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Fly Fishing Michigan

The Best Fly Fishing in Michigan

The Sportsman's Paradise isn't shy on trout fishing and fly fishing opportunities across the state. From spring fed freestone creeks, large tailwater streams, and Great Lakes tributaries filled with trophy sized seasonal visitors each year, Michigan offers offers a wide array of options throughout the year. Fly anglers can target a number of salmonid species in the different watersheds. Brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout (and steelhead), Atlantic Salmon, King Salmon, Coho Salmon, Pink Salmon, and Lake Trout. A number of cool water streams and lakes also have popular largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, musky, and northern pike fisheries. When looking for a place to start, it is helpful to know what opportunities are available during each season as the the hot bite changes month to month. We will highlight the best streams to find each of these species, as well as the times of year when you can find the fishing at its very best. 

Michigan Trout and Salmon Fishing

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Deciding the best trout stream to visit in Michigan is no simple task. While the most popular rivers like the Manistee River, Au Sable River, Boardman River, Pere Marquette get most of the attention. Smaller rivers like the Fox River, White River, and Jordan River offer similar fly fishing opportunities with a fraction of the visitor traffic. Most of these rivers are found in the Northern half of the state and the Upper Peninsula. Deciding where to start is easiest after choosing your target species.

Michigan Rainbow Trout Fishing 

Rainbow trout (not including steelhead) are not stocked in the state of Michigan in the same numbers as other states. Most of the streams stocked with rainbows are seasonal fisheries. The Clinton River, Huron River, Au Sable River, and Muskegon River all have healthy populations of rainbow trout. While the Muskegon and Au Sable do have rainbows that make it to the lakes. the rainbow trout of the Clinton and Huron are typically fished out each season. 

Michigan Steelhead Fishing

The Lake Run Steelhead keep fly anglers of Michigan warm during the cold weather months. Runs begin in Mid October to November depending on the Great Lake tributary you find yourself on. The Steelhead will remain in the river through April when they begin to make their way back to the depths on Lake Huron and Michigan to fatten up for the following fall. The Muskegon River, Pere Marquette River, Au Sable River, Grand River, St. Joe River, Boardman River, and White River all offer steelhead fishing opportunities though there are differences in each of these rivers and when the bite is at it's best. 

Michigan Brown Trout Fishing

Brown trout are the most prolific of the trout species found across Michigan and the target for most fly anglers looking to hit the water. The first stop for many anglers is the storied Au Sable River. The browns in the river grow to trophy sizes regularly and the prolific hatches keep many of the visitors returning each year. You can read more about this trophy brown trout fishery in our article on Au Sable River Fly Fishing. Other rivers that see Lake-run browns and resident browns regularly reaching trophy sizes are the Boardman River, Rifle River, and Pere Marquette River. Smaller waters offering excellent fly fishing for wild brown trout are the Pigeon River and Jordan River. 

Michigan King Salmon and Coho Salmon Fishing

King Salmon and Coho Salmon run several of the Great Lakes tributaries each year in the fall. The runs of King Salmon begin in  September while the Coho won't move into the rivers until late in October. The Grand River, Rogue River, Manistee River, Pere Marquette River, Clinton River, Muskegon River, and St Mary's River will have runs of King Salmon, while the St. Joes River, St, Mary's River, Manistee River, Platte Rivers have Coho runs along with the Anna River in the Upper Peninsula. 

Michigan Pink Salmon Fishing

The Pink Salmon of the Great Lakes only run a few rivers in Michigan and Minnesota. The two rivers in Michigan that see Pink Salmon runs each September are the Saint Mary's River and the Carp River of the Upper Peninsula. Runs occur every year with the heaviest numbers returning on Odd numbered years. 

Michigan Atlantic Salmon Fishing

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The Atlantic Salmon fisheries in Michigan have been a recent success story of the state. As native runs of Atlantic salmon continue to struggle along the east coast of the United States, they have found a way to thrive in Lake Huron and several Michigan tributary rivers. The Au Sable River, St. Clair River, and St. Mary's River have continued to produce salmon in the 30" range and up. The fishery continues to improver each year as the sizes and numbers continue to increase.

Michigan Lake Trout Fishing

Lake Trout have the shortest season of all of the salmonids when targeting them on the fly. Beginning in late September and early October Lakers will begin to stage along the mouths of the rivers. Often they follow the salmon and steelhead to these rivers in search of easy meals. The Lake Trout will hang around the shallower water through their spawn in mid-late November/December. During this window, dedicated/lucky anglers can target these behemoths with various streamer patterns. 

