DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Escanaba River in Michigan

Any angler who wants a fishing destination with variety can't do much better than the Escanaba River in Michigan. It's well-known for its huge amounts of trout but also features a great area for fishing up smallmouth bass if you know where to go. 

This is also one of a few rivers in Michigan that offers a steady stream of walleye, a fish many anglers enjoy catching and eating. It has miles of wadable water and plenty of access for those who prefer to take a boat out for an entire day of exceptional fishing.

Fly fishing the Escanaba River in the upper peninsula of Michigan

As mentioned, most people know the Escanaba River for its outstanding trout. However, because brown, brook, and rainbow can be found in such huge amounts, some anglers don't realize that the lower stretches of the river are teeming with smallmouth bass. There are many brown trout and smallmouth when you go below Boney Falls Dam but continue lower and bass take over the waters.

Crayfish Crazy

Large trout and smallmouth bass tend to go crazy for crayfish, and unlike many rivers in the western upper peninsula, these little critters are all over the Escanaba River. Anglers who want to catch the most fish will find that flies like Galloup's Craw or Schultzy's Low Water Cray that imitate crayfish are a great way to ensure huge catches.

Wade or Float

A large portion of the Escanaba River is wadable below the Boney Falls Dam. However, a shallow-bottom kayak, canoe, or boat can be useful with the obstacles that can be found on the lower river. This area tends to be largely made up of bedrock and gets very slippery, so make sure you have a wading staff and felt soles to stay dry.

Marshes and Dams

The upper area of the river tends to meander through the various marshes, but in the lower area, the river gets wider. However, this section of the Escanaba River is a bit slower due to a selection of dams, which create obstacles throughout the river's body.

Native American Heritage

This river was once home to Chippewa Indians, including the famous Hiawatha. Many villages sat on the banks of the river and residents named the stream due to the flat rocks under its surface. However, the last Native American lands in the state's upper peninsula were ceded to the United States in the 1840s, closing an era.

A Tributary to Lake Michigan

Nowadays, the river mouth has a more industrial feel with a paper mill and several dams where it empties into the Bay de Noc of Lake Michigan. Moving upstream, there's more of a rustic feel with hardwood trees lining the shores and only an occasional house to see from the waters.

Escanaba River Map and Fishing Access Sites

Map of the best spots to fish the Escanaba 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 Escanaba River

There are many access points for fly fishing the Escanaba River, starting with Pioneer Trail Campground. Leave Escanaba north on Sheridan Road until you reach North Lincoln Road, where you should take a right. Follow that road a short distance to the campground, where you will find great fishing and excellent lodging.

Another excellent access area is the Burnt Camp Boat Launch. From Gladstone, head west on County 420 21st Road until you reach County 426 L Road. Take a right here and drive in a northern direction for several miles until you hit the Sand Pit. Stop here and you will find an excellent area to fish, launch a boat, and take in the beauty of Michigan.

There's also great angling for those who prefer to stay right near Escanaba itself. Take North 3rd Street out of the city before hanging a right across the river at Michigan #41. Once you cross, you'll find a park with restrooms, camping, and more. Anglers can fish from the shores, wade in, or head several hundred feet south to find another excellent boat launch area.

Best Time to Fish the Escanaba River

Truthfully, the Escanaba River is a stream you can fish from January through December; this is based on the fact that it offers everything from trout to walleye, pike, smallmouth, and salmon. 

Spring and Summer

As soon as the fishing season starts, you'll find all sorts of smallmouth bass spawning in the river. However, you can expect to be largely left alone while you bring them in since most anglers focus their energy on walleye. Find spots with weed pockets, gravel areas, and reed beds for the best results in spring and summer.

Fall

In fall, you'll experience the best season for chasing down larger brown trout as they get ready to spawn. Consider heading out from the mid-morning through late afternoon to bring in the best fish, although some anglers have great success early in the morning, too. 

Winter

Fly fishing in the winter is tough but on warmer days you might have some luck. The best time for fishing in winter will be at the end of the morning. You can also do a reasonable job in the late afternoon and midday. However, the early morning hours aren't the best since temperatures haven't had a chance to rise.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Escanaba River.

The USGS stream gauge near Princeton, MI provides a good indication of the current conditions of the upper reaches of the Escanaba.

The USGS stream gauge at Cornell, MI provides a good indication of current conditions on the lower portion of the mainstem of the Escanaba.

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.

MIDDLE BRANCH ESCANABA RIVER NR PRINCETON, MI

  • Streamflow: 168 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 1.96 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

ESCANABA RIVER AT CORNELL, MI

  • Streamflow: 168 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 2.74 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Escanaba River

Anything that resembles crayfish will work well on the Escanaba River if you want to reel in smallmouth bass.  If you are looking for trout, attractor dry flies and small nymphs in natural colors are a good choice.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Escanaba 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 Escanaba River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Escanaba River Fishing Report

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

The Delta County Airport is going to get you the closest to Escanaba. It's only a couple of miles from the city. The city is reasonably sized and has lots of lodging, restaurants, and grocery stores so you can have a place to sleep and access all the necessities during your trip to Michigan.

You also will have no problem finding great tackle shops in the area. There are several right in Escanaba and others in the smaller towns nearby. Don't be shy about going in to get the latest fishing reports to ensure a successful day of fly 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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