List of Lake Michigan Fish Species (Fishable & Non)

Pond Informer is supported by its readers. We may earn commission at no extra cost to you if you buy through a link on this page. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

List of Lake Michigan Fish Species 2022 [Updated]

Horizon of Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is the third-largest lake out of the five Great Lakes in Midwestern North America. Shadowmeld Photography, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Michigan, the third-largest lake out of the five ‘Great Lakes’ in North America, is a desirable destination for recreationists of all kinds. It is bordered by Michigan to the east and the north, Wisconsin to the west, Illinois to the southwest, and Indiana to the southeast.

Anglers from all over the country visit Lake Michigan each year to cast a line in its bountiful waters in hopes of getting a bite. There are many species of fish to be caught in this massive lake, and simply visiting for a short fishing trip is a bucket list activity for many fishermen and women!

How Big Is Lake Michigan? Can You Fish?

Shoreline at Fischer Creek, a part of Lake Michigan
There are plenty of fantastic shorelines to fish from along Lake Michigan. Yinan Chen, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Impressive in its size, this grand body of water is 321 miles long (517 kilometers), running north to south. Due to its sheer size and volume, many people choose to fish this lake from a boat – it’s so large, it can feel like you are out on the ocean! If boats aren’t your style, no need to worry. There is no shortage of fantastic shorelines to fish from. Other people enjoy fishing from kayaks and canoes.

No matter what season, there are always fishing opportunities at Lake Michigan. Even in the wintertime, the lake freezes over and brings the prospect of ice fishing for those hardy enough to withstand the blustery temperatures!  

If you are thinking about taking a trip to the massive Lake Michigan for its great fishing opportunities, then you won’t be disappointed! This lake provides some top-notch fishing for coho salmon, yellow perch, chinook salmon, rainbow trout, steelhead, lake trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, walleye, and many others!

List of Fish Species in Lake Michigan

1) Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch)

A male coho salmon
Coho males develop hooked snouts during spawning season. Bureau of Land Management Oregon and Washington / CC BY-SA

While most people think of salmon as being solely oceanic fish, coho salmon can thrive in either freshwater or saltwater systems. They can be caught in oceans or lakes, and typically weigh about 8 lb (3.6 kg) on average.

Silver in coloration, coho salmon are often also called silver salmon. They have dark blue-green colored backs, silvery sides, and white bellies. Coho salmon have distinguishable black spots patterning the back and upper portion of the tail.

Like other species of salmon, coho males develop hooked snouts during spawning season. Coho salmon are anadromous, so they hatch in freshwater streams, migrate to the ocean to feed and mature for a few years, and return to their natal stream to spawn as mature adults. 

2) Yellow perch (Perca flavescens)

Adult yellow perch
Yellow perch are quite easy to distinguish from other fish species, and are a popular catch among anglers. Robert Colletta, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Yellow perch are fairly easy to distinguish from other fish. They boast elongated, golden-yellow bodies and have dark vertical bands decorating their sides like stripes. P. flavescens are a popular catch among anglers, and they can grow up to a foot in length (approximately 30 cm). Yellow perch are widely found in rivers and lakes throughout North America, and tend to hang out near the shoreline, using vegetation as cover and protection.

Yellow perch are a favorite meal for other fish and many bird species – gulls and ducks frequently hang out on the water to catch these fish for a meal. Yellow perch primarily feed on insects, crustaceans, and small fish.

Spawning occurs for P. flavescens between the months of February and March. These fish are only semi-anadromous, meaning that they will live their lives in freshwater and then travel to smaller freshwater streams when it is time for spawning. Unlike other fish, yellow perch are not a nest-building species. Instead, they make use of the natural habitat features like dense aquatic vegetation and logs for protection. Female yellow perch will lay groups of eggs in gelatinous strands, which stick to aquatic vegetation near the shoreline. After the eggs are laid, yellow perch do not practice defensive or protective behaviors.

3) Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

A shoal of chinook salmon
Chinook salmon are the largest Pacific salmon species, growing to about 3 feet long when they reach maturity. Zureks, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While chinook salmon look similar to the aforementioned related coho salmon, there are a few key differences that can help you to distinguish them. Chinook salmon are the largest Pacific salmon species, and they grow to be about three feet (0.9 meters) long and weigh 30 pounds (13 kilograms) on average when they reach maturity. Chinook salmon are also commonly known as king salmon, spring salmon, tyee, winter, quinnat, and blackmouth salmon. They have characteristic black pigmented gum lines that other salmon species lack.

Chinook salmon feed on a variety of food items, including insects, crustaceans, and other fish. When it comes to spawning, chinook are an anadromous species. They are born in freshwater streams, migrate to the ocean for a few years to feed and mature, and then return to their natal stream to mate at the end of the life cycle.

When chinook salmon are ready to spawn and have returned to their natal streams, they will dig out gravel nests in which to lay eggs. These nests are called ‘redds’ and are dug out using the caudal fin. After spawning, all of the chinook’s energy has been spent and the fish will die.

4) Rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

An adult rainbow trout swimming underwater
The vibrance and coloration of rainbow trout can vary greatly depending on habitat, age, and current life stage. Liquid Art, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Rainbow trout, or ‘redband’ trout, are a gorgeous species of fish that thrive in the clearest and healthiest mountain streams and lakes. These colorful swimmers typically grow to be around 20 – 30 in (50 – 76 cm) in length and around 8 lbs (3.5 kg) in weight.

While all rainbow trout are colorful, hence the name, their vibrance and coloration can vary greatly depending on habitat, age, and current life stage. Adults are usually a shade of blue, green, and yellow and they have a characteristic pink stripe running horizontally from head to tail. Rainbow trout also have a white underbelly and black spots that pattern the backside and the sides of the fins.

O. mykiss are carnivorous fish that only feed on other living organisms. They typically ingest insects, crustaceans, and other small fish. You can often see them feeding on bugs that land on the water’s surface.

When it comes time to perform the spawning ritual, a male and a female will lay next to each other. The female releases her eggs, and at the same time, the male releases sperm in the same vicinity. The female will then use her tail to cover the eggs with gravel substrate. This provides some semblance of protection – neither the female nor the male will practice nest guarding behaviors. 

5) Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)

A group of steelhead fish swimming underwater
Steelhead are anadromous, whereas rainbow trout spend the entirety of their lives in freshwater. Oregon State University, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Technically, steelhead are the same species of fish as the aforementioned rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), with one major difference in life history. Steelhead are anadromous – meaning that they migrate from the ocean up into freshwater stream systems for the purpose of spawning. Rainbow trout, on the other hand, spend the entirety of their lives in freshwater.

6) Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

Lake trout underwater
Lake trout are not picky eaters and will feed on many things including crustaceans, insects, and other fish. Jarek Tuszyński, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lake trout are widely distributed across North America, and have even been introduced and stocked well outside of their native range. They thrive in deep lakes, but can also live in freshwater streams.

When it comes to feeding habits, lake trout are not picky. They are opportunistic and will feed on freshwater sponges, crustaceans, insects, other fish, and small animals. They are fast swimmers, and can subdue prey easily using their swiftness to their advantage when feeding.

S. namaycush are broadcast spawners, so a spawning event may involve many individuals rather than just a single mating pair. These fish can live for around 25 years, and begin spawning when they are typically 6 or 7 years of age.

7) Brown trout (Salmo trutta)

Adult brown trout fish
Brown trout grow moderately in size compared to other trout species. Eric Engbretson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

With an average lifespan of 12 years, brown trout grow moderately in size compared to other trout species. S. trutta are widely found in North America, but they are not a native species. In fact, they evolved in Europe and western Asia and were brought over in the late 1800s. In many freshwater systems, non-native brown trout will outcompete native species for resources. They can tolerate a slightly wider range of environmental conditions than other trout, which makes them great competitors.

When it comes to diet, brown trout primarily eat aquatic insects. If a brown trout is large enough and capable, it may even feed on other fish. 

