Southwest Michigan is a Fishing Destination | Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council

Southwest Michigan is a Fishing Destination

Located along Lake Michigan, Southwest Michigan is a prime fishing destination. Popular species to target in our lakes and rivers include trout, salmon, steelhead, walleye, pike, bass, catfish, perch and a variety of other panfish. Bring your boat, kayak, canoe, or waders to take advantage of our many boat launches and access sites. Visitors can also rent a watercraft or hire a charter boat. Additionally, there are a wealth of locations where you can fish from shore, docks or piers. Opportunities abound for a relaxing and successful day of fishing in Southwest Michigan. 

Where to Fish in Southwest Michigan

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is known for its wealth of fishing opportunities including Chinook and Coho salmon, steelhead, trout, perch and walleye. But how do you access the Big Lake in Southwest Michigan? Pier 1000, at 1000 Riverview Drive in Benton Harbor, has both slip rentals, where you can store your boat on the St. Joseph River, and a variety of boat rentals if you just want to take one out for the day. Simply follow the St. Joseph River (about a twenty-minute boat ride from Pier 1000) through the harbor to Lake Michigan. You will enter by the lighthouses in St. Joseph. Once you reach the lake, you can go in any direction you choose, just be sure you keep track of time if you are renting.

If you are looking for a public boat launch, the Benton Harbor Public Boat Launch is also on Riverview Drive along the St. Joseph River, right by Pier 1000. Additionally, in St. Joseph, the City Boat Launch is located on Anchor's Court, on Marina Island.

Further south is the New Buffalo City Boat Launch on the Galien River at 201 Marquette Drive. It is right across the street from the New Buffalo City Beach and has multiple ramps and docks as well as plenty of trailer parking. The launch ramps are about 3,500 feet from Lake Michigan so you can be in open water in 10 minutes. As you go down the river, don’t wait to drop your line in the water. There are plenty of fish to catch along the way. This site has a launch fee but season passes are available.

While out on Lake Michigan be sure to periodically check the weather conditions as they can change quickly on the big water. Additionally, be sure to have the proper safety equipment and follow best boating practices.

The Galien River

The Galien River is a good place to fish for brown trout, northern pike, large or smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie or sunfish. When you launch your boat from the New Buffalo City Boat Launch, back straight out of the dock area and make a right to head up the river. Kayaks are also available on site for rent. You can also fish from the docks by the bridge heading towards the beach on Whittaker Street. Another favorite place to cast is from the rocks in the harbor at the New Buffalo City Beach.

Another Galien River access point is on Red Arrow Highway just north of U.S. 12 near New Buffalo. Here, you can fish from the banks with no fees. You can launch smaller boats as well into the shallow water. 

A child fishing from the south pier in St Joseph.

The St. Joseph River

Don’t have a boat? The pier in St. Joseph is very popular among fishermen. Park at either Silver Beach County Park or at Tiscornia Park, both have paved walkways and are partially wheelchair accessible. There is also access to shore fishing at these locations. Another popular fishing location is Margaret B. Upton Arboretum located on Water Street in St. Joseph. The Arboretum features a walkway along the river and railings which are convenient for resting your rods against. The types of fish most frequently caught include perch, trout, salmon, whitefish and catfish. Public use of the North and South Pier is allowed at your own risk. Please use caution and keep off the pier during storms, icy conditions or high waters. 

Another favorite fishing site along the St. Joseph River is the Berrien Springs Dam and Fish Ladder. The fish ladder allows salmon and steelhead to migrate upstream in the fall and back to Lake Michigan in the spring. You also can reel in walleye, smallmouth bass, pan fish and pike. Public access is available above and below the dam. To get here, from old US-31 in downtown Berrien Springs, take Mechanic Street to Fish Ladder. There are also multiple city and community parks all along the river that provide access for fishing.

Many other great locations to fish in Southwest Michigan

The tri-county area of Southwest Michigan is home to hundreds of inland lakes as well as hundreds of miles of additional rivers and streams. Many of these provide boat launches or access sites. For a listing of Michigan public boating access sites visit the Department of Natural Resources website.

Two fishing boats on Lake Michigan on a foggy morning.

Guided Fishing Trips in Southwest Michigan

If you are traveling without your boat, new to fishing the great lakes, or want to learn from an expert and have access to the best tackle and gear then hire a guide. Guides drastically increase your chances of having a fun day catching fish. The experienced staff at Sea Hawk Charters are experts at catching fish in Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River. 

Get fishing tips from the locals

In addition to being locations to purchase live bait, gear and licenses, area tackle shops can provide you with a wealth of helpful information such as:

  • What depths various fish species are currently active in Lake Michigan. 
  • Which lures, baits, colors are currently performing best. 
  • Which lakes and rivers contain the fish species you are interested in. 
  • Which guides and charter services they recommend for a successful trip. 

A person holding a brown trout.

Plan your fishing trip to Southwest Michigan

Time flies during an enjoyable day of fishing. To make it easier on yourself to get out early in the morning and fish into the evening consider booking a night or two at one of our conveniently located hotels. While here, be sure to check out our delicious restaurants, pick up some gifts from our unique shops and pick up some fresh produce from our numerous farm markets

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* A Michigan fishing license is required to fish on Michigan lakes and waterways. You can purchase one at a local bait shop or online at the Michigan DNR website.

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Please send us photos and videos of your Southwest Michigan getaway. Use our hashtag #swmichigan or upload your photos to our Crowdriff Collector below. This is an opportunity for your photos to appear on our social media, website or marketing materials. Thanks for sharing your memories!

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