The 5 Best Michigan Trout Streams
Bob Gwizdz 04.22.15
Michigan boast some 12,000 miles of trout stream—more than most anglers could hope to take advantage of in a lifetime. Some are tiny, jump-across creeks. Others are wide, deep, and fast-flowing rivers. Options are unlimited.
Trout season traditionally runs from the last Saturday in April through the end of September and the bulk of the state’s streams (approximately 1,400 of them) follow this regulation. However, there are numerous streams (190) that are open year-round, so trout season never really closes in Michigan. A number of the year-round streams have gear restrictions, so it make sure you check with the 2015 Michigan Fishing guide before you go.
So where do you start? Well, there are trout all over the state, but the majority of its trout streams are found in the northern two-thirds of the state. Here are five streams (all of which offer at least year-round angling) that offer a range of opportunities.
1. Au Sable River
The Au Sable River is, by far, the most storied of all Michigan trout streams. It is where Trout Unlimited was born and where the unparalleled river conveyance—the Au Sable River boat—was developed. But the Au Sable is most famous for its fishing and it offers anglers a wide range of opportunities, from no-kill, flies-only water for wild fish to heavily stocked stretches where anything goes.
Much of the upper stretches of the mainstream are well-known for their dependable fly hatches and easily-waded water, but my personal favorite is the stretch downstream from Mio, well upstream from Lake Huron. This is big water, most easily fished from a drift boat. Regulations require artificial lures on much of it (15 miles) and it is popular with both fly fishermen and spinning-gear anglers. It’s often referred to as “the trophy water” and the place to go if you’re hankering to tangle with brown trout as long as your arm. I’ve had excellent results with both streamers and Rapalas, but it’s also known for its outstanding hatches—notably the Hendrickson hatch early in the season and the white flies in late summer and early fall.
2. Manistee River
The Manistee River, which flows near the Au Sable on its upper stretches but runs into Lake Michigan, is similarly well-known. It has stretch of flies-only water (16.7 miles), but my favorite stretches are downstream from there. I’ve tangled with big brown trout on both gear and flies, mostly throwing large Rapalas on overcast days or with big splashy bugs, like gurglers or mice, after dark. And don’t ignore the first few miles downstream from Tippy Dam, which is much better known for its salmon and steelhead runs, but offers outstanding brown trout fishing on streamer flies and spinning gear in early spring.
3. Pere Marquette River
One of my personal favorite trout streams is the Pere Marquette River, which flows into Lake Michigan. The longest un-dammed trout stream in Michigan—and one of the first in America to be stocked with brown trout—the mainstream of the PM stretches for more than 60 miles from Baldwin to Pere Marquette Lake. Much of it is designated as National Scenic River. The first 10.5 miles downstream from Baldwin (M-37) to Gleason’s Landing is flies-only, catch-and-release water which is good wading and boasts good salmon and steelhead runs, too. The next stretch, downstream to Rainbow Rapids, is restricted to artificial lures-only part of the year.
The PM is one of Michigan’s best trout streams for fishing at night, both during the hex hatch (Hexagenia limbata, the giant Michigan mayfly) in late June and early July and with mice. But make sure you’ve got strong tippet as it’s not unusual to run into drop-back steelhead in the summer months.
4. Muskegon River
In Southern Michigan, there probably isn’t a better trout stream than the Muskegon River below Croton Dam. It’s a classic tailwater fishery that is heavily stocked by the Department of Natural Resources and enough survive from year to-year to produce some very large brown trout. It’s open year-round (though you may not keep brown trout October 1 to the last Saturday in April) without gear restrictions. There is plenty of good wading water between Croton and Newaygo, but it also popular with boaters. There are some very good fly hatches, though artificial lures and live bait produce well. Rainbow trout are a popular target with bait anglers during the winter.
5. Black River
No discussion of Michigan trout fishing would be complete without mentioning brook trout, which are the state’s official fish and the only native species of stream trout. Brook trout are widespread across Northern Michigan, but if I had to pick one stream that shines especially brightly it would be the Black River in the northeastern Lower Peninsula. There’s a 4.4-mile stretch of artificial lures-only water in Otsego and Montmorency counties. Elsewhere on the Black, anything goes and it’s popular with both fly fishermen and bait anglers.
These are just highlights, of course. The DNR website offers color-coded maps that show where the whereabouts of all of the state’s trout streams and which regulations apply. Check ’em out and plan out your next trout adventure.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.