Michigan Fly Fishing 6 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Michigan

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 8, 2015

Au Sable River, Michigan

Have you been eyeing the state of Michigan as your next fly fishing getaway? That isn’t surprising, as there are plenty of fabulous streams, lakes, and rivers to be explored. Many anglers argue it is right up there with the best states in the country. There are a number of fish species that can be caught on the fly in Michigan including salmon, steelhead, walleye, pike, panfish, bass, and of course trout. This diversity is a big draw for anglers. It gives people a chance to catch a variety of species without having to travel to multiple states.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a number of impressive statistics to share. These include the fact there are over 20,000 miles worth of cold water. This is the exact kind of water that trout love. Many of these waters are excellent for wading and shore fishing, which are favorites among anglers. It should also be mentioned that a good number of the rivers and streams are known for large hatches. This can turn a decent fishing experience into an amazing one.

So let’s take a closer look at what makes Michigan such a standout destination for anglers.

Michigan Trout Fishing Map

map of places to fish in Michigan

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Featured Destinations

Upper Peninsula

Northern Lower Peninsula

Southern Lower Peninsula

Michigan Trout Trails

Michigan is nationally known as a trout fishing destination with nearly 20,000 miles of cold, quality trout streams and hundreds of trout lakes accessible to anglers. With all these sites to visit, how does an angler decide where to go?

Check out Michigan’s Trout Trails which are biologist-verified great trout waters that are often lesser known.  All Michigan Trout Trails destinations are included in the map above and are accessible via the DIY Fly Fishing Map.

Click on a map icon for site-specific information such as the trout species available, regulations, stocked or natural reproduction and other noteworthy tidbits are all at your fingertips!

Best Places to Fish in Michigan

When you’re talking about a state as diverse in fish species and water, then you know you’re in for something special. Fly fishing is a favorite pastime in this state, which is really no wonder. As mentioned, you’ve got more than 20,000 miles worth of water to explore. This means no matter what your skill level, you’re going to find opportunities here. The trout fishing is nothing short of outstanding. It provides you with a chance to try different techniques/skills.

While it’s impossible to name all the top spots, there are a few that really stand out. Let’s take a look at what awaits in Michigan.

Boardman River

Boardman River is located in Grand Traverse County. It is about 18 miles in length, so you’ve got a decent amount of river to work with. The water runs cold almost all year-round, and it’s crystal clear. Any experienced fly fisher knows these are the perfect conditions for trout. This river is best by shore or wading. It’s quite narrow in many areas, which means a boat or floating doesn’t make sense.One downfall is that the river is also popular with canoes all summer long. This means you’re going to have to contend with them as you cast. You can avoid this problem by fishing in the fall. The Boardman River can be visited from April until the end of September. It has a skill level rated at moderate. As far as the fish species go; expect to find brook and brown trout.

Pere Marquette River

The Pere Marquette River is located near the city of Baldwin. This is another river with a skill level of moderate. What is great about this spot is that you can fish year-round. From September through to March anglers will be fishing for steelhead. The most common fish found in this river during the peak season are rainbow and brown trout. If you visit from August through to October, expect to find Chinook.

AuSable River, Upper Section

If you like the longer rivers, then the AuSable River, Upper Section is the place to be. The river is 79 miles in length. The skill level on this river is rated at easy, which means it is ideal for beginners. Depending on the section you’re in; this river can get pretty fast and pretty strong. These tend to be the sections that are more challenging. Fishing can be done by floating, wading, or from shore. Enjoy a diverse mix of fish species, which are rainbow trout, steelhead, brook trout, and brown trout.

Manistee River

The Manistee River is located fairly close to the Au Sable, but is a different atmosphere. Be prepared for catching brown and brown trout, steelhead, and salmon in this river. Experts suggest using streamer flies for the best results. The river is long, spanning just over 230 miles. It is found in the northern peninsula of the state, and flows into Lake Michigan. The trout love the clear and cold water in the river, and it can be enjoyed year-round. This river provides anglers with a true “wilderness” feeling.

Best Time to Fish in Michigan

In the state of Michigan the fishing season is dependent upon the fish species. Here’s a look at the average fishing season based on the species.

Smallmouth and largemouth bass: In general you will be able to fish for these year-round. Keep in mind that some waters are catch-and-release, whereas some waters are catch-and-keep. There are a couple of exceptions to this “average” season. In these cases the fish are only available from May until December.

Trout and Salmon: The Great Lakes, a variety of rivers, and streams offer trout and salmon fishing all year-round. Be advised that there is a group of lakes, and streams that are only open from April until the end of September. These are all found inland.

Walleye and northern pike: The season is almost all-year round; with just a few short weeks where you won’t be able to find anything.

Muskellunge: With this species it depends on where you will be fishing. Some areas are open year-round, such as the Lower Peninsula Great Lakes. The Lake St. Clair and Detroit River has a much shorter season, open from June through early December.

Great Lakes Trout and Splake: Again the season depends on where you plan to fish. Many areas are open from January 1st until either September, or October.

As far as the outdoor air temperature goes in Michigan, keep in mind this area of the U.S. does get cold in the winter. If you plan on heading out in late fall, or the winter months, you will want to dress accordingly. Typically, spring and fall tend to be the most popular fishing seasons in this state. There are many species available, and the temperatures are ideal for fly fishing.

Michigan is home to a number of hatches that take place through out the year. Most anglers prefer to “match to the hatch”, which means being aware of the different hatches. As a general rule you stone flies are generally present year round. Once April approaches the mayflies and caddis flies begin to emerge. It stays this way until mid-June, when the terrestrial also becomes evident. You will find most of these keep up until mid-fall, where it then tapers off to just the mayfly by the end of the year.

Essential Fishing Gear

Deciding what to pack as far as your fishing gear goes can be a bit of a process. It is dependent on the time of year, the fish species, the hatches, and where you plan to fish. With all of that said, it can be helpful to plan your trip in advance. The planning allows you to consider what gear will be best. If you plan to fish small streams for trout; then a seven and a half to eight foot, 3 or 4-weight rod is a good choice. If it’s the larger rivers and lakes you will be visiting; then a nine to ten-foot, 5 or 6-weight rod is best. The experts usually agree that a single action fly reel is ideal.

Best Flies for Fly Fishing in Michigan

Picking your flies really depends on the season, the location, and type of fish you are after. With that said, there are some basic ones you can carry with you. 

Adams and Elk Hair Caddis are always a good bet for dry flies.  Pheasant Tail and Gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear nymphs will always work when nymphing, and a Muddler Minnow streamer or Wooly Bugger will usually produce. 

Obviously these may not be the best for all scenarios, but they are an excellent starting point.

Michigan Fishing License Regulations

For those planning to fish in Michigan, you will want to be sure you get your fishing license first. This applies to anyone age 17 and older. There are resident and non-resident licenses available through the Michigan DNR. These licenses are available as one-year, 24-hour, or 72-hour increments. If you are a hunter there is a hunt/fish combo license available. Each season the fishing regulations and limits are open to change. This means you should always check ahead to be sure you are aware of the current regulations. All of this information can be found on the Michigan DNR website.

While it’s nice to have a handful of great spots for fly fishing, Michigan tops that without problem. Here, your biggest problem will be narrowing it down to just a few rivers, streams, or lakes. Whether you are a beginner or are experienced, there are challenges to be found here. Sure some spots will be crowded, but other locations will give you a true wilderness feel. And don’t forget, this is a state that offers year-round fishing.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.