Michigan Brook Trout Fishing

Brook Trout are the native jewels of northern Michigan. Though their territory has diminished to the headwaters of the many small spring fed creeks and rivers that drain Michigan's interior. Many of these rivers see little pressure for much of the year. The Black River, the Upper Boardman River tributaries such as Kids Creek, The upper Rifle River tributaries such as Kackling and Gamble Creek, and the upper Jordan River. The headwater streams around the town of Grayling also possess good numbers of brookies. The lucky angler may even run into a rogue grayling or two from the recent restoration projects started by the Michigan DNR. 

Best Michigan Rivers for Fly Fishing

Once you have decided on a target species, finding a river becomes easier. Using an app like Trout Routes makes it simple to find public access on your river of choice. You can read more about some of Michigan's best rivers in our articles on Fly Fishing the Au Sable River, Fly Fishing the Manistee River, and Fly Fishing the Pere Marquette River. 

Black River Fly Fishing

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The Black River and one of its main tributaries, Canada Creek, offer some of the best brook trout fly fishing in all of Michigan. The Black River is a low gradient stream offering easy wading to visitors and excellent dry fly fishing from mid spring through summer. Fly anglers can also stumble upon the occasional brown trout during their visit.  Mid to late spring Sulphurs and caddis hatches can last until summer along with the occasional hatch of Hexes. When the aquatic insect hatches subside, the terrestrials take center stage until the fall when the caddis return prior to the brown trout and subsequent brook trout spawn. 

Pine River Fly Fishing

The Pine River is a spring fed tributary of the Manistee River. The Pine has one of the heaviest gradients in the state and therefore some of the fastest water. Fly anglers can find brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout in the river. The river is open to angling from April through October but the best fishing happens in the summer months after the yearly runoff subsides. The forestry service manages much of the land adjacent to the river making access easy. The abundant bug life couple with  the catch and release, fly only regulations assure the trout grow quickly. 

Bear Creek Fly Fishing

Bear Creek provides easy access and wading for anglers of western Michigan. The creek is a larger tributary of the Manistee and sees the same annual runs of steelhead, coho, and king salmon each year. Because of the added influx of nutrients from the salmon runs each year, resident brown trout reach bigger than average sizes in the lower parts of the system. Further upstream anglers will find brook trout in higher abundance and excellent dry fly fishing during the warmer months of the year. the Bear Creek River Access and the area along Coates Highway are the easiest ways to access the creek. Anglers in canoes, kayaks, and inflatable drift boats will be able to reach more locations unvisited by many anglers. 

White River Fly Fishing

The White River sees much less traffic than its neighboring Muskegon River and Pere Marquette River. This lack of attention can be great for fly anglers as the river still sees annual migrations of steelhead and salmon. Though these fish return from Lake Michigan in smaller numbers than the neighboring streams, the fishing can be just as good do to the fewer anglers on the water below the Hesperia dam. Much like the previously discussed Bear Creek, the White River contains a healthy population of brook trout within its headwater tributaries and upper reaches toward the Manistee National Forest. Fly anglers can also target brown trout throughout the river. The shallower runs throughout the river make drifting difficult when the water is low but perfect for wading anglers looking to put some miles on their boots. Late Spring and early summer is a great time to find good hatches coming off with the early morning and late evening hours being the best. 

Dowagiac River Fly Fishing

The Dowagiac River has come a long way as a trout fishery in recent years. The tributary of the St. Joseph (or St. Joes) river saw the removal of the Pucker Street Dam which began in 2019 and ended in 2021. The dam was the final destination for steelhead, salmon, and lake run brown trout for many years. Now these fish can move further up the 150 plus miles of river above and introduce new nutrient loads to the system. The already cold waters of the Dowagiac are thanks to cooler groundwaters that keep the water temperatures in the 60s even during the heat of summer. Brown trout and Brook trout populations are healthy in the river and expected to improve in coming years with the removal of the dam. Access to the river is limited to the bridges that cross the river and a few small parks on the lower end of the river toward the St. Joes confluence and Arthur Dodd Park.   

Platte River Fly Fishing

The Platte River possesses a shorter seasonal fishery in the fall when salmon, steelhead, and lake run brown trout make their way in from lake Michigan. The river is flat as it makes it's way through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park south of Traverse City. Anglers looking to capitalize on these salmon runs will find success in the deeper holes along the river below the Lower Platte River Weir. The upper section of the river does possess trout but access is limited to kayakers and canoes.  

