Captain George Freeman, the owner of Free Style Charters, is one of the most experienced charter captains on Lake Michigan. He’s been fishing the big lake for over thirty years. Freeman is based out of Ludington, Michigan which is one of the most popular ports on Lake Michigan.
Freeman says people come to Ludington for good reason. “We have good marinas there to support the boats and we’ve had historically some of the best king salmon fishing on Lake Michigan. One thing that makes it such a desirable spot to fish is we have structure. Southern Lake Michigan, they don’t have much structure. When you come up to Ludington, we have a dropoff. People call it “the shelf.” It goes from 75 to 80 feet down to 150-180 pretty quickly. We also have the Pere Marquette River, which is a gravel river. There have never been any big salmon plants in the Pere Marquette River but there is really good natural reproduction.”
Fishing starts picking up in April and May as the water on the south end of the lake starts to warm. “Southern Lake Michigan, they’ve had a great king fishery down there the past few years, down around St. Joe and Benton Harbor. The fish start out down there. As the water warms, they start moving north. The majority of the cohos have a tendency to run up the Wisconsin side of the lake. But the kings come up the east side of the lake and they work they’re way up.”
Freeman says it’s hard to pinpoint when the best time of year is for king salmon fishing in Ludington. “It’s really cyclical. It used to be that you could count on the last two weeks in August and the first week in September was like a guarantee. You’re going to get those staging fish. Well, the state of Michigan has cut way back on their plants now. At one time we had 500,000 fish net penned at Ludington State Park. We would get a great return. They’ve gradually cut that down and now we don’t plant any chinook there at all. The next port to the north is Manistee. We get some of those fish hanging out. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are like one big lake now. They come through the Straits of Mackinac. The DNR plants more king salmon in Lake Huron than they do in Lake Michigan. There’s not a lot of food for them in Lake Huron so they come and feed in Lake Michigan. What we think, myself and some of the other captains, is that we seem to have our best king fishing the last week of July and the first two weeks of August. We think a lot of those fish are Lake Huron fish. Instead of them staying around and staging, they go back over into Lake Huron.”
The wind is always a factor when it comes to fishing, especially on the Great Lakes. Ludington is no different. “Usually the prevailing wind is southwest or has a lot of west on it. That warms our water. It blows the warm water in. It backs the warm water up between Ludington and Big Point Sable. There will typically be a thermocline there, down 60 or 80 feet. The fish would be pretty much concentrated in that. We’d have really good fishing, knowing where they were. In the last few years, especially last year, we’ve had a lot of east wind. The east wind blows warmer water across to the west side of the lake. So our water stays cold. So the fish can be pretty comfortable from 10 feet all the way down to the bottom. So they’re not really concentrated in one area. You gotta cover a lot of water. The guys who set up a lot of lines have better success.”
Captain George Freeman is a recent guest on the Great Lakes Fishing Podcast. To listen to the full conversation, click the player below or click here to check out our podcast page and listen to the entire audio library.