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Top Fishing Charters in Traverse City

Fishing in Traverse City

Traverse City fishing charters are sure to please even the most experienced angler. Some people say this is the best fishing in Northern Michigan. Try it, and you will most likely come back again. You will miss the sound of a screaming reel that breaks the water's’ calmness. You will bring your friends and family with you next time to share the excitement with them. 

Known For

Traverse City, Michigan, is famous for many things. The ‘Cherry Capital of the World’ holds food and film festivals and attracts half a million visitors every year. There are beautiful beaches, the enchanting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, waterfront parks, and outstanding fisheries.

Protected by the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, the city looks out onto both the east and west arms of the Grand Traverse Bay. A Pure Michigan destination with prolific fishing to enjoy, Traverse City is a truly special place.

Traverse City fishing charters need no introduction. This paradise in Michigan's Northern Lower Peninsula is one of the best destinations in the world for those who want to wet a line. The cool, crisp water teams up with beautiful colors of Lake Michigan and the bays.

Where and When to Fish Traverse City

Spring and fall are prime fishing seasons in Traverse City. The reason for that is the Chinook and Coho Salmon run upriver. And since they are also followed by Walleye and Steelhead, fishing gets even better. The lovely Steelhead usually open the season early in March. Bass, Walleye, and Pike follow in April, and the long-awaited Trout begins in May.

That said, between the months of May and October, there is hardly a better place to be that Traverse City. Expect a ferocious Smallmouth bite in the Arms of Grand Traverse Bay. Meanwhile, lakes and rivers are filled with Trout, and the mighty Lake Michigan’s Salmon and Steelhead population is completely irresistible.

Lake Trout fishing trips are common all season long, and Salmon bite best from late summer until early October. Brown Trout and Steelhead are regular visitors along with Perch and even Walleye. Plus, some parts of Traverse City are praised for their Bass fishing opportunities.

The productive waters of Traverse City have a lot of structures to attract schools of baitfish. These places are magnets for predators, which in turn attract anglers from all over the country.

Grand Traverse Bay

Northern Michigan possesses only one deep water port and it’s Grand Traverse Bay. This northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is a residence of Steelhead, Coho Salmon, Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye to name a few. Grand Traverse Bay is 10 miles wide and 32 miles long. Traverse City is based right at the south end of the bay.

When the weather is rough and Lake Michigan is not fishable, you can always count on the calm waters of Grand Traverse Bay. These waters can be ‘gin clear’ - the visibility easily surpasses 30 feet. Just think how good it is when you want to spot the action beneath the surface! Seeing the fish swim from over a hundred feet away is exciting, to say the least.

Ask a local captain or a guide whether the West or East arm offers better fishing. The answer you’ll get is: Whichever one you decide to fish!

West Grand Traverse Bay and East Grand Traverse Bay

West Traverse Bay is up to 350 feet deep and is home to tall ships that sail the local waters, pleasure boats that take passengers on sunset cruises, and jet skis for exciting aquatic activities. And, most importantly, there are guides and captains who are constantly putting their clients and friends on fish.

The  East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay is up to 600 feet deep. When you start off the day with a breathtaking sunrise facing the calm and clear waters of the bay, it’s fantastic. But when you are aboard a fishing boat heading out for a dose of Smallmouth Bass, it’s hard to beat. Smallies, Salmon, Lake Trout, Perch, and Walleye break the calm of Traverse City!

The West Arm of the Bay is protected on the East, West, and South. The same goes for the East arm. During the fishing season, anglers rarely worry about the waters getting more than a foot of chop. The Bay’s surface is beautiful and calm. But when it comes down to the fishery, it’s absolutely crazy!

This underwater metropolis is full of high flying, line peeling, and rod bending fish.  Come summer, and anglers are all thinking about Smallmouth Bass on the shallow flats, jigging for Lake Trout, or trolling for Steelhead.

The Boardman River & Boardman Lake

Downtown Traverse City holds The Boardman River, an exceptional place for Trout fishing. One of Michigan’s treasures and top-ten fisheries, one-fifth of the river is labeled as Blue Ribbon Trout fishing grounds.

The Boardman River and Boardman Lake host decent numbers of Salmon and Steelhead. But the main attraction is Brown and Brook Trout, which anglers commonly pursue with a fly rod. Fly fishing in Traverse City is one of the most exciting angling opportunities in the Midwest.

Summer months are the best time to plan a trip to the Traverse City’s best fly fishing spot.

Fishing Techniques

Bass fishing

Fishing Traverse City is every freshwater angler’s dream. Some of the best fishing happens for Smallmouth Bass happens when autumn comes. All the local guides and captains look forward to the feeding frenzy. Hungry Smallies hang around the inland lakes and often end up at the end of the fishing line. Some of the top Bass fishermen in the whole of the US come to fish Grand Traverse Bay.

