The Ultimate Upper Midwest Fishing Road Trip

Top off the gas tank and fill the cooler with ice. The summer bite near the nation’s border in the Upper Midwest is your perfect chance to pack the freezer full of fresh fillets.

Want to enjoy your best summer ever? Then load up your car with tackle and camping gear for an unforgettable fishing road trip. We’ve dreamed up seven D.I.Y. road trips—all packed with amazing country, great food, and out-of-this-world fishing. You can send us a thank-you postcard from the road.

This trip takes you on a tour of some of the best fisheries in the Upper Midwest. Call it the Meat Marathon.

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1. It’s Always Sunny in St. Clair
Bass and muskies get all the attention on Metro Detroit’s Lake St. Clair, but for dinner, panfish are your target here. Pumpkinseeds gorge themselves on St. Clair’s abundant population of zebra mussels, growing fat in the process. Sunnies typically hang around shallow weedbeds and hard bottoms, and bluegills should be nearby, too. Tiny tubes, Beetle Spins, and small soft plastics suspended under a bobber can fill a quick limit.

2. Beer and Blues
In St. Clair Shores, Mich., the Blue Goose Inn has been serving anglers for a century. Today, it’s the blues that bring people in with live music several nights a week. Don’t stay out too late; you’ve got 100 miles to go to catch the morning bite in Port Clinton.

3. Walleye World
Warm water can make fishing tough—even around Port Clinton, one of the country’s best walleye spots—but that doesn’t stop savvy anglers. Limits can be caught off the Camp Perry firing range, but trophy hunters head across the border to Pelee Island. In either spot, fish should be in the cool water along the bottom. Drift weight-forward spinners like the classic Erie Dearie dressed with a crawler.

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4. Inn for a Nap
After cleaning your catch, rest up for tomorrow’s long run to Erie at the Old Orchard Motel just a few miles south of the boat ramp in Fremont. The friendly motel staff will offer you a comfortable bed for about $50, which includes space in the freezer to store your fish for the night.

5. Jumbo Junction
Your goal here is to put as many fish in the boat as possible before the inevitable summer storm sends boats heading for shore. From the lighthouse west to Walnut Creek, schools of jumbo perch swim in 50 to 60 feet of water. To find them, look for the inevitable pack of boats and anchor nearby, or ask for tips when you pick up a few dozen shiners at Presque Isle Angler. For family fun, consider a head boat. One of the best is the Edward John. Book now to secure your spots onboard.

6. Running Start
Later in summer, giant king salmon make their spawning run up the Lower Niagara River, and a gauntlet of fishermen will be there, lining the banks at the New York Power Authority platform or down in Devil’s Hole. For your best shot at a 30-pound (or bigger) chinook, get a jump on the shore-bound crowd by putting in at Fort Niagara State Park and fishing the Niagara Bar. Kwikfish bounced along the bottom may get a reaction strike, but you’re better off drifting salmon eggs.

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7. Jump the Falls
The hard fight of trophy chinooks is bound to make you work up an appetite. At the overpriced restaurants along Niagara Falls, you’re paying for the view, not the food. Instead, head to Betty’s, a local institution just across the border, for a basket of their famous fish and chips.

Photographs (from top): Bill Lindner, Justin Appenzeller, Darwin Wiggett/Alamy. Map by L-Dopa