The “Best” of the Great Lakes

Is there a Great Lake that is best? Maybe. ­­

That’s certainly fodder for partisan bickering. But perhaps each lake should be recognized for the best of something.

So tell us. What is the single best thing to do on each of the Great Lakes?

A few of my ideas:

Best Surfing

Ryan Gerard surfing Lake Michigan. Photo: Mike Killion from Great Lakes Surfer Magazine

Lake Michigan

Why: Any Great Lake can be surfed but Lake Michigan is considered most consistent, a great characteristic for surfing, according to Ryan Gerard, owner of Third Coast Surf Shop in St. Joseph, Michigan.

“In terms of consistency and quality, I would say Lake Michigan is best,” said Gerard. “In general, you get more surfing days.”

But Gerard noted that if wave height is a priority, Lake Superior is the way to go, “Lake Superior is deep and a bigger body of water which creates better waves and quality, which is great for surfing.”

When the Edmund Fitzgerald went down off Lake Superior’s Whitefish Point in 1975, waves were 30 feet high.

Best Fishing

Lake Erie

Why: All the lakes have adequate fishing but Lake Erie is the most productive, according to the Great Lakes Science Center. Yellow perch and walleye are some of the top fish caught in Lake Erie.

Best Canoeing

Lake Huron

Why:  Lake Huron has the most coastline (not that I recommend canoeing 3,827 miles). Canoeing in Lake Huron gives a traveler the unique opportunity to see Michigan’s thumbnail, located near Port Austin and Pointe Aux Barques, about 16 miles from Port Hope.

Best Beach

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan.

Why: Lots of sand. Need proof? In 2011, Sleeping Bear Dunes won most beautiful place in the United States, competing against places like Hawaii and California, according to ABC’s Good Morning America.

 

Turnip Rock off of Port Austin. Photo: Lars Jensen

Best Kayaking

Lake Huron

Why: Turnip Rock is less than 100 feet off of Port Austin, Mich. (at the tip of the thumb). Googling the images were enough to make me want to go. Turnip Rock is a large rock island thousands of years in the making. Intense storm waves created the turnip shape that has kayakers looking up in amazement. Man-made cement supports the bottom so the land that appears unbalanced stands strong above travelers.

 

Most Scenic

Lake Ontario

Why: Not an easy decision but if I can only pick one I’m going with Lake Ontario because of beautiful features at opposite ends: Niagara Falls on the west and the 1000 Islands on the east. The 1000 Islands straddle the Canada-U.S. border and are made up of more than 1,800 islands. Only some of the islands are large enough to be occupied by residents but all are known for their autumn beauty, according to the 1000 Islands website. Niagara Falls, located on the opposite end of Lake Ontario, has about 700,000 gallons per second of water flowing over the falls during the peak periods, summer and fall. Niagara Falls also has over 13 million visitors a year.

The list is far from definitive and certainly fodder for argument.  You tell us. What is the best lake for ice fishing, sailing, sunsets, swimming or any other Great Lake activity?

Why?

In the comments below, you might fill in these blanks:

Lake ______________ is the best for _____________ because…”

22 thoughts on “The “Best” of the Great Lakes

  1. I love Lake Ontario for its fantastic views and beaches. I am happy that it is making a recovery from pollution!

  2. Tom, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. Quagga mussels (zebras are old news) have been the No. 1 bad boy on the lakes for some time now. About the only folks that like ‘em are the divers, which now can see shipwrecks with clarity unheard of in the 80s. Instead of feeling their way along piece by piece on a wreck as in the old days, they’re floating 15-20 feet above and shooting perfectly clear shots of the entire wreck in 100 feet of water! Lake Erie is shallow, great for walleyes. The deep lakes — outside of the shallow bays — will never be great walleye, pike, bass or perch fisheries. Salmon have no value? You’ve got to be kidding! If not, you’ve got to get up to speed. They’re multi-million-dollar attractions to each and every port along Lake Michigan, filling rooms, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations, marinas, launches, sport shops, gift shops and more. Worm- and minnow-dunking local perch anglers don’t exactly have that kind of economic impact, and besides, you can catch all the panfish you want on the inland lakes. Guess what? Fewer kids than ever before are doing that. Did the alewives cause that too? Walleyes on Erie are a great impact, but that’s a charter and private boat bonanza, not a year-round shore fishing hot spot. Many studies (Michigan Sea Grant, UW-Extension and others) have found fishing tournament and charter group parties on Lake Michigan spend $1,000-$1,500 per trip, and there are far more private groups trailering boats in that also bring huge dollars to port communities. Several salmon fishing tournaments lure more than 1,000 entrants, and one in Wisconsin attracts more than 2,600 anglers over nine days from dozens of states. Try saying “salmon aren’t worth it” to a businessperson who relies on those fishermen every summer. Times have changed. The lake has changed. Eliminating the fish that draw anglers and trying to reestablish nothing but natives is futile in a changed-forever system and a changed-forever world.

