Salmon and Steelhead Fishing in Michigan
Welcome to the PM River Lodge
By Mark Melnyk
I knew I was going to be fast friends with Frank Willetts the moment I laid eyes on him - standing well over 6 feet tall, rake thin with a pony-tail which rivals that of Willy Nelson, he extended his hand saying hello in a slow, deep slightly hippie tone. It was a beautiful September day and the lodge was rocking! People were everywhere putting on waders, lacing up boots, buying flies and generally talking fishing. The shop was alive. Frank instructed us to “get some rest, tomorrow is a big day” – we all obliged.
4am (the next day) we piled into Frank’s FJ cruiser, with his custom-made drift boat in tow and headed on the long and winding road to our put-in on the Pere Marquette River. After approximately 26 seconds of driving, we were there, backing the boat down the ramp. I was instructed to hold the boat in place in the river, waist deep, and without a word of a lie, you could feel the salmon swimming between your feet. They were thick as thieves. It was pitch black and I just knew we were in for an epic adventure.
The Pere Marquette River is a very unique drift. Designed with the angler in mind, there are put-ins strategically stationed by approximate time it takes to drift the river. You can do a 4-hour drift, 6 hour 8 or 12-hour drift depending on your time, and the amount of pressure on the river. When we were there, there was hardly a soul fishing (the norm according to Frank) and let me tell you the river is alive! Chinook salmon are everywhere while brown trout skillfully dart up the backside of the redds stealing an egg or two.
We fished the day away, landing Chinook after Chinook with the addition of a feisty brown trout here and there. Frank shared stories, adventures, tales of his kids, and his journey to where he is today, from white-collar executive in the automotive industry to trout bum and lodge owner in Michigan. It truly is a fascinating story, one of determination and hard work.
We fished the Pere Marquette for three days hooking seemingly a couple of hundred Chinook salmon, all the while landing a couple dozen or so. When we were done, Frank suggested we return in November to sample his favorite time of year on the river – the fall steelhead run! Of course we would oblige for some steelhead fishing.
Fast Forward to November.
We returned to the PM River Lodge later that fall and the Pere Marquette lived up to its reputation. It was incredible! two days drifting the PM and I hooked and landed my biggest steelhead of my career each day, 12 and 13 lbs respectively - what a fishery! There were still a couple of late Chinook, lots of resident brown trout and rainbow trout… I can only imagine other tributaries of Lake Michigan are equally great. As I sit here, reflecting on the five incredible days of fishing in the UP, I can’t help but get the itch – I feel a Road Trip is in order! Fire up the Barbeque Frank – you’ve got guests-a-coming!