DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Pere Marquette River in Michigan

The Pere Marquette River has the distinction of being the first river in the country stocked with brown trout. As such, many consider the "PM" to be the birthplace of brown trout in the United States.

The PM is a world-renowned trout fishery that also offers excellent steelhead and salmon fishing. The annual Chinook salmon and king salmon run in the fall, and the steelhead run that follows, brings in anglers from far and wide.

The PM offers some of the finest trout fishing for a fly fisherman and is one the premier fishing destinations in North America.

Here is a guide to help you plan your next trip to the Pere Marquette River!

Fly fishing the Pere Marquette River in Michigan

Named after the French explorer Jacques Marquette, the Pere Marquette is the longest undammed river in the Lower Peninsula and one of the only free-flowing rivers in the Midwest.

The PM ranks as one the best rivers for fly fishing for trout, salmon, and steelhead in the Great Lakes region.  The PM is on par with the Au Sable River, Grand River, Manistee River, Muskegon River, and Pine River.

Located in the southern lower peninsula of west Michigan, the PM meanders through the wooded hills of Huron-Manistee National Forests and eventually empties into Lake Michigan.

Along the way, the PM flows over 60 miles and passes through Lake County, Mason County, and Newayo and Oceana Counties.

Pere Marquette Branches

The Pere Marquette has multiple branches to explore.  

The upper portion of the river, the Middle Branch, is joined by its tributaries the Baldwin River and lower south branches near Baldwin.

The main branch of the PM is formed by the confluence of the Middle Branch and the Big South Branch just below Indian Bridge.  From there the Lower PM feeds into Pere Marquette Lake and then Lake Michigan.

The Pere Marquette River maintains excellent water temperatures year round. The cold water provides for great trout fishing regardless of which section you visit.

The upper reaches are known for clear water due to a gravel and sand bottom that add to its natural beauty.  The lower river tends to cloud up more easily after a rain as the bottom has more silt along with rocks and sand.

Where is the Flies Only Section?

The most popular stretch of the PM is the 'Flies Only' section near Baldwin.

This eight-mile area between Gleason's Landing and Michigan #37 is a catch-and-release section where you can only use artificial flies. 

Make sure to look into the details of the regulations for this area and other sections of the Pere Marquette.

Pere Marquette River Map and Fishing Access Sites

There are many different access points on the river, so it isn't hard to find places to fish. Access points are spread out along the length of the river. 

The "flies only" area has a selection of access points, while side roads and other points will take you to non-regulation waters downstream of Baldwin.

The entire river is known for excellent fishing, but some sections are better for particular species than others.

For example, the Middle Branch is probably the best trout water, as is the upper tributary of the Pere Marquette. The Middle Branch is known to have big fish because it has many fallen trees, boulders, and jagged bends where the fish can hide.

At Gleason's Landing, the river is productive with long, powerful riffles and several deep pools. A deep run here is an excellent location for catching big browns.

Below this area, the lower river becomes deeper and wider with increased speed and is often used for float fishing with a drift boat. 

Map of the best fishing spots on the Pere Marquette 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 Pere Marquette River

There are many access areas near Baldwin for fly fishing the Pere Marquette, but likely the most popular is located right off of 72nd Street. It's easy to hike down to the "flies only" section which is one of the best stretches of the Pere Marquette.

You'll also find access off of Taylor Road. You'll need to take U.S 10 from Michigan #37 to gain access to this small dirt road.

Once you turn left onto Taylor Road, pass over the railroad line and you'll be right next to the stream. Make sure you watch your footing since some of the banks are steep and may be subject to erosion.

While choosing locations to fish on the Pere Marquette, make sure you are only fishing on public land. A large section of the river is on private property and not accessible to anglers passing through.

Make sure you only use public land to enter and leave the river. Wading and fishing are allowed since the river itself is not owned by a private party.

Best Time of Year to Fish the Pere Marquette River

The Pere Marquette River offers excellent fishing all year round. The best time of the year to fish the PM depends on what you are after. Peak seasons include spring, summer and fall.

Spring

The PM is well known for serious runs of early spring steelhead as they migrate into the river. They come up the river to spawn and ensure the rivers are full of fish throughout the season. The peak time to catch steelhead is from late March through early April.

Summer

Dry fly fishing for trout is the name of the game in the summer months. Drake and hexagenia hatches in June through early July bring large trout to the surface at night. 

In late summer, hoppers and terrestrials can bring in large fish throughout the day.  Nighttime fishing in late August with large mouse patterns also presents the opportunity to hook a monster brown.

You can also find some smallmouth bass in the river.

Fall

Chinook (King) salmon begin to run in early fall, starting in late August.  The best part of the season runs from September through mid-October and gives anglers the chance to bring in some seriously large fish.

Fall steelhead and lake-run brown trout follow the salmon to feast on the eggs they leave behind. As a general rule, many of the steelhead drop back down to the Lake, but some will remain in the river until the spring spawning run.

Winter

In winter, fishing can be hit or miss based on the weather and how low the temperatures get. However, this could be a good time to have the river all to yourself. This is a great time to fish for steelhead in relative solitude.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Pere Marquette River. The USGS stream gauge at Scotville, MI provides 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.

PERE MARQUETTE RIVER AT SCOTTVILLE, MI

  • Streamflow: 726 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 1.97 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Pere Marquette Hatches

The PM is known for quality hatches of mayflies including Hendricksons, sulphurs, isonychias, Hex, and tricos.  Caddis, stoneflies, and terrestials are abundant as well.

Best Flies for Pere Marquette River

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the PM:

Dry Flies

  • Yellow Sally (#12 - 16)
  • Yellow Humpy (#10 - 18)
  • Parachute Sulphur (#14 - 18)
  • Parachute Adams (#12 - 22)
  • Gray Drakes (#10 - 12)
  • 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)
  • Black Stonefly nymph (#6 - 10)
  • Tellico Nymph (#12 - 18)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 - 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)
  • Egg patterns (#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 Pere Marquette. 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!

Pere Marquette Fishing Report

Area fly shops, local guides and websites that can provide a Pere Marquette  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

When flying into the area for fly fishing at Pere Marquette, you will likely land at Sawyer International Airport. Once you land, you'll want a vehicle to get you from place to place. There are several lodges and hotels in the area for anglers to spend their nights.  The Pere Marquette River Lodge comes highly recommended.

Several fishing reports can be found online to check how the river is fishing daily. You'll also be in a location with plenty of restaurants and tackle shops so you can keep fed and make sure your fly box is filled with everything you need.

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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