Fishing Michigan

In some ways, fishing is less a sport than an absurdity. There are bugs – those that attack you and those that you use for bait or even those that you attempt to imitate with your rod and tackle. There are early morning risings and sunburns and less-than-lovely odors. 

There are long days spent on the water alone, ruminating over life's mysteries or thinking about absolutely nothing at all. And there are those spent with family and friends talking about life and death, politics and religion and that one true love that got away in junior high – and telling dirty jokes.

At its least, fishing is an excuse to spend some time out-doors, pursuing one of the earth's most noble creatures – or dumbest, depending on who you talk to. At its greatest, it is The Hunt, the epitome of basic human-ness, the primal moment when your heart races and your palms feel greasy and you are reeling in hard.

Sometimes, there's a beautiful walleye on the end of that line. And sometimes, a wad of seaweed.

And we're back to absurdity.

Everyone else is doing it

Some basic facts you've probably heard:

  • Michigan's shoreline is second in length only to Alaska's (suck on that, California!).
  • Michigan ranks first among states when it comes to boats, with more than 1 million registered personal watercraft.
  • With 1.5 million licenses issued a year, Michigan ranks fourth in the nation when it comes to number of anglers.
  • In all of Michigan, you are never further than six miles from one of more than 11,000 inland lakes or further than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes.

Are you getting it now? 

Big water, big fish

Although throwing a line into an inland lake might be easier, there is no better place to experience Southeast Michigan's greatest natural resource than to take the plunge – figuratively – into fishing Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River or Lake Erie. 

Starting from shore might be your best bet. There are plenty of spots all along the waterway to try your luck, but Detroit's Belle Isle has two fishing piers, which have the benefit of getting your rod out into some deeper water. Other great spots along the Detroit River include the newly-refurbished Gabriel Richard Park at the foot of Belle Isle's MacArthur Bridge and along the East Riverfront RiverWalk in the vicinity of Joe Louis Arena.

On the Lake St. Clair end of things, try Metro Beach's Huron Point or in Lake Erie, Lake Erie Metropark or Sterling State Park.

If you can, get onto a boat. For your first time on big water, hiring a charter might not be a bad idea. Jon Bondy is a professional fishing guide who considers the Detroit River system his stomping ground. He is effusive about fishing there in general and, this year in particular. He credits the unheard of numbers and size of walleye and yellow perch – considered by many anglers to be the tastiest freshwater fish – to be due to primo spawning conditions in 2003. 

He encourages beginners to either charter a guide or to spend some time observing. "Go on the river, watch where other boats are fishing. Do an online search on how to rig up for each particular species."

Bondy has a quick answer for anyone squeamish about eating fish caught in Detroit River water: "You're drinking it." But in seriousness, he explains the realities of the situation. "Once they stopped polluting in the late '60s, early '70s, it cleaned out really quickly. Its water comes out of Lake Huron, and all 32 miles long drains out every 20 hours with constant fresh water. Sure, there's some sediment that has pollution, but all in all, it's a very clean river."

As for the fish, he explains, "Most of those fish spend most of their life out on Lake Erie anyways. The fish in the river system are migratory."

Bondy, like many anglers, likes nothing better than a day on the water. "Being away from the old highways and byways, connecting with nature, pursuing another creature out there that is different than us…it's innate."

Inland waters have their charms, too

No one would blame you if you took a look at the Detroit River system and felt a bit intimidated. Luckily for you, there are plenty of small water choices around, too. You probably won't catch a great eating fish, but catch-and-release is a fine method of practicing.

The Huron River meanders through much of Southeast Michigan before flowing into Lake Erie. It is actively fished along much of its length, and flows through Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Belleville, Flat Rock and Rockwood – all good places to use for a base.

Along Hines Drive in Livonia, Newburgh Lake is stocked with bluegill and bass, ideal fish for children to try their hands at. They don't put up much of a fight and are relatively easy to hook.

There are some wonderful state parks on the western side of Southeastern Michigan. Island Lake State Recreation Area has, obviously, Island Lake, but it also has a stretch of the Huron River and Spring Mill Pond. Pinckney State Recreation Area has Crooked and Silver Lakes and Northville's Maybury State Park has a cute little pond.

Getting started

Before you even think about fishing, you should get a license. It used to be kind of a pain in the butt to get one, but the state has entered the 21st Century and now lets you purchase one online. For residents, they cost $15 for all species excluding trout and salmon and $28 for all species.

Don't even think about fishing without one  – not only are you cheating the state out of one of the only guaranteed pots of money for its chronically-underfunded Department of Natural Resources, but getting popped for fishing without one will cost you serious ducats. A judge sets the fine, but even first-time offenders can expect to pay over $100.

Get geared up at a local bait and tackle shop. Most are super-friendly, and excited to get someone started in the sport they love. Explain to them whether you will be on land or in a boat and what type of fish you will be targeting. Let them know you only want a basic rig. 

If you find you like fishing, you'll be able to refine your rod, reel and tackle over time. Fishing can be an inexpensive hobby, but it can get pricey if you let it. Don’t get wrapped up in all that stuff your first few times out. 

Relax, have fun, and remember the old saying: A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.

Kelli B. Kavanaugh is metromode's Innovation and Job News editor and Model D's development news editor. Her last article for metromode was Eco Endings.


Michael Thomas Pruner makes a cast on the Huron River in Ann Arbor

Michael Thomas Pruner fishes the banks while a family in a canoe passes on the Huron River

Jon Bundy (courtesy of Jon Bundy)

Kayaking and fishing on the Huron River

Fly fishing (photo by Brian Kelly)

Photographs by Alex Dziadosz except as noted - All Rights Reserved
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