Port Washington Fishing: The Complete Guide for 2024

Jan 11, 2024 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Just 20 minutes north of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan’s western shore, history comes alive. There’s the legendary harbor, a touch of the Great Lakes charm, and gorgeous pre-Civil War buildings. This is what the county seat of Ozaukee County might be to visitors. However, anglers from all over the country know that Port Washington fishing is the city’s best feature. 

An aerial view of Upper Lake Park in Port Washington Wisconsin, with Port Washington marina, St Mary's Church, WE power plant in view

In Port Washington, the bottom of Lake Michigan drops off fast. All fishermen know that this means only one thing: more fish! A Port Washington fishing charter is an amazing opportunity to celebrate Lake Michigan and see what its west shore has to offer.

In this guide, we’ll cover the most interesting fish species that call this scenic place home. As well as that, we’ll talk about how you can fish in Port Washington and when’s the best time to do it. Let’s dive right in!

If you want to learn more about fishing in Wisconsin, read our complete guide.

Top Port Washington Fish Species

While there might not be a huge variety of fish species in Lake Michigan, anglers of all skill levels will have the chance to land a trophy. The majority of Port Washington fishing charters are about Trout and Salmon. These are the all-star cast of all seasons! But let’s see which Trout and Salmon are on offer. 

Coho Salmon

If we were to explain how popular Coho Salmon is among Lake Michigan anglers, we’d need another article. In short, these fish are tough fighters, offering some of the most exciting angling action. With Coho Salmon, size doesn’t matter but numbers do. Oh, and these Salmon are actually pretty tasty!

Two men hold two Coho Salmon on a charter boat with Lake Michigan behind them

Evenings and early mornings are reserved for this game fish from spring until late fall. July and August are usually the most productive months. However, chances are you won’t be left without a catch whenever you go.

When it comes to the technical stuff, a lot of locals actually use light tackle when fishing for Coho Salmon. One of the reasons is that they’re smaller than Chinook Salmon, which are common trolling catches. 

Chinook Salmon

Next on the menu is Chinook “King” Salmon. These are among the most sought-after game fish not only in Lake Michigan but throughout the Great Lakes. As Port Washington royalty, King Salmon are exceptional fighters and can weigh in at 30+ pounds. And, just like Coho, they’re also incredibly tasty!

Captain Nick Scaffidi of Milwaukee Offshore Fishing Charters with a younger angler holding a large King Salmon, Port Washington, WI
Captain Nick Scaffidi and a young angler

So, when’s the best time to fish for Chinook Salmon in Port Washington? Kings appear in Lake Michigan’s deep water anywhere from May to early June. As the summer progresses, you have more chances of landing a large Chinook. Fishing usually goes all way through their annual run, with the season cooling off in November

As we mentioned earlier, Chinook are popular trolling catches. And you can also give light tackle a try. Throughout the season, anglers usually head to deeper waters on a boat to fish for Kings. If you’re after King Salmon, you’d better be ready for some rod-bending action!

Steelhead

Now that we’ve moved on to the Lake Michigan Trout population, we’ll start with Steelhead – also known as Rainbow Trout. Steelhead fishing is widely popular throughout the lake, and Port Washington is no exception.

An angler on a pier in Wisconsin after a fishing trip in Lake Michigan with a freshly caught Steehead

Steelies are an aggressive game fish. Just like Salmon, they always give a good fight. While they come within range of a spinning or fly rod in the lake’s tributaries, most Port Washington anglers prefer trolling. Live bait, such as shrimp, crayfish, and worms, usually works best.

Steelhead fishing in Port Washington begins in late spring when you can target them right from shore with light tackle. As the season progresses, Steelhead move to deeper waters. You can look for them all the way through October.

Lake Trout

Lake Trout fishing in Port Washington is a year-round pleasure. Yes, you read that right! You can target Lakers throughout the year. While you might have more luck if you book a summer fishing trip, some anglers catch large Lake Trout even in March. 

An angler holding a freshly caught Lake Trout while sitting on a boat in Port Washington, Wisconsin

If you head out for Lakers in spring, start closer to shore. As the temperature rises, you can move to deeper waters. Usually, Lake Trout prefer to hang out in colder water at significant depths during the summer months.

How can you catch Lake Trout in Lake Michigan? The majority of anglers go for trolling with spoons, flies, cowbells, and minnows.

Brown Trout

Finally, there are Brown Trout. Just like Lakers, Brownies can be caught on a year-round basis. If you’re a springtime angler, you might get to enjoy some of the hottest action. Brown Trout live in warmer and shallower waters than other Trout and Salmon. 

