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Lake Michigan Fishing

Lake Michigan Pier

Fishing in Lake Michigan and tributaries

Indiana’s share of Lake Michigan is the smallest of the four states bordering the lake. Indiana has 43 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 224 square miles of Lake Michigan water.

Fishing Information

Fishing 101: Guides to Fishing Lake Michigan

When to fish Lake Michigan and its tributaries

  • Winter

    During January, February and March, fishing activity is limited to the streams and warmwater discharges along the shoreline. All the discharges originate from shoreline property owned by private industry.

    Three warmwater discharges are available to shore anglers for access. The areas may be closed when the lake is too treacherous or the National Threat Advisory has been elevated. They are:

    1. BP Whiting Refinery allows day and night fishing at their discharge, located off of Indianapolis Boulevard/119th Street in Whiting (near the eastern edge of Whiting Park).
    2. Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) Michigan City generating station, just west of the Lake Michigan Fisheries Research Office (100 W. Water St., Michigan City), is open to angling from sunrise to sunset.

    Species from warmwater discharge fishing:

    • Brown trout
    • Steelhead
    • Coho salmon
    • Chinook salmon
    • Drum, smallmouth bass, catfish and walleye

    Fishing equipment:

    • Insulated clothing.
    • Two to three rods for casting and bait-fishing; 6-10 pound test line rated for fishing in sub-zero to 45 degree temperatures.
    • Long-handled net of 8-12 feet (most fishing areas by the discharges are much higher than the water).
    • Best lures/baits include small alewives, nightcrawlers, spawn bags, shrimp and small spoons; body baits and spinners work on occasion. Suggested colors are silver/green, chrome/green, chrome/orange, chartreuse with red or black dots, fluorescent orange lures.
  • Spring

    Boat fishing for trout and salmon

    • The boat-fishing season along the southern shoreline of Lake Michigan usually begins with the departure of ice around mid-February to April.
    • Between March and mid-May, most of the fishing activity occurs within a two-mile band along the shoreline with coho salmon contributing close to 90 percent of the catch.
    • Most coho salmon stocked in the lake by Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana will stage in southern Lake Michigan in the spring, due to annual migration patterns.
    • The 2- and 3-year-old coho gain weight rapidly, weighing approximately 2 pounds in March and up to 4 pounds in May when they begin moving offshore. Steelhead, brown trout, Chinook salmon, and some larger coho are also taken during this period.
      • Fishing equipment:
        • Trolling with ThinFins, Rapalas, Thunder-Sticks (and various other body-baits and spoons), spinners, or dodgers and flies are the fishing methods most frequently used by boat anglers.
        • Casting into warmwater plumes in early spring when the lake temperature is still in the high 30s or low 40s has had some success.

    Shore fishing for trout and salmon

    • Shore anglers have found the months of March (and as early as mid-February) through April to be the best for catching coho in the spring.
      • Fishing equipment:
        • They cast using the same types of artificials as the boat anglers or fish with bait (nightcrawlers, spawn, waxworms, squid and shrimp, suspending bait off bottom or from 4-6 feet below the surface.

    Sunfish family, including smallmouth bass

    • The sunfish family can be divided into three groups:
      • Smallmouth and largemouth bass (black bass)
      • Crappies
      • The true sunfish and rock bass.
    • In Lake Michigan, these fish inhabit mostly breakwaters and other areas that are protected from wave action (marina basins). All are spring spawners, with spawning for some extending into the summer months.
    • Smallmouth bass
      • Smallmouth bass are confined to reefs and shoal water areas.
      • Shoreline development (i.e., rip-rap shoreline and breakwaters) has resulted in the creation of suitable smallmouth bass habitat. Smallmouth bass numbers have responded positively to this increase in habitat.
      • Wave energy has a direct influence on smallmouth distribution. Protected areas, such as the land side of breakwaters are areas that produce the best action.

    Angling methods for bass include bait casting and the use of common live baits (crawlers; minnows). Smallmouth are particularly vulnerable to fishing after dark.

  • Summer

    Trout and salmon

    • The water temperature close to shore increases rapidly in late spring, driving coho and most other salmonids into the deep, cooler offshore waters.
    • Between May and the end of July, boat anglers in pursuit of trout and salmon normally fish at depths ranging between 70 and 200 feet of water.
    • Travel a distance of 6 to 20 miles from shore, depending upon the point of departure (these water depths require traveling offshore to Illinois or Michigan waters. If fishing IL or MI waters, a fishing license from the appropriate state is also necessary).
    • Downriggers are used to get the lure down to the temperature zone sought by trout and salmon. Lake trout, coho, Chinook, steelhead, and to a lesser extent, brown trout, all contribute to the catch.