  3. Scoop, Sorry, no where else has the mussels wiped out any other fish “practically overnight” as the DNR says happened to the alewives. The mussels eat food, granted, yet all these fish from out of town that require zooplankton, are thriving? I have talked to many biologists, blaming the zebra mussels is popular but not true. There are many biologists and studies that say we can control zebra mussels and the rest with native predators I agree with them, because that is true. Ol dopey me, I thought the plan was to get rid of invasive species. The alewives will always be an invasive species, a very destructive invasive species, much worse than the zebra mussels, according to one DNR paper “Alewives eat zooplankton and native larval fish, affecting all fish” this is true. Salmon fishing is expensive. Lake Erie most popular lake to fish, no salmon, center part of the country, license sale holding no salmon. Wisconsin 4% increase in ice fisherman, no salmon ice fishing. In 2004 all the states and tribes at a meeting in Chicago agreed it was time for action, not just another study! Since then nothing but studies and the only “action” has been to increase the alewives, an invasive species. I can understand a fishing charter guy wanting to make sure he catches fish. I don’t understand anyone who would destroy an entiire ecosystem to do so. The DNR says they’re are dedicated to ecosystem based management. The alewives and salmon belong in a saltwater ecosystem, and don’t survive well in a healthy freshwater system. Restoring native fish, is something everybody can get behind, not a lot of people behind saving the alewives, just the salmon guys, the minority. We did the Goby assault fishing contest, 3 times killed over 23,000 gobies. Every person that brought a kid, told me that kid bugged them to go goby fishin every day, because they knew they could catch em. like we “usta” catch Perch. But there was video games how is this possible? The salmon have no value, they’re costing us 5 billion dollars a year +, and they’re about to cost us the whole ball a wax!

  4. Those pesky mussels, Sorry, they are not the real problem in the Lower Great Lakes. They contribute but only a small fraction compared to the real culprit—The Ice Boom! That is the root of all evil. Actually money is the root cause. The New York Power Authority use an ice boom to increase profits. It’s cheaper to stop the ice totally in Lake Erie than do it environmentally friendly and keep the ice out of the intakes closer to the inlets. The ice boom is disrupting a normal ice movement in nature that has gone on since before all recorded history. Man comes along and stops it and expects nothing bad to happen or knows that weak, apathetic, lazy people won’t dare question them or try to stop them. But here I am…, Joe Barrett of North Tonawanda, New York. I will tell everyone of my real scientific review of the effects. Not some 1960 hocus pocus crap they pass off as real science. visit http://www.bantheboom.com and read the truth. See if it makes sense to you. Tell your friends, reporters and philanthropists that might help. Thank you. JBB