The average female brown trout will release around 2,000 eggs per kilogram of her body weight during a spawning event. While other species of trout hybridize readily, brown trout rarely do.

8) Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)

brook trout lake michigan
It’s easy to see why brook trout are often called speckled trout! Photo courtesy of the National Park Service. Public domain.

The brook trout, also known as the speckled trout, is the state fish of Michigan, found throughout the state’s waters. They prefer cool waters, and are readily found in Lake Michigan itself as well as its connected tributaries and inland lakes.

Mature brook trout are found in deeper waters, including Lake Michigan, while juvenile brook trout are more often found shallower areas like spring-fed streams, ponds, and lake banks. They often spawn from October through November, each female laying up to 5,000 eggs.

Their diet is composed primarily of insects, including mayflies and stoneflies, but they’ll also feed on worms, snails, clams, zooplankton, and other fish.

9) White bass (Morone chrysops)

white bass in lake michigan
White bass have two dorsal fins; one spiny, and the other smooth. Photo by Raver Duane, USFWS on Pixnio. Public domain.

White bass belong to the same family that houses striped bass, yellow bass, and white perch. It’s distinguishable from other bass found in Lake Michigan by its light coloration, ranging from dark grey along its back and gradually lightening to silvery-white or white on its belly. It also has several rows of horizontal bars of contrasting brown-grey, greenish, or dark grey scales along its sides. White bass possess two dorsal fins; the first, closest to the head, is spiny, while the second appears more smooth and lacks spines. Their average length is around 1 foot, but the largest white bass recorded was over 17 inches long. 

Preferring open waters, white bass can often be found chasing schools of shad as the latter group together to migrate. During spawning season, which typically begins around May for white bass in northern regions like Lake Michigan, expect to find them in tributaries like rivers and streams, or on rocky shoals along the banks or sandbars. They dislike overly vegetated areas and muddy or turbid waters. 

Their diet primarily consists of shad (their favorite food) and other fish like small sunfish and silversides, but can also include zooplankton, crustaceans, worms, and aquatic insect larvae and adults, such as stoneflies, midges, and mayflies. They are entirely carnivorous and do not eat vegetation. 

10) Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis)

As might be surmised by their name, lake whitefish have a pale coloration. They look quite similar to their close relative the cisco, one of the primary differences being that lake whitefish’s snout overhangs its shorter lower jaw. This allows them to feed easily both on lake bottoms as well as water surfaces.

These deep dwellers are quite reclusive, often found in schools at depths of up to 200 feet. Their size averages at a foot and a half in length and up to four pounds. However, the largest whitefish ever on record was actually caught in Lake Superior, and was a whopping 42 pounds!

As juveniles, they’re found along shallow shorelines and feed on zooplankton, but as adults move to much deeper waters and feed on aquatic insects, freshwater shrimps, fish eggs, and small fish. Most adult feeding takes place at or near the bottom of the water. Their diet is somewhat restricted due to their small mouths.

Spawning occurs from September through November in shallower waters two to four meters deep, typically at night. Depending on her size, a female lake whitefish can lay anywhere from 10,000 to well over 100,000 eggs. These are dispersed over sand or rock and hatch the following spring.

11) Northern pike (Esox lucius)

lake michigan fish species northern pike esox lucius
Northern pike are equipped with incredibly sharp teeth and a thick slime coating, making them tough to catch. Georg Mittenecker, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Northern pike prefer any shallow, densely vegetated banks of Lake Michigan and its tributaries. They seek out waters with plenty of vegetation, or other forms of shelter from submerged logs and fallen trees. As they prefer cool waters, during the hot summer months they may move from the lake’s tributaries into the deeper, cold waters of the lake itself.

Northern pike look similar to muskellunge, a fish they’re closely related to that can also be found and fished in Lake Michigan. With long, lean bodies that can grow up to 3 feet long and over 15 pounds, northern pike are a highly desirable sport fish species. Their sharp, predatory teeth make them an extra challenge, as they can simply bite through most fishing lines.