An angler on a boat holding a Brown Trout, in Port Washington, WI

Brownies are easily spooked, which makes fishing an even more interesting challenge. If you’re fishing from a boat, your technique of choice would most likely be trolling with plugs or imitation minnows. Waders and pier fishermen prefer using live bait and artificial lures.

How is Port Washington fishing done?

There are various ways to enjoy everything the Port Washington fishing scene has to offer, depending on what species you’re after. In this section, we’ll discuss different types of fishing options available in this Lake Michigan city. Read on…

From Shore

A view of Port Washington Breakwater Lighthouse in Wisconsin from the lakeside with the lake on the left hand side

Say you happen to spend some time in Port Washington but don’t want to fish from a boat. What are your options? Fishing from shore, of course! And there are a couple of good spots to explore for those who want to wet their line. For instance, you can start by checking out the break wall by the art deco lighthouse

Anglers of all ages – locals and visitors – can discover the year-round Port Washington fishing opportunities. In winter, you can enjoy the ice-free portion of the water right by the WE Energies Power Plant discharge area at the Coal Dock Park promenade. In the fall, the banks of Sauk Creek and Fisherman’s Park are full of Salmon enthusiasts.

On a Boat

Silver Dog Fishing Charters' fishing boat in Lake Michigan, Port Washington
Silver Dog Fishing Charters

A Port Washington fishing charter is arguably the best way to explore Lake Michigan. Hiring a local guide and hopping aboard a charter boat is almost a must if you want to have a productive day. 

Whether your goal is just finding fish and having tight lines all the time, or if you want to learn as much as possible about Lake Michigan, fishing with a captain is never a bad idea. Hardly anyone can show you the ropes better than a local. 

If you’re fishing from a boat, you’ll be able to cover more ground when trolling. A lot of boats are equipped with outriggers, downriggers, dipsey divers, surface lines, and a lead core, among other presentations. Some captains may even have as many as 20 lines out on a typical day! Lures and speeds depend on the currents and targeted species. 

Shipwrecks 

There are a couple of shipwrecks located near Port Washington that you can explore, such as Linda E and The Northerner which is resting around 5 miles southeast of the city. You can ask your captain if they can show you what fishing opportunities these shipwrecks have to offer, as long as the fishing doesn’t injure these underwater cultural resources. 

There is also a Port Washington group called Shipwreck Education and Preservation Alliance. They’re working on a project to create a better marine environment and fish habitat for future generations to enjoy. The group plans to build public access to Lake Michigan, as well as develop multi-level depths of artificial reefs.

Spearfishing

Undoubtedly, spearfishing in Port Washington is very niche. Adventurous anglers can grab their spear gun, put on their scuba gear, and dive right into Lake Michigan’s waters. However, you’ll need to consult with your guide about the local rules and regulations before you dive into Lake Michigan. 

If you’re a seasoned spearo, you’re up for a treat. Your main potential target will be Burbot. But if you’re after Salmon and Trout, you might want to stick to the regular rod and reel combo!

When to go fishing in Port Washington?

A view of a sunset in Port Washington, Wisconsin

If you’re fishing with kids, consider booking a Port Washington fishing charter in May or early June. These months are known for fast action and good sizes. Young Coho Salmon, early season Kings, Lake Trout, Brown Trout, and Steelhead are all on the late spring menu. 

Things really get going from June through early July, marking it the peak of trophy Lake Trout season. Steelhead and Coho Salmon also bite well, while more and more King Salmon show up, too. 

As Port Washington’s busiest months, July and August are all about trophy Kings. Chinook Salmon are active until October, while September and October offer the biggest sizes of King Salmon and Brown Trout. 

Port Washington Fishing FAQs

Port Washington Fishing – An Anglers’ “Home Port”

Port Washington Harbor in Port Washington, Wisconsin

As you walk along Port Washington’s lakefront, you’ll find a lot of local guides. Thanks to its excellent reputation for sportfishing, the city is a great place to wet a line. It doesn’t matter which fish you’re after or when you decide to explore the mighty Lake Michigan. As soon as you’re on a boat leaving the harbor behind, you’ll truly see the touch of that Great Lakes charm. And Port Washington fishing is the best way to feel it. 

Have you ever been fishing in Port Washington? Any fish stories you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

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Lisa traded the lecture hall for the vast expanse of the world's waters, transforming her love of teaching into an insatiable passion for angling and storytelling. She would sail through oceans, lakes, and rivers, reeling in the world’s fish stories one catch at a time.

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