Michigan is an angler’s paradise, boasting over 11,000 inland lakes, thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and a vast Great Lakes shoreline teeming with diverse fish species. To encourage residents and visitors to explore this world-class fishing destination, the state offers two Free Fishing Weekends each year, where all fishing license fees are waived, allowing everyone to cast a line without purchasing a license.

In 2024, Michigan’s Free Fishing Weekends will take place on February 17 & 18 (Winter) and June 8 & 9 (Summer).

During these periods, you can fish for all species without a license on any of Michigan’s inland lakes, rivers, streams, and Great Lakes waters within state boundaries. Additionally, you can enter state parks, recreation areas, and DNR-managed boating access sites without a Recreation Passport, which is typically required for vehicle access to these areas.

While license fees are waived, all other fishing regulations still apply, including season dates, size limits, and catch limits for different species. Anglers are responsible for knowing and following these rules, outlined in the annual Michigan Fishing Guide.

Top Fishing Spots to Explore

With an abundance of waters to choose from, deciding where to fish during the free weekends can be a tough choice. Here are some of Michigan’s top fishing destinations to consider:

Great Lakes Fishing

  • Lake Michigan: One of the premier salmon fishing destinations in the world, with opportunities for Chinook, coho, lake trout, and brown trout. Prime areas include Ludington, Manistee, and ports along the western shoreline.
  • Lake Huron: The “Walleye Capital of the World” offers outstanding walleye fishing, especially in Saginaw Bay, as well as chances for lake trout, salmon, and more. Key ports include Alpena, Oscoda, and Harrisville.
  • Lake Erie: This fertile western basin is a top producer of walleye and yellow perch. Popular areas include Monroe, Luna Pier, and the Detroit River.
  • Lake Superior: The largest, coldest, and most pristine of the Great Lakes provides excellent lake trout fishing, along with opportunities for salmon, whitefish, and more in areas like Marquette and Munising.

Inland Lake Fishing

  • Houghton Lake (Roscommon County): Michigan’s largest inland lake is a top multi-species fishery for walleye, bass, pike, crappie, and more.
  • Lake Charlevoix (Charlevoix County): This deep, clear lake in northern Michigan offers excellent fishing for lake trout, whitefish, smallmouth bass, and more.
  • Lake St. Clair (Macomb/St. Clair Counties): One of the best muskie fisheries in the world, along with outstanding smallmouth bass, walleye, and panfish opportunities.

River Fishing

  • Au Sable River (Northeast Michigan): This renowned trout stream attracts fly anglers from around the world to pursue brown, brook, and rainbow trout.
  • Muskegon River (West Michigan): A top river for salmon and steelhead, especially during spring and fall runs. Also offers great smallmouth bass fishing.
  • St. Joseph River (Southwest Michigan): An excellent river for steelhead and salmon, along with good opportunities for brown trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass.

Fishing Regulations to Keep in Mind

Some key regulations to be aware of during Free Fishing Weekends include:

  • Catch and Release Only for Muskellunge: While you can target muskellunge (muskie) during the free weekends, any caught must be immediately released back into the water until the possession season opens on June 1.
  • Walleye Limits on Inland Waters: On inland lakes and streams, a 15-inch minimum size limit is in place, with a daily possession limit of 5 walleye.
  • Great Lakes Trout and Salmon Regulations: Regulations for lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and other trout/salmon species can vary between the different Great Lakes. Consult the Michigan Fishing Guide for specifics.

Anglers are also reminded that a Recreation Passport is still required for entry to state parks and boating access sites during paid periods outside of the Free Fishing Weekends.

How to Make the Most of Free Fishing Weekends

To ensure you have a fun, successful, and legal fishing experience during Michigan’s Free Fishing Weekends, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Get a Copy of the Michigan Fishing Guide: This annual booklet outlines all the regulations, season dates, size limits, and other rules you need to know. You can get a free printed copy wherever licenses are sold or view it online at Michigan.gov/DNRDigests.
  2. Prepare Your Fishing Gear: Make sure you have appropriate rods, reels, line, lures/bait, and other tackle for your target species. If you plan on fishing any other time outside the free weekends, you’ll need a current fishing license.
  3. Know Your Fishing Spots: Do some research ahead of time on the best areas to fish based on your target species and fishing methods. Local bait shops are a great source of insider knowledge.
  4. Consider a Charter or Guide Service: For a first-class Great Lakes fishing experience, book a charter captain or hire a professional guide, especially if you’re new to the area or type of fishing.
  5. Get In On the Fun: Check the DNR’s recreation calendar for any special Free Fishing Weekend events happening in state parks, nature centers, or other locations. These can include kids’ derbies, seminars, and more.
  6. Be Safe and Responsible: Practice ethical catch-and-release for any fish you don’t plan on keeping, properly dispose of any remains, and be mindful of your surroundings and other anglers sharing the waters.

Michigan’s Free Fishing Weekends provide an excellent opportunity for residents and visitors alike to experience the world-class angling opportunities this state has to offer. So grab your rod and reel, consult the Michigan Fishing Guide, and take advantage of these free fishing dates in 2024. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or trying it out for the first time, you’re sure to get hooked on Michigan’s amazing fisheries!

Do I need a license to fish in Michigan during the Free Fishing Weekends?

No, during the scheduled winter and summer Free Fishing Weekends, all fishing license fees are waived for residents and non-residents in Michigan.

Are there any exceptions to the free fishing allowance?

While you don’t need a license, all other fishing regulations still apply, including season dates, size limits, catch limits and fishing methods. A Recreation Passport is also not required for entry to state parks/boating access sites during these weekends.

What if I want to fish outside of the Free Fishing Weekend dates?

Then you will need to purchase a Michigan fishing license. Resident annual licenses are $26, while non-resident annual licenses are $76. One-day licenses are also available.

Can I fish for any species during the free weekends?

Yes, you can target any fish species found in Michigan’s waters. However, some species like muskellunge have catch-and-release only periods that must be followed.

Where can I get a copy of the Michigan Fishing Guide?

The guide is available wherever fishing licenses are sold, at DNR Customer Service Centers, or online at Michigan.gov/DNRDigests.

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