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Pickerel Fishing in Lake Michigan: A Thrilling Pursuit for Anglers

Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes of North America, is a vast and breathtaking expanse of freshwater that spans across four U.S. states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Beyond its sheer size and natural beauty, Lake Michigan is renowned for its diverse and abundant fish populations, making it a haven for anglers from all corners of the country. Among the many species that call this lake home, one stands out as a favorite target for both novice and seasoned fishermen: the pickerel.

The Pickerel Species in Lake Michigan

Before diving into the exciting world of pickerel fishing in Lake Michigan, it’s essential to clarify that the term “pickerel” can be somewhat ambiguous. In this context, we are primarily referring to the chain pickerel (Esox niger) and the redfin pickerel (Esox americanus), both of which are predatory fish species commonly found in the lake.

Chain pickerel, recognized by their long, slender bodies and distinct chain-like markings on their sides, can grow up to 30 inches in length and weigh around 3-4 pounds on average. Redfin pickerel, on the other hand, are smaller in size, typically reaching lengths of 10-12 inches and weighing around 0.5-1 pound. These two pickerel species share the same family as the northern pike and muskellunge, which are also found in Lake Michigan.

Ideal Pickerel Fishing Spots

One of the most appealing aspects of pickerel fishing in Lake Michigan is the abundance of suitable locations. Whether you prefer to fish from shore, boat, or kayak, you’re in for a rewarding experience. Some of the prime pickerel hotspots include:

Stony Island: Located near the Indiana-Illinois border, Stony Island is a renowned pickerel fishing destination. The surrounding marshes and backwaters provide ideal habitat for pickerel, making it a must-visit location for any angler.

Traverse Bay: This northern bay in Lake Michigan offers excellent pickerel fishing opportunities. It’s known for its crystal-clear waters and submerged vegetation, which pickerel love to lurk in.

Big Bay de Noc: Situated in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Big Bay de Noc is another pickerel haven. The bay’s diverse structure, including shallow flats and deep channels, creates the perfect environment for pickerel to thrive.

Bass Islands: Located in the western basin of Lake Erie, these islands are accessible from Lake Michigan and are home to pickerel, among other species. The rocky shorelines and abundant prey fish make it a pickerel paradise.

Pickerel Fishing Techniques

Pickerel are opportunistic predators, which means they’ll bite on a variety of baits and lures. Here are some effective techniques for catching pickerel in Lake Michigan:

Spinnerbaits: Spinnerbaits with flashy blades and rubber skirts can mimic injured baitfish and trigger pickerel strikes. Retrieve them slowly through weedy areas or near submerged structure.

Jerkbaits: Suspending jerkbaits work well when pickerel are holding at specific depths. Use a twitch-and-pause retrieve to imitate wounded prey.

Soft Plastic Lures: Soft plastic baits, like plastic worms and grubs, are versatile and can be rigged weedless. Fish them through vegetation, near fallen trees, or along the edges of drop-offs.

Live Bait: Pickerel readily take live bait such as minnows, shiners, and even small bluegills. Use a slip bobber rig or a Carolina rig to present the live bait effectively.

Topwater Lures: During the warmer months, pickerel are often found near the surface, especially in the early morning and late evening. Try using topwater lures like poppers and buzzbaits for thrilling surface strikes.

Pickerel Fishing Tips

To maximize your pickerel fishing success in Lake Michigan, consider these valuable tips:

Check Local Regulations: Be aware of fishing regulations and size limits for pickerel in the specific area you plan to fish. Regulations can vary by state and even by season.

Use Fluorocarbon Leader: Pickerel have sharp teeth that can easily cut through standard monofilament fishing line. To prevent bite-offs, use a fluorocarbon leader or wire leader.

Explore Weedy Areas: Pickerel often inhabit weedy areas and submerged vegetation. Cast near and around these spots for the best chances of a catch.

Vary Your Retrieves: Pickerel can be finicky at times. Experiment with different retrieval speeds and patterns to determine what they’re currently responding to.

Practice Catch and Release: While pickerel can be excellent table fare, consider catch and release to help maintain healthy populations for future generations of anglers.


Pickerel fishing in Lake Michigan offers anglers a thrilling and rewarding pursuit. With its diverse fishing spots, various techniques, and stunning natural beauty, Lake Michigan provides the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable angling adventure. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, the challenge of catching pickerel in this Great Lake will keep you coming back for more, season after season. So, grab your gear, plan your trip, and get ready to experience the excitement of pickerel fishing in the heart of the Midwest.