The Top 10 Trout Fishing Destinations in Michigan
By: Sean Ward
If you are looking for the best trout fishing destinations in Michigan, you have come to the right place. Trout sometimes can be an overlooked fish due to the barrier to get started. Often you need additional trout stamps on your fishing license, different tackle, different bait, different technique. It is an entirely different way of fishing than your average Walleye or Largemouth bass fishing trip. Once you get started, however, you will discover that first, it is not as difficult to get into as you think, and second, it actually can be more liberating than the traditional style of fishing. Fishing for Walleye and Largemouth Bass often work best if you have a boat, gas motor, boat trailer, electric trolling motor, rods, reels, bait … Do I need to go on?
Now you see the barrier to entry can actually be quite high for traditional fishing. With trout fishing, once you have the proper license and tackle, there are so many more excellent fishing locations that you can simply reach by walking. Hundreds of small creeks that you can fish that a boat cannot access. Plenty of sandbars and shorelines that you can wade out into where a boat prop might get stuck. Now if you are excited about beginning trout fishing, or even if you are an expert, you will soon learn from other trout fishermen that Michigan has some of the best trout fishing in the United States. If you need some ideas for planning your upcoming summer fishing trip next year we have everything you need to know about trout fishing in the lovely state of Michigan. Here are our top ten trout fishing destinations in Michigan.
1. The Manistee River (Antrim and Otsego County)
The Manistee River system contains some of the best trout fishing not only in the state of Michigan but also in the entire Eastern United States. Actually, it is one of two rivers that are the best for trout fishing in the Eastern United States. The other being the Au Sable River, which we will get to next. The Manistee River stretches over 190 miles long through the lower peninsula of Michigan and flows out into the majestic Lake Michigan. Now, most fishermen think you have to get to the UP (Upper Peninsula) for the best trout fishing, however, most of our amazing trout fishing locations in this article are locations representing the LP (Lower Peninsula). The Manistee River is one of the many great trout fishing locations in the LP. The entire Manistee River system is dotted with beautiful islands and contains an incredible flow of ice-cold clean water, ideal water conditions for trout habitats. Along the river, you will find many camping and recreational areas that are a great place to set up camp. Bring out the waders or kayak and hit some of the best gravel pockets and drop-offs where the trout like to stay cool in the summer months. It is not just the Manistee River that can produce some healthy trout fishing activity. If you have time and are fishing in the area anyway, try one of the Manistee River’s many tributaries. The Pine River is one of these larger tributaries that converges with the Manistee near the Tippy Dam. Along the Pine River, you will find a number of creek tributaries that may hold some lesser-known trout fishing hot spots. Spend a few hours on Coe Creek right outside of Skookum, or maybe an afternoon on Beaver Creek near Edgetts. You may stumble upon some hidden gems that will someday be the hottest trout fishing locations in the county. You can say that you were there first!
2. The Huron River (Livingston and Oakland County)
The Huron River is an impressive 130-mile long river that forms from the swamplands of the Huron Swamp, then continues on to flow into Lake Erie. There are many parks and recreation areas to visit along the banks of the Huron River. There are thirteen of these areas to be exact. The Huron River has over 24 tributaries that feed into it. Also along with the Huron River system, you will find a series of dam-made lakes and reservoirs. The entire river system and its added reservoirs contain numerous species of fish including trout. For example, some of the other species include various types of panfish, Northern Pike, Walleye, Catfish, Muskie, and various breeds of trout and salmon. You can also fish for Small and Largemouth Bass. If you do decide to go after bass then make sure you choose the right reel size. The trout species in the Huron River mainly consist of Steelhead and Brook Trout. Parts of the river are stocked with trout in the early spring where only fly fishing is allowed for those first few weeks of the year. The Huron River is a large river, and fishing may prove difficult if you do not have access to a small watercraft of some sort. That being said, there are still many piers in some of the recreation areas to try out and the banks of some of the reservoirs might produce some results. If you really want to have fun, be sure to check out that fly fishermen season in the Spring near Wixom, Michigan.
3. The Au Sable River (Frederic and Crawford County)
The Au Sable River system is almost like the twin sister of the Manistee River system. The Au Sable River begins in the same icy cold headwaters as the Manistee River. However, instead of flowing west into Lake Michigan, it flows east into Lake Huron. This river is just as famous for its trout fishing as the Manistee, if not more famous. If you are a fan of Brown Trout, then you will need to visit the Au Sable River. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources regularly stocks the river with Brown Trout. This ensures a healthy Brown Trout population from year to year. A good percentage of each replenishment by the DNR survives in these waters, so you will be sure to get some action. Make sure to fully review the regulations on daily limits to comply with the state and local laws. But, we encourage you to go out and get your limit and then come back to camp to have a wonderful shore lunch with your fresh catch. Yum!
