Lake Michigan ports
It’s been a good spring for coho salmon fishermen off southern
Wisconsin ports, with a few big steelhead and chinooks mixed in as
Farther north, anglers were still waiting for more than the
occasional lake or brown trout to bite.
A few near-shore trollers in the northern half of the lake did
report tying into a rainbow or king while trolling for browns last
month, but most were waiting for warmer temperatures to spark the
typically hot June bite.
Cohos were hammering fly/Dodger or flasher combinations, small
spoons and body baits in May. Early mornings typically produced
fast and furious action, with some experienced trollers reporting
three to six fish on at one time. Most were running 1 to 3 pounds,
with some up to 8 pounds hooked.
Kenosha, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, and Milwaukee counties
accounted for about 44,000 of the estimated 50,000 or so cohos
caught in Lake Michigan last year.
Once the lake warms to the low 50s or so, chinook action
typically explodes. Last year, an estimated 317,619 kings were
landed, second only to the record of almost 400,000 set in 1987.
However, angler hours last year were nearly half of what they were
in the mid- to late 1980s. That means the salmon catch per angler
hour was the best ever in 2003.
Kewaunee County led in the chinook take with more than 85,000
kings, followed by eastern Door County (52,000-plus). Sheboygan,
Ozaukee, and Milwaukee counties rounded out the top five.
The rainbow trout (steelhead) harvest of just under 50,000 was
the worst since 1986. Kewaunee, Sheboygan, Ozaukee, Milwaukee, and
eastern Door were the top five producers last year.
Lake trout catches also slumped to an estimate of about 24,000,
the lowest in modern times. Anglers fishing off Kewaunee, Racine,
Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Kenosha counties caught the most.
For the second straight year, Milwaukee County set the pace for
brown trout. Kenosha, Ozaukee, Green Bay, and Sheboygan rounded out
the top five. The brown catch, also estimated at just under 24,000,
was the worst in modern times as well.
Algoma holds state records for rainbow trout (27 pounds, 2
ounces), pink salmon (6 pounds, 1.9 ounce), and pinook, a
pink-chinook natural cross (8 pounds, 5.4 ounces). Algoma also
produced a 35.11-pound brown trout in 1996, only to have a shore
angler at Kewaunee beat the state record by one one-hundredth of a
pound less than a month later.
Sturgeon Bay is the site of the reigning chinook salmon (44
pounds, 15 ounces), Milwaukee the top coho (26 pounds, 1.9 ounce),
and Port Washington the heaviest brook trout (10 pounds, 1
Wisconsin’s state record laker was hooked in Lake Superior in
1946 and weighed 47 pounds. Lakers as large as the mid- to upper
30-pound mark have been taken from Lake Michigan between Kewaunee
and Kenosha in the past decade.
Because they have state egg collection facilities nearby, the
ports of Sturgeon Bay, Kewaunee, and Racine typically get a lot of
chinooks, cohos, and steelhead stocked. However, the only time that
really matters is when fish mature at spawning time.
In between from the time they’re stocked as smolts to the time
they’re staging to spawn trout and salmon are nomadic, widely
roaming the big lake. In fact, coded wire tag studies show that
anglers from all four states surrounding Lake Michigan catch each
other’s stocked fish at certain times.
Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana combine to stock
about 13 million chinooks, cohos, rainbows, and browns annually.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service puts in another 2 million or so
lakers. That’s 15 million salmon and trout a year.
Picking a particular port becomes more of a personal choice than
anything else. All tend to offer mixed-bag action during the summer
Savvy anglers keep one eye on the weather and another on fishing
reports, taking a day-trip or planning an extended stay when both
Some also plan vacations around one or more of the many Great
Lakes salmon and trout fishing contests held at many of the ports
to combine fun and good food with a chance to win prizes.
Having a good contact in the port of your choice is helpful. If
you’re just starting out, there are a number of fishing hotlines
and web sites that are worth checking out.
Lake Michigan Port information
(800) 498-4888 or
General Wisconsin port info: