Lake Michigan’s Summertime Trophies for Shore Fishermen

Not too many years ago, Lake Michigan shore fishermen enjoyed a spring and fall fishery for salmon and trout. Coho salmon in the 2- to 4-pound range provided some action right after ice-out that often lasted into April. The fall Chinook fishery again brought schools of salmonids within range of the shore-bound angler, and good catches were made by pier fishermen along Indiana’s 45 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.

The months in between the spring coho flurry and the fall kings were lean times for the salmon or trout enthusiast without a boat to travel and locate the roving schools of salmonids. Many anglers turned to perch fishing during the summer months and looked forward to the runs of fall Chinook, coho and steelhead. The successful introduction of the Skamania strain of summer-run steelhead has changed everything and provided a true trophy fishery for shore anglers. It sometimes begins as early as mid June and sometimes lasts into the month of August. Within this timeframe is a period in early July that marks the peak of this summer fishery for the shore fishermen—a time when good numbers of fish are available to anglers without expensive rigs and equipment.

Shoring steelies

Shore anglers—be aware and prepare for the summer steelhead, for they are special! These hard-fighting “silver bullets” are known for their spectacular leaping ability and “mad dog” antics when hooked. They also average from 10 to 20 pounds! They leave little room for human error and really put your tackle to the test.

Respool your reels with new, quality monofilament like Berkley’s Sensation in 10- to 12-pound test. Sharpen all hooks and replace those that are rusted or seem too weak to hold a good-sized fish. Use only the best-quality coastlock snaps and ball-bearing swivels, like those made in the USA by Sampo. My experience has shown that you will experience fewer problems with the coastlock variety of snaps than any other when Skamania fishing with spoons and spinners. Learn to tie a good, strong knot and retie often. You will need every little advantage that you can gain when fighting these “bruisers!”

Shoreline ‘hot spots’

Skamania steelhead are stocked by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in two waterways. The steelhead smolts work their way upstream in the Little Calumet River and out into Lake Michigan via Burns Waterway in Portage. Access is found at the Port of Indiana, east on Route 12 and Route 249 off Interstate 94. Access is permitted at the port between sunrise and sunset.

The other stocking site is Trail Creek in Michigan City. Here, shore anglers will find excellent parking and fishing facilities at Washington Park Marina—located at the lakefront on Route 421 north off I-94. The government pier borders the harbor mouth and probably is the best spot to try your luck. More summer-run fish are taken here, on a consistent basis, than at any other shoreline area that I know of!


Anglers fishing the lake side of the Michigan City pier can sometimes experience more success than those fishing the harbor or Trail Creek side. I am sure that this changes on a daily basis as the run progresses.

Also, fishermen located where the pier turns or changes direction can often catch fish on a more consistent basis than those fishing the straight, featureless structure. Shallow water can produce more fish in the early morning hours, but fish deeper water near the lighthouse as the day progresses. Keep these points in mind, especially when fishing new areas.

Fish are taken by anglers casting artificial lures and fishing live baits, although the steelies may show a preference for one over the other on any given day. In fact, many anglers take two rods to cover both bases. If the pier or other access areas are too crowded, you will only be able to use one rod and method so that everyone will have room to fish.

Best baits from the bank

Nightcrawlers, spawn bags, golden roaches and shrimp are favorites of the shore fisherman. However, unlike other fishing situations—which call for the bait to be presented on the bottom—most successful steelheaders use Thill slip bobbers to suspend their offerings from 4 to 6 feet below the surface. A longer rod of 7.5 to 9.5 feet will help take up most of the slack when setting the hook and help tire out these determined fighters.

Those anglers who would rather cast artificial baits seem to prefer spoons in the 1/2- and 3/4-ounce size, probably because they can get more distance. Krocodiles, Little Cleos and K-O Wobblers can account for at least half of the spoon-caught steelheads on any given day. Productive colors include fluorescent red/orange with chartreuse, red and gold, and green/silver and blue/silver combinations.

Crankbaits are not used by most anglers. But, judging from my trolling successes with this lure type, many could be missing out on some great steelhead action. Try Hot Shots, Hot ‘N Tots, J-11 and J-13 Rapalas and Jointed Shad Raps.

Go light and bring only the basics with you. A Plano #3215 box can easily hold all of your live-bait tackle and an assortment of artificial lures. Don’t forget the net!