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.

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

Map of the best places to fish the Chocolay 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 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.

Fall

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.

Spring

Increasing temperatures and spring showers prompt spring steelhead migrations.  Early May is the best time to target these silver-side torpedoes.

Summer

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
Streamflow Graph
USGS

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:

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 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.

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!

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:

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

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

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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