Whether you’re a seasoned fisherman or a first-timer, fall color fishing in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore isn’t to be missed. Here’s what you need to know, including 10 Northern Michigan lakes and rivers a local pro recommends.
For all the time I’ve spent near water, on the Northern Michigan inland lakes of my childhood and today as someone who would struggle to live anywhere that didn’t have a body of freshwater a short walk or bike-ride away, my experience with fishing is surprisingly limited.
Sure, I’ve on occasion cast lines into lakes, from both boats and docks, as a child and later as a parent myself. But more often than not, I’ve been in the water, my summer-sun kissed skin turning prune-like as I dove under over and over. “She’s like a fish—we can’t get her out of the water,” I’d often hear my mom and dad tell family and friends.
Still, when I do think about the times I went fishing, whether with my dad in his old-school metal rowboat or in more recent years with our kids on their grandpa’s dock, I’m reminded of the simplicity and peacefulness of this activity—I smile at the memory of those serene moments whispering to one another, scanning the smooth surface, wondering what we might catch, and the thrill when we got a bite.
That I’m reminded of specific and meaningful moments with family when it comes to fishing is no surprise to David Rose, an outdoor enthusiast, writer and photographer, and local inland lake fishing guide.
“It’s totally not about the fish. It’s really about where you’re at, at the moment. It’s about being in that moment,” David tells me.
I’d heard that David would be a great person to talk with about fishing in Northern Michigan, and specifically in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. His enthusiasm and passion for getting outdoors and on the water is evident from the moment we say hello.
Of course, fishing is about the fish, and the Lakeshore’s crystal-clear streams, rivers and lakes are home to a wide variety, from Coho salmon and steelhead to walleye, perch, small-mouthed bass and lake trout, among others. But David believes that when done right, it’s about so much more than what you may, or may not, catch (and maybe release).
David isn’t, for example, the kind of guide who promises a “cooler full of fish” to those who venture out with him. Instead, he likes to help people learn the basics of fishing while also discovering its beauty. “Fish don’t live in ugly places,” he says with a laugh. “I want people to go out and enjoy, and maybe catch a fish or two. You can release them or keep them for dinner. But the main thing for me, and I hope others take this in, is you’re in an amazing place on Earth.”
“It’s very meaningful,” he adds. “Get your family out there. Enjoy where you’re at and each other.”
Heading out on a fishing trip in the Lakeshore this fall? Here’s what you need to know, including a few spots David recommends:
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore allows fishing as a means of providing for public enjoyment, and customary and traditional use, and regulates fishing to ensure that it is managed in a manner that avoids unacceptable impacts to park resources.
A valid Michigan fishing license is required to fish in the park, and fees vary. Children under 17 years of age do not require a license. Visitors fishing within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore must follow the fishing license requirements in accordance with the laws and regulations of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Learn more at nps.gov/slbe.
10 Places to Fish at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Little Glen Lake for perch. As summer wanes and the cooler weather arrives, you’ll find perch in this shallow body of water near the Dune Climb. Fish around the edge of weed beds for the best results. You’ll also find small-mouthed bass in this lake. Big Glen Lake, meanwhile, has lake trout. When it’s especially windy on Lake Michigan, those in search of this fish venture into Big Glen. The public boat launch is close to where Big and Little Glen lakes meet; find the Glen Lake Department of Natural Resources Boat Ramp at 7075 W. Day Forest Rd., Empire.
Lime Lake near Maple City has bass as well as brown trout. Access this lake at the public launch, 6305 S. Maple City Rd.
North Lake Leelanau, which is known for its walleye. Follow M-22 north toward Leland to the boat ramp off Highway 204 to fish.
School Lake (and its neighboring, smaller Bass Lake), located in the northern end of the park, offer good fishing. There is a boat launch for School Lake on County Rd. 669.
Loon Lake, along the Platte River is in the southern part of the park, has a boat launch just off M-22.
At the mouth of the Platte River, you’ll find Coho salmon early in the fall. Later months—October and November—this spot is home to steelhead. David recommends casting out from shore with a spoon or spinner to catch a Coho or steelhead.
Otter Lake is near Trail’s End Road, but the boat launch is made for canoes and will not accommodate trailers.
Lake Manitou on North Manitou Island offers excellent small-mouth bass fishing. The island has some additional fishing regulations: artificial lure only and 18-inch minimum size.
Crystal River in Glen Arbor is a special fall spot to view salmon, says Tony Farragh of The Homestead. “This shallow and sandy-bottomed river is crystal clear, which makes it perfect for watching the salmon navigate their way up the river. This usually occurs in late September to mid-October and my two recommended shore locations are at The Homestead where the salmon make their way in from Lake Michigan into the Crystal River and the Crystal River Trailhead, part of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, where you can walk to the river’s edge and find the salmon in large groups as they are slowed by the Fisher Road culvert to continue their route into Fisher Lake.”