Trout, steelhead abundant in the Pere Marquette River

Photo Provided
Kevin Morlock of Indigo Guide Service poses with a nice Pere Marquette Steelhead.

Column by Brandon Butler

The Pere Marquette River in west-central Michigan is one of the premier fishing destinations in the Great Lakes region. The longest free-flowing, undammed river in Michigan, the main branch runs uninterrupted for roughly 70 miles.

From its origin at the confluence of the Middle and Little South Branches, the Pere Marquette River rolls along through wooded hills and lowlands until completing its journey to Lake Michigan at Ludington.

The Pere Marquette has an intimate, peaceful quality. It offers tranquil water with wild fish surrounded by natural beauty. The PM, as it is commonly referred to, boasts a “flies only” section and a partial ban on motor boats, providing serenity rarely matched. History has been kind to this gem, keeping her free flowing and full of naturally regenerating fish. One of the PM’s greatest claims to fame is being recognized as the first river in North America to receive stocked brown trout.

In 1884, at the beginning of a successful attempt to populate the Great Lakes with browns, the first of these ferocious fighters were introduced to the waters of the Pere Marquette. If it was establishing a high-quality, long lasting brown trout fishery these early biologists were after then their success has rarely been paralleled.

Browns are found year round in all stretches of the Pere Marquette. The specially designated 8 mile long artificial flies only section from M-37 downstream to Gleason’s Landing is highly regarded as the best trout water on the PM. Below Gleason’s Landing down to Indian Bridge is also highly productive. From Indian Bridge to Pere Marquette Lake, summer water temperatures become too warm to support a strong trout population.

Trout fishing on the Pere Marquette experiences a spike in action when the famed Hex Hatch is taking place. Giant Hexagenia mayflies emerge under the cover of darkness on calm, humid nights in late June through early July. These giant bugs bring the largest browns to the surface, offering anglers a rare shot at coaxing one of these trophies into taking a dry fly. Equipment for trout fishing the PM is pretty standard. Rods ranging from 4-7 weights in lengths of 8 ½ or 9 feet are most common. You also may want to bring along a heavier rod over-lined by two or three weights for making short roll-casts when “mousing” or working large streamers.

Early salmon begin to run during the last few weeks of August. During the first stages of the annual run, fishing anywhere from the river mouth to Indian Bridge is likely to be productive. This lower section of the river will continue to hold some salmon until the end of September, but as spawning reaches full swing in October, below Indian Bridge can become hit or miss. Throughout September and October, salmon are dependable in the upper and middle sections.

Steelhead fishing is generally predictable from late October through mid-May. The lower river from Walhalla to Ludington will become spotty in March as fish focus their attention on spawning riffles further up river. Above Indian Bridge, gravel beds become frequent and most hold good numbers of spawning steelhead. Pere Marquette steelhead are wild, river born fish. This adds to the charm of fishing the PM as opposed to the surrounding rivers, which contain stocked fish.

The Pere Marquette is a destination fishery for the purest dry fly angler to the spinning rod steelheader. It’s an easy location to drive to right up the west coast of Michigan. There are plenty of amenities for anglers and outfitters. My longtime friendship with Kevin Morlock of Indigo Guide Service keeps me longing for my next trip to the PM. Spend a day in his boat and you’ll understand why.

See you down the trail…




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