishing in the Great Lakes, including top catches, seasons, and regulations you need to be aware of.
What are you interested in?
If you’re up for fishing the biggest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area), then Lake Superior is your next destination. Whether you approach it from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, or Ontario, its size and abundance of fish species will wow you. Add stunning views and deep turquoise waters, and you’ll understand why Lake Superior is one of the most prolific freshwater fisheries you’ll ever come across. Here are some of the top catches as well as the best time to target them.
Lake Superior Fishing Seasons
The fishing season on Lake Superior is open year-round, but the most productive time is usually from May to October. Check out our in-depth guide to Minnesota’s seasons to see what you can catch when.
Spring fishing is excellent for shore anglers who can target Trout, Walleye, and Bass in the shallows.
The summer bite is on fire because all the prized species are up for grabs, including four types of Salmon and Trout, as well as big Walleye, Perch, and Pike.
Come in the fall and you’ll still have plenty to catch only the weather will be cooler. Finally, ice fishing in the winter for Walleye, Perch, and Pike is a unique experience that you should try at least once in your lifetime.
What can I catch in Lake Superior?
- Salmon. The most popular fish to catch on Lake Superior is Salmon. And it’s easy to understand why since you can catch Chinook, Coho, Pink, and Atlantic Salmon in the same lake. Each has its own character and is fun to catch, but seasonalities slightly vary. Chinook are available from spring through fall, but they move around, following cooler waters. Pink Salmon (Humpbacks) have similar moving patterns as Chinook, while Coho are most active in early fall. The best time to go after Atlantic Salmon is in late spring and early summer.
- Trout. The Great Lakes are famous for their near-legendary Trout, and Lake Superior is no different. Lake Trout are the bread and butter catches of this fishery, along with Steelhead, Brown, and Brook Trout. You can even catch a Splake here – a hybrid of Lakers and Brookies. The best time to go after all of these is in May and June, though they’re available until late fall.
- Walleye. Superstars of the Great Lakes, feisty and delicious Walleye are always up for grabs on Lake Superior. Even in the depths of winter, you can get a few of them while ice fishing. They’re among the most abundant fish in the area, so if everything else refuses to bite, Walleye are your safest bet.
- Smallmouth Bass. Another top catch in Lake Superior, Smallmouth Bass are known for their excellent fighting skills and delicious meat. Having a Smallie on the line is an exciting affair for experienced and beginner anglers alike. The best time to get them is in the fall, though they’re also bite-ready in spring and early summer.
The list doesn’t end here, not by a long shot. Lake Superior boasts great numbers of Northern Pike, Musky, Perch, and even Lake Sturgeon. The best way to navigate these vast waters is to go out with a professional guide who will show you the ropes and put you on a bite. Check out the list of available charters below.
With over 3,000 islands and the longest shoreline of all the Great Lakes, Lake Huron is an unmissable fishing destination. Split almost perfectly down the middle by the border between Michigan and Ontario, this impressive watershed is a dream come true for all passionate freshwater anglers. All the A-listers of the Great Lakes are here, and then some more.
Lake Huron Fishing Seasons
Just like all the other Greats, Lake Huron has something biting whenever you decide to visit. The high fishing season lasts from spring to fall when you’ve got the chance to chase all the Lake Trout, Perch, Pike, and Walleye you want.
The ice fishing season is also solid, with plenty of big Walleye and Lakers still biting despite the cold, especially in the northern reaches of the lake.
Bear in mind that Lake Huron is a popular place for weekend anglers, so the waters can get crowded during the summer. If possible, book a fishing trip during the week and you’ll have plenty of room to enjoy the best of what this lake has to offer.
What can I catch in Lake Huron?
- Trout. Lake Huron’s Lake Trout have had a rough couple of decades. Their numbers have dwindled due to overfishing but now they’re making a comeback and there’s a healthy population living in these clear waters. The best time to go after Lake Trout is in spring because they prefer cooler water temperatures. Don’t forget about feisty and delicious Steelhead, which are available from fall through spring in all their glory.
- Walleye. We already mentioned that Walleye is the star of the Great Lakes, and Lake Huron is no exception. These fish are up for grabs any time of the year but hop on a boat in summer for the best bite. You could easily hook into a trophy Walleye. Even in the depths of winter, their always-hungry nature could put you on fantastic action.
- Northern Pike. If you’re looking to catch some of the biggest Pike you’ve ever seen, Lake Huron is the place! These toothy beasts thrive here and they can reach impressive sizes. The best time to target them is in fall and winter. Pike are beloved by ice anglers, but you can find them in the shallows when the weather becomes cooler.
- Salmon. While they aren’t as numerous in Lake Huron, Salmon are still among the favorite catches here. Chinook, Coho, and Pink Salmon are all up for grabs from May through September. They’re at their most active in the warmest parts of the year, so July and August are your best bet.
