Blue Ribbon And Beyond
October 04, 2010
With miles upon miles of prime water running through our state, Michigan trout bums have plenty of viable options this spring. (April 2010)
Michigan's trout season always opens on the last Saturday in April, and this year, our trout season begins on the earliest possible date -- April 24. That is good news for those of us who have been anxiously tying flies, patching waders and studying county maps in anticipation of another season of chasing browns and brookies. Of course, some streams are open all year to catch-and-release trout fishing, and we will note some of those waters as we describe some of our best blue ribbon trout rivers. There are no blue ribbon streams in southern Michigan, so we are going to divide the northern half of the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula into east and west parts.
NORTHWEST LOWER PENINSULA
This section of the state is loaded with outstanding trout streams. The Pere Marquette River is nationally famous and may be Michigan's all-around best trout stream. And, the flies-only reach between M-37 and Gleason's Landing might be our best eight miles of trout water.
Fishing is open all year here, so you don't have to wait for opening day. All trout must be released in this section, and it can get quite crowded here because of the quality of the fishing. Trout fishing continues to be very good all the way down to Walhalla, and there are public access sites in addition to road crossings that make it easy to get on this beautiful river. It is floatable throughout and you can wade most of it at normal water levels.
The Manistee River and its tributaries offer more than 140 miles of blue ribbon trout water and a huge variety of fishing opportunities for trout. The upper Manistee is loaded with wild brookies and browns. The prime reach begins at Deward and continues all the way down to the town of Sharon.
This reach is less affected by rain because of the sandy soils in its watershed and can be a good bet if heavy rain threatens your outing. If you are willing to share the river with lots of anglers, you will find plenty of browns below Tippy Dam where late steelhead will also be present. The Pine River joins the Manistee in the Tippy Dam impoundment and its entire mainstream is classified as blue ribbon trout water. It has our best fishery for resident stream rainbows and is also teeming with brown and brook trout.
The Little Manistee River is best known for its steelhead run, but MDNR biologist Mark Tonello told me that its trout population is as high as any stream in the state. The best time to catch its big browns is early in the season, when these fish are focusing on migrating steelhead and salmon smolts. Stick baits and streamers will lure them out of their hideouts. For more information on these streams, call the MDNR at (231) 775-9727.
NORTHEAST LOWER PENINSULA
The famous Au Sable heads the list of trout streams that flow to Lake Huron. Most of the upper river and its branches are classified as blue ribbon streams and offer a variety of trout fishing options. Much of the upper mainstream down from Grayling and the South and North Branches are fly-fishing-only and open to year-round fishing. The Hendrickson hatch draws anglers there early in the season. If you would like to fish smaller water and use spinning tackle, try the East Branch just up from Grayling or the two Big Creek tributaries.
One Big Creek joins the North Branch just above its confluence with the Au Sable main stream, while the other flows directly into the main stream near Luzerne. If you want to fish for large browns using any type of lure or fly, try the Au Sable's "trophy waters" below Mio. There are lots of special regulations on the Au Sable system, so be sure to check the regulations in the 2010 Michigan Fishing Guide you receive with your license. In fact, it is a good idea to check the guide before trout fishing anywhere in the state.
Three prime trout streams flow north and eventually become one before joining Lake Huron. The Sturgeon River contains mostly brown trout, with brook trout in its headwaters and some small rainbows sprinkled throughout. The town of Wolverine lies in the center of the best fishing on the Sturgeon, and the trout numbers remain high all the way to its confluence with Burt Lake. The Pigeon River approximately parallels the Sturgeon, and most of the time they are only five or six miles apart.
Here you will find a good mix of browns, brookies and 'bows. Brook trout are the dominant species another 10 miles to the east in the Black River. The Black is our finest brookie stream in the Lower Peninsula and perhaps the whole state. Brook trout bite better than browns when the water is cold, so keep that in mind if the weather turns chilly for your planned outing. Get up-to-date information on these streams by contacting the MDNR at (989) 732-3541.
WESTERN UPPER PENINSULA
Some of the best trout fishing in the western Upper Peninsula is centered on the headwaters of the Ontonagon River. The blue ribbon water on the upper Middle Branch of the Ontonagon is separated into two sections. The upper part is between Watersmeet and the Gogebic County line, and the lower extends from Bond Falls down to M-28. Brookies dominate in both reaches, but you will also find good numbers of browns and rainbows in the upper section. Just 10 miles to the northeast, the East Branch offers good fishing for brook trout between Lower Dam Falls and Sparrow Rapids.
Several prime trout streams in Iron County eventually end up flowing into the Menominee River. The South Branch of the Paint River is located about 10 miles northwest of the town of Iron River and has a fine population of browns and brookies throughout its length. Cooks Run is a blue ribbon tributary of the South Branch, and the fishing below the confluence is a top draw. The Iron River offers fine brook trout fishing, with the best fishing located just upstream of the town of the same name.
The Iron River flows in to the Brule River and below their juncture you'll find a good mix of browns and brookies, along with the chance for a lunker brown, especially downstream from M-73. Brook trout reign in the Fence River, which is located on the eastern edge of Iron County and flows into the Michigamme River. The best fishing is found downstream from where the East Branch of the Fence joins the mainstream.
EASTERN UPPER PENINSULA
Many will argue that the Fox River is the best brook trout stream in the Upper Peninsula. This scenic river starts northwest of Seney and flows south to Lake Michigan. Parallel to it is its East Branch, and the two join to form the Manistique River. Both are loaded with brookies and are similar in nature in that they are relatively narrow and deep. While you can do some wading, floating is a better plan, especially in the spring. Bright spinners work well in these stained waters.
You will find lots of brook
trout -- along with a few rainbows -- in the famous Two Hearted River in northern Luce County. The best fishing is found in the reach above and below High Bridge Road. Upstream from the bridge for many miles you will find lots of bedrock rapids, while downstream deep sand holes dominate all the way to Lake Superior. The main stream of the Tahquamenon is famous for its falls, but you'll find the best brook trout fishing in its East Branch.
It is located in eastern Chippewa County, and the 19-mile blue ribbon reach downstream from Strongs Corner teems with brookies. Both the Two Hearted and the East Branch of the Tahquamenon are also heavily stained like the Fox, so pick bright and gaudy lures and flies. More information on the Two Hearted and the Tahquamenon can be obtained by calling the MDNR at (906) 293-5131. Dial (906) 786-2351 for information on the Fox.
Cold and high or turbid water often greet us when we first venture out in the spring for stream trout. Now is the time to make slow presentations with very visible lures and flies. It is also hard to beat offering the trout crawlers, minnows, crayfish and other live bait in streams where it is legal. Try to be flexible on your stream selection, and if your chosen favorite is too high or running very cold, move to one with better conditions. Usually smaller streams will warm and clear faster than the large flows. Picking warm days when possible and fishing in the afternoon will improve your success. Michigan has a tremendous number of options when it comes to stream trout fishing.