Pere Marquette River Fly Fishing

Overview

The Pere Marquette is a river fished most often for spring and fall anadromous runs of steelhead and salmon. The Pere Marquette is famous for being the birth place of the brown trout in the United States, but as of late it has become more famous for its steelhead and salmon runs. This river gets a huge return of both, so consequently it is very popular.

This river is a beautiful spring fed freestone creek that enjoys prolific insect hatches, including the legendary hex. In addition, it is famous for its large runs of wild steelhead and king salmon. It is a river steeped in history, as it was the first river in the nation to receive brown trout from Europe. Because of its resident trout population and its cool water source, the state of Michigan has designated it to be a blue ribbon trout stream. It is largely undeveloped and runs through large tracts of state and federal lands.

Spey Fishing

Spey Fishing Overview

I have been Spey Fishing and pursuing fish on the swung fly for over thirteen years now. I can still recall every Steelhead I have hooked and what fly it was caught on. Even though swinging a large fly is not the deadliest method for hooking Steelhead in terms of numbers, it is however the most gratifying. Nothing compares to the cast of a Spey rod, and the grab and pull at the end when one of these fish hits.

It was during my years as a guide in Alaska that I started swinging big flies on the famous Alagnak River, home of the famous leopard Rainbows, and yes they do get the size of some of the Steelhead we chase here in Michigan. The Alagnak Rainbows are meat eaters. They loved Leeches, Sculpins and Flesh Flies.

So, with Teeny 200’s in hand we pursued these fish on the swing. No need for Indy rigs, and beads. We were catching big fish on big streamers. Then on a great fall day back in Michigan fishing on the mighty Muskgegon River with friend and fishing buddy Kevin Feenstra we started hooking hot fall chromers on Sculpin patterns.

After watching this play out I figured the Muskegon River fish are no different then the Steelhead back on my home river, the Pere Marquette. The addiction had started for me on the PM as I experimented with flies, lines and tactics. As I fished the pools and tail outs I learned where my fly fished well on the swing, both river left and river right, and which pieces of water became consistent with hookups time after time. This method of Spey rods and sink tips, has now turned into a full time passion with me. I find myself fishing this way all the time from October to March, and trying to teach and get all my customers and friends interested into this method of pursuing these fish. Some days are fish on and some days are fishless, yet each day is a reward in itself. At least I can practice my Spey casting, and part of the fun is learning.

Steelhead anglers are definitely a different breed of fisherman, on the river in the elements battling all kinds of weather looking for that elusive chromer, experiencing the sheer power and beauty of a Steelhead, yet often rewarded with nothing more than a fishless but perfect day on the water. Everyday though is a new opportunity and that’s what keeps us going. The idea that tomorrow could be the day of the big grab and the pull of the Metalhead making your reel zing, is what it’s all about. Swinging flies definitely take patience and a good attitude day in and day out. With a little knowledge and perseverance I promise you that you will be rewarded at the end of the day.

Tips And Techniques

Swinging flies is quite simple really, that is what intrigues me with it so much. The set up and rigging is easy and so is the casting after a few days of practice. But yet on some days it can be a real challenge to coax a Steelhead into taking your fly. And that’s where part of the addiction or habit is born.

Set Up
The rig is easy, I recommend anything from a 11′ to 12 and half foot rod. In the 8 weight class. These rods will work anywhere on the Pere Marquette and other rivers similar in its size. Yes, you have plenty of room to Spey cast here. Some people are surprised by that when they actually come and swing flies with me. Is that you can use a Spey rod or Switch rod, and actually make nice Spey casts with plenty of room. The long rod with allow you to have better line control, and mend easier. Sage is Z-Axis model 11ft 8 weight is a great sink tip rod, there 7 Weight is good Indy rod. Also try some Echo Switch and Spey rods they cast nice and match to Air Flo lines well. For Swinging flies on big or small rivers I would always say go with a 8 weight. It has the backbone to fight fish and will allow the novice Spey caster to improve there casting much quicker.

As far as the lines that is easy to. Swinging flies I like using AirFlos Compact Skagits there a smaller head allowing you to get down quicker and give you a tighter cast in small places which the PM is known to have. For Indy fishing try there Speydicator line it has a long belly allowing for nice drag free drifts. For tips that is something you will have to play around with depending on water height. T-14 or T-11 works well cut some indifferent lengths, and experiment with them as to what swims your fly better and gets it to the bottom more.

Fall Tip
Swinging flies in the fall is my favorite all time thing to do in the realm of Fly Fishing. In the fall your fish are more aggressive so you will find it’s completely different then the winter fishing. You don’t need to be right on the bottom with the fly, which means you don’t need heavy sink tips and weighted flies. Swinging flies for Steelhead in the fall is also a great way to learn a river. With the fish being more aggressive you can cover a lot of water with little effort fishing pools and runs. Usually if there is a feeding, bright Steelhead around he will probably take what you have to offer.

Winter Tip
You find in the winter that a lot of times a fish wont charge the fly as fast because of the colder water temps. Instead it will pluck or pull a little on your bug. Stay with that fish, just don’t give up go back through the run with a smaller fly of the same color. If the original fly had flash try something more dull. If you still don’t connect with the fish, try running then the original pattern again. But don’t give up I had many instances like this, you have player who is interested so stay on him. With a little patience, and wits of out smarting the fish you will be rewarded.

Seasons on the Pere Marquette

Spring
In the spring, we have strong runs of migratory steelhead in the Pere Marquette and Muskegon Rivers. Steelhead are great fish that fight hard and are very beautiful. Peak season for these battlers is from March 1-May 1. Through the month of May, the streamer fishing for resident brown trout and remnant steelhead is very good as well.

