DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Dowagiac River in Michigan

No matter what time of year you schedule your next fly fishing trip, you can visit the Dowagiac River in Michigan to hookup with trout. If you get lucky and head up at the right time of year, you might find a salmon or a steelhead at the end of your line.

This is a stunning river in the heart of nature that is sure to offer an exciting fly fishing experience. What makes it stand out from other rivers in the area is that it is one of the coldest of any river in southern Michigan. So it's well worth spending the time to visit if you want to bring in some fantastic fish.

Fly fishing the Dowagiac River in Michigan for brown trout 

The Dowagiac River starts right near Decatur, but the best trout fishing will be located on the lower half of the stream between Niles and Michigan #51. 

Similar in size and character to the Pere Marquette River or the Rogue River, the Dowagaic is a top-notch trout fishery.

Since the river has been straightened and dredged, it's largely dependent on stocked brown trout. However, the fish grow fast and stick around, so you can expect to catch some great-sized browns.

Wade or Float

Anglers who spend time on the Dowagiac River can choose to wade the river or float along it, but keep in mind that there are some log jams that make the process a bit challenging.

While this might make it harder to get down the river, it makes the location one that the trout love. In addition, the logs and other items in the water provide much-needed cover in the otherwise straight stream.

Pucker Street Dam Removal

Just two miles up from Niles, is the location of the former Pucker Street Dam. This low-head dam was removed in 2020 and now allows passage of migratory steelhead and salmon upstream.

The 3-miles of river below the former dam site to the intersection with the St. Joseph River offers some of the best fishing in the area.

Steelhead Fishing

While trout are the most common fish in this stream, that doesn't mean they are all you will see. This Michigan river is also known for its steelhead, which can be caught both in the spring season and later on in fall. This can be a fun departure from browns if you want to hook-up with some bigger fish.

Dowagiac Tributaries

Getting access to the Dowagiac River is easier than many other rivers in Michigan. There are several road crossings where anglers can park and head right to the water. In addition, when conditions aren't optimal, anglers can head to tributaries like Dowagiac Creek at LaGrange Lake or Pokagon Creek close to Sumnerville.

Dowagiac River Map and Fishing Access Sites

Map of the best fishing spots on the Dowagiac 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 Dowagiac River

Arthur Dodd Memorial Park is one access point to the Dowagiac River. It's located near the Berrien and Cass County Line and offers a 51-acre park for water lovers. There is a kayak and canoe launch and major log jams are in this portion of the river.

You can also get access to the Dowagiac River from Peavine Street. It's just downstream of the river and comes with parking for up to 12 cars. Beyond the parking lot, this spot also has an area where you can launch and unload boats if you prefer that to wading.

A second park that can be used to access the river is Losensky Park near the Pucker Street Dam. There is parking here as well as primitive toilets and easy access to the water. This spot has access for canoes and kayaks, as well as drift boats so you can fish trout in whatever way you like the most.

Best Time to Fish the Dowagiac River

As far as regulations go, the Dowagiac River is open for fishing year round. Unlike some Michigan rivers, there's no need to wait until April to head out in search of trout or steelhead. However, some seasons are going to be better for angling than others.

Spring

The best time to visit the river for trout has to be spring when all the insects are hatching. The fish are ready to bite, respond well to imitation flies and are not all that fussy. Also, the water is going to be fairly cool during spring, which makes the fish more active.

You'll also have the chance to hook-up with steelhead that start to drop back down to Lake Michigan.

Summer

You can also get good results in summer on the Dowagiac River, although some trout will slow down due to the higher temperatures. Smallmouth bass, pike and musky activity picks up in the summer and are a blast on a fly rod.

Let's also not forget the Dowagiac sees a summer run of Skamania steelhead, something not many other river in Michigan can claim.

Fall

Fall sees the arrival of King and Coho salmon in the Dowagiac, along with fall-run Steelhead.  It's a beautiful time for fly fishing in Michigan as the fall foliage kicks into gear.

Winter

Winter fishing is possible but make sure to watch out for the temperatures. Michigan can get fairly cold, so make sure you're properly equipped for the cold before you head to the Dowagiac River.

Otherwise, trout are still around but can get sluggish in January and February before perking up again as spring comes back around.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Dowagiac River. The USGS stream gauge at Sumnerville, 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.

DOWAGIAC RIVER AT SUMNERVILLE, MI

  • Streamflow: 353 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 6.34 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Dowagiac River

The major hatches on this and other Michigan rivers include little black stonefiles, Hendricksons, sulphurs, cahills, mahoganies, grey drakes, brown drakes, and hexes.  

A variety of caddis also emerge throughout the year, and terrestrials fish well in late-summer and early fall.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Dowagiac 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 Dowagiac 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!

Dowagiac River Fishing Report

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

Many anglers will want to start their journey on the river in Niles, which is best reached by flying into South Bend Regional Airport. However, if you're going to explore the whole of the Dowagiac, it's a good idea to rent or otherwise acquire a vehicle to make it up and down all the roads that lead to the waters.

Niles is a small town, but it has everything you need for fly fishing, from lodging to excellent restaurants. You'll also find a selection of shops to stop up on anything you forget to bring with you on the trip.

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

Feature image by Tim Kiser

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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