Our Finest Trout Fishing
October 04, 2010
Michigan is loaded with great trout streams, but from south to north, these stand out above the rest.
Another Michigan trout season will soon be upon us. The opener will be the latest it can possibly be, which is April 30, but I can already picture that first brown trout putting a bend in my rod.
The Pere Marquette River has outstanding fishing for brown trout. Photo by Jim Bedford.
A bunch of Michigan’s finest trout streams will be described here, and we will start in southern Michigan and move our way north.
The Dowagiac River has the highest flow of any southern Michigan trout stream. The river begins near Decatur, and the best trout fishing is found in the lower two thirds of the stream between M-51 and Niles.
Most of the river has been dredged and straightened, and it is mostly dependent on stocked browns. The trout grow fast and carry over well, so you have a good chance at catching some good-sized browns. You can both float and wade the Dowagiac but there will be some logjams to navigate. Fish those logjams and other wood in the water hard because it provides very important cover in the straight channel.
About two miles north of Niles there is a lowhead dam that has been drawn down. Below this dam the river is not dredged and you will find good fishing below it. There is access at the dam. Summer steelhead move out of the St. Joseph River to cool off, and there is a chance for a bonus encounter with one of these high-flying fish through most of the summer.
Access to the Dowagiac is provided by numerous road crossings. If conditions are not good on the mainstream, you can try tributaries like Pokagon Creek near Sumnerville and Dowagiac Creek upstream from LaGrange Lake.
The Rogue is southern Michigan’s second-largest trout stream and is located in central Kent County near the town of Rockford. It is stocked with both browns and rainbows, and there is a contribution of wild fish from its tributaries.
The best trout fishing is found between the two 12 Mile Road Bridges just upstream from Rockford. Some larger fish will be associated with the upper end of the small impoundment formed by the dam in Rockford and the deep holes in the reach above the upper 12 Mile Road Bridge.
Downstream from Rockford the Rogue is better known for its anadromous fisheries but trout do carry over here, and there is some fine habitat. Fishing is best in the first couple of miles below Rockford.
There are three more sizable tributaries to the Grand River within a half-hour drive or so from the Rogue that provide good fishing for brown trout. Coldwater Creek near Freeport, Prairie Creek up from Ionia and Fish Creek upstream from Carson City all produce browns in the 20-inch class. You will also find good numbers of brookies in the headwaters of Fish Creek. Access is mainly at road crossings.
For more information on these and other trout streams in southwest Michigan, contact the Department of Natural Resources at (616) 685-6851.
PERE MARQUETTE RIVER
Moving north but staying on the west side of the Lower Peninsula, we encounter a free-flowing stream with outstanding trout fishing.
The Pere Marquette begins near Chase and winds it way almost due west to Lake Michigan. Almost 40 miles of the mainstream between Broadway Road in Lake County to Reek Road in Mason is classified as blue-ribbon trout water. Brown trout are the primary resident trout but you may also catch an occasional brookie, especially in the upper river and the tributaries. Small rainbows are present throughout the river system and are destined to smolt and become steelhead. Occasionally these juvenile steelhead don’t migrate and become resident rainbows.
The reach between M-37 and Gleason’s Landing near Baldwin is classified as flies-only and probably offers the best trout fishing in the whole river. For a good chance at big browns and more solitude, try the water somewhere between Walhalla and the Rainbow Rapids public access site, with Upper Branch Bridge and Su Lac access sites being good places to start. The river is both floatable and wadeable.
There are several tributaries to the P.M. offering good trout fishing. The Little South Branch joins the mainstream just up from the M-37 Bridge and contains good numbers of small- to medium-sized browns along with the occasional brookie. The Baldwin River, as you might expect, flows through the town of Baldwin and joins the P.M. in the middle of the flies-only stretch. It contains a good population of brown trout and is relatively lightly fished. This makes it a good alternative when the canoe and drift-boat traffic in the flies-only water starts getting on your nerves. At the juncture of the mainstream and the Big South Branch of the Pere Marquette, both streams are pretty marginal for trout. But upstream on the Big South in its middle reaches you will find good numbers of browns.
