These Macomb County spots will get you hooked on fishing

Jon Witte is more than a little familiar with the ins and outs of fishing in Macomb County. The Clinton Township resident is the owner of a property managementJon Witte (David Lewinski photo) company, but when he gets the opportunity to get away from his job sites, his passion is angling. 

"It's kind of my zen and the more I get out, the more grounded and connected I am — and frankly the better version of me you get."

Witte is also a popular local fishing Instagrammer and serves as the director of the Lake St. Clair Thursday Night Kayak League, a volunteer group that regularly participates in group fishing outings on its namesake lake. Having fished all around Lake St. Clair, he's thankful to live so close to such bountiful waters. 

"Lake St. Clair is one of the greatest smallmouth bass fisheries in the world," he says. "There's people who come from all over the world to fish in Lake St. Clair for smallmouth bass, so it's amazing the types of people you see [fishing there]."
Harley Ensign Memorial Boat Launch (David Lewinski photo)Fishing from the Shore

Situated between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair connects to its Great Lake neighbors via the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. It's a shallow coldwater lake populated by a variety of different bass, as well as perch, sunfish, sturgeon, and other species. 

As Witte mentioned it's also a popular destination for both local and visiting anglers. According to an annual DNR report, non-charter anglers spent a combined 249,300 hours fishing the Michigan waters of Lake St. Clair in 2019, harvesting a total of 40,423 fish. That same year,  charter boat captains reported a total of 2,524 excursions on the American waters of the St. Clair-Detroit River System, which includes Lake St. Clair.

While getting out on the open water is certainly a draw for many of these anglers, there's also plenty of opportunities for fishing along the shore. One of the more popular areas for shore fishing in Macomb County is the Harley Ensign Memorial Boat Launch Site in Harrison Township

Located on Lake St. Clair at the mouth of the Clinton River, the state-run facility features a boat launch area and a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) research station. 

James Francis, Lake Erie Basin Coordinator for the Michigan DNR, feels Harley James Francis (Courtesy)Ensign is an excellent spot for catching fish.

"There's good fishing there," he says. "There's certain times of the year when perch comes in schools and you can do really well. Otherwise, you get a variety of fish: rock bass; smallmouth bass; and a whole variety of other fish. It's a pretty good spot to get out and run a line."

Francis cautions visiting anglers to stay away from the boat slips themselves, but says there is plenty of other space for fishing at the site. According to him, the south side of the parking lot allows visitors to park and cast a line into a shallow part of the lake just a few feet away from their vehicle, while the north side by the Clinton River offers deeper waters.

It's also worth noting that Harley Ensign requires a state recreation passport to enter, and that a state fishing license is required for everyone over the age of 17, even if they just plan on doing some catch-and-release fishing. However, both the recreation passport and the state fishing license can be attained very easily online (and a digital fishing license is considered acceptable to present to DNR officials). As with all fishing sites in Michigan, anglers are also expected to observe all of the state's fishing regulations as well as state Eat Safe Fish consumption guidelines (due to the presence of pollutants in Lake St. Clair).

Those interested in traveling a bit north of Harley Ensign can also fish along the Clinton River. Although Francis acknowledges that the Clinton River was once very polluted, but has improved markedly in recent years and is now safe to fish in. 

"The Clinton River has a bad reputation, but with the [newer] water quality regulations, it's actually a really good fishery.  It's unique because that's one of the areas where we stock steeleye and that's a really sought-after fish."

Other fish that can be found in the Clinton River watershed include musky, perch, pike, white suckers, catfish, carp, and various pan fish.

In addition to Harley Ensign and locations along the Clinton River, there are plenty of other great Macomb County fishing sites along the coast of Lake St. Clair, several of which have received substantial upgrades in recent years.

Blossom Heath Pier in St. Clair Shores just celebrated a grand reopening in May. Its dock (formerly 256 feet long) recently received a 400-foot extension, and the site now features two pergolas for shade, as well as furniture for sitting and clearing fish and other improvements. 

Similarly, Brandenburg Park in Chesterfield has also benefited from several new improvements. Located in Lake St. Clair's scenic Anchor Bay, the 17-acre waterfront park features a 500-foot pier as well as other amenities. Park authorities are now in the process of repairing the site's aging sea wall and 1.5 acres of near-shore habitat.    

One of the other most sought-after shoreline fishing spots along Lake St. Clair is Lake St. Clair Metropark (also known as Metro Beach).  

