DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Pine River in Michigan

Located near Cadillac, Michigan, the Pine River offers amazing scenery and top-class fly fishing. It’s known for its great trout fishing as well as being a great destination for canoeing and kayaking. The area is also used for other activities, such as hunting, swimming, picnicking, and viewing wildlife.

Anglers can enjoy their pick of trout while fishing on the river. There are also campsites nearby to create an atmosphere of natural solitude. As one of the most unique rivers in Michigan, it brings in tourists and locals alike year after year.

Paddling the Pine River through the Huron-Manistee National Forest in northern Michigan

The Pine River is the highest gradient and coldest river in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. It features crystal clear water that makes it one of the best locations for trout fly fishing in the state. The river is protected by seasonal fishing, individual access, and restrictions but manages to be appealing to all sorts of serious trout anglers.

All of the trout in the Pine River are wild strains that are cared for by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. There are no hatchery fish to be found. The entire river is fully wild and offers a new experience for many anglers compared to other waterways in the state.

The rainbow trout in the river hail from the famous McCloud River strain and live up to the hype with acrobatic aerial displays.  Two strains of wild brown trout inhabit the river along with some impressive brook trout.

Pine River acts as a tributary to the Manistee River, but the confluence of the two is upstream beyond Tippy Dam. Tippy Dam is also the location farthest upriver that migratory fish from Lake Michigan tend to venture. As a result, the Pine River browns, rainbows, and brook trout can grow to enormous sizes with no competition from migratory fish.

However, all fish are wild, so not every one is going to be a trophy. Each of them lives a natural life without the interference of fishery managers. The outfitters who offer access to the river care for the waters and ensure anglers have a good time.

Anyone visiting the Pine River for the first time will appreciate the wilderness quality of the areas near the water. The river itself is a National Wild and Scenic River, as well as a Michigan Natural River.

In years past, when the area was used for lumber, the Pine River was used to transport logs to Manistee mills. This is how the river got its name since the banks were clustered with gorgeous white pines.

Pine River Map and Fishing Access Sites

Map of the best fishing spots on the Pine 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 Pine River

There are many access points to enjoy excellent fly fishing on the Pine River. Assuming an angler is coming to the river from Manistee, Elm Flats is one such location. Take Michigan #55 east for about 30 minutes before taking a right on 7 Road for just over two miles. Turn left on 48 Road for two and a half miles before reaching the river.

Dobson Bridge is another access point that starts by heading east on Michigan #55. This time, take a right on Michigan #37 for two miles before turning left on 48 ½ Mile Road. Stay right at the Y until the road becomes gravel. The entrance will be located on the left.

If you’d like to travel to Peterson Bridge North, take Michigan #55 east until you each Michigan #37, where you will take a right and travel for one and a half miles. The Day Area / Canoe Launch entrance is located just before the bridge. There’s also a campground available south of the bridge on the left.

Finally, you can access Pine River by the Low Bridge. Take Michigan #55 east for about 20 miles until you reach Farm Road 5996. Turn right on the road and travel for approximately one mile. You’ll come to the access point shortly after on the right side of the road.

Best Time to Fish the Pine River

Any season is a good season to fish on the Pine River, but some are better than others based on the fish you’re looking for. Since the majority of fish in these waters are trout, standard season applies in all areas.

Springtime is a great season for fly fishing since several insects will be hatching in the Pine River and fish are hungry from the long winter.

Summer is also a good time for fishing, but things do slow down a bit and there are more canoeist, kayaks and tubers to contend with. However, by the time fall comes around the floaters thin out, and the large brown trout are on the prowl.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Pine River. The USGS stream gauge near Hoxeyville, MI provide 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.

PINE RIVER AT HIGH SCHOOL BRIDGE NR HOXEYVILLE, MI

  • Temperature: 61.7 ° F
  • Streamflow: 227 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 3.99 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Pine River

Depending on the time of year, dry flies, nymphs and streamers can all be good choices.

Flies that work well include gray drakes, light cahills, dark blue sledges, and a variety of sculpins. Other choices that are sure to bring in fish include sulphurs, little yellow stoneflies, and green sedge caddis.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Pine 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 Pine River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X 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!

Pine River Fishing Report

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

Most anglers coming down for fly fishing at Pine River will fly in at Eagles Landing in Harrietta, Michigan. Cain Field Airport and McQuestions Airport are also in the general area. There are several hotels and restaurants in the area, as well as campgrounds for anglers who prefer to rough it.

Anglers who need to stock up on gear and other necessities will find shops in several towns near the river, including Mesick, Wellston, Brethren, and more.

The Pine River is an excellent example of a Natural River that offers great fly fishing for people from near and far.

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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