Michigan Fly Fishing 5 min read
DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Chocolay River in Michigan
Anglers who want to spend time in Marquette are going to have all sorts of options in terms of rivers to fish. One that might not be immediately obvious is the Chocolay River, which has fantastic fly fishing options for brown, rainbow and brook trout, and seasonal runs of steelhead and salmon. It’s a tributary of Lake Superior and is located in Marquette County.
This river is in the eastern Upper Peninsula and flows 30-plus miles largely north and slightly west. It offers the opportunity to fish in relative solitude due to its remote location.
About Chocolay River
An aerial view of the Chocolay River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
While other fish can be caught in Chocolay, the reason that many people seek out the stream is for the excellent spring steelhead fishing. Other migratory fish that pass through the river include diminishing runs of Chinook and Coho salmon, and strong runs of pink salmon. It’s a hidden gem that locals love, but many folks from out-of-town aren’t aware even exists.
Marquette County Gem
The Chocolay River rises in the east-central area of Marquette County and then moves north to Lake Superior in the village of Harvey, which is around four miles from Marquette. This river runs about 35 miles and has a watershed that spans approximately 250 square miles.
East and West Branch Brook Trout Fishing
The upper East and West branches consist of stable gravel and sand substrates in an area with steep slopes. This area sees a large influx of chilled groundwater to these tributaries of the Chocolay River. The river stays largely free of ice even when the winter is abnormally cold. This, combined with the gravel in the river, offers a perfect habitat for brook trout to flourish.
Mainstem Brown Trout Fishing
The East and West branches merge to form the mainstem near Town Hall Road, west of Skandia. As the mainstem continues to flow north, brown trout are the predominant trout species, in particular downstream of US-41.
Rumors of trophy-sized brown trout lure many anglers to the river. Catching one is no easy feat though. Steep banks, deep holes and sunken trees make wading treacherous in some locations. While there are some areas for wade fishing, most anglers will choose to go out in a kayak or a small canoe.
Steelhead and Salmon Fishing
The reproduction of salmon and steelhead is excellent in the river and its waters can be fished in any season. The Chocolay and the streams in the same area were known for their outstanding steelhead in the 20th century, and that still stands true today. You’ll even find many steelhead who stay in the river through the winter and into spring.
Chocolay River Map and Fishing Access Sites
Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map
Best Places to Fish the Chocolay River
One of the best spots to fish during the beginning of trout season is just northwest of Skandia. Starting at the US 41 and Michigan #28 intersection, go south on US 41 for about nine miles to Beckham Road and follow it one and a half miles to the Chocolay River bridge crossing. Pull off on the shoulder for access and visit the river from the county road easement to start your fishing expedition.
Chocolay River Paddle
Another area to visit is the Chocolay River Paddle, which is a 2.5 mile back trail near Marquette. It’s just outside of Harvey and has a fishing pier and boat launch area off of Michigan #28. While you may run into other people, it’s largely frequented by fly anglers and bird watchers.
Green Garden Hill Road
Fly fishing is also available in Chocolay Township near Green Garden Road. This is an easy access point to get to. Take US 41 south out of Marquette for several miles until it reaches Green Garden Road. Hang a left here and drive a short distance to a parking lot near the river, where anglers can often bring in steelhead and other fish away from other people.
Best Time to Fish the Chocolay River
The Chocolay River is a place where you can really fish at any time of year. However, it can ice over in winter on some parts of the stream. If the temperatures are lower than normal, make sure you dress warm and check the river conditions before you head out to fish.
In the fall, you’ll often find a few Chinook salmon start to enter the river. Cohos will also run around the same time and mix in with lake-run brown trout. Autumn runs of pink salmon are the most reliable.
Steelhead start to be more prevalent starting in October and will stick around in the river until after the end of the year.
Increasing temperatures and spring showers prompt spring steelhead migrations. Early May is the best time to target these silver-side torpedoes.
Spring and summer will have a nice mix of fish, including steelhead, several trout species, and other fish. The best time of day to visit the stream will vary based on species, but many people find that late afternoon and late-night hours are the best time to get fish to bite.
Stream Flow and Current Conditions
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Chocolay River. The USGS stream gauge at Green Bay Street at Harvey, 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.
CHOCOLAY RIVER AT GREEN BAY STREET AT HARVEY, MI
- Streamflow: 151 ft³/s
Best Flies for Chocolay River
The Chocolay sees reliable hatches of Hendricksons, March Browns, Cahills, blue-winged olives, and a variety of caddis. Brown drakes and Hex are unfortunately not too common.
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Chocolay River:
- 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)
- 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)
- BH Wooly Bugger (#2 – 6)
- Sculpzilla (#4)
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line is perfect for fishing for trout on the Chocolay 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.
Chocolay River Fishing Report
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Chocolay River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:
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
Sawyer International Airport is the closest option for getting into Michigan to fish the Chocolay River. From there, you can head into Harvey or Marquette for lodging, restaurants, and other items you need for fishing. In addition, several tackle shops are available in the area, such as Superior Outfitters, Gwinn Bait & Tackle, and Phil’s 550 Store.
After reaching the river, you have options in terms of lodging. There are hotels of various sizes and prices, as well as campgrounds that sit right next to the river. This can be a budget fishing destination for any angler who wants to experience the Michigan waters.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Michigan