Walleye Fishing in Michigan: The Complete Guide

Nov 24, 2022 | 8 minute read
Reading Time: 8 minutes

When planning a fishing trip to the “Great Lake State,” you might wonder which species you’ll come across. While the Michigan fishing menu is impressive, one fish species definitely stands out. A glam, elusive fish, caught for bragging rights and its exquisite taste. There’s something special about Walleye fishing in Michigan for a lot of reasons.

Ask any local angler, and they won’t be able to explain their obsession with this fish, as though it’s a mania. Finding Walleye almost always presents a healthy challenge, no matter where you go. And there’s a whole bunch of locations in Michigan where you can fish for Walleye. 

A picture showing a young smiling female angler holding a freshly caught Walleye while standing on a fishing boat in Michigan

This guide will cover all you need to know about Walleye fishing in Michigan. We’ll talk about the most productive techniques, lakes and rivers you can explore, the best time to go, and more. Let’s dive right in…

Where can I go Walleye fishing in Michigan?

Spoiling any Walleye enthusiast looking to fish in Michigan is the easiest thing ever. There’s not one but four Great Lakes in the state, hence its iconic shape. While Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Michigan are all at your disposal, the list of potential spots doesn’t end here.

There are plenty of fishable rivers and inland lakes in the state with great Walleye fishing. Let’s go through our favorite Walleye spots that you can explore.

Detroit River

Three male anglers sitting on a boat, holding a Walleye each, with other Walleye on the floor of the boat, Michigan

The Detroit River connects Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie, welcoming anglers in spring and early summer. If you’re after quality Walleye jigging, this river is arguably the best place in the region. A typical jigging flow here looks like this: your boat is naturally drifting downstream with the current, while your captain prepares heavy jigs for some vertical jig action. 

Normally, you’ll need jigs in the 1/2, 5/8, and 3/4 oz sizes. The Detroit River anglers use something locals call “Wyandotte Worm,” a finesse-style black or brown plastic worm. Paddle-tail plastics and split-tail minnow are also popular, along with certain live bait. Emerald shiner minnows, for example, are native to the area.

Note that the Detroit River is also an international boundary with Canada.

The Great Lakes

Two male anglers holding a Walleye each in Michigan

It’s hard to picture a fishing trip to Lake Erie without targeting its superstar catch. Walleye fishing is among the most popular activities on the lake in spring, summer, and fall. The fish start their spawning in spring, migrating into feeder streams during this time or seeking out shallow bars, weeds, and shoals.

Unlike in the Detroit River, Lake Erie Walleye anglers usually go for trolling. Lake Michigan and Lake Superior are no exceptions. Anglers prefer targeting trophy Walleye anytime from late evening to early morning, although you can go for smaller fish throughout the day. Jumbo Walleye are also available in Lake St. Clair.

Saginaw Bay

A happy smiling male angler standing on a boat and showing off a large Walleye, Michigan

Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay is 60 miles long and 30 miles wide, offering excellent Walleye fishing in Michigan. The spring spawning runs in April and May is considered to be the best time to go jigging for Walleye in the Bay. However, anglers can catch them pretty much throughout the year, even during winter. 

Saginaw River is another good jigging spot in the area, where anglers generally fish a 3/8 oz jig with split-tail minnows and paddle-tails. Winter Walleye fishing is also popular here, although you should definitely be very careful while working the ice. Conditions can change daily, so you might want to check the weather in advance and head out with a local guide.

St. Clair River

A group of three male anglers all wearing caps and sitting on a boat with a haul of Walleye, Michigan

As one of the busiest waterways in the Great Lakes, the St. Clair River connects two lakes, Huron and St. Clair. In the fall, it’s all about the Walleye mania, with anglers taking advantage of hungry fish. The river’s headwaters are especially popular among Walleye lovers, where Lake Huron narrows down and dumps into the river.

Here, you’ll need heavier jigs. St. Clair River Walleye anglers use one-ounce jigs, along with ⅝ and ¾ jigs to maintain contact with the bottom due to quick currents. You can pair it with a medium-heavy or heavy-action baitcasting rod/reel outfit.

…and More!

A happy male angler standing on a charter fishing boat and holding a freshly caught Walleye, Michigan

As you can see, Michigan residents and visitors are blessed with Walleye populations virtually everywhere throughout the state. Major waterways aside, there are various other spots where you can target Walleye. Here are some of them for you to consider:

  • South Lake Leelanau. This 5,370-acre lake received mega plants of millions of Walleye back in the 1980s. Today, the Walleye populations are self-sustaining. South Lake Leelanau is home to mayflies and shiners that the fish feed on, along with healthy zooplankton. Trolling crankbaits and stickbaits is the most popular technique throughout the year. 
  • Long Lake. The 2,860-acre Long Lake is full of islands and various structure that hold generous numbers of Walleye. Anglers usually fish in the shallow waters after dark or work the deeper areas of the lake during daylight hours. You can cast stickbait at night, try trolling crankbaits, or go for vertical jigging during the day. 
  • Big Manistique Lake. If your main focus is quantity rather than size, consider paying this lake a visit. There’s hardly a spot deeper than 20 feet in this 10,000-acre lake, so anglers usually drift or troll slowly in search of Walleye. There are various rocks and cobbles that provide a perfect habitat for the fish.
  • Coldwater Lake. A popular inland lake for Walleye fishermen, the 1,610-acre Coldwater is a good spot for a trip during the spawning season. Locals recommend heading to the spot right off Shawnee Shoals or along the northwest end of the lake by the boat launch and Pearl Beach.