Bass fishing in Traverse City is not rocket science. Your captain or guide will show you the ropes and guide you through the basics. You will most likely be fishing deep and dark places. Smallies tend to hang around underwater structures in the lake. It’s right there in the darker spots in the water where you will be fishing in late summer. But if you’re planning a Traverse City fishing trip in June, your captain will take you to shallow reefs to sight fish.

Head to the rock piles or clumps of weeds with jerkbait or spinnerbait. Troll with live minnows, fish steep drops with tubes. As long as you have a professional captain by your side, you have all the chances in the world to hook your Bass.

Lake Trout fishing

Traverse City fishing charters are not only about the trophy bronzebacks. Even though the East Grand Traverse Bay is praised for its Smallmouth Bass fishery, Lake Trout are no less exciting.

You can fish for Lakers with bare hooks and you can tip them with a minnow. Some captains prefer using sandkicker or an elk rapids jig or a simple piece of meat. The fishing is hot starting from May. As the summer progresses, you will be searching for Lake Trout in the deeper waters, just like you do for Bass. Once Lakers go deeper than 50-60 feet, vertical jigging is a go-to technique.

Ice fishing in Traverse Bay is a great thing, especially if you are a Crappie-fisherman or want to get a nice dose of Bluegill. It’s important to not go alone though. Book a trip with one of the local ice-fishing guides and see what you can catch!

Need to know

When charter fishing in Traverse Bay, you will need to have a license. Michigan law requires anyone over 16 years old to be licensed. You will also need to keep in mind the limits for fish. 5 Salmon per person are allowed with no more than 3 of any species. For example, you can take 2 Coho and 3 Kings (which is more than enough for the weekly dinners.) Brown Trout and Steelhead have a limit of 3 per person, while only 2 Lake Trout are allowed.

Most importantly, you will need to bring your family with you. A 5-hour charter would cost you something around $400 for a group of four.

Traverse City
4.68
Based on 14936 reviews by FishingBooker anglers

Traverse City Fishing Seasons

As you might have already guessed, fishing in Traverse City is equally exciting in winter as it is in spring. Fly fish for Trout or target Steelhead. Because why not?

Happy February everyone! Massive Steelhead can be found in the lakes and Lake Trout are an exciting target for fly fishermen. By the way, spring is just around the corner!

The inland lake's fishing is in full swing. Grand Traverse Bay is also fishing very well. Lake Trout are still the main target. Boaters and captains can't wait to be on the water.

April is no fooling. A few boats are already on the water of both the East and West arms of the Bay. Jigging for Lake Trout is a thing right now! 

The beautiful month of May sees Lake Trout lovers all equipped with light wait and regular tackle. Trout fishing is as hot as it could be. What can you possibly be waiting for?

The summer season has begun. The water can seem a bit cold. But the fishing is quite the opposite! Head offshore for Brown Trout, Chinook Salmon, and Steelhead and inshore for Lake Trout. 

July is all about Cherry Festival, fantastic weather, and unparalleled fishing. Go for heavy Lake Trout, King Salmon, or even Chinook. A mid-summer fishing trip is a must.

This month is your best chance to catch a trophy King Salmon. They are ready to begin the run upstreams. Don’t forget to get a fair share of Cohos as well. 

Fishing is so great right now that you might think you are somewhere in Destin. Guess what - it’s maybe even better than Destin! Coho and Chinook Salmon (Brownies and Steelies as well) are hot.

It’s prime time right now in Traverse City. Waters begin to cool, which could only mean that some fish species start to get active to fatten themselves. Annual Pacific Salmon run is hot!

Salmon and Steelhead are all in the rivers, waiting for you to find them. Grab your fishing buddy and go for an adventure of a lifetime. Fishing is always great!

You will do well to hire a guide to take you out fishing. A day on the water targeting Trout is one of the best things you can do before Christmas. Steelhead might be around.

Traverse City Fishing Calendar

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What People Are Saying About Traverse City

"half day with captain mike"

James F. fished with Add'em Up Sportfishing Charters on June 28, 2019

east bay is a pretty area to fish in. the limit for lake trout is one. catch and release allows for an increased catch without exceeding the legal limit.

"Another great trip with captain Ben!"

Barb P. fished with Daydreamer Fishing Charters on August 17, 2018

Just bring a sweatshirt and enjoy the boat ride.

"Great captain and crew"

Matthew B. fished with Fish-X-TC on August 15, 2018

Short ride to fishing grounds and productive

"First time fishing in Michigan!"

Brittany R. fished with Big Kahuna Charters on July 31, 2018

From what I hear, this AM trips is where it’s at. The first pass is usually the best!

What would you recommend to anglers fishing in Traverse City, Michigan for the first time?

Top Targeted Species in Traverse City

Lake Trout

Lake Trout

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Rainbow Trout (Steelhead)

Brown Trout

Brown Trout

Salmon

Salmon

Bass (Smallmouth)

Bass (Smallmouth)

Nearby Fishing Destinations