DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Indian River in Michigan

Located in the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan, the Indian River is an excellent destination for any fly angler looking to hook up with monster brown trout. It is also home to native brook trout.

One of the defining features of the Indian River is its location in the Hiawatha National Forest, which is an excellent attraction to visit in between fishing excursions. Along with fly fishing, visitors can also engage in other fun activities like kayaking and canoeing due to the water’s steady flow.

The Indian River is a beautiful location for fishing for trout. It’s surrounded by other rivers, lakes, and forests with a variety of wildlife. This river is a common choice for individuals who want to take photographs, hunt, and fish for large trout.

Huge Brown Trout

The Indian River is best known for harboring large brown trout, many of which exceed 24 inches.  Logjams and deadfalls provide ideal habitat for these predatory fish.

Hooking up with a trophy brown trout, however, is not easy.  Trout of this size feed most often at night and are primarily meat eaters.  Come prepared to sling big streamers.

Hex Hatch

The Indian River does have a reliable Hex hatch that presents the opportunity to catch larger trout on dry flies.

As the hatch comes off in the evening you'll need to do some scouting during the day to find a safe place to fish. A headlamp with a red lens is essential along with a healthy dose of patience.

Wading is possible in some areas of the river, but those with canoes and kayaks will also find various places to launch.  No matter how you reach the water, you can expect fly fishing unlike anything you’ve experienced elsewhere.

Indian River Map and Fishing Access Sites

Map of the best places to fish the Indian River in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the Indian River

With so many great places to fish the Indian River, you might wonder where to start. One option is in the one-stop light town of Steuben. It’s located in the Hiawatha National Forest and promises deep holes and logjams that provide excellent habitat for lunker trout.

To reach the access area, start at the intersection of Michigan #94 and County Road 437 (Thunder Lake Road). Take 437 west for half a mile before turning down a small dirt road and driving a few hundred feet. Leave your vehicle somewhere safe before heading off on foot to the west, where you will find the Indian River.

Best Time to Fish the Indian River

Fly fishing can be fun at any time during the year when you’re on the Indian River. Since the river is largely known for its trout, you can expect most fishing to start toward the end of April. However, an even better time is during the first week or two of May when insects will start hatching and gaining the attention of the fish.

From the start of May and into the beginning of July, insects will continue to hatch. You may see hatches after this time, but they tend to be small and in tiny amounts that don’t attract larger fish. 

Michigan trout season lasts a long time and you’ll be able to catch fish in fall, too. After a summer season that can require some patience to make a catch, fall will be a dream. Spawning occurs during this season and many of the trout start to get restless again, which is perfect for hooking the fish you want.

Winter and the beginning of spring aren’t as crowded with anglers looking for trout. However, the fishing can be more challenging, especially when the waters are very cold. The river can ice over and make fishing impossible; even when there is no ice, the cold temperatures make the fish more sluggish than usual.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Indian River. The USGS stream gauge on the nearby Sturgeon River provides a good indication of current conditions in the area.

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.

STURGEON RIVER NEAR NAHMA JUNCTION, MI

USGS

Best Flies for Indian River

You’ll want to have many flies in your arsenal, depending on what season you visit the Indian River. A few patterns that work well in the Indian River include the Parachute Adams, Real McCoy’s AP Drake, Robert’s Yellow Drake, Borcher’s Drake, and the Wet Skunk.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Indian 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 6-wt fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line is perfect for fishing for trout on the Indian River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 1X to 3X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Need Gear?

Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Gear for recommendations.

Indian River Fishing Report

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

Pellston Regional Airport will be the closest destination to fly in for fishing trout in the Indian River. However, it’s about two hours away from the river.

Manistique is the nearest town that has several lodges and hotels, restaurants, and other necessities. A better option is to camp at the Indian River Campground that is right on the river and provides good access to the best water.

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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