DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Carp River in Michigan

The Carp River flows through Chippewa and Marquette counties in the upper eastern peninsula of Michigan. It is best known for excellent brook trout fishing, as well as brown trout and steelhead. Lake Superior State Forest and Hiawatha National Forest border much of the river, providing public access.

Over 20 miles of river carry a "Wild and Scenic" designation by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Carp River flows peacefully from Carp Lake to Lake Huron's St. Martin Bay.  

Learn more about this wild, scenic recreational spot for anyone who enjoys fly fishing.

Paddling the Carp River in the upper peninsula of Michigan

The Carp River flows some 30 miles from Carp Lake (aka Trout Lake) mostly south and east until reaching Mackinaw County. The flow of the Carp River largely moves through the eastern part of the Hiawatha National Forest. 

Mackinac Wilderness

The middle reach of the river, located near Michigan #123, goes through the Mackinac Wilderness. This area is preserved by both the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission and the U.S. Forest Service. It’s a great place to get a glimpse of some of Michigan’s wildlife.

Easy Flowing

Unlike many of the streams in the upper peninsula, the Carp River has a largely flat watershed, although a few rapids can be found in certain spots. Based on that, anglers can expect to see canoeists and other water enthusiasts sharing the waters. Those heading out to fish will find brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and seasonal runs of steelhead and and salmon.

Carp River Bridge

Near the mouth of the water, the river is spanned by the Carp River Bridge on Mackinac Trail. This is an old spandrel arch bridge constructed in 1920 that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999. From there, the river empties in Lake Huron at St. Martin Bay.

Wild, Scenic and Recreational Waters

Breaking down the Carp River into types, just over 12 miles is designated wild, over nine miles are considered scenic, and the other six miles are recreational waters. The river flows mainly through forested lands without a lot of development in the way. Near the river mouth, steelhead abound and anglers can dip for smelt.

Hidden Gem

This might be one of the biggest hidden gems in Michigan for fly fishing due to its clear and cold waters that move over boulders and granite with a gravel bottom. Fly fishing excels here, especially when combined with seasonal insect hatches. It's an exceptional destination with rustic appeal located near excellent campgrounds.

Carp River Map and Fishing Access Sites

Map of the best places to fish on the Carp 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 Carp River

Many anglers choose to fish from Carp River Campground, where there are camping sites with fire rings. Vault toilets and water pumps are available and anglers can expect to bring up brown, rainbow, and brook trout. The closest town to the campground is St. Ignace, but keep in mind that the grounds don't open until the middle of May.

Carp River Campground

To reach this spot, start at the intersection of US 2 and Interstate 75, driving north to exit 352. Take a right onto Michigan #123 and go a few hundred feet before turning left onto Mackinac Trail. Take this road north just over five miles to Farm Road 3445 and then take a left and drive a quarter of a mile to the campground.

McDonald Rapids

The McDonald Rapids is also a great access point for fishing for wild brook trout and stocked browns.

Drive up Mackinac Trail north of St. Ignace before taking Forest Service 3308 west. Continue driving until the road turns into a parking area with several trails leading to the Carp River.

Lower River Steelhead Fishing

Anglers can also visit the mouth of the river to catch steelhead and a few salmon. There is a concrete pier to fish from so there's no need for a boat or even much wading.

To reach this location, take Mackinac Trail to Carp River Road in a northeast direction before heading down USFS 3127 to the east until you reach your destination.

Best Time to Fish the Carp River

The Carp River offers excellent fishing action at any time of year. However, it primarily come down to what fish species you are looking to catch. 

Spring

For instance, in spring, the water tends to rise and is a great time to float the upper river for trout.

On the other hand, if you visit the river's mouth, this is the perfect season to bring in steelhead. The first steelhead starts to run a week or so after ice-out.

Summer

The type of fish that is most prevalent changes when it moves into the summer months. The water will start to warm up some so the fly fishing can take more patience than it does in spring. This season will be the best time to head out fly fishing for brown and brook trout.

Atlantic salmon also occasionally make a run up the river in mid-July and can be found as far up river as McDonald Rapids.

Fall

As the year moves into fall, this is the time to start fishing for Chinook, coho and pink salmon. This will be the only season when they are available, giving you a chance to try fishing for something besides trout or steelhead.

There's also a run of fall steelhead that starts around mid-August.  These fish will remain until the river ices over.

Winter

Fishing the Carp River in winter is also possible and you can expect to run across a variety of trout and steelhead. The majority of the Carp River does ice over though so your options are limited to the mouth of the river.

Keep in mind it gets pretty cold in the winter in the UP you'll want to make sure you dress warm clothes if you venture out fishing.  That or stay home and tie flies!

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Carp River. The USGS stream gauge on the nearby Pine river near Rudyard, MI provides 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.

PINE RIVER NEAR RUDYARD, MI

  • Streamflow: 86.2 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 1.23 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Carp River

The right hatches for fly fishing the Carp River will vary based on the time of year. For instance, mayflies tend to be out during the late summer and fall fishing seasons. You'll also see terrestrials and caddisflies in the fall. Stoneflies are most common in the spring. 

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Carp 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

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line is perfect for fishing for trout on the Carp River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

You'll want to step up to a seven- or eight-wt fly rod for steelhead, salmon and lake-run brown trout.

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!

ABC River Fishing Report

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

For fishing the Carp River, you'll want to fly into Delta County Airport to reach locations like Hiawatha, where the national forest and campgrounds are located. However, the airport is over 60 miles from the best access points to the river, so you'll obviously need a vehicle, preferably one with four-wheel drive, to get around.

There are several tackle shops in the area. You'll also find restaurants, grocery stores, and hotels within a reasonable distance of the river. Campgrounds are also available for those who want to save money on lodging while fishing.

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

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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