Along with Pike, Walleye, and all the Salmonids on the list, Lake Huron can also put you on Yellow Perch, Whitefish, Sunfish, and Bass. You can target them from shore or hire a local with a boat to show you around. You’re going to have a great time either way.
The only Great Lake located entirely on US soil, Lake Michigan is famous for its stunning beaches and even better fishing. Whether you want to cast a line from Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, or Indiana, there’s plenty for you to target. The lake has all the makings of a premier freshwater fishery and, as such, it will set high standards whenever you decide to explore it.
Lake Michigan Fishing Seasons
On all the Great Lakes, fishing seasons last year-round, and it’s the same for Lake Michigan.
Come spring, you can go after Trout, Perch, Walleye, and even Coho Salmon. This is a good time to target Salmon from the shore before they hide out in the deeper sections of the lake.
As the water gets warmer so does the action, and so summer boasts first-class fishing opportunities. If you’ve got your eye on a Chinook or Coho Salmon, this is your time. Trout aficionados won’t be disappointed either, and the same goes for the rest of the freshwater game fish. Fall fishing is especially productive for Trout and Bass.
Lake Michigan resembles a wonderland in the winter. That’s why ice fishermen from all the surrounding states love to spend some time here, targeting Perch, Trout, and Walleye.
What can I catch in Lake Michigan?
- Salmon. Out of all the fish on offer in Lake Michigan, Salmon are the most coveted. Chinook and Coho roam these waters in summer and fall, and anglers follow religiously. Chinook are the bigger of the two and can grow to over 30 pounds. Late summer is the optimal time to get one of these bad boys. Meanwhile, Cohos have two runs – in spring and fall – and these are the most productive times to go after them.
- Bass. Lake Michigan might just have the largest population of Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass out of all the Great Lakes. Find a rocky shore, and you’ll find these fellas prowling nearby. You have a good chance of getting both species on your line year-round, but Smallies are particularly hungry in late summer and fall. Great fighters and even better table fare, what more do you need?
- Trout. While Lakers are in the spotlight in the majority of the Great Lakes, in Lake Michigan, Rainbow Trout reign supreme. Because of the lake’s many tributaries, ‘Bows come here to feed and spawn every year. Add Lake and Brown Trout, and you’ve got a whole Trout haven to explore. Fly fishing is becoming the go-to technique to get them to bite, so fly anglers are in for a treat.
- Yellow Perch. These fish are a staple of both Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes as a whole, but they’re often overlooked because of all the game fish out there. However, they’re great beginner-friendly fish and one of the favorite catches of ice anglers. They’re greedy eaters, and usually weigh only a few pounds. Perch are also delicious, so you’ve got a win-win combo.
If you’re fishing Lake Michigan and prefer variety along with all the top catches, you can also come face-to-gills with Walleye, Carp, Northern Pike, and Sauger, to name a few. Pick a local guide and they’ll let take you to the prime fishing action to find what’s biting.
Even though it’s the second smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie has a stellar fishing reputation. It acts as a border between the US and Canada and, on the US side, it’s shared between Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and New York. The lake has the title of the “Walleye Capital of the World,” which already paints a picture of its fishing qualities. But there’s a lot more to target here. Аll you have to do is pick a time and head out.
Lake Erie Fishing Seasons
Lake Erie might be the shallowest of the Great Lakes, but that doesn’t stop it from being productive – and also temperamental. The weather on the lake is fickle and can change in a matter of minutes, bringing about fog and unexpected huge waves. That’s why it’s important to choose the time you come carefully.
Spring is usually quite cold, so the bite isn’t consistent, especially in early spring. That doesn’t mean you can’t catch anything – Bass fishing in deep waters can get very good. You can also fish for Walleye from the shore, but the action is yet to heat up.
Summer is the time to experience Lake Erie’s fantastic potential. If you feel like testing the “Walleye Capital” title, hit the water in the summer and you’ll find out why it’s well-earned. Trout are very active this time of year, too, as well as any other freshwater fish you can think of.
Casting a line in early fall can still put you on Walleye and Trout, as well as Chinook and Coho Salmon. As the weather gets colder and more unpredictable, the action slows down, until the coldest days of winter, when ice fishing on Lake Erie becomes a favorite pastime. Popular species during this time are Yellow Perch, Walleye, Pike, and an occasional Lake Trout.
What can I catch in Lake Erie?
- Walleye. To no surprise, Walleye are the primary target of Lake Erie anglers. This has to do with the fact they’re so abundant and can grow to be over 10 pounds in these rich waters. Wallies are strong and hungry fighters, so reeling them in will be a workout. They move around a lot, so finding them requires skills only local guides can provide. Oh, and did we mention they’re delicious?
