DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Sturgeon River in Michigan

There’s nothing more exciting than standing next to quick-moving rapids while you take on the fish in the Sturgeon River. This Michigan river is a blue-ribbon trout stream that also qualifies as having the fastest current in the Lower Peninsula. It’s excellent for fishing but also popular for kayaking, tubing, and more.

The river is located in a beautiful area filled with wildlife and is popular among locals and tourists alike. Anglers are sure to find a challenge fly fishing for resident trout, steelhead or lake-run brown trout.

Although it doesn't quite qualify as whitewater, the Sturgeon River in Michigan is still quite formidable with its 15-foot per mile slope. This means that the river is well oxygenated, and the water is quite cold, which is perfect for trout to thrive.

The river goes through a 40-mile journey towards its Burt Lake destination, and it provides anglers with plenty of fishing opportunities along the way.

Since this isn't a very large river, it's ideal for an angler who prefers to wade into the water while fly fishing. The river offers quick turns, a wide variety of flora and fauna, and scenic bluffs that make it one of the most beautiful rivers in Michigan.

Here is a fishing guide highlighting everything you might need to know if you want to head out for some trout fishing in the Sturgeon River.

A float down the Sturgeon River in northern Michigan

Sturgeon River in Michigan

Made up of two branches, several sources feed the Sturgeon River. The East Branch originates or has its headwaters in Otsego County; in the hills that make up part of Gaylord city in the county's central part.

The West Branch of the river, on the other hand, comes from two sources - Thumb Lake and Huffman Lake, which are located in the Eastern part of Charlevoix County.

Both of these branches flow due North and meander through largely forested areas and come to a head at Wolverine, a town in the Southern part of Cheboygan County.

The river keeps flowing North from Wolverine and makes its way through some of the most scenic countryside in the Lower Peninsula. While in the area you might also want to check the Pigeon River and Black River that are nearby.

Most of the river passes through Mackinaw State Forest, although many of the river's riparian land is private, making fishing a bit tricky. Your best bet is to stay on the river once you are in it to avoid any misunderstanding.

While the river is quite speedy, it's isn't technically considered whitewater. However, this means that you would need to be rather careful about where you fish. The stream flows steadily through massive expanses of nothing but forest on its way towards Burt Lake.

As it slows down while nearing Burt Lake, the river dumps most of its sand, forming a delta. That's why a large part of the river's lower stretches is riddled with private residential and commercial developments.

According to the Michigan State Department of Natural Resources, the river has an average depth of about 4 feet, making it ideal for wading. However, some pools can go as deep as 8 feet. 

Pristine Waters

Quick pristine waters are the name of the game when it comes to the Sturgeon River. It has an average descent of 15 feet per mile, ensuring the water is well-oxygenated and stays cool. The river travels an impressive 40 miles as it heads to Burt Lake, offering a bevy of fly fishing options for the savvy angler.

The presence of gorgeous bluffs, all sorts of native plants, and quick turns make this river one that is hard to forget. It offers several road crossings so anglers can reach it easily without having to take a long hike for great access. However, a lot of the shoreline is privately owned, so the best option may be fly fishing in the river itself.

Since this river has a quick flow, it also has an assortment of excellent riffles and runs, as well as large outlying pools where you can reel in all sorts of rainbow and brown trout. Depending on the season, you could find yourself bringing in a trophy class fish with a well presented dry fly.

Like a lot of the streams in the northern stretches of Michigan, the Sturgeon River starts to get wider in the lower stretches and holds a treasure trove of trout that can reach 20 inches and beyond. During the fall months, it also sees summer-run brown and rainbow trout (steelhead) from Burt Lake.

The upper reaches of the Sturgeon River from Wolverine south are easier waters to navigate with fewer log jams and obstacles. However, as you move to the lower area of the river, there’s better water flow, as well as additional logs, tight corners, and obstacles. This makes it more challenging, but it also means that more fish are hiding in all the nooks. 

Sturgeon River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of the best fishing spots on the Sturgeon 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 Sturgeon River

One of the most attractive things about the Sturgeon River is the sheer number of road crossings and potential access points it has to offer an angler. Granted, most of the riparian land is on private property. Some of these properties are commercial and offer excellent accommodation as well as access to the river itself.