    Yellow perch

    • Yellow perch move closer to the shoreline during these months and are available on a limited basis to shore and boat anglers.
    • Minnows, crayfish tails, frozen shrimp and crab fished at depths less than forty feet in May through September have produced the best catches. Shore fishing opportunities also exist throughout the summer months at most of the shoreline fishing sites.

    Skamania steelhead

    • By mid- to late-June, depending on water temperatures and water levels in the tributaries, the summer-run Skamania will return to Indiana’s tributaries where they were planted as fingerlings or yearlings.
    • The tributaries the Division of Fish & Wildlife stocks are the St. Joseph River, the East Branch of the Little Calumet River and Trail Creek. Most Skamania will “stage” near shore in Lake Michigan, with fish rushing upstream, especially after a heavy rainfall to begin the “run.”
    • By mid-August (dependent upon tributary temperatures and water levels), good numbers of Skamania have entered their home tributary streams; however, Skamania will continue to enter the area tributaries throughout the fall and winter months (through March).
    • Skamania spawning activities begin around early February through mid-March, with the peak occurring in February.
    • The majority of spawning fish are four and five years of age. The spent steelhead will return to Lake Michigan throughout March and into April. A steelhead may spawn several times during its life, although most likely only spawn once or twice.
  • Fall

    Skamania and winter-run steelhead

    • Adult steelhead (Skamania summer-run strain and Michigan or winter-run strain) return to the streams where they were stocked as fingerlings or yearlings.

    Lake trout

    • Lake trout display a spawning pattern close to the Port of Indiana, with a run of lake trout that develops along the shoreline between mid-October and mid-November.

    Chinook and coho salmon

    • Chinook and coho salmon return to streams and spawn from late August to early November. Chinook and Coho salmon die after spawning.
  • Streams
    • Chinook and coho salmon: September through mid-November
    • Skamania strain steelhead (summer-run): Mid-July to mid-October; winter months (i.e. January through March; success, however, is strongly dependent upon environmental/stream conditions, particularly stream water levels).
    • Michigan strain steelhead (winter-run): Mid-November to mid-March.
    • Summer-run Skamania steelhead return to area streams from July (as early as mid-June) through the winter months and spawn from mid-February to March; winter-run steelhead return beginning in mid-late October, with the bulk of the return in February and March
    • Winter-run steelhead spawn from mid-March to mid-April. All species of salmonids (coho, Chinook, steelhead trout and brown trout) are available to sport anglers during the fall spawning runs (boat and pier anglers as trout and salmon return to their stocking site; stream anglers when trout and salmon move into/upstream the tributaries). Brown trout return to stocking sites in the autumn to spawn.

Where to Fish on Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan Fishing

  • The Michigan City pier, basin, and adjoining ramp (owned by City of Michigan City), provide access for both shore and boat anglers.
  • Another municipal ramp is located upstream on Trail Creek (Trail Creek Marina).
  • A public fishing site for shoreline anglers exists next to the Michigan City DNR building (handicap accessible).
  • A public fishing site for shoreline anglers (handicap accessible) is available at the Port of Indiana. Various private marinas along Burns Waterway (State Road 249; Burns Ditch) provide boat launching facilities

Stream Fishing of Lake Michigan tributaries

Trail Creek has 10 public fishing sites; two are handicap accessible.

Public fishing sites include:

  • Site next to the DNR building; Hansen Park (E Street)
  • Winding Creek Cove (8th/Dickson Streets)
  • Fire Station #2 (2005 E. U.S. 12)
  • Robert Peo Public Access (Liberty Trail)
  • Karwick Nature Park (Karwick Road)
  • U.S. 35 (Chapala Parkway)
  • Trail Creek Forks (U.S. 20)
  • Johnson Road (Johnson/Wozniak Roads)
  • Creek Ridge Park (7943 W. County Road 400 North).

The DNR public access site and Creek Ridge Park are both handicap accessible.

The East Branch of the Little Calumet River and Salt Creek also provide public access for fishing opportunities.

  • Salt Creek runs through Imagination Glenn County Park and Haven Hollow Park, both offering angler-access.
  • Two state-managed public fishing sites are located on Salt Creek, the Chustak Public Fishing Area and Salt Creek Public Fishing Area, near Valparaiso.
  • Deer Creek Path, a public access site at Ameriplex Woods (State Road 249/Ameriplex Drive) and Burns Harbor Public Access (State Road 149/Navaho Drive) offer fishing opportunities on the East arm of the Little Calumet River.
  • Portions of the East Branch of the Little Calumet River flow through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore property, which the public can utilize. For more information about fishing on the Dunes National Lakeshore property, call (219) 926-7561 or visit www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm.

REMEMBER: The majority of Lake Michigan tributaries run through private property; permission from landowners is required to fish on these private lands.

Lake Michigan Fisheries Status and Management Reports

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