The Au Sable River Canoe Area:
As an added bonus, if you are exploring the trout fishing possibilities along the Au Sable River, you might want to spend a little time in the Au Sable River Canoe Area. There are no fees if you would like to canoe or kayak in the area and there is camping along the shorelines throughout this amazing and quiet location. If you are camping, however, you will need a special permit to enter the area that designates your status and that you will be taking a site each night for a certain duration. Within the canoe area, there are several creeks that offshoot the river which you may want to explore along with some dam created ponds.
4. The Whitefish River (Delta County)
The Whitefish River has both an eastern branch and a western branch. Both branches provide some excellent trout fishing. The western branch of the river contains some natural gravel piles where Steelhead Trout find a prime location for reproduction. This branch also contains eight separate tributaries that each are their own designated trout streams. The eastern branch is less fished and more undisturbed as the majority of the branch lies in Hiawatha National Forest. The eastern branch flows for almost 17 miles before it feeds into the western branch. The river then flows into Little Bay de Noc on Lake Michigan. This stretch of the Whitefish River in Delta County makes for a great place to fish for Brook Trout, Brown Trout, and Steelhead.
5. The Muskegon River (Missaukee County)
The Muskegon River begins in Houghton Lake and flows for almost 216 miles until it empties into Lake Michigan. Along the way, the river splits and forks into other rivers and returns again at the mouth in the city of Muskegon. Though the Muskegon River has seen the effects of development over the last few decades, the river still provides some decent trout fishing due to efforts of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The river is stocked with mainly Brown and Steelhead Trout. Along the river, you will find plenty of lodging opportunities from camping to cabins which make for an excellent place to stay warm during the Muskegon River’s famous Steelhead ice fishing season. If the development on some portions of the river turns you off, remember that the Muskegon River is an enormous river system and it contains hundreds of tributaries in the form of other rivers and smaller creeks. Even just below Crotor Dam, there is enough water for you to explore that you could wander for days and keep yourself occupied the entire time. Some noteworthy creeks to explore are the larger Maple Creek and the smaller Sand Creek. Both of these creeks are located on the south side of the Muskegon River. You could spend time at each of them on the same day. On the north side of Muskegon, you have the mighty Cedar Creek to the west, and to the north of Crotor Dam, you have the fun little Bigelow Creek. If you are a wanderlust like myself, you will enjoy navigating and exploring the creeks that feed into the mighty Muskegon.
6. The Black River (Alcona County)
The Black River of Alcona County stretches a little more than 15.5 miles through the neighboring counties of Otsego and Montmorency where it then empties into Lake Huron. The Black River is an excellent spot for Brook and Brown Trout. The upper portion of the river located in Otsego and Montmorency counties enforce an artificial lure only regulation, but the rest of the river is open to both live and artificial bait. Many anglers love to fly fish on this river as well.
7. The Jordan River (Antrim County)
The Jordan River is not only famous for the quality of its brook trout fishing, but also for the stunning beauty you will encounter when you are there. The Jordan River begins its journey from the freshwater springs that rise in Antrim County. From there, the Jordan river winds for almost 25 miles before ending its journey to tribute into Lake Charlevoix. The Jordan River is excellent for fly fishing and it provides many little honey holes on its upper stretch around the beaver dams that you will find periodically placed.
8. The Boardman River (Grand Traverse County)
The Boardman River system is another large system with dozens of tributaries and dams along the way. From its origin, the Boardman River stretches 28.2 miles to where it empties into the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan. The Boardman River is different from the other larger river systems in Michigan because it does not need to rely on stocking to replenish its trout supply each year. Instead, the conditions of this river allow for a naturally producing and healthy Brown Trout population. Go after the healthy and plentiful Brown Trout in the Huron River, or if Brook Trout is more your game, then try any number of the creeks that feed into the river. Some of the better creeks for Brook Trout include Albright Creek, Carpenter Creek, Twenty two Creek, and Beitner Creek. There is a sweet honey hole for Brown Trout above the Brown Bridge Dam. I recommend fly fishing there for some good action on Brown Trout in the 10 to 13-inch range. However, it is not required that you fly fish there to bring in your limit. Both live bait and some artificial tackle will be sure to get you something.
9. The Rifle River (Ogemaw and Arenac County)
The Rifle River is a beautiful place to wet a line and search out some decent trout fishing. This old logging river stretches for over 60 miles starting in Ogemaw County and ending in the Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron. The river is very shallow averaging only 18-inches throughout. The water is pretty shallow yet it maintains a steady cold temperature year-round. This river is ideal for a canoe or kayak. There are great wading spots as well, however, due to the cobblestone sea bed, it can be a bit difficult to maneuver yourself up and down the banks of the Rifle River.
10. The Fox River
The all-mighty Fox River of the Upper Peninsula. This 36.5-mile long river feeds directly into the Manistique River, which then empties into Lake Michigan. This river can be extremely narrow in places, however, it is consistently deep throughout. This river is best for a kayak or shore casting. Another reason the Fox River is famous is that in 1919, Ernest Hemingway spent some R&R fishing the river after returning home from World War I.