When I think of Michigan trout fishing, I often think of an angler clad in waders wearing a vest loaded with gear and a perfectly-executed back cast gently caressing the water as the morning mist rises slowly in the air. The tied imitation barely kisses the surface of the water before the rainbow trout inhales what it thinks is an easy meal. The rod bends and the angler feels the fish’s desperate attempts to flee. As the fight wanes, the angler cradles the fish in the current, removes the hook, and the fish swims back to the cover of the bank.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Most summer trout anglers will tell you that during the heat of the summer days, finding and catching rainbows and other trout can be tough. Many choose to fish early in the morning or at night. However, fishing during the hottest part of the day can lead to some pretty cool fishing for those willing to try, and I’m one of those anglers.

Michigan’s history with rainbows goes way back to 1876. That was the year that rainbow trout eggs, at that point a Western species, were transplanted to the Au Sable River system. The Au Sable is one of the state’s most famous fisheries. Since that initial “seeding,” rainbows have migrated into most of the streams and some of the lakes within the state.

The author’s preferred trout rig for Michigan is an 8.5-foot, 4-weight Cabela’s RLS+ fly rod. It’s perfect for tight streams.
The author’s preferred trout rig for Michigan is an 8.5-foot, 4-weight Cabela’s RLS+ fly rod. It’s perfect for tight streams.

On the fly

The secret to catching summertime ‘bows is water clarity, says Josh Mead, fishing guide and general manager of the Pere Marquette River Lodge in Baldwin, Michigan. If the water is clear or mostly clear, nymph flies work great for rainbow fishing.

“If the water is dirty, like after a big rain storm, you should try streamers,” Mead says. “The key is knowing the visibility levels in the water. If the visibility is down to 12 to 18 inches, switch to streamers.”

Mead also suggests watching the hatches for dry flies. Stone flies, caddis flies, and other insects are always hatching throughout the day during the summer months. Other insects hatch on cloudy days instead of clear, sunny days. Terrestrial flies, such as ants, grasshoppers, and cricket flies, are also very effective, Mead asserts.

I like to work grasshopper flies just off the bank of a few small streams I know of around my home in the northwest part of the Lower Peninsula. I use a 4-weight, 8.5-foot-long Cabela’s RLS+ rod and reel combo that is the perfect combination for how I fish. Mead suggests using either a 4- or 5-weight rod and for the smaller streams I fish, the length is just right.

Typical summer trout fishing revolves around first light, last light, and no light, Mead says. But that is during a normal season, and as we all know, this year has been anything but normal. Cooler temperatures, excessive amounts of rain, and changes in the river structure from a particularly harsh winter have altered the way fish act. Water levels are up and the water has been dirty this year, so streamer fishing has been good according to Mead.

Aside from fly fishing, spinners well for trout. Again, water clarity is important. The general convention is that when the water is dirty, go with larger baits, and the opposite is typically true when the water is clear.

Catching rainbows during the day can be tricky. Finding water that doesn’t see much traffic can lead to nice fish like this one.
Catching rainbows during the day can be tricky. Finding water that doesn’t see much traffic can lead to nice fish like this one.

Live bait, where permitted, is also excellent. Worms, nightcrawlers, crickets, and grasshoppers can produce results. When I was young, I spent many a summer day on the beach in Frankfort, Michigan and a lot of the time was spent fishing on the pier, although not far from shore. There were great schools of fish, and we threw spinners and many other baits. A big worm would often out-fish everything else and what we were catching were rainbow trout in the 12- to 18-inch class.

Finding them

Rainbows are the least aggressive of the three main species of trout in Michigan. Brook trout are very aggressive on the bite, but are also the smallest of the trout. Browns can grow very large in Michigan, and are very active at night. Rainbows are your best bet for daytime trout fishing, Mead says. But you can catch the other species and that is part of what makes trout fishing in Michigan so much fun.

There are many awesome trout streams in Michigan. Mead suggests thinking a little outside-the-box for summer daytime trout. The bigger rivers hold a lot of fish, and typically hold the larger fish. But smaller streams and rivers that have more vegetation and overgrowth on the banks sport more places for fish to hide out of the hot summer sun. Plus, the bigger rivers get more recreational traffic during the summer. Canoes, kayaks, float tubes, and swimmers can put a damper on fishing activities.

“When a canoe floats over a trout, it’s like a B-52 bomber flying right over your head,” Mead says. “It totally freaks them out.”

Michigan has almost 55,000 miles of rivers and streams, which means endless opportunities to catch trout. Granted, it’s not all perfect trout water, but much of it is. A great way to find up-to-date fishing reports is to look at the Michigan page on the Trout Unlimited website. If you want to catch a Michigan rainbow, the best waters can be found on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’(DNR) website.

The DNR also lists many locations where easy fishing access can be found. They also list locations where beginning fly anglers can find access to trout waters where there is sufficient room to learn the art of the cast. You can always hire a guide like Mead to lead you to the sweet spots, too.

Visit our Pure Michigan page for more Michigan articles!

For more information on Michigan fishing go to michigan.orgClick here to purchase a Michigan fishing license online.

This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.

Images courtesy Derrek Sigler

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  • davedejonge

    The top image isn’t a rainbow trout like the article and caption suggest. It’s a steelhead trout caught in what looks to be the spring migration. It was probably caught using totally different tactics than what are covered in the article.