The Manistee River starts in the center of the Lower Peninsula, about 20 miles north of Grayling, and then meanders for over 200 miles before flowing into Manistee Lake. This river system is very diverse and offers many fine trout fishing opportunities.
The upper river is loaded with brookies, and the browns increase as you go downstream. The prime fly-fishing water is found between Deward and Smithville. If you want to catch a trophy brown and don’t mind the occasional walleye or smallmouth bass mixed in, try below the Hodenpyle Dam. This water is much better accessed via a canoe or small boat, as is the river between Sharon and the upper end of the impoundment. Many good trout streams join the Manistee in its upper half and offer good fishing for browns, brookies or both. Among the best are Hopkins, Silver, Slagle and Cannon creeks, and the North Branch of the Manistee.
The lower river is also blessed with some fine trout-containing tributaries. The Pine River joins the Manistee at the Tippy Dam impoundment and offers our state’s best fishing for resident rainbow trout. Brookies and browns are also present in good numbers in this cold, high-quality stream, and most of its mainstream is classified as blue-ribbon trout water. Bear Creek joins the Manistee about 15 miles downstream from Tippy Dam and offers good fishing for browns, including trophy-sized fish, as well as brookies
in its headwaters. The Little Manistee joins the big river in Manistee Lake and you will find good fishing throughout its length, with brown trout predominating. Juvenile steelhead are common in both Bear Creek and the Little Manistee, and a larger rainbow is always possible.
Large numbers of brown trout are also stocked below Tippy Dam. The water temperature is marginal here, so the trout do not always carryover well. The last two summers have been relatively cool and thus their carryover has been much better. You can expect unusually good fishing this season for browns in the 15- 20-inch class. A similar scenario exists below Croton Dam on the Muskegon River in Newaygo County, so it will likely be another hotspot this coming season.
For the latest on all these central Lake Michigan tributaries, contact the DNR at (231) 775-9727.
AU SABLE RIVER
The Au Sable begins only a few miles from the headwaters of the Manistee River but flows to Lake Huron. Like the Manistee, the Au Sable River system offers a very diverse trout fishery.
The fly-fishing-only reach that starts a few miles downstream of Grayling is known as the “Holy Water” and offers good fishing for browns along with the occasional brookie and rainbow. The East Branch of the Au Sable joins the mainstream in Grayling and has good fishing for browns along with brookies, especially farther upstream. This branch is lightly fished, with almost no canoe traffic, so it can be a good place to try on the weekends.
Much of both the North and South branches of the Au Sable have extensive flies-only reaches, and their best fishing tends to be found as you get closer to the mainstream. This is especially true on the South Branch, which is known for its excellent Hexagenia limbata mayfly hatch and big browns. This hatch normally occurs in late June but can vary with the weather. The Au Sable below Mio is known as the trophy water of the river. This water is best floated, and 20-inch-plus trout are a possibility.
For those liking smaller water, two tributaries of the same name add to the fine trout fishing opportunities of the Au Sable. There is a Big Creek that flows into the North Branch just upstream from its juncture with the mainstream. Big Creek soon splits into East and West branches, and both offer good trout fishing for browns. Another Big Creek joins the mainstream of the Au Sable from the south near Luzerne. It also has East and West branches, and the whole system has good fishing for browns and brookies.
One of many Michigan rivers of the same name, this is the Black River that is located in the northeast part of the Lower Peninsula and flows north to Black Lake and ultimately Lake Huron. It offers the best brook trout fishing in Lower Michigan and perhaps our whole state.
The prime brook trout stretch is found in the upper river between McKinnon’s Bend access site and Crockett Rapids. The East Branch of the Black joins the mainstream in this reach and almost doubles its size. The East Branch runs a bit colder than the main Black and is also a very good brook trout stream. The lower half of the East Branch is best, and both it and the mainstream are classified as blue-ribbon trout streams. Canada Creek flows into the Black River below Crockett Rapids and contains a good brook trout population. Because it is quite a bit colder than the mainstream at their juncture, large brookies move up into it during summer hot spells.
