5 Best Places for Fly Fishing in Michigan – Where to Fish MI

fly fishing in michigan

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The state of Michigan is one of those fly fishing destinations that is great for every level of fly fisherman. With excellent trout streams and rivers plus more than 150 fish species, fly fishing in Michigan is rewarding and never gets boring!

Public access areas are easy to find, and Michigan fly fishing has a rich history. Fly fishing is a popular sport and pastime here, so you will be among great fly fishermen when you head out on the water!

You can fish for everything from trout to steelhead and four different types of salmon. There are cold trout waters as well as warmer waters to choose from, where you’ll find northern pike, carp, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and muskies.

Here’s our in-depth guide to everything you need to know to plan a Michigan fly fishing trip. We’ve covered everything from the license you’ll need to the best locations to visit in the Upper Peninsula and south of the state too! Read on to find out more.

Best Fly Fishing Michigan Locations

With over 20,000 miles of cold water trout streams to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start fly fishing in MI. We’ve gathered the best fly fishing locations that include where to fish for trout, bass, salmon, and steelhead too.

1. Manistee River

Manistee River

One of the bigger rivers in MI, the Manistee River is a reliable and beautiful spot to cast a fly. You can get a headstart on the main salmon fishing season, as landlocked salmon are often found in the Manistee River in late July – earlier than anywhere else in the state.

During the late summer and fall months, you can also fish for steelhead, Chinook salmon, pink salmon, Atlantic salmon, and King salmon in the Manistee River System.

Fly anglers can take advantage of the excellent trout fishing all year round, too – they thrive in the cold waters here. You’ll find huge numbers of brown trout in this river, ensuring that there is more than enough to go around and the dry fly fishing can be excellent too.

Stretching for 230 miles, it’s always possible to find a quiet spot to set up for the day. You can wade safely here or get to those tricky spots using a pontoon boat – it’s a very versatile river where you can use your favorite techniques and be sure to make a catch.

Where To Fish On The Manistee Rivers

Being such a large river, finding a spot to fly fish on the Manistee isn’t hard and public access is quite easy too. Below, you’ll find a great spot to park your car and start wading from with your fly rod.

Best Flies For The Manistee

  • Parachute Sulphur
  • Parachute Adams
  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • Stimulator
  • Chernobyl Ant
  • Griffith’s Gnat
  • Wooly bugger
  • Zonker
  • Various nymphs

2. White River

White River

Head to the White River with your fly rod in hand if you have your sights set on catching some beautiful big brookies and big brown trout.

Just 20 miles from Newaygo, it’s one of the lesser-known trout rivers, and it’s a real hidden gem. The natural spring waters make it the perfect environment for trout to grow to immense sizes. In the headwaters, you’ll find brook trout that respond well to dry flies – keep an eye on the local hatches.

Further down the river is one of the best brown trout fisheries in the state. This river is shallow, making it ideal for wading or shore fishing but it’s not suited to fishing from a boat.

All through the year, you’ll find something to fly fish for on the White River. During the winter months, take advantage of the steelhead runs, while you catch trout in late spring and early summer, and then you can fish for salmon in the fall months.

Where To Fish On The White River

A great spot to fly fish for brook trout is on the upper river detailed in the first map but if you’re looking for brown trout fishing, head to the lower river detailed in the second map.

Best Flies For The White

  • Adams
  • Elk hair caddis
  • Muddler
  • Wooly bugger
  • Pheasant tail nymphs
  • Copper John
  • Prince nymphs

3. Pere Marquette River

Pere Marquette River

The Pere Marquette River is one of the best fishing destinations in Michigan for any fly fisher looking for excellent salmon, steelhead, and brown trout fishing. It was the first river in the US to be stocked with brown trout.

This river is teeming with aquatic insects, meaning that there’s a rich, diverse menu of forage for the local fish! It’s no wonder that they grow to trophy-worthy sizes and salmon up to 25 lbs are not uncommon.

There’s always something to tempt with your flies on this river: Fish for steelhead from fall through to spring, salmon from late summer to fall, and trout during the peak fishing months.