A protective, slimy mucous coating over their scales also makes them difficult to handle once they’re caught, but helps deter infections, parasites, and potential predators. Studies have also found it to reduce liquid friction, meaning that pike with healthy slime coatings swim faster on average than those without. This coating combined with their slender body has earned them the charming nickname of “snot rocket.”

With incredibly sharp teeth, a slim body shape, and mottled earth-tone scales, pike have evolved to be exceptional ambush predators. They typically wait amongst thick vegetation, and dash out at passing fish, snagging them often before the other fish has any idea of what’s going on. They will also feed on frogs, snakes, rodents like muskrats, and even waterfowl.

Spawning occurs usually once per year, typically around April and May when water temperatures reach about 48° F (~ 9° C). A single female can lay between 15,000 and 75,000 eggs. These predatory fish start off feeding on tiny zooplankton in the water, then switch to small fish around two weeks of age.

12) Crappie (Pomoxis spp.)

black crappie in lake michigan
The dark blotches are a key identifier of black crappie. Photo courtesy of Eric Engbretson / Public domain.

These freshwater sunfish are most commonly known as crappies, though they have other common names such as speckled perch, strawberry bass, calico bass, and papermouth. There are two species of crappie in the genus Pomoxis – the black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) and the white crappie (Pomoxis annularis). Both can be found in Lake Michigan.

Their names (white and black) can be deceiving, as light or dark body coloration varies by individual. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their markings. The white crappie has dark vertical stripes and spots on its sides, while the black crappie has dark irregular blotches covering its body. They also differ in the number of dorsal spines; white crappie possess 5-6 spines and black crappie possess 7-8 spines. Finally, they differ in habitat preference, as white crappie can be more often found out in the open water and black crappie tend to prefer dense vegetation to hide in, often closer to shore.

Crappies are social fish and gather together in large schools. Even during the breeding season, nests are built close together, forming large nesting colonies. Spawning occurs in May and June, and crappies are very fertile – they can overpopulate if uncontrolled! Both white and black crappie diet consists of small fish, zooplankton, crustaceans, and insects. Crappies are small in size – the average individual weighs 1 lb and measures 5-12 inches in length. Despite their size, they are a very popular gamefish.

13) Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)

pink salmon adult lake michigan
Pink salmon can be identified by their large, dark spots. Photo courtesy of USFWS, public domain.

Pink salmon are both the most stable and the smallest of the Pacific salmon species found in North America. Their typical size is about 2 feet in length and 5 pounds, but some have been found that were closer to 15 pounds. They have large, dark spots along their back and oval-shaped spots on their tails. Additionally, their tails are partially translucent; often, this is a key identifier. 

These fish are more aften found in the streams and rivers attached to Lake Michigan than in the lake itself. If you’re an angler, your best bet is to fish stream-side, particularly along rapids where pink salmon will be easier to catch as they jump to travel upstream.

During the spawning season, they’re quite an important food item for bears, predatory birds, and scavenging wolves and coyotes. They themselves feed on small crustaceans and other fish.

14) Channel catfish (Ictalurus punctatus)

Channel catfish in hand
Channel catfish have an enhanced sense of taste, with taste buds all over their body! Clara Dandridge / CC BY 4.0

Catfish often thrive along the dark bottoms of water bodies using enhanced senses of smell and taste – they have even been nicknamed the “swimming tongue” because they have taste buds located all over their body. Their taste systems are sensitive to amino acids in the water, which helps them track food as well as communicate territorially to other catfish. These species both have four distinct pairs of barbels, sensory whisker-like organs.

The channel catfish is the most popularly fished and farmed species of catfish in the U.S. They have been introduced to other parts of the world and have even become invasive in some areas because they are competitive and opportunistic feeders, though they’re native to Lake Michigan. While the average-sized channel catfish is generally under 10 lbs, they can reach maximum weights of 50 lbs, particularly in the Great Lakes where space and food are plentiful. Their average length is 22 inches and their life span is 14 years.