Two other prime trout rivers flow north paralleling the Black, and they eventually join and enter Lake Huron as the Cheboygan River. The Pigeon River is only about 10 miles west of the Black and contains good numbers of all three species of trout. The rainbows are lake-run but some become resident trout. The best fishing on the Pigeon is found between Sturgeon Valley Road and M-68. Sturgeon Valley Road also crosses the upper Sturgeon River, and the river is classified as blue-ribbon trout water from here all the way to its juncture with Burt Lake. Browns predominate in the Sturgeon but there are brookies in its headwaters and juvenile steelhead throughout. Trowbridge Road crosses the river twice and parallels most of the best trout water, providing good access. The West Branch of the Sturgeon joins the mainstream just up from Wolverine and provides similar fishing. It can be more fishable when the water is high.
For more information on these northern Lake Huron tributaries and the Au Sable, contact the DNR at (989) 732-3541.
Moving north across “The Bridge” we find perhaps the Upper Peninsula’s best brook trout stream, the Fox River.
The Fox River starts northwest of Seney and not too far from Lake Superior but flows south to Lake Michigan. It is approximately paralleled by the East Branch of the Fox River and they join to become the Manistique River. Both branches of the Fox are loaded with brookies, but the East Branch might have the edge on size. While some sections can be waded, floating is the best way to fish these streams. Crawlers and minnows are popular but you can also catch these fish on bright streamers and spinners.
There are two other good brook trout streams near the Fox, the Two Hearted and the East Branch of the Tahquamenon. Both are to the east of the Fox. A good area to try on the Two Hearted is above and below High Bridge Road, while the prime reach on the East Branch of the Tahquamenon is the 20-mile stretch downstream from Strongs Corner. If you encounter high water, the Driggs River — a brookie-containing tributary of the Manistique River just west of the Fox — can save your trip.
More information on the Fox and Driggs rivers can be obtained at (906) 786-2351, while you should call the DNR at (906) 293-5131 to learn more about the Two Hearted and Tahquamenon rivers.
WESTERN U.P. STREAMS
Rather than describing just one of the finest trout streams in the western Upper Peninsula, we are going give you information on several.
The Ontonagon River is our largest Lake Superior tributary, and three of its branches offer fine trout fishing. Its Middle Branch has two sections of prime trout fishing, upstream between Watersmeet and the Gogebic County line, and from Bond Falls down to M-28. Brookies dominate but you will also find browns and rainbows in the upper section. Just 10 miles to the east, the East Branch of the Ontonagon offers especially good fishing for brookies along with some juvenile steelhead between Lower Dam Falls and Sparrow Rapids. The Jumbo River is a tributary of the East Branch and has a good brook trout population. More blue-ribbon trout water is found in the West Branch of the Sturgeon River from Sturgeon Falls down to M-38. The DNR number for these streams is (906) 353-6651.
There is a cluster of fine trout streams in western Iron County. The South Branch o
f the Paint River west of the town of Iron River has excellent fishing for browns and brookies throughout its length. Cooks Run is a tributary to the South Branch and has similar fishing. The reach of the South Branch below their confluence is especially good. The Iron River provides very good brook trout fishing, with the prime fishing just upstream from the town of Iron River. The Iron flows into the Brule River, and here you have chance at outsized browns and brookies, especially down from M-73.
Check with the DNR in Escanaba for more information on these streams at (906) 786-2351.
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Many of these streams have reaches with special regulations. It is important that you check the 2005 Michigan Inland Trout and Salmon Guide before you go fishing. Releasing some or all of your catch will ensure that we have good fishing for the rest of this season and the future.
Local chambers of commerce can help you find tackle shops, motels and other businesses. You can get their phone numbers by contacting the Michigan Chamber of Commerce at (517) 371-2100 or on the Web at www.michamber.com.
For current hatch status on any of the streams described in this article, you will find that the local fly shops are the best source for information.