By Bob Gwizdz
History tells us that right before the turn of the 20th century, a young man by name of James Heddon was sitting on the bank of a mill pond on the Dowagiac River whittling on a piece of wood, when a shaving flew from his stick, hit the water’s surface and was quickly engulfed by a largemouth bass. Heddon went on to create an artificial bait manufacturing company that helped change the way America fished. So with apologies to generations of Southerners, the modern sport of bass fishing was actually born in Michigan more than 100 years ago.
Although the specifics of that piece of angling history may have escaped many fishermen’s notice, it’s common knowledge that Michigan has long been — and continues to be – a leader in recreational fishing, not just in America, but in the world. Michigan was the first state (depending on whose account you believe) to stock brown trout in America. It was the birth place of the multibillion-dollar Great Lakes Pacific salmon fishery. And thanks to the efforts of a state university’s fisheries program, the St. Mary’s River, which separates the northeastern Upper Peninsula from Ontario, boasts some of the best Atlantic salmon fishing to be found anywhere in the United States.
Fact is, there are very few species of freshwater fish in America that aren’t available in abundance – and often of trophy caliber – in Michigan. That’s one of the reasons why nearly 25 mil-lion angler days are recorded here each year.
Michigan boasts 11,000 lakes, ponds and reservoirs and some 36,000 miles of rivers and streams. Photo courtesy of Travel Michigan.
Michigan, of course, has been blessed with tremendous resources. With not one, but two peninsulas surrounded by the most outstanding freshwater ecosystem in the world, Michigan has a leg up on almost everywhere else, including its neighboring Great Lakes states. Boasting 3,288 miles of shoreline, Michigan’s Great Lakes and connecting waters offer world-class angling opportunities for both coldwater and warmwater game fish. There’s no place south of Alaska that offers better Pacific salmon (Chinook, coho, pinks and, of course, rainbow trout) angling. The walleye and perch fishing in Lake Erie and the bays of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are unsurpassed. And bass fishing? Just ask the guys on the professional tours how they feel about Lake St. Clair, which, incidentally, boasts a muskellunge fishery that might even be better than its bass fishery.
And that’s just the Great Lakes’ fishing opportunities. Add in close to 11,000 inland lakes, ponds and reservoirs and some 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, including 17,000 miles of cold-water trout streams. The inland resources run the gamut from small, shallow, weedy largemouth bass lakes to sprawling, deep, crystal-clear lake trout fisheries. There are large networks of interconnected lakes and rivers that can host the largest of bass tournaments, to isolated, walk-in-only lakes in the Upper Peninsula that offer trophy-class fishing in a perfectly quiet setting.
If there’s one type of fishing that sets Michigan apart from much of the rest of the Midwest, it’s trout fishing. Michigan has been famous for its native brook trout fishing since Ernest Hemingway published his two-part story “Big Two-Hearted River” in 1924, and folks who visit the remote Upper Peninsula streams will find fishing conditions have not changed that dramatically in the intervening years. Still, the native brook trout fishing is just a sliver of the trout story. Angling opportunities for brown and rainbow trout are widespread, ranging from nationally known wild rivers (such as the Au Sable, where the conservation group Trout Unlimited, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, was born) to outstanding tailwater fisheries that are maintained by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ put-grow-and-take hatchery program. There are trout fisheries for every taste, from worm-dunking youngsters in jump-across creeks to hatch-matching, dry-fly purists wading big rivers in search of trout to remember.
Best yet, June is a great month for virtually all types of Michigan fishing-limit catches of Lake Erie walleye are expected, bass are moving into their summer haunts, the big-lake charter boat fleet is engaged with salmon, and some of the best insect hatches (and dry fly-fishing) of the season are occurring.
If fishing is what flips your switch, there are few better marriages that have ever been better arranged than Michigan and June. •
Bob Gwizdz, of East Lansing, Mich., is a syndicated newspaper columnist and freelance writer and photographer. He joined OWAA in 1980.