Depending on what part of the river you want to access, you could decide to use these resorts and commercial properties as your base of operation or decide to use public land as access points for your next fishing trip.

Some of the best roads to use when accessing Sturgeon River for some good fishing include:

  • M-68
  • I-75 (Excellent access to Little Sturgeon River)
  • White Road
  • Hatch Road (Little Sturgeon River)
  • Rondo Road
  • Main Street
  • Scott Road
  • Cedar Street

These are just a few of the options available to you. If you would rather access the river through a state park, the Burt Lake State Park offers an excellent carry-down path to the river. At this point, you will find a motorized ramp that can take on trailers giving you an excellent launching option into the river.

You can access all Michigan and Sturgeon River fishing access points via the DIY Fly Fishing Map.

Wading or Floating

Accessing the Sturgeon River is fairly simple since there are many locations to wade or canoe through the waters. One of the most popular spots is at Trowbridge Road, north of Interstate 75 and Lance Lake Road. This spot has bridge access and roadside parking.

If you visit this location, you can catch rainbow, brook, and brown trout; however, brook and brown are far more common than others. In addition, you’ll find fish in many sizes, including steelhead and brown trout that are moving in from Burt Lake on a seasonal basis.

Keep in mind that the Sturgeon has two branches to explore. The east branch has headwaters in the hills near Gaylord in Otsego County, while the west branch starts at Huffman and Thumb Lakes in Charlevoix County. Both of them move in a northern direction and meet up in Wolverine, where you can find access points.

One spot to try for anglers in this part of Michigan is the Mackinaw State Forest. This is public land and the river passes through it in several different locations. You’ll also find access at Lower White Road, Old Railroad Bridge, Rondo Road, and the city park in Wolverine.

Best Time to Fish the Sturgeon River

Like most rivers in Michigan, fishing on the Sturgeon River will depend on the season you visit. Although trout is plentiful in this river, it pays to visit and go fly fishing at the right time.

  • Spring: Spring season is always good for trout fishing on the Sturgeon River.  A decent run of Steelhead usually occurs in April as well.
  • Summer: The summer season is equally as good, although you will find that there are more kayakers and canoe enthusiasts than there are fly fishing anglers.
  • Fall: This is by far the best time to go angling for trout on the Sturgeon River. You will also find a reliable run of Steelhead and migratory brown trout as they begin to enter the river around mid-September.
  • Winter: This isn't always the best time to go fishing but depending on how frigid the weather is; you can still land a few fish.

Sturgeon River Brown Trout

The hardy brown trout that run up the Sturgeon River from Burt Lake each year are quite sought after.  So much so that brood stock from this hardy strain are stocked in rivers across the state including the Au Sable River, Betsie River, Manistee River, and Black River.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Sturgeon River. The USGS stream gauge at Wolverine, 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.

STURGEON RIVER AT WOLVERINE, MI

  • Streamflow: 201 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 2.77 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for the Sturgeon River

Since Michigan has a huge number of hatches throughout the year, matching what is available is a common concern for those who are fly fishing.

You can generally expect to see stoneflies all year, while caddisflies and mayflies start showing up in April/May. The most common mayfly hatches include Hendricksons, gray and brown drakes, and Hex.

Terrestrials will become more prevalent during the summer months and shouldn't be overlooked.

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Sturgeon 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

Packing everything you need can be challenging and depends on the hatches at that time of year and the fish you are targeting. 

For trout fishing in the narrow areas of the river, a three or four-weight fly rod and match fly reel is useful. But as the river becomes wider, you may want to choose a nine to 10-foot rod with a five or six-weight.

Steelhead and lake-run browns will require a seven or even eight-weight, single-hand rod.

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!

Sturgeon River Fishing Report

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

Assuming you’ll be angling near Wolverine, the nearest airport is going to be Gaylord Regional Airport. However, it’s a few miles out so you should consider renting a car or SUV to get to the river for your fishing needs. The good news is that Wolverine is outfitted for outdoor lovers with all sorts of shops to fill your fly box.

Whether you stick to Wolverine or move farther away, the location offers restaurants, hotels, and campsites so you can enjoy your journey in whatever way works best for you. Stick near the parks if you want to enjoy the outdoors without venturing too far from other people. 

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Michigan

Feature image by Robert Emperley

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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