The scenic St. Marys River offers something for nearly every fisherman in all months of the year, but the spring and summer months from May through August can be the best time to sample the multi-species fishery.
Anglers find amazing fishing for perch, walleye, whitefish, salmon, northern pike and smallmouth bass during these months, as well as the opportunity to fish for a species that isn’t widely known outside of northern Michigan: the lake herring or cisco.
Before you go, know which fish are populating the St. Marys River and when. Use this Annual Peak Fishing Guide to help plan your fishing trip.
To familiarize themselves with the river, many anglers choose to go out with local guides who have fished these waters for decades. Find your charter fishing captain here.
“May and June are great for whitefish,” says Harold Bailey, of Blue Heron Fishing Charters. “They’re overlooked, but a lot of fun to catch.”
Upstream of the Soo Locks and International Bridge, anglers often target whitefish. However, Bailey says hard-fighting fish, averaging one to three pounds, may be caught throughout the river. He recommends using waxworms on ice-fishing teardrops near the shipping channel’s bottom edges.
Jumbo yellow perch are easier to find in May when they’re preparing to spawn.
“From ice-out through most of May, there’s great perch fishing on minnows in depths of as little as three to six feet,” says Dave Atkinson, of Wild Bill’s Bait and Tackle. Top areas include Lake George, Baie de Wasai, and Munuscong Bay, as well as further downstream in Potagannissing Bay.
Walleye season opens May 15 in the St. Marys. It is recommended to troll nightcrawlers and spinner rigs in Brimley Bay. “Crankbaits like Salmons are hot, too,” he notes. Anglers troll with and without planer boards, and some drift or cast jigs. Lake George and Munuscong Bay are perennial producers.
As the season progresses, walleyes tend to move deeper.
“The shipping channel edges turn on toward the end of June,” Atkinson says. “A slow death-style spinner rig with half a ‘crawler is my favorite bait in depths down to 28 feet.” The action continues through the summer.
Smallmouth bass fishing also fires up in late May and June. Atkinson advises bronzeback fans to target weed lines and rock piles throughout the river. A variety of classic bass presentations work, including crankbaits, tubes, and jigs, along with live bait.
“May and June are prime times for Atlantic salmon, too,” says Bailey, noting that a variety of tactics take salmon averaging five or six pounds, with trophies in the teens. “You can catch them trolling or casting,” he says. “Stick baits that imitate small smelt are hard to beat.”
A bit farther downstream, near DeTour, where the St. Marys empties into Lake Huron, anglers can also find Atlantics, along with a mix of coho and king salmon, plus lake trout.
The St. Marys holds plenty of northern pike and muskellunge along its entire length. While May and June are good months to fish, many would argue that the fishing gets better into the fall. The bays and points around Neebish Island have been popular with pike fishermen for many years, and Munuscong is a hotspot for muskies.
Many places suffer a lull in fishing action during the “dog days” of summer. Still, anglers on the St. Marys enjoy banner catches throughout July and August for walleye, smallmouth bass, salmon and more.
According to Bailey, one of the more remarkable midsummer bites occurs during the first weeks of July, when schools of lake herring and whitefish feast on emerging mayflies. Anglers catch them the same way they catch whitefish, with waxworms and teardrops of various colors suspended from 10-25 feet. Most use long fly rods or steelhead spinning rods.
“Pound for pound, they’re one of the hardest-fighting fish around,” says Bailey. He also notes Potagannissing Bay and Les Cheneaux are more popular spots to fish, but herring may be found anywhere from Sault Ste. Marie to DeTour. Look for flocks of gulls that are feasting on mayflies. The herring are often below them.
Chinook or “king” salmon start coming into the river in late July and August, and the fishing improves as the summer wears on. Early in the run, DeTour is the place to be. The mouth of the Garden River is another good spot, and by August salmon are spread throughout the river.
“Trolling spoons or J-plugs on downriggers is a great way to get them,” says Bailey. However, shore fishing also produces salmon for anglers at Alford Park and along the newly improved Little Rapids habitat on Sugar Island.
All of these great fishing options make the mighty St. Marys the perfect place to forget all about the dog days of summer.
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