  5. Tom, with respect, please ask any biologist, the mussels are the root of all evil at this point, dominating the biomass and adversely affecting the ecosystem. Yes, native fish are returning to Huron, but are anglers? No, not in any numbers. In fact, license sales continue to drop. Why? Folks want salmon. Times have changed since ’86: an aging group of anglers followed by a rapid change in how many live fueled by cell phones, the Internet, gaming devices, etc. Youth recruitment and retention in fishing and hunting is not what it once was, and certainly not for the opportunities available. There are more deer, wild turkeys and much more game than when I was young, yet try to hold a young person’s interest nowadays. It’s a challenge. Lake clarity will never allow the perch fishing to rebound to what it once was. Lakers will never again lure vast numbers of anglers as they once did, simply because anglers got a taste of the incredible power of salmon and the awesome leaps of steelhead. Those fisheries are offshore, nearshore and rivers, unlike lakers which are strictly a deep water fishery (and are like cranking up an old boot, even though I love old boots and the look of a big laker). Additionally, salmon stockings began in ’66 in Michigan and ’68 in Wisconsin. I would argue salmon management began long before ’86, and would also argue that a fishy cancer scare from the National Wildlife Federation around ’89 caused the greatest exodus in visiting anglers as the NWF somehow got headlines across the country (as well as on TV, radio and magazines) with the “1-in-100,000 risk” of getting cancer if you eat a Great Lakes fish. That hurt our charter industry big-time, and took many years to recover. The USFWS has been wasting millions of dollars for decades trying with no luck to reestablish lake trout. (They also took a decade to grant states authority to deal with all the fish-eating cormorants, and get taken back to court way too often in wolf management, but I digress). They’d be far better off to give up on the costly offshore lake trout reef experiments and stock them for a nearer shore put and take fishery. Lakers outside of refuges are good as occasional targets when nothing else is biting. In refuges, all they do is feed burbot when young or if they make it, live for 10-20 years eating more baitfish while not being able to be targeted. The natural reproduction has been negligible.

  6. Lake Michigan is best for swimming great sandy beaches with lots of shallows for the kids, and nice sand bars just a bit further out for the teens, yet still shallow enough for safe fun. Also by august the southern end of the lake has warmed up some! Love St Joseph, very family friendly.

  7. With respect, the first invasive species changed the lake, that would be us. The alewives altered the zooplankton, shortly after arriving, and the eat larval Perch Walleye, any pelagic fish (air Bladder) The alewife protection plan, which the salmon can’t survive without, is the root cause of Lake Michigans problems, as this protects all invasive species. Lake trout don’t fight hard enough is not a very good excuse to sacrifice an entire ecosystem for. Over 1/2 million people have quit fishing since 1986, this is when the lake started to be managed for the salmon. Non resident license sales are 2 to 1 for native fish, not salmon/trout. The lake is not irreversible, Huron with the loss of just the alewives, all native fish are rebounding, even with the mussels still there, not seen in forty years. Both salmon and alewives have to protected from a healthy or high native fish population. The only way to do that is keep thier numbers down. Switching to steelhead non native but not dependant on alewives to survive, keeps the big lake fishery plus would allow us to restore the native fishery. Lake Michigan is an invasive species sanctuary, because it has to be if we keep the salmon. The says protect the natural resources, salmon and alewives are not a natural resource. Salmon was, are and always be a niche fishery, due to high costs, not worth saving given we are losing the whole ball of wax because of it.

  8. Tom, Lake Michigan has been irreversibly changed not by salmon but by exotic invasive mussels which have made the water so clear in the past 25 years that not only are tiny perch easily spotted by predators, the lower end of the food chain has been decimated. Lake trout? Pretty fish, but will never draw the numbers of sport fishing enthusiasts that pack Lake Michigan ports for salmon, steelhead and browns. Salmon were stocked to control alewives in ’66 in Michigan and ’68 in Wisconsin. There used to be far more alewives back then, but perch thrived to. Water clarity and changes at the bottom of the food chain brought on by zebra mussels in the mid-/late ’80s and now dominated by the even larger and more prolific quagga mussels are the key factors. Salmon, steelhead and browns bring in tens of thousands of anglers who pack hotels, restaurants, gas stations, sport shops charters and other portside businesses. Native lakers are unfortunately called “greasers” and other derogatory names by many anglers today who didn’t grow up catching them when they were the main game in town. They simply don’t fight much, are much older and thus hold more potential contaminants, and many would argue not as tasty as other species. Me, I still love eating the small to medium size lakers on the grill, even if they do drag in with barely a tug at the end of the line.

  9. Thanks Jane, the salmon are topic, as part of what’s wrong. The salmon are an artificial thing in our lake. Before salmon/alewives most everyone went fishing hunting outdoors….. Piers lined with people catching Perch, kids with cane poles, fond memorys of fishin with Dad grampa, uncle Henry ….. Since 1986 close to 600,000 people quit fishing, buying licenses, the only thing that changed is the fishery, not people or kids. Except for taking my granddaughter, I have to force myself to go fishing, I can’t bring myself to kill them. I’ve been playing catch and release for about 5 years now, but knowing what our “fishery managers” have done takes the fun right out of it. We are forced to enjoy nature by DNR, not Nature for what it is, take it or leave it. I want my lake back, but the DNR is covering thier assets, not protecting the lake. We can never have a healthy ecosystem, or healthy native fish population, as long as we have to protect the alewives and salmon. Two fish that don’t belong here, but require we destroy nature for them to survive.