But there’s another draw to salmon or trout fishing on the Pere Marquette. It’s an incredibly scenic, calm, and tranquil spot where you can reconnect with nature and get away from the day-to-day stresses of life. The river runs through pristine forests and open meadows; head here if you want a peaceful day of trout fishing.

Where To Fish On The Pere Marquette River

Spin fishing is allowed on this river, so head to the fly fishing only section detailed in the map below to catch fish that are less spooky.

Best Flies For The Pere Marquette River

  • Egg patterns
  • Pheasant tails
  • Wooly bugger
  • Copper John
  • Prince nymph
  • Adams

4. Au Sable River System

Au Sable River System

The Au Sable River may not be the best spot if you’re just getting started with fly fishing but every fly angler kind of has to fly fish it since it’s one of the iconic Michigan streams.

This river is stocked with tiny trout that get very smart as they grow bigger making them wily and hard to catch. You’ll need to bring your casting and presentation A-game for this river.

Streamer flies aren’t going to be overly effective here for the trout, dry flies are needed and ones that match the hatch too. You’ll want the right fly fishing gear too with long thin leaders and 7x tippet and fly rods that deliver flies delicately.

No matter the challenge, and even if you catch nothing, you will have a lot of fun trout fishing on this river. Most fly anglers leave it learning something new.

The Upper section of the Au Sable tends to be tamer, so head here if you’re not confident in your trout fishing abilities yet. You’ll find brown trout and brook trout, salmon, and steelhead here. It’s possible to fish from the shore, a boat, or by wading.

Where To Fish On The Au Sable

Comins Flats, located near the Mentor Township, is one of the most popular and productive places to fish on the more extensive Au Sable River system.

Best Flies For The Au Sable

  • Mahogany Dun
  • BWO
  • Adams
  • Rusty Spinner
  • Prince & pheasant tails – size 16

5. Fox River

Fox River

The Fox River is a fantastic spot for trout fishing, with 18 miles of Blue Ribbon Waters in the Upper Peninsula. The perennially cool waters make it an ideal location for wild trout populations who thrive in the clear, cold water.

A 4 weight fly rod is more than sufficient for this small river, filled with plentiful numbers of brown and brook trout. The brookies grow to trophy sizes here, so the pickings are great.

Just be aware that this isn’t the best river for wade fishing, as it can be deep and treacherous. If you want to fish the Fox River, think about using a drift boat or kayak instead.

Where To Fish

Go to the section above the Seney M-28 Highway Bridge, which you can easily access by walking through the State Forest from the County Road 450.

Best Flies For The

  • Beatles
  • Grasshoppers
  • Ants
  • Adams
  • BWO
  • Various nymphs

Recommended Fly Shops In Michigan

Whenever you’re going fishing somewhere new, like say Michigan, if you want to be catching trout species, steelhead, and salmon all day long, you’re going to need some local advice and local fly patterns too.

Here are some great fly shops in Michigan that cover both trout, salmon, and steelhead fish species.

Recommended Fly Fishing Guides In Michigan

To get a head start when fly fishing in Michigan, grab a local fly guide to show you the ropes so you can hit the ground running. Here are some great guides to choose from.

Michigan Fishing License

Any angler aged 17 or older must have a valid fishing license to be able to fly fish in Michigan waters.

An annual fishing license for residents costs $26, while non-residents pay $76. Seniors aged 65+ pay $11, and there are also 24-hour or 72-hour licenses available if you want to fish for just a day or two.

If you’re visiting from out of state, you’ll need a sportcard in addition to your fishing license. These cost just $1 per person but are necessary, so don’t forget them!

You can buy your Michigan fishing license online or in many stores across the state. Find out where your nearest vendor of fishing licenses is here.

michigan fish species

Michigan Fishing Regulations

There are specific regulations in place to protect the fish populations and preserve the local waterways. For example, you’ll need to abide by minimum fish sizes and daily bag limits for all river flows, trout lakes, and Lake Michigan.

