Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America, is renowned for its diverse and thriving fish populations. From native species to introduced game fish, anglers have the opportunity to reel in some truly impressive catches. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the biggest fish in Lake Michigan, delving into record-breaking catches and the most sought-after species that call these waters home.

Record-Breaking Catches in Lake Michigan

Over the years, Lake Michigan has produced some awe-inspiring catches that have shattered state records. Here are a few notable examples:

  • In 1974, Joe Maka Jr. landed a massive 193-pound, 88-inch lake sturgeon in Mullett Lake, Cheboygan County, setting the Michigan state record that still stands today.
  • In 2024, Blas Lara caught a record-breaking 3-pound, 2-ounce yellow perch during the Mayor’s Fishing Derby in Hammond, Indiana, surpassing the previous state record set in 1981.
  • Rex Remington broke the 1992 record for the largest smallmouth bass caught in Indiana on March 3, 2024.

These extraordinary catches showcase the potential for anglers to reel in once-in-a-lifetime fish in Lake Michigan’s waters.

Top Species to Target in Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is home to a wide array of fish species, each offering unique challenges and rewards for anglers. Here are some of the most sought-after fish in the lake:


Chinook (King) and Coho salmon are among the most popular game fish in Lake Michigan. Introduced in the 1960s to control invasive alewife populations, these powerful fighters provide an exhilarating experience for anglers. The best times to target salmon are during their spring and fall migratory runs.


Lake Michigan boasts an impressive variety of trout species, including lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout (steelhead), and brook trout. Lake trout, also known as “Mackinaw,” are the largest of the freshwater char species and can reach impressive sizes. Steelhead are renowned for their acrobatic fights and can be caught from shore during spring and summer.


Smallmouth and largemouth bass are highly sought-after game fish in Lake Michigan. Smallmouth bass are known for their aggressive strikes and fighting ability, while largemouth bass can be found in shallower, weedy areas. The best times to target bass are spring and early summer.

Yellow Perch

Yellow perch are native to Lake Michigan and are prized for their ease of catch and excellent table fare. Although their population has declined from its peak, there remains a thriving fishery for large perch, with many anglers reporting catches of “jumbo” perch measuring 14-17 inches in recent years.

Fishing Licenses and Regulations

To fish in Lake Michigan, anglers aged 17 and older must possess a valid fishing license. Licenses can be purchased online through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website, the Michigan DNR Hunt Fish app, or at authorized license agents.

Fishing license fees vary depending on residency and duration. For the 2024 season, a resident annual all-species fishing license costs $26, while a non-resident annual license is $76. Senior residents (65+) can purchase an annual all-species license for $11.

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the specific regulations, catch limits, and size restrictions for each species in the area you plan to fish. Be aware that regulations may differ when crossing state lines or fishing in Canadian waters.

Lake Michigan’s Top Trophy Fish Species

1. Lake Sturgeon

The lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is the largest fish species in Lake Michigan and can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds. These prehistoric fish have been around for millions of years and can live for over a century. The Michigan state record lake sturgeon, caught in 1974, weighed an impressive 193 pounds and measured 88 inches long.

2. Chinook Salmon

Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), also known as king salmon, are highly sought-after game fish in Lake Michigan. These powerful fighters can grow up to 50 pounds or more. The current Michigan state record chinook salmon, caught in 2021, weighed 47.86 pounds and measured 47.5 inches long.

3. Lake Trout

Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) are native to Lake Michigan and can reach impressive sizes. The Michigan state record lake trout, caught in 1997, weighed 61.5 pounds and measured 49 inches long. These deep-water dwellers are prized by anglers for their size and fighting ability.

4. Steelhead (Rainbow Trout)

Steelhead, the migratory form of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), are known for their acrobatic fights and stunning colors. These fish can grow up to 30 pounds in Lake Michigan. The Michigan state record steelhead, caught in 1975, weighed 26.5 pounds and measured 39.5 inches long.

Other Notable Species

While the above fish are the largest in Lake Michigan, the lake is home to many other popular game fish species, including:

  • Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)
  • Brown trout (Salmo trutta)
  • Walleye (Sander vitreus)
  • Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)
  • Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)

These species, along with others like northern pike, muskellunge, and panfish, contribute to Lake Michigan’s thriving recreational fishery.


Lake Michigan offers anglers an unparalleled opportunity to catch some of the biggest and most exciting fish species in North America. From record-breaking lake sturgeon and yellow perch to the thrill of battling salmon and trout, these waters provide an unforgettable fishing experience. By understanding the top species to target, obtaining the necessary licenses, and adhering to regulations, anglers can maximize their chances of landing a trophy catch in Lake Michigan.

Ready to embark on your own Lake Michigan fishing adventure? Visit to secure your fishing license and access valuable resources to help you plan the ultimate fishing trip.

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