By Mark Romanack

Few outdoor activities are more rewarding than spending time chasing a favorite species on and off the water — allowing you to camp and fish more. Fishing is always a great time, but what an angler does off the water can enhance the outdoor experience and the memories created.

For my money, combining fishing with a bit of camping makes for the ultimate outdoor experience. Fishing trips have always been an essential part of what makes the Romanack family tick, but some of my most cherished fishing memories have occurred during family camping trips.

Camping opportunities abound in the Great Lakes State. Here in Michigan, there are 103 state parks and 142 campgrounds located in state recreational areas. Add in the five national parks and the hundreds of privately owned campgrounds, and it’s easy to see that finding a place to camp is a lot easier than finding fish that are biting!

The Logistics of Camping and Fishing

My family started mixing camping and fishing trips primarily because of logistics. Camping typically allows anglers to literally stay on the water, managing travel time and maximizing the available hours spent on the water.

Michigan has hundreds of campgrounds on bodies of water, providing excellent fishing opportunities. Even if the body of water you’re interested in fishing doesn’t have a campground, a suitable camping opportunity can probably be found nearby.

fishing michigan

Besides the obvious advantages of staying on or near the water, camping helps my family get the most out of our fishing adventures. When camping, my family brings our own food to grab a quick bite and ensure we are on the water at prime times. By avoiding eating out, we save money, but just as important, we enjoy more quality time on the water.
Tent Camping

When my kids were young, we did a lot of tent camping. Tent camping worked well for us because we could load all the camping equipment, food coolers, etc., into our pickup truck and use the truck to tow the fishing boat.

When the weather is mild, tent camping is a very affordable and functional means of striking a serious fish camp. Even in cool weather, a tent camp works well so long as you take a couple of propane heaters rated for inside use to take the chill off, dry wet clothes, etc.

Pop-up Campers

Pop-up campers have always been a popular choice among avid campers. The beauty of a pop-up camper is it provides a little more creature comforts compared to tent camping, and most models are designed to allow a car top-sized boat or kayak to be transported on top of the camper.

Pop-up campers will offer propane cooking facilities and heaters, eliminating the need to haul bulky cots and sleeping pads associated with tent camping.

Pull-behind RVs

A pull-behind RV provides all the conveniences of a home, including cooking facilities, a refrigerator, a furnace, air conditioning, toilet facilities, etc. The downside to a pull-behind RV is that, for the family that wants to camp using just one vehicle, it’s impossible to tow a camper and a fishing boat that sits on a trailer.

Families that opt for the tow-behind trailer will spend most of their time fishing from kayaks, fishing from shore, or fishing from a boat small enough to car top on their tow vehicle.
Of course, for a family with two suitable cars, one can tow the camper while the other tows the fishing boat. This option opens up many fishing opportunities, including bodies of water that require larger boats.

Fifth-wheel Campers

A fifth-wheel camper is the ultimate in camping comfort. Not only do these campers offer slide-outs that increase the useable camping space, but there is also a lot more storage room for hauling camping gear and fishing essentials.

In Michigan, a fifth-wheel camper can also be used in tandem with a fishing boat trailer so long as the tow vehicle, camper and boat do not exceed 65 feet in length. That means that owners of fifth-wheel campers can tow small- to medium-sized fishing boats behind the trailer in Michigan. Other states have different towing rules, so always check before pulling a fifth wheel and boat combination out of state.

Those who have pulled a boat behind a fifth wheel already know this, but for those who have not experienced this camping option, this is not a job for someone who hasn’t had considerable experience towing. On the highway, a fifth wheel/boat combo must give other vehicles a wide berth. The same goes double for stops at fueling stations. When you arrive at the campground, be sure to select a “drive-through” site for setting up camp.

Fishing Michigan. Camp More. Fish More.

Truck Campers

Like many other commercially produced recreational campers, truck campers have improved dramatically over the years. It used to be that truck campers were rather heavy and only practical for 3/4-ton trucks or larger. Modern truck campers, such as those produced by Travel Lite RV, are made from aluminum and composite materials, making them much lighter, stronger and more durable than traditional truck campers.