- Trout. Trout fishing on Lake Erie is so good that there’s a whole section of the watershed dedicated to it – the “Steelhead Alley.” As you’ve guessed from the name, Steelhead are the main stars, because they grow to be huge and their fighting prowess is incredible. Brown and Lake Trout are also around in strong numbers, so you get to choose your opponent.
- Yellow Perch. Even though they’re smaller than many other species in the lake, Yellow Perch are more numerous than any other fish. Up for grabs pretty much year-round, these crowd-pleasers aren’t picky about what they eat, so it’s easier to get them to bite. What makes them especially good is their white flaky meat, which is absolutely delectable.
- Bass. When a body of water is named “Big Bass” waters, you know you’re in for an adventure. Both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass roam Lake Erie and they grow big here. Smallies (aka Bronzebacks) can reach well over 5 pounds – and the same goes for Largies. There are Bass tournaments on the lake, which speaks of the fishery’s quality.
The list of top catches in Lake Erie goes on, with Chinook and Coho Salmon out there for the taking, only in smaller numbers than in other Great Lakes. There are also good numbers of Panfish and Muskellunge if you’d like to mix things up. Not sure where to start? Get in touch with a local charter captain and they’ll help you figure out all the details.
Lake Ontario might be the smallest of the Great Lakes, but its fishing potential is immense. Along with Lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie, this watershed is shared between the US and Canada – or, more precisely, between Ontario and New York. The lake is famous for its unmatched Salmon fishing action, and anglers from both countries flock to it to get a taste. But these waters hide many more species worth your attention!
Lake Ontario Fishing Seasons
The best time to go fishing in Lake Ontario is from late spring to fall (May–October). This is when most fish come out to play and the weather is near-perfect for a day on the water.
The spring action is usually reserved for Salmon fishing from shore because that’s where the fish will congregate to feed. You can also get your hands on some Trout and Walleye if the fishing conditions work in your favor.
Summer fishing always holds a lot of promise on Lake Ontario, and they’re usually fulfilled. Both Chinook and Coho Salmon are out and about, ready to bite and fight. Steelhead and their Trout cousins are in the game as well, along with Bass, Walleye, and Carp. It gets busy on the water, but angling excursions are usually super fun.
Come fall, Salmon start preparing for spawning and move toward the tributaries, so this is where you’ll find them. As long as the weather serves you, you can chase Trout and Walleye in nearshore waters. In the winter, Lake Ontario doesn’t freeze completely, but the ice in the bays usually gets strong enough to support hard-water fishing for Walleye and Yellow Perch.
What can I catch in Lake Ontario?
- Salmon. Salmon has been the top catch of Lake Ontario for decades, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. Chinook and Coho Salmon are the two species to look out for, especially in the summer and fall. Not only are there a lot of them in the lake, but they reach impressive sizes as well, which makes them the target of every trophy chaser. These silvery warriors are sure to give you a run for your money!
- Walleye. There’s no Great Lakes fishing adventure without Walleye. You can fish for Walleye year-round, and they’re especially lively in the colder months. When Salmon aren’t that eager to bite, targeting Walleye all but promises to be productive. Their average size is around 5 pounds, but there are specimens that weigh double that in the deeper reaches of the lake.
- Trout. Where there are nutrient-rich waters you’ll always find Trout. Brown and Lake Trout are common catches in the lake itself, while Steelhead usually stick to the streams and tributaries. Steelhead have two runs, in summer and winter, which means you can catch one even when most of the lake is unfishable. If you’re after a big fish, then look no further than legendary Lakers!
- Bass. Similar to its neighbor, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario has a thriving Bass population. Smallmouth and Largemouth are the most prized catches, and the best time to get a few on the line is in the summer when they’re most active. Bear in mind that getting them to bite will require some patience, but once you feel them thrashing on the line, you’ll be glad you waited.
There are dozens of species you could find on your line when fishing Lake Ontario, so you’ll be spoiled for choice. Northern Pike, Catfish, Panfish, and Sauger are all welcome sights – and the list goes on. Depending on the time you visit the lake, your charter guide will make sure you catch something fun and tasty.
Great Lakes Fishing Regulations
Figuring out the fishing regulations for the Great Lakes isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. The fact that most of them are spread over two countries and several states might make understanding the regulations overwhelming.
When it comes to bag and size limits, those will also change from state to state, even if the lake you’re fishing on is the same. Be mindful and prepared, so that you can fish safely within the law.
To make things easier for you, here’s a list of the lakes along with the links to fishing regulations for all the states that share them.
Great Lakes Fishing: The Greatest Freshwater Adventure in the World
To explore all the angling potential of the Great Lakes, you’d have to live a very long time. With their immense beauty and countless productive fishing spots, it’s impossible to encompass their magnitude and significance. Here, it doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner angler or an experienced pro, the Great Lakes will always have something to teach you.