DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Jordan River in Michigan

The Jordan River in Michigan has about 25miles of cold water fed by numerous springs. The river meanders through a canopy created by cedar forests and eventually flows into Lake Charlevoix.

Its upper stretches hold plentiful native brookies, and resident brown and rainbow trout found among a host of beaver dams.  Lake-run brown trout frequent the lower river along with annual runs of Coho and Chinook salmon, and steelhead.

It's one of the best rivers for fly fishing in Michigan. If you are keen on a true north experience, the Jordan River should be at the top of your list. Here is everything you need to know about fishing this beautiful blue ribbon of cold water.

Located in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the Jordan River flows into Lake Charlevoix's South Arm. This is a gorgeous river that has the distinction of being the first added into the Natural Rivers Act in 1972. The waters are typically cool year-round, and rarely exceed 60 degrees F. 

Whether you're looking to hook-up with a trophy lake-run brown trout or a beautiful wild brook trout, Jordan River has what you are looking for. There are plenty of fish for everyone, and the entire area is beautiful enough to create memories that last a lifetime.

An aerial view of the beautiful Jordan River in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The Jordan is the largest tributary of Lake Charlevoix and is well known for its world-class brook trout fishing.

Overview of the Jordan River

The Jordan River is something of a local celebrity among the many rivers of Michigan. This is mostly because it was the very first river to be listed in the State of Michigan's Natural Rivers Act in 1972.

Located in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan (northwestern part), the Jordan River's mainstream runs for about 25 miles. The river's headwaters can be found in Antrim County, and it flows southwesterly through the county's center and then in a northwesterly direction through Charlevoix County.

Jordan River empties into Lake Charlevoix, which can be found in the Village of East Jordan. Like most bountiful rivers, it has two main tributaries: Deer Creek and Green River and a host of minor tributaries that feed the mainstream. In its entirety, the Jordan River drains about 100,000 acres of land. 

The river itself runs through a wide valley and is riddled with many islands, making it perfect for wading and float fishing. The numerous channels and sloughs, combined with the fact that it runs through forests, make it the perfect river in which fish can thrive.

Trout, in particular, can find refuge in the many logs, tree roots, and stumps that litter the river throughout its course. The river remains clear throughout the year as it flows over a mixture of cobble, sand, and rocks.

Trout, Salmon and Steelhead

The Jordan River is far more than just a place to do some fly fishing for brook trout. Both wild and lake-run brown trout are available in large amounts, but so are several other fish. You'll find stocked rainbow trout, Coho and Chinook salmon, and even steelhead in these gorgeous waters.

It runs about 25 miles long and has a width that can vary wildly from 20 feet to more than 50 feet. The upper section of the river is more than just an angler's wonderland; it's also often used by canoe enthusiasts to explore the state's natural beauty.

Beyond the constant presence of brook trout, this river also offers annual runs of both steelhead and salmon. With so many types of fish available, fly fishing in the river is possible at all times of the year. Unlike many of the streams in this state, the salmon in Jordan include both Chinook and Coho.

Areas Rivers and Lakes

Another thing that sets the Jordan River apart is its close proximity to the Boyne River. Anglers can choose to spend time at both rivers to experience two popular waterways in the area. In addition, both of the rivers flow into Lake Charlevoix, which adds a third destination to a fly fishing vacation.

The headwaters for this river starts at the springs in Jordan Valley. This creates an excellent pH level and an abundance of food for the trout and other fish. The majority of the river moves through a forest and remains clear as it moves over cobble, rocks, and sand.

While fly fishing on the Jordan River, there's lots of cover for the brown and brook trout, including logs, undercut banks, and large rocks in the lower, middle, and headwaters. 

Jordan River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of the best spots to the fish the Jordan 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 Jordan River

One of the perks of fly fishing on the Jordan River in Michigan is that there are several great access areas. However, it's important to note that some sites also have a lot of private property. Therefore, it's essential to avoid fishing on private land, so these locations should be avoided.

The upper Jordan is a great spot for brook trout fishing. You can reach it from the intersection of state route #32 and U.S. Highway #131. This is a gorgeous area to fish with plentiful wild brook trout.

The best thing about the upper Jordan is that is flows through Mackinaw State Forest and is accessible to the public by the eighteen-mile Jordan River Pathway.

For brown trout fishing, it's better to target the middle sections of the river. The river here has more typical deep, large pools connected by riffles and runs. Several roads offer access to the river, including State Route #66, U.S. Highway #131, and State Route #32.

You can get directions to all Michigan and the Jordan River fishing access points via the DIY Fly Fishing Map.

Wading and Floating Options

This river can be fished by wading, but this can be tricky in the upper reaches due to downed trees and beaver dams, so keep your wits about yourself. 

The middle section has the added benefit of a clay bottom that's a bit like trying to walk on soft wet ice - fun!

The lower Jordan, below Graves Crossing, runs through mostly private land. Access to the lower reaches is limited to bridge crossings and float fishing.

The Jordan River's lower section is excellent for canoe and small boat fishing enthusiasts.

Best Time to Fish the Jordan River

The rule of thumb here is that the fishing season follows the standard Michigan trout season above Graves Crossing.  Between Graves and Lake Charlevoix, an extended season allows for fishing for steelhead and salmon.

  • Spring: This is the perfect time for steelhead
  • Fall: Excellent timing for large lake-run brown trout, steelhead and salmon
  • Winter: Fishing during Winter can be productive depending on the temperatures, although the steelhead can be rather sluggish
  • Summer: This the best time to target trout, thank to the aquatic hatches

The spring is a good time for fishing since the Jordan River starts to warm up. It might be the best season for going out and catching steelhead.

During summer, trout fishing picks up as the water temperature increases and spurs on insect activity, including the famed Hexegenia limbata (Hex) hatch, a.k.a 'Michigan Caddis'.  

Moving into fall, anglers will have a chance to bring in large salmon, steelhead and lake-run brown trout.  The run of King salmon usually peaks in September, while Coho salmon can be caught as late as November.

It comes down to the weather on the subject of winter fly fishing. If the winter is mild, this season can be a great time to get in some fly fishing for steelhead. It's often a more solitary season where anglers can focus on nothing more than the water and fish, and keeping warm!

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Jordan River. Unfortunately there are not any USGS stream gauges that typically provide a good indication of current conditions.  Best bet is to contact an area fly shop, or better yet stop in to get the latest intel and pick up some locally tied flies.

Best Flies for the Jordan River

When going for brookies and brown trout, the some of best flies to have in your arsenal are streamers and nymphs. These are often the top choices for bringing in larger fish. Dry flies are also a popular choice, especially if you are chasing the Hex hatch.  Simple attractor patterns are all you really need.

Steelhead can be caught using a variety of nymphs in spring. Other effective options include egg sucking leeches, wooly buggers, and various egg patterns. 

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Jordan 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 4-wt fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Jordan River.

You'll need to sized up your gear is you are targeting lake-run browns, steelhead or salmon. For these larger fish a 9-foot 7-wt fly rod is a good choice.

A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 4X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.  

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!

Jordan River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Jordan 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 closest town to Jordan River is Chestonia, which is a small township in northern Michigan. Anglers coming into the area for fly fishing can take a flight into Cherry Capital Airport or land a bit farther away at MBS International Airport or Gerald R Ford International Airport.

Some lodging is available near the river, but much of it is outside of Chestonia. However, hotels, restaurants, and shops can be found in a short drive. 

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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