So name because they prefer water “channels” like streams and rivers (though they can also be found in the big lake itself), channel catfish tend to prefer well-oxygenated, clear water. However, they can be found in murky, somewhat low-oxygen water, as well.  

Channel catfish feed primarily on smaller fish, snails, clams, mussels, crustaceans, amphibians, and some aquatic vegetation. Spawning occurs once a year, through the spring and summer months. The mating process starts with the male digging out a nest on the lake bottom, then both male and female individuals use pheromones during the courtship dance. After the eggs are fertilized, the male stays and protects the nest, while the female guards from a distance.

15) Flathead catfish (Pylodictis olivaris)

how to catch flathead catfish
These catfish are identifiable by their quite flat heads, blue-grey skin, and often massive size. Engbretson, Eric / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain.

As the common name suggests, the flathead catfish can be distinguished from other species by the shape of its head (hint: it’s very flat!). Like the channel catfish, P. olivaris also has smooth, scaleless, blue-grey skin and barbels around the mouth. They can grow to be 3 to 4 feet in length (0.9 to 1.2 meters) and 100 pounds (45 kilograms)!

While many other catfish species are primarily scavengers, the flathead is a predatory fish that eats only other live fish. As juveniles, they tend to feed on invertebrates, but as they reach adulthood, flatheads will prey solely on other fish species, including bass, carp, suckers, sunfish, or even other catfish if other food is scarce.

During the spring and summer months, mature male flatheads will create their nests under logs or in bank cuts, where a female will then come along and deposit her eggs. After a fertilization event, the eggs will hatch in 4-6 days. The male will then defend the nest aggressively.

16) Black bullhead catfish (Ameiurus melas)

black bullhead catfish adult
You’re most likely to find black bullheads in the shallow bays and river eddies of Lake Michigan. Public domain.

Much like other catfish, black bullheads can be found along the bottom of water bodies, though they prefer shallow rather than overly deep water. In the case of Lake Michigan, you’re most likely to find them in somewhat shallow (several feet in depth or less) bays and connected river eddies. They are distinguished from similar catfish species by their broadly shaped head and dark-colored barbels, and they also possess a moderately forked tail and a pale underside that contrasts their dark, often olive-colored bodies. A relatively small species, black bullheads typically grow up to 14 inches in length, but some have been caught closer to 2 feet in length!

Juvenile bullheads feed midday in a school structure on small crustaceans, insects, and larvae. Adults, on the other hand, tend to feed at night and their diet consists of a variety of invertebrates, other fish, and fish eggs.

Black bullheads have a monogamous mating system, in which mating pairs will spawn between the months of May and July. A female will build her nest in a soft, muddy substrate where she will lay anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 eggs. The male will watch from close by, and fertilize the eggs in the nest. The male will guard the fertilized eggs and the offspring until about 2 weeks post-hatching.

17) Brown bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus)

brown bullhead catfish in lake michigan
Brown bullheads tend to prefer low-oxygen, muddy or murky water. Photo by Teddy Fotiou / CC BY-NC 2.0

Brown bullheads are a type of catfish also commonly known as hornpouts or mudcats. They thrive in low oxygen areas of freshwater systems with muddy bottoms. You’re most likely to find brown bullheads in shallow, heavily vegetated water where food is plentiful, but some have been found at depths of over 40 feet. Largely nocturnal, the brown bullhead is known for being an opportunistic bottom-feeder with a preference for snails, clams, leeches, insects, small fish, and even aquatic plants.

On average, brown bullheads grow to a length of 10 inches (25 cm) and weigh less than a pound, though larger individuals are common in Lake Michigan. Anglers are able to catch this deceptively delicious fish by using chicken liver or worms as bait. Though not as aggressive as other game fish, they must be handled with caution. Their large barbels and spines can cut through skin and unfortunately cause nasty infections, much like the black bullhead.

To distinguish the two bullhead species from one another, look at their pectoral spines (the spines along their back). Brown bullheads will have very distinctly barbed pectoral spines, while black bullheads will have pectoral spines that appear almost smooth (though some barbs are still present). You can also count the anal fins: brown bullheads typically have 20 to 30 anal fins (with 21 to 24 being average), while black bullheads should have 17 to 21 anal fins. Additionally, brown bullheads have chin barbells that can range from black to almost yellow.

18) Smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu)

Mature smallmouth bass fish underwater
Smallmouth bass are a very popular sport fish among anglers. USFWS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A very popular sport fish among anglers, smallmouth bass are common in lakes and streams. M. dolomieu will grow to a length of 12 to 16 inches (30 – 40 centimeters) once reaching maturity. These fish prefer to hang out in shallow, rocky areas along the shoreline. Habitat features found along the shore provide them with cover and food sources. Largemouth bass are closely related, and it can often be difficult to tell the two species apart! One way that they can be distinguished is by the single horizontal dark stripe along the body that largemouths have, and that smallmouths lack. A smallmouth bass, on the other hand, can be distinguished by the multiple vertically-oriented stripes that run along its body.

Juvenile M. dolomieu feed on plankton and small insects. As smallmouths mature into adulthood, they begin to feed on larger prey like crayfish, insects, and even other fish. Some smallmouth bass have even shown cannibalistic tendencies!

When it comes time to spawn in the spring, the male smallmouth will build a spawning nest in shallow waters. Swimming just above the nest, a mating pair will perform a unique spawning ritual. This is when the eggs are fertilized. They will develop and hatch within about one week.

19) Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)

Mature largemouth bass swimming in a body of water
Largemouth bass can be distinguished from its relative, the smallmouth bass, by a dark horizontal stripe that adorns the side of its body. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Like the smallmouth, the largemouth bass is a very popular species among fishers. As adults, mature largemouth bass can be around 30 inches in length (76 centimeters). Largemouth bass have relatively long lifespans, and can live for 25 years naturally.

Largemouth bass can be distinguished by their elongated body, and dark green and yellow coloration. They have a dark horizontal stripe adorning the side of the body, and, as the name suggests, they have larger mouths on average than their small-mouthed cousins.

M. salmoides are carnivorous fish throughout their lives, but their dietary preferences evolve as they get older and larger. As juveniles, M. salmoides eat a variety of insects, zooplankton, and smaller fish. As they reach adulthood, their diet shifts and they begin to feed on larger insects, crayfish, and even other fish species.

Largemouth bass reproduce in the springtime. Males will build nests in shallow waters where the females will deposit eggs. The males will come along later and fertilize them. The fertilized eggs will develop and hatch in about 6 to 7 days. The males will stick around in order to protect their school of larvae for the first month.

20) Walleye (Sander vitreus)

Two walleye fish swimming together
The walleye fish has an ocular film that allows it to hunt very well at night and in murky waters. Engbretson, Eric / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The walleye is an interesting species of freshwater fish that, as you may have inferred, is named after its eyes! They are large, silvery and opaque in appearance – they make S. vitreus pretty easy to identify when caught. The species belongs to the perch family, Percidae. These fish can grow to be 2.5 – 3 feet (0.75 – 0.9 meters) and weigh up to 10 – 20 pounds (4.5 – 9 kilograms). S. vitreus are long and thin in shape and they have a gorgeous golden-olive color. Each individual is adorned with one spiny and one soft-rayed dorsal fin. Walleye have dark spots patterning their backs and razor-sharp teeth that they use to catch prey.

Named after its unique eyes, the walleye has a thin and reflective ocular film that allows it to hunt very well during the night hours and in murky water. They are nocturnal hunters, and prey on small fish, invertebrates, and insects.

In a single spawning event, a female walleye will move to shallow, warm waters to release up to 500,000 eggs!  After becoming fertilized by a male, the eggs will hatch in about 10 days.

1 thought on “List of Lake Michigan Fish Species (Fishable & Non)”

  1. i was trying to find the type of fish that i caught near Empire, Michigan around the sleeping bear sand dunes. it was caught in about 30 ft depth. it was approx 20″ long with a high back and almost black color (very slimy coating) that was white along the bottom of the body. it was caught with a worm and hook.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.