How to go Walleye fishing in Michigan?

A group of anglers standing on a boat, fishing for Walleye on a Great Lake in Michigan

In general, the method you’ll be using to catch Walleye depends on when and where you go fishing. There are several factors to consider, such as seasons and times. For example, Walleye tend to be more aggressive and much hungrier during spawning season, so you can experiment with various types of bait. 

Another important factor is the time of day. You’ll want to fish deep for Walleye if you’re on the water during the daytime hours. If you’re planning an evening trip, you’ll have to fish in shallower areas. 

In this section, we’ll talk about the most popular techniques to catch Walleye in Michigan. But no matter which method you choose, it’s never a bad idea to head out with a local guide. Michigan captains know the area better than anyone!

Trolling

A group of three male anglers fishing on a Great Lake in Michigan, with their backs to the camera

Since Walleye move a lot, trolling is one of the most productive ways to catch them. If you choose to fish after dark, you might want to try trolling crankbait along break lines by shallow flats. For deeper daytime Walleye, consider using bottom-bounce rigs with a crawler harness. 

In general, crankbait, live bait spinner rigs, and swimbaits are the most popular trolling baits. Trolling with plugs, spoons, or spinners is effective as the season progresses. Walleye hang out by the bottom, so your captain might slow troll at a variety of depths. Planer boards are also common.

Jigging

A group of Great Lakes anglers standing on a charter fishing boat, fishing for Walleye, Michigan

While targeting Walleye along the bottom, especially in the summer and during the middle of the day, a lot of anglers prefer jigging and drop-shotting with live bait. Jigging is an effective method for river fishing, although lake Walleye also respond well to that technique. 

Michigan anglers jig minnows while drifting downriver, ice jigs, and spoons in deep waters along the dropoffs and ledges. Walleye in shallow water react well to vertical jigging with small crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and rip baits. 

Locals suggest using paddle-tails while jigging in off-color waters where the clarity is limited. The Berkley Ripple Shad and Z-Man PaddlerZ are among the local favorites.

Ice Fishing

A woman holding a big Walleye while ice fishing

Ice fishing for Walleye in Michigan is a treat for many anglers, residents, and visitors alike. There’s early, mid, and late-season ice fishing on virtually every body of water in the state. It’s important to be especially careful when planning an ice fishing trip for Walleye, even if you’re heading out with a guide. Make sure the weather cooperates, and check the ice thickness before you drill a hole. 

Jigging spoons or minnows work best when the ice is around 4-5 inches thin. Towards mid-season Walleye can move offshore, so you’ll need to look for them around reefs and rock piles. They’ll make their way back to the shallows in the late season, getting more and more aggressive each day.

Which bait and lures work best for Michigan Walleye?

A close-up of a freshly caught Walleye with a fishing lure in its mouth

Luckily, Walleye are known to eat virtually anything they can catch. If you could ask them what their favorite food is, they’d probably say crustaceans, worms, and insects. When fishing with live bait, anglers go for minnows on a light line, leeches suspended under a slip bobber, and nightcrawlers drifted along the bottom.

As for the lures, locals prefer deep diving crankbaits, spinners, and jerkbaits, along with crawler harnsesses, plastic worms, and spoons.

When can I go Walleye fishing in Michigan?

A fishing spot in Michigan at sunset, with fishing rods facing the water

Any time is a good time for a Walleye fishing trip in Michigan. If the conditions allow, you can go ice fishing during the winter months. If winter fishing isn’t your thing, enjoy the spawning season during the spring months, when these fish are especially hungry. Springtime and summer months are the best time to fish for Walleye on the Great Lakes in Michigan.

The best time to fish the rivers is either spring or fall, although early-season fishing can be solid until early summer. Walleye are known to patrol Saginaw Bay all summer long.

Note that there might be minimum size and bag limits for Walleye in different waterways. The Lake St. Clair and St. Clair River regulations, for example, state that you can keep six fish with a minimum size limit of 15 inches through April 30. Feel free to consult your guide and the DRN website in advance.

Walleye Fishing in Michigan F.A.Qs

Do I need a license to go Walleye fishing in Michigan?
  • Any angler over the age of 17 needs to buy a fishing license, whether fishing on their own or on a licensed charter. There are exceptions to Michigan fishing license requirements, though, which you can check out online.
Are there any Walleye fishing tournaments in Michigan?
  • Anglers can take part in Michigan Walleye Tour, which takes place in Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Oscoda, and Saginaw River.
Is Walleye fishing kids-friendly?
  • The short answer is yes, of course! The majority of Michigan Walleye guides gladly fish with younger anglers. However, make sure you book a trip on a suitable charter boat and check whether your captain offers children-friendly charters.

Walleye Fishing in Michigan: The Great Lakes, Rivers, and Everything in Between!

Two adult male anglers and two younger male anglers each smiling and holding a Walleye while standing on a fishing boat, Michigan

Local anglers practically revere Walleye fishing in Michigan. That’s hardly a surprise, though. The state is home to four Great Lakes, a few major rivers, and a lot of amazing inland lakes and rivers that hold healthy populations of Walleye. Wherever you go, chances are you’ll come back with a Walleye or two!

Have you ever been Walleye fishing in Michigan? What’s your favorite lake or river in the state? Do you have a story or a tip to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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