"You have a whole myriad of fish down there, but from shore, you're going to find a lot of the panfish. And they are readily catchable from shore down there," says Gary Hopp, Eastern District Superintendent for the Huron-Clinton Metroparks.

Huron Point at the southern end of Lake St. Clair Metropark offers 1.5 miles of shoreline fishing, and is known to be a good spot to catch bass, walleye, pike, and perch. There are also two recently reconstructed fishing platforms on the eastern edge of the park at Black Creek facing Lake St. Clair. In addition to that anglers are welcome to fish anywhere they'd like at Lake St. Clair Metro Park, apart from defined beach areas.

Speaking of Macomb County's Metroparks, Stony Creek, and Wolcott Mill also offer opportunities for shore fishing. 

"Stony Creek is actually classified as a predatory lake, which means basically it has a lot of walleye and pike, but even with those two species, there's a lot of panfish out there," says Hopp. "You're going to catch a lot of bluegills and a lot of crappie." 

Like Lake St. Clair Metropark, visitors are asked to refrain from fishing at beach areas at Stony Creek, and to respect rules related to not fishing off of dam structures. As for Wolcott Mill, there are bluegills in the Farm Center Pond there, and smallmouth bass, suckers, and panfish along the banks of the North Branch of the Clinton River. Anglers are also asked to be careful about leaving monofilament fishing line around, as it can harm wildlife. 

Scaled Up Sport Fishing charter boat (Courtesy Tyler Kolomyski)Out on the open water

For those interested in angling on the lake itself, there are a variety of options, including renting a charter. 

Captain Tyler Kolomyski is a former state trooper who started his own charter service, Scaled Up Sport Fishing, three years ago. He pilots a 24-foot aluminumTyler Kolomyski (Courtesy) boat designed for ocean fishing that can accommodate up to six passengers and offers five-hour multi-species fishing trips along Lake St. Clair. On these forays, Captain Kolomyski's passengers tend to catch walleye, silver bass, white and yellow perch, muskies, smallmouth bass, and the occasional sturgeon. 

"It's really just to get people out on the water and be actively reeling in a multitude of different fish, but it's largely dominated by walleye, which people like to eat, and yellow perch," he says. "The other fish are fun to catch, but a lot of times we throw those back."

Scaled Up Sport Fishing gets everyone from experienced anglers to newbies. Captain Kolomyski and his first mate set up the rods and provide assistance where needed, especially to the more inexperienced passengers. 

Depending on the season, his charter migrates between the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, Lake Michigan, and Lake Erie. But Captain Kolomyski says that St. Clair Shores, Anchor Bay, and the north, middle and south channels as well as locations on the Canadian side of the water tend to be popular spots for fishing on Lake St. Clair. 

Another option for exploring these locations is taking your own boat or a rented vessel out on the water. 

Witte does this all the time on his own kayak. While he acknowledges there are safety protocols to follow like wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times and being aware of conditions on the lake, he feels there is a lot of fun to be had going fishing on Lake St. Clair by kayak.

"Not to say there aren't dangers, and you have to pay attention to wind and weather, you can't go out there blind and stupid, but you can certainly go out there with a basic kayak and a fishing pole and catch fish."

Participating in groups, leagues, and tournaments

For inexperienced anglers, it can also be advantageous to go on group outings when getting out on the water. There are numerous groups around the state that sponsor fishing clinics and events like the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fishermen's Association and the Lake St. Clair Walleye Association, which happens to be co-hosting a free kid's fishing tournament with Huron-Clinton Metroparks on July 30 at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Groups like Witte's Lake St. Clair Thursday Night Kayak League also participate in regular tournaments, which are overseen by an organization called Topwater Nation that hosts a variety of competitive fishing series across the state. Anglers interested in participating in tournaments need to do their research, however, as many of these events are membership-based and not necessarily open to the public. Interested anglers can check the Michigan DNR's Fishing Tournament Information System for details about upcoming fishing competitions.

Regardless of whether you want to participate in a tournament or just do some angling along the shore, Witte encourages newcomers to the pastime to reach out to more experienced anglers for support and advice.

"Don't hesitate to ask people for help," he says. "The majority of people want to pass this knowledge on to the next person or the next generation. Don't be shy, be humble, and have fun."

This series, made possible with the support of Macomb County, captures the stories of how residents and visitors live, work, and play in the region.
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Read more articles by David Sands.