DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Betsie River in Michigan

Located in Benzie County, Michigan, about 30 miles south of Traverse City, the Betsie River is best known for prolific runs of Chinook (King) Salmon and steelhead from Lake Michigan.  The upper river also provides excellent fishing for brown and rainbow trout.

According to Michigan's Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Betsie River drains a surface area of about 165,800 acres. It has approximately 93 linear miles of streams and 52 miles of mainstream that leads it directly to Lake Michigan and Betsie Lake.

All of this is to say that the Betsie River is of the best salmon and steelhead fishing destinations in the state of Michigan.

Steelhead in Betsie River in Michigan

Steelheed returning to the Betsie River near the Orsini hatchery. Photo by Don Harrison

Overview of Betsie River

While Betsie River might not be as trendy as several rivers in Michigan, that doesn't mean you shouldn't add it to your bucket list. It offers one of the best trout, salmon, and steelhead streams in this part of the state.

Betsie River is a tributary of Lake Michigan and offers a large population of rainbow and brown trout. You can also experience fishing up salmon and steelhead during their annual runs. The river is gorgeous and fun to fish in for those of all skill levels.

Salmon are available from September and well into October, and steelhead follow their lead. These fish stay in the area until the spawning season in early spring.

This river starts at Green Lake, where it is a narrow stream with lots of trout. The size of the river swells from the movement of Grass Lake Creek. It will go all through Wallin and subsequently gain more water at the confluence of Little Betsie Creek.

If you are looking for steelhead and salmon, you can fish as far upstream as Wolf Road. The fishing continues to be excellent as the water moves to Lake Michigan, assuming plenty of water is available to fish in. You'll find up to 20 miles of amazing steelhead waters.

Those who head to the lower area of the water will find a larger river that averages about 70 feet in width. This area offers a few shallow riffles along with deeper and larger pools for fish to hide. Access here is easy with several bridges right near the water. Some roads also run parallel to the river for additional access.

Betsie River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of best fishing spots on the Betsie River in Michigan

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the Betsie River

There are several methods of access for the Betsie River. A variety of roads parallel or cross the river so you can park fairly close to the waters. Some of the most popular include Homestead Dam, River Road, US-31, and Grace Road.

The most popular access point is located at Homestead Dam, where large amounts of salmon and steelhead are often found below the dam. Some salmon will make it past the barrier, but the area is limited.

When traveling upstream, the river eventually closes to fishing during fall, winter, and the beginning of spring and adheres to traditional trout season dates. Therefore, the water in this area creates a fish sanctuary and an opportunity for spawning to ensure more fish each season.

The Betsie River flows west until it reaches and empties into Lake Michigan with a pit stop at Betsie Lake. Betsie Lake is a common location for charter boats and, along with Elberta and Frankfort, offers surf fishing from piers and on the lake itself.

If you are trout fishing, you might want to focus a bit more on the uppermost sections of the Betsie River. Although rather small and with limited fishing areas, this section of the river, starting from Green Lake, has plenty of trout all year round.

For those looking to catch salmon, you might want to start from Wolf Road; you will have access to about 20 miles of excellent steelhead waters downstream.

You can access all Michigan and Betsie River fishing trails via the DIY Fly Fishing Map.

Best Time to Fish the Betsie River

The fall is the best time to fish for salmon, steelhead and lake-run brown trout fishing on the Betsie River.

  • King Salmon run up the Betsie as early as August through to September and even well into October.
  • Steelhead starting running in October and stay in the river till spring. November is prime-time for steelhead on the Betsie.
  • Lake-run brown trout typically follow the salmon and steelhead in October through November.

You will find that the spring and summer months are the best time for fly fishing for trout on the Betsie River in Michigan. This is when the resident trout will be out in abundance, along with hatches of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies.

You can also find large-sized brown trout and rainbow trout in the area in large numbers as well these times of the year.

While you can easily fly fish the Betsie River all year long, the best times to visit are spring and the summer months for trout, and the fall for salmon and steelhead.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Betsie River. Unfortunately there is not an active USGS stream gauge on the Betsie River that provides a good indication of current conditions.

Current stream conditions may be available at CrowdHydrology who maintains 6 gauges along the river and relies on citizen scientists to submit stream gauge readings.

Best Flies for Bestie River

What you need in your fly box will depend on when you go and what you are angling for. Salmon and steelhead can be caught with basic streamers and egg patterns.  For trout you'll want to match the hatch as best you can but simple attractor dry flies, nymphs and streamer patterns will get the job done.

Need flies? 

If you like to swing flies, RiverBum offers a great selection of classic steelhead flies that will catch fish anywhere. Set includes 30 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and durable fly box. 

Classic Steelhead Streamers

  • Purple Peril
  • Copper Top 
  • Comet
  • Jock Scott 
  • Bomber Black
  • Joe Gert
  • Blue Charm
  • Brite Pink
  • Egg Sucking Leech
  • Black Bear Green Butt  

If you prefer to dead drift flies, BASSDASH offers a great selection of some of the most effective egg flies and attractor patterns. Set includes 57 flies (see list below) and high-grade double-sided fly box.

Deadly Egg Flies and Attractor Patterns

  • Antron Egg
  • Glo-Bug
  • Crystal Egg Fly
  • Dot Egg Fly
  • Crystal Meth
  • Milky Nuke Egg
  • Ultra Maggots
  • Egg Sucking Worms
  • Flash Candy Fly

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs for trout on the Betsie River.  If you go for steelhead you'll need a 7-or 8-wt rod, and for salmon a 9 or even 10-wt. 

Salmon and Steelhead

  • Fly Line (9 or 10 weight floating fly line for Salmon and 7 or 8 for Steelhead)
  • Fly Rod (9-foot medium fast or fast action rod)
  • Leader (10 or 12-pound test)
  • Landing net

Trout

  • Fly Line (4 or 5 weight floating line)
  • Fly Rod (9-foot medium fast or fast action rod)
  • Leader/tippet (tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing)
  • Landing net

Need Gear? 

Heading out to do some steelhead or salmon fishing and need an affordable fly rod, reel and line to get started?  

Look no further than the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit.  An 8 Wt. setup that is perfect as a first big-game outfit or backup travel rod.

  • 8-wt, 9-ft, 4pc Fly Rod
  • Large Arbor Reel
  • WF Floating Line
  • Cordura Rod Tube
  • 25-yr guarantee

Betsie River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Betsie River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of Michigan requires that all people who are 17 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a Michigan state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the  Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Trip Planning Tips

You can access the Betsie River in Benzie County. It is located about 30 miles to the south of Traverse City, 10 miles east of Elberta and Frankfort, and runs straight through Benzonia.

Anglers coming into the area can fly into Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport and drive to Elberta and other towns on the river.

Once making it to Benzonia, the Homestead Dam is right nearby. It's one of the most popular areas to fish due to the excellent access and parking near the Michigan town's amenities. Many anglers consider the best steelhead fishing to be just below Route #115.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Michigan

Feature image by Retaildesigner

About the author

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.

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