DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Boardman River in Michigan

When you want to spend time fly fishing on one of Michigan's best trout streams without all the crowds, there's no better option than Boardman River. It might be more difficult to access than some streams, but it makes up for it by offering a host of amazing fish to catch.

This is a great location for the DIY angler who wants to catch a variety of fish, including several species of trout, salmon and steelhead. It's primary draw are wild brook trout and brown trout, and it's convenient location only a few miles from Traverse City.

Located in the northwestern part of Michigan, the Boardman River is best known for having the big brown trout and an abundance of brook trout. The river is also as the birthplace of the infamous "Adams" dry fly.

The Boardman River is a freestone type of stream that is relatively small compared to other rivers in the Michigan area. 

Fly fishing the Boardman River near Traverse City, Michigan

Overview of the Boardman River

The Boardman River originates near Kalkaska, Michigan, and flows down to the Grand Traverse Bay just near Traverse City.  The North and the South branch of the Boardman River merge to form the mainstream around South Boardman and Kalkaska's little villages.

The Boardman River has several dams and impoundments that affect the river and divides the river into different sections. There are talks about removing some dams, but it's proving to be a controversial topic.

The upper section of the river is ideal for dry fly fishing. The Boardman River has a decent population of many species of aquatic insects, including the misnamed "Michigan Caddis", otherwise known as Hexagenia limbata.

Knowing where the best hatches come off will help anglers learn where to catch the most trout. Most of the larger brown trout, however, are taken on streamers.  Large streamers work well under low light conditions of the dawn and the late evenings.

The biggest challenge with the Boardman river is how to access it. The upper section is relatively easy to access, but portions of the river run through private property. One thing you will be sure about the river, though, there will always be some good fishing on the stream.

Boardman River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of the best places to fish the Boardman 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 Boardman River

The Boardman River has a wide range of fish from small brook trout, to larger brown trout, salmon, and steelhead. The type of fish you want will determine the part of the river you will want to fish at.

The upper section of the river is a great place to find the smaller brook trout and browns. This part of the river is only twenty to twenty-five feet wide. Both the south and North branches provide great fishing.

To access the upper part of the river, you will use the Brown Bridge Road that runs along most of the upper section from the forks to the Bridge pond. It is accessed at the:

  • Forks
  • Shecks Place
  • Trail Camp
  • Brown Bridge Road

This part of the Boardman River has shallow water flowing over gravel with deadfalls.

Just below the Bridge Pond, the river flows much faster to the Keystone Pond and after the Sabin Pond.

Here you will find much larger fish than the ones in the upper section of the river. The deeper pools along the river are holding places for the larger brown trout. Access to this part of the river is limited because it flows through private property.

Below Sabin Pond the water open to Boardman Lake and Grand Traverse Bay where you will find salmon and steelhead in the fall. This section of the river gets very warm during summer and does not hold many trout.

You can get access to all Michigan and Boardman River fishing access spots through the DIY Fly Fishing Map.

Boardman River Dam Removal Project

The Boardman River recently underwent a major ecological restoration and dam removal project.  Several dams were removed or modified to restore the river to it's native state.

Brown Bridge Dam was removed in 2012, Boardman Dam was removed in 2017, and Sabin Dam was removed in 2018. Construction of the Union Street Dam FishPass Project is slated for 2020.

Restoration work was completed in 2018 and 2019 to accelerate healing of the Boardman River banks and floodplain. 

The Boardman River Dams Ecosystem Restoration Project reconnected over 160 miles of free-flowing, cold-water stream and restored hundreds of acres of wetland and upland habitat. 

It is one of the most comprehensive dam removal and restoration projects in Michigan’s history and one of the largest such projects in the Great Lakes Basin.

Best Time to Fish Boardman River

The best season for fly fishing varies based on the fish you want to catch. Boardman River has a wide selection, including brown trout, brook trout, steelhead, and salmon. The trout are wild, while the salmon and steelhead are both hatchery-raised and wild.

Those looking for steelhead will find them in abundance in early spring, late fall, and winter. The first catches are typically going to happen in the first weeks of May, after which the fish move to the lake after spawning. The fish come back into the river during the fall, which is also the optimal time to catch a few salmon. 

Trout fishing kicks off in the spring when trout season opens in April.  The Boardman is largely feed by groundwater and runs cold most of the year.  This delays some of the hatches in the spring but provides excellent fishing all summer.

The first hatch of blue-winged olives happens on the Boardman River during the beginning of April, and the last is late May. They will hatch again at the end of August.

Blue Quills hatch in the middle of May and last around six weeks. American March Browns hatch in the middle of May and only last for around a month. Suplhurs may also start to hatch in the middle of May and can last as long as mid-June.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Broadman River. The USGS stream gauge at Mayfield, MI provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

BOARDMAN R ABOVE BROWN BRIDGE ROAD NR MAYFIELD, MI

  • Streamflow: 103 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 3.19 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Boardman River

What you put in your fly box for your fishing trip will be determined by what you are angling for and when you go fishing.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for trout fishing on the Boardman River:

Dry Flies

  • Yellow Sally (#12 - 16)
  • Yellow Humpy (#10 - 18)
  • Parachute Sulphur (#14 - 18)
  • Parachute Adams (#12 - 22)
  • Light Cahill (#10 - 18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#8 - 16)
  • Yellows Stimulator (#8 - 14)
  • Chernobyl Ant (#8 - 12)
  • Griffith's Gnat (#16 - 24)

Nymphs

  • Pheasant Tail (#12 - 20)
  • BH Hare's Ear (#12 - 20)
  • Rainbow Warrior (#14 - 22)
  • Pat's Rubber Legs (#4 - 12)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6 - 10)
  • Tellico Nymph (#12 - 18)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 - 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)
  • Y2K Egg (#12 - 16)

Streamers

  • BH Wooly Bugger (#2 - 6)
  • Sculpzilla (#4)

Need flies? 

Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere.  Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box. 

Dry Flies
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant

Nymphs/Wet Flies
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black

Streamers
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)

Gear Recommendations

You will need special fly equipment if you are trout fishing and different equipment if you are angling for salmon and steelhead.

Here is a list of the gear and equipment you will need to pack in both cases:

Trout

  • Fly Rod, 9-foot most preferably a fast action
  • Fly Line, 4- or 5- weight floating line
  • Leader, tapered 9-ft
  • Tippet, 3X to 5X
  • Landing Net
  • Waders and wading boots

Steelhead and Salmon

  • Fly Rod, 9-foot medium-fast action
  • Fly Line, 9- or 10-weight floating fly line for salmon, and 7- or 8-wt for steelhead
  • Leader (10 or 12-pound test)
  • Landing net
  • Waders and wading boots

Need Gear? 

Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.

Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.

High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.

Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet.  3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.

Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable.  If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.

Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market.  Excellent foot and ankle support.  Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.

Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!

Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats.  Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish.  Simply the best nets on the market.

Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam.  If you need more storage - you have too many flies!

Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.

Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.

The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes.  Game changer.

Note: DIY Fly Fishing earns a commission (at no cost to you) on sales made using the links above. Thank you for your support!

Broadman River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Boardman 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

Out of state DIY anglers can reach the Boardman River by plane. You can fly into Traverse City at Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport. The city is fully equipped with lots of restaurants, hotels, and bait shops so that you can get ready for time on the water.

If you drive, head toward Traverse City in Grand Traverse County, then take E Front Street and Cass Street, a distance of 0.5 miles to the river.

There are many hotels and resorts with a modest budget and services to choose from. Restaurants and coffee shops are plentiful and can be found along the way and in Transverse City.

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

Feature image by Iulus Ascanius

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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