  10. I love them all, but a summer’s beach on Lake Michigan and a view along a rocky and pine-filled ledge on Lake Superior are favorites.

    And, thanks to Tom’s comments about the salmon even if they are a stretch from the topic. I love Pacific salmon IN the Pacific Ocean and what’s left of their natural habitat in the coastal freshwater spawning streams, but have always been troubled by the exotic fishery of Pacific salmon imported to eat Atlantic alewives in the freshwater seas of the Great Lakes, where the dominant “home” predator used to be the much embattled namaycush (lake trout), which still struggles to regain its natural foothold in the lake ecosystem.

  11. Lake Superior is best for everything because, well, how can you compare the cess pool of exotics and E. coli that has unfortunately become the lower Great Lakes to the clean waters and remote beauty of the Gitchigumi. Grew up on Lake Michigan, remember swimming in rafts of dead alewife. Fished Erie while living in that area and remember the smell of sewage. Have been on Huron many times and many places and admit that it inspiring in it’s northern reaches and comes in second on my list. Lake Ontario is nice, but doesn’t touch Michigan and I’m a big homer for MI so too bad. All that said, all of the lakes are beautiful an inspiring on the surface, but the more I know the more I’m saddened when looking beneath the rolling waves, awe inspiring sunsets, and majestic shorelines.

  12. I’m afraid I have a conflict of interest. I love all the lakes, however, I’ve learned, the great salmon fishing, requires the sacrifice of our native fish, as they are predators of both alewives and salmon. Each salmon requires 103 pounds of alewives to reach 17 pounds, in 4 years. The salmon fishery has a built in conflict of interest, each salmon planted puts us farther behind in our fight against invasive species. It’s not politically correct to “dis” the salmon, but I’m fed up to the point,where I don’t care if I ever see another salmon or trout again. From a biological standpoint, the salmon have no value, and are our biggest liabilty, given the facts.

  13. My summers are never complete without at least one walk along the limestone seawall in Lexington on Lake Huron….just 30 minutes north of Port Huron, yet with an “up north” feel.I love living in this Great Lakes State and this article did a fine job of describing the uniqueness of each of our “treasures”!

  14. They’re all gems. I vote Lake Michigan for fishing because of its diverse salmon/trout/steelhead big water and river fisheries and year-round (for most species) perch, walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, brown trout, Great Lakes strain muskies and even whitefish fishery on Green Bay.

  15. My summer is not complete without at least one walk along the beautiful limestone seawall in Lexington on Lake Huron…just 30 minutes north of Port Huron with a real “up north” feel. I’m proud to live in this Great Lake State….thanks for describing the uniqueness of each of our “treasures”…..what a tribute!

  16. Lake Huron is my favorite pick. Kayaking at Port Austin is fab. Beginners or seasoned it is so beautiful. On the other side of the Blue Water Bridge in Canada Eh! Great beaches, golden sand and sand dunes and camping on hwy 21 that runs along the edge of Lake Huron. Visit Kettle Point, Ipperwash Beach, Grand Bend and Bayfield. The best sunsets. This is a great article, makes me want to check out other lakes

  17. I guess I am a romanticist at heart, but the power and mystery of Lake Superior has always intriqued me. Love love love

  18. You can’t beat a Lake Michigan Sunset! It’s probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. Nice article so fun to read about our beautiful lakes and all they have to offer!

  19. I love the photo of Turnip Rock in Port Austin! I have actually been there with my family and it is even more beautiful up close in person! Definitely one of my favorite places in Michigan. Also I have not had the pleasure of fishing in Lake Erie but I know Lake Michigan is also great for catching Salmon. Great article!

  20. Great article! I was wondering where I should go fishing and it sounds like Lake Erie is the spot! Good info. Keep it coming.

  21. Lake Huron is the best for scuba diving. Thunder Bay, off of Alpena, is perhaps the best known to Michiganders…but Tobermory, at the tip of Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, is truly the diving mecca of the Great Lakes.

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