The minimum size for largemouth bass and smallmouth bass is 14″, and you can catch up to 5 per day.

Certain locations also have specific rules that you’ll need to find out about in advance. Not all waters are open all year round, and on others, you may be required to use artificial lures only.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has created a guide to the full rules and regulations around fishing in MI. Make sure you check it out so that you’re aware of all the rules you’ll need to follow. 

Michigan Fishing Reports

As a fly fisher, it’s always a good idea to check the latest fishing reports before you head out on the water. Checking the fishing reports brings you up to date on the recent water conditions and how the fish are behaving, so you know what gear to take with you.

You can prepare well for your trip, meaning that you’re able to fish effectively, and catch more fish!

Check out the latest fishing reports for many of the trout streams and rivers in Michigan here, courtesy of Orvis. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources also has weekly fishing reports.

Best Flies

Best Flies for Michigan

Before you head out on the water in Michigan, you’ll want to stock up on the most productive flies for the local fish. Here are our recommendations for the flies that will help you catch even more fish when fly fishing Michigan!

Top Flies for Trout Fishing Michigan

The trout fishing in Michigan is incredible, and a lot of different flies will work well in these waters. But it would be foolish to head out with one iconic fly pattern that was first tied and fished in Michigan: the classic Parachute Adams!

This dry fly is one that the trout just cannot resist. The elk hair caddis fly is another top dry fly pattern that deserves a spot in your tackle box.

Nymphs and streamers are also a good choice for fly fishing for the tricky trout that live in Michigan rivers.

Try out some Soft Hackle Nymph flies for hunting the trout underwater. The Hawkin’s Nutcracker imitates baitfish and sculpins and is particularly effective in the springtime.

Some other great fly patterns for trout fishing in Michigan include Robert’s Yellow Drake, the J.J Special, and the Isonychia.

Top Salmon/Steelhead Flies for Michigan

Here are our favorite flies for fishing for steelhead and salmon in both the spring and the fall. Start with these patterns, and add more in as you find out what works best for you.

Salmon and steelhead can’t resist caddisfly patterns. Caddisflies are found in waters all over Michigan (and further afield). Some of the best flies are the Boogie Woogie Caddis and the Disco Caddis in sizes from 6-12. Go for green and dark-red shades for fly fishing Michigan, if you can find them.

The flashy Umpqua’s Steelhead Bugger is another top fly, while salmon will find it hard to resist a Clown Egg fly pattern.

michigan fishing guide

Michigan Fly Fishing FAQ

Here, you can get quick answers to all your questions about fly fishing in Michigan.

Do you need a trout stamp in Michigan?

You no longer need a trout stamp in Michigan. A fishing license covers all fishing species, so you’re good to go!

Where can I catch salmon in Michigan?

You can fish for salmon all year round in Michigan, making it one of the top spots for salmon fishing.

The best locations to fish for salmon in Michigan include Lake Michigan and the tributaries of Lake Huron. Inland streams such as St. Joseph River, the Platte River, the Manistee River, and St. Mary’s River.

Are brook trout native in Michigan?

Yes, brook trout are native to Michigan. In fact, they are the designated state fish! They can be found in the trout rivers and streams as well as in the Great Lakes, where they can grow to an impressive 25 inches.

The Wrap-Up

Michigan is often referred to as the best state for fly fishing in all of the USA. With diverse water conditions and a whole range of fish to catch, fly fishing Michigan is always exciting, with plenty of top opportunities all year round.

Whether you like to hunt for trout or swing flies to salmon and steelhead, our guide should prepare you for some epic fly fishing in Michigan.

All that’s left for you to do is:

  • Buy your fishing license
  • Stock up on the best flies
  • Get yourself to some of the top locations that Michigan has to offer
  • And have fun fly fishing!

Drop us a comment to let us know of any other top spots to fish in Michigan, or give us a suggestion for our next article. Don’t miss our other location guides at Fly Fisher Pro too, as well as a range of fishing guides and gear reviews!

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