As a result, truck campers designed to be used on a 1/2-ton pickup are now dominating in this camper category. The beauty of a truck camper is that it provides a place to stay, cook meals and store personal items, leaving room in the tow vehicle to store and transport other camping and fishing essentials. The truck camper option is also the most practical choice when combining camping and towing a full-sized fishing boat.

“I’m a big fan of truck campers,” said Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV. “The truck camper works perfectly for our camping and fishing needs. We store our clothing and food in the truck camper, leaving the back of my truck available to haul camping chairs, coolers, fishing tackle and other gear.”

A 1/2-ton pickup truck with a truck camper still has enough towing capacity to pull a full-sized fishing boat easily. “My 1500 Ram pickup has all the power I need,” said Romanack. “This truck does a great job of towing a Travel Lite Atom truck camper and also an STX2050 Starcraft, a 20-foot aluminum multi-species fishing boat, with all the camping and fishing gear loaded.”

It’s good to consider airbag-style suspension systems when towing a truck camper and full-size fishing boat. This style of suspension system is easy to use and air can quickly be added or removed as necessary to level out the vehicle depending on the load.

Many avid campers routinely combine truck camping with tent camping. The tent’s extra space makes it practical to travel and camp with larger groups. Another option is to use a tent or canopy to set up an outdoor cooking and lounging area.

Storage Tricks

People who camp come up with some creative means for transporting all the gear involved. The same is true of fishermen. To haul extra fishing poles, consider making truck top tubes from thick-walled PVC and aluminum caps designed for hauling construction conduit. I mounted mine to a Yakima rack mounted to the truck topper.

Several companies produce truck bed storage boxes. With a little lumber and some imagination, building storage boxes for a pickup truck isn’t a big job. Boxes are the perfect place to store smaller items like fillet knives, cutting boards, storage bags, etc., leaving room on top of the storage box to stow oversized items.

A Few Destination Suggestions

Over the years, the Romanack family has enjoyed many camping and fishing adventures. Some of our favorites have involved trout, salmon, walleye and smallmouth bass fishing.
PJ Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon is a great location for anglers targeting chinook salmon in the summertime. The public boat launch site at Muskegon Lake provides access to Lake Michigan and is just a few miles from the campground.

Hoffmaster is one of the older campgrounds in Michigan. The sites are nestled into mature hardwood and conifer trees, which make them shady and cool during the peak of summer.

Aloha State Park on Mullet Lake is one of Michigan’s most popular state parks. The park has many campsites right on the water, and there is a public launch site, making access to Mullet Lake easy. Some campsites even allow anglers to beach their boats to avoid using the launch facilities every day. Mullet Lake offers excellent perch, walleye fishing and untapped trolling action for native rainbow trout.

Whitewater Township Park on Elk Lake is a secluded camping location with excellent fishing opportunities. Located near Traverse City, Elk Lake has an excellent smallmouth bass population and offers good fishing for lake trout and rainbow trout. Other excellent fisheries include East Grand Traverse Bay, Torch Lake and Intermediate Lake.

Linwood Beach Marina and Campground is an excellent location for walleye, bass, and perch fishing in spring, summer, and fall. In addition to excellent camping facilities, the location features a public access site, convenience store, and full-service marina. Frank’s Great Outdoors is just a couple of miles up the road if you need fishing tackle or camping accessories.

fishing michigan

Summing It Up

Fishing is a ton of fun, and camping is one of the best ways to relax between fishing trips. Combining these two popular outdoor activities is a win-win that almost guarantees excellent times on the water and family memories to last a lifetime in Michigan’s bountiful outdoors.

Veteran outdoor writer Mark Romanack sold his first manuscript to Michigan Out-of-Doors Editor Ken Lowe in the late 1980s. Today, he is the executive producer of the Fishing 411 TV series and continues to contribute to numerous publications.