How to Fish the Great Lakes Without a Boat
The appeal of fishing from shorelines, breakwaters, and piers around the Great Lakes starts with the fact that you need...
The appeal of fishing from shorelines, breakwaters, and piers around the Great Lakes starts with the fact that you need just a rod or two, a small selection of tackle, and maybe a bucket to sit on, and it culminates with fresh fillets for the fryer or smoker. In between is the relaxing wait for a bite, interrupted by the adrenaline-pumping fun of catching fish–sometimes really big ones. Give these dry-land hotspots a try this season.
The St. Louis River separates Duluth from Superior, Wis., and offers an array of fishing opportunities. At the river’s mouth, the Duluth Ship Canal’s south pier affords anglers a shot at tasty coho salmon when the silvers come shallow to chase bait in late spring. A nightcrawler pegged to the bottom with a slip sinker works, but a tight-vibrating crankbait with rattles or a casting spoon can cover more water and shore fishers will catch more fish. The south pier is one of many structures on the Great Lakes where you’ll need a long-handled landing net.
Another nearby place to target cohos and other coldwater species in the spring and fall include the McQuade Small Craft Harbor, located 10 miles up Highway 61 from Duluth. Just 7 miles east of Duluth is Barker’s Island, in Superior, where anglers can catch northern pike, smallmouth bass, walleyes, and even muskies from the dock at the public ramp.
+ Inside line: Marine General
The Lower Harbor Breakwall at this Upper Peninsula city draws open-water anglers from March to November. This ½-mile-long breakwall offers scenic views of the harbor, city skyline and lighthouse–and some fine fishing opportunities, too.
First action at ice-out is for coho salmon and the occasional chinook caught with live crawlers and minnows or spoons–the Swedish Pimple Do-Jigger is a local favorite.
Fishing can be particularly good in the fall for whitefish and their close cousins, menominees. Single, cured salmon eggs fished on the bottom are a hot ticket (the fish are following spawning lake trout in shallows), but both of these species will also eat wax worms and small jigging spoons.
The big structure can accommodate lots of anglers. And when you’re finished strolling on the pier, you can walk to a couple of fine brewpubs by the waterfront. The Vierling has been a mainstay for 100 years.
+ Inside line: Gander Mountain (906-226-8300)
With a pier on the south and a long breakwall to the north, Sheboygan offers a lot of elbow room for anglers, who target brown trout all winter and well into the spring. Browns love hunks of smelt fished on the bottom, and find smelt heads particularly appealing. Jigs and soft-plastics, notably PowerBait, hopped along the bottom also work for browns.
The piers here–like many near Lake Michigan rivermouths that receive annual stockings of king salmon–are a great place to catch spawners starting in late August through September. Large casting spoons, such as Krocodiles with glow finishes, and big-bass-style crankbaits are top lures, especially at night.
+ Inside line: The Wharf Tackle Store (920-458-4406; thewharf.biz)
St. Joseph, MI
Starting in June, the east winds, which push warm surface water out, draw in cold water–and summer-run steelhead.
“Thawed-out shrimp, nightcrawlers, and live alewives on the bottom and below bobbers–sometimes set just below the surface–all can catch fish,” says Martin Moore, of Hartford, Mich. “Mepps Flying C spinners and ¾-ounce Reef Runner Cicada blade baits are also effective.”
+ Inside line: Broadlow’s Fishin’ Hole (269-982-3474; broadlowsfishinhole.com)
Luna Pier, MI**
Great walleye fishing at Luna Pier begins in the spring, when post-spawn fish leave the Maumee River and recover along the Michigan shoreline. Spring fishing from the long pier can be good night and day, says Frank Cortese, who runs Matthews Bait & Tackle in Monroe Township. Weight-forward spinners tipped with nightcrawlers, as well as casting spoons such as the Acme Kastmaster, are good lures. At night, jointed Bomber Long A’s in the clown pattern (metallic gold with a red head) are hard to beat.
Spring into summer is also a good time to tussle with channel catfish, which come shallow and feed on live minnows and nightcrawlers, says Cortese. Anglers targeting cats with live bait frequently encounter smallmouths and crappies, too.
+ Inside line: Matthews Bait & Tackle (734-241-4757; matthewsbait.net)
Cattauragus Creek, NY
About 40 miles west of Buffalo, near the town of Silver Creek, N.Y., the Catt’ is known as a premier fall steelhead hotspot.
In summer, shorebound anglers can enjoy outstanding catfish action, as large numbers of channel cats rove the streams and inshore waters of Lake Erie.
“Rig a spawn bag like you would for steelhead, or use cut shad or sucker or live nightcrawlers,” says Brian Kelly, an avid shore angler who lives in nearby Westfield, N.Y.
+ Inside line: Miller’s Bait Store (716-934‑2477)
Harbor Beach, MI
This small port toward the top of Michigan’s “thumb” offers a varied fishery, which is most easily accessible from the breakwall that protects the harbor. Nick DeShano, owner of Offshore Marina, says good fishing starts on spring nights, when anglers catch walleyes on Rapala Floating Minnows and Husky Jerks. Brown trout frequently supplement walleye catches at night. Nocturnal walleyes are available here sporadically throughout the summer, but action gets downright good for bigger fish when the waters start to cool in September and on into fall.
+ Inside line: Offshore Marina
Port Huron, MI
The St. Clair River–where it exits Lake Huron on its way to Lake St. Clair–offers tremendous walleye fishing from mid-April into mid-May. Brown trout fishing can be especially good, too, as Port Huron has received the lion’s share of the state’s Lake Huron stocking.
+ Inside line: Anderson’s Pro Bait
Port Dalhousie, Ontario
Salmon fishing for big kings starts in August, when kings show up on cool nights and strike at big casting or jigging spoons with glow finishes, says Denis Kreze, who owns Fishin’ Niagara, a tackle store in Fort Erie, Ontario. Action gets heavier in September, peaking in late October upriver at the dam in town.
“As the salmon taper off, the number of brown trout and steelhead noticeably increases as they gorge on the millions of eggs drifting downstream,” says Kreze, who also guides the area. “To catch fish consistently here, you must match the hatch, starting with a salmon-size single egg, pale yellow or chartreuse.”
+ Inside line: Fishin’ Niagara
The city’s Linear Park, with its concrete sidewalk and wrought iron rails, borders the west side of the Oswego River all the way from the upper harbor almost to the Varick Dam. It provides terrific access to great fishing for walleyes, steelhead, browns, and salmon. Across the river, the Quality Inn and Best Western allow fishing behind the motels in the upper harbor area.
Kings start running in early September, with the odd Atlantic salmon showing up, too, says Capt. Ernie Lantiegne, of Fish Doctor Charters (fishdoctorcharters.com). Walleye anglers score with Rapala floating F-11s.
+ Inside line: B&W Bait and Tackle