Boardman River Fly Fishing

The Boardman River flows through the heart of Traverse City, Michigan and provides visiting anglers with easy fishing access close to town. The Boardman River become a template for successful trout fisheries in Michigan when three dams were removed within a ten year period, allowing the local fish stocks to thrive in the following years. The first dam removal occurred in the upper section of the river. This section holds good numbers of brook trout that are very willing to rise to a dry fly from spring through fall. The overhanging canopy is tight in this section, but stealth and accurate casting will lead to plenty of success with these colorful natives. Above Boardman lake to the area where the old pond and upper dam were removed hosts both brown and brook trout in good numbers. Hatches of caddis, drakes, sulphurs, and notorious hexes keep the trout looking to the surface throughout the late spring and early summer. The heaviest action on the Boardman occurs in the fall when the salmon and steelhead runs make their way upriver toward Boardman lake.  While fishing in the lower section of river is doable, many opt to target fish out the mouth of the river in the fall as salmon and several other species move in to get in on the action in the fall. While steelhead and salmon are the most targeted species at the mouth, lake run brown trout and the more uncommon lake trout (or mackinaw) follow the salmon in prior to their spawn in the fall. Pike and Smallmouth bass are not strangers to the area either as the abundant protein sources congregate in this smaller area. 

Jordan River Fly Fishing

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With native brook trout dominating the upper stretches of river and a healthy brown trout population occupying the middle and lower sections, the Jordan River in a productive yet technical stream for anglers to visit. The spring brings plentiful hatches of caddis and several species of mayflies to river. This is great news for fly anglers as getting trout to rise to the surface is the easiest method to get them to the net. The overabundance of laydown trees and scattered wood in 

the river make nymphing and other subsurface techniques difficult to say the least. Despite it being a tough stream to fish, the Jordan is incredibly scenic and a must see for visitors to the area. 

Sturgeon River Fly Fishing

Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout rule the Sturgeon River in Northern Michigan. These fish grow to modest sizes occasionally reaching the trophy class. During the late summer and fall months of the year, larger lake run trout from Burt Lake to the north travel upstream to take advantage of the cooler water and to spawn. The river is fast and a worthy challenge for capable kayakers. The upper sections do hold populations of brook trout above barriers that fewer browns and rainbows traverse. Fall is an ideal time to visit the river as the waters will be lower and more suitable for wading fly fishermen.

Pigeon River Fly Fishing

The Pigeon River fishes very similar to its sister, the Sturgeon River. Brown and rainbow trout are found through much of the river with brook trout in the headwaters. Similar hatches of drakes, hexes, caddis, and sulphurs are found on the Sturgeon, Black, and Pigeon Rivers.

Rifle River Fly Fishing

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The Rifle River is one of the most popular rivers for the locals in Michigan. It doesn't receive the national accolades that the Au Sable River and Pere Marquette do, but produces trout of equal quality. The best place for visiting anglers to start fishing is the Rifle River Recreation Area just east of Rose City. Anglers can target healthy sized brown trout in the river throughout the recreation area. Gamble Creek is also found within the park's border and sees less traffic than the Rifle although it has similar trout populations. Hiking a upstream will get you away from 90 percent of the crowd on both the Rifle River and Gamble Creek which typically leads to more success. Lower sections of the Rifle river do see lake run salmonids from late summer through fall. Stocked rainbow trout are also planted into the river each season for locals to harvest. 

Au Gres River Fly Fishing

The Au Gres River sees similar fishing to the neighboring Rifle River. There are stocked rainbow trout and wild brown in lower stretches of the river and native brook trout in the upper reaches of its tributaries. Smaller, seasonal runs, of lake run fish occur in the fall months and receive most of the attention on the river. 

Best Flies for Fly Fishing Michigan

The seasonal hatches of caddis, sulphurs, BWOs, quills, hexes, and early spring stoneflies comprise the most common hatches in Michigan. Streamers offer a good alternative when insect activity levels are low on the streams Sculpins and creek chubs are the easiest prey items for hungry brown trout. Fall means egg patterns, leeches, and small flesh flies as the salmon, steelhead, and lake run browns return to the rivers to spawn. These patterns will produce consistently through the spring until steelhead leave the lower rivers to return back to the lakes. 

  • Adams Flies- as large as size 10 for hexes and as small as size 20 for Blue Wing Olives

  • Elk Hair Caddis- sizes 14-16

  • Chubby Chernobyl- sizes 10-12 or similar terrestrial patterns for summer

  • Clouser Minnow- sizes 2-8

  • Cone Head Woolly Buggers- sizes 2-8

  • Rabbit Hair Leech- various colors and sizes

  • Egg Patterns- Y2ks, Glo Bugs sizes 8-12

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