Summer
Through the summer, trout fishing is the draw. Impressive hexagenia and other drake hatches occur through June. During late summer, the Pere Marquette produces good trout on terrestrials during the day and lunker trout on mouse patterns at night. Smallmouth bass fishing on the Muskegon River system is very good and is also an option.

King salmon arrive in late summer. The Pere Marquette has a famous salmon run and it brings anglers from around the country to fish this fabled stream. Peak season is from September 1-November 1. If you have never caught a big fish, king salmon are a great way to start!

Fall
Fall is one of our personal favorite times to fish. We enjoy swinging large streamers to hard hitting chrome steelhead, fresh from Lake Michigan. We pursue these fish all through winter, and they literally bring customers in from all over the world.

A Years Fishing Report

January
The Pere Marquette River is still fishing well for Steelhead. I would say after being on the water most of the week, it’s a every other day bite right now. We have seen a number of little fronts come in and out of the area over the last few days. With this it brought cold and snow and warm and rain. The fish were happier on the days before warm front came. And before the system came in on Sunday. That’s right warm, it got above freezing up here this week. (: To Winter Steelhead Anglers it felt rather balmy out. Looks like some more arctic weather is on the way for next week. This will bring shelf ice and cold water.

The River is starting to drop fast and clear , especially in the upper stretches. The middle to lower river is holding a better stain. For flies last week, Leech patterns seemed to work best, less flash and more movement. With Intruder style patterns in Balck and Purple. For Eggs try more natural tones like Cheese, Grapefruit and Apricot. For Nymphs, Stones, Hex’s and Hares Ear Nymphs are fishing well. Look for more natural , smaller flies to start working well with the colder and clear water. Last week I got to spend some time on the water with friends and family it was a lot of fun. Everyday wasn’t fishing but we had some good times on the water.

February
The Pere Marquette is looking great. Fished with Heather for three hours today. 2/16 We had a good day. She took a nice fish on a indy rig, and a couple trout. Not bad for a day off of work. I also got a nice fish on the swing. (: Water is down now with nice color. Flies streamers in Blacks, and Purples. Eggs clowns, and nukes in cheese,orange. Nymphs try Hex’s,Stones,Rockworms.

March
My Spring season started off great last week the fish were on the bite making my job that much easier. The water rising a week and half ago definitely brought some new Steelhead in. The fish are now scattered through out the whole river system. The water now is dropping once again, however it’s still holding a nice stain. For flies last week, it was a nymph and egg bite. For eggs try Clowns, and big Nukes for nymphs Bead Heads,Caddis and Stones

May
Trout fishing on the PM is great. We are having much success even on the sunny days. Streamers have still been fishing the best for Browns and Steelhead. Little white streamers have been working well for the Steelhead. Hendricksons are still coming off throughout the river, along with some caddis, and blue wingeed olives on the cloudy days. In the evening we are getting a few gray drake spinner falls in the lower river. After dark with big flies can be ok this time of year, however its still pretty cold in the night time hours. You will probably have the same results in the evening or early morning with streamers.

In the spring, we have strong runs of migratory steelhead in the Pere Marquette. Steelhead are great fish that fight hard and are very beautiful. Peak season for these battlers is from March 1-May 1. Through the month of May, the streamer fishing for resident brown trout and remnant steelhead is very good as well.

June
Impressive hexagenia and other drake hatches occur through June.

The fishing on the PM is getting even better. The Hex’s are starting to show in the evenings down river. Wear lots of bug dope though. When I was down there earlier in the week, mosquittos were really bad. Upper river is fishing well still. With the rain we got this week, river has some color. Try smaller streamers and tiny wet flies. Hoppers are also starting to produce. I had a great trip on Monday, 6/19 with John and Jerome. We managed to get some nice fish on streamers and Jerome got a great brown on a hopper. I’ve also did some guiding this week of a for different species, including this nice Northern Pike taken on a fly.
Muskegon River

July
The PM is fishing ok still. However, the water is getting very low and clear. We could really use some rain. Hopper fishing is still productive. Smaller flies in olive have been good. Nymphing always works; try bead heads, scuds and wet skunks. Mousing has been a little slower, the moon has been out making it just a little too light out.

August
King salmon arrive in late summer. The Pere Marquette has a famous salmon run and it brings anglers from around the country to fish this fabled stream.

During late summer, the Pere Marquette produces good trout on terrestrials during the day and lunker trout on mouse patterns at night.

September
Fall is one of our personal favorite times to fish. We enjoy swinging large streamers to hard hitting chrome steelhead, fresh from Lake Michigan.

October
There are still some decent numbers of salmon in the PM, but they are starting the thin out pretty quickly. We will start mixing our trips to a salmon/steelhead trips (unless specifically requested to target one or the other exclusively) over the next week or so. Last week we had a couple suspicious encounters that could have been steelies, but they were never verified or netted. Hot and bright fish none the less. The river is in great shape right now and with all the recent rain we should start finding steelhead in their usual locations for this time of year. The river has a slight stain and is at a good water level. There are tons of eggs in the water right now, so always have at least one egg on your line at all times (keep changing size and colors until you find the egg of the day).

November
Late fall and early winter is peak time when swinging flies for steelhead. This type of fly fishing results in very aggressive strikes from these large, predatory fish. One of those most exciting ways to fish for steelhead!

Gortex Weather!!!!! What a storm, rain, wind, more rain and now snow. With the amount of rain we saw Sunday the river is now very high and into the banks and not wadeable. The water is very dirty and full of debris. Look for the river to drop by mid week, if we don’t see anymore rain. Despite a lot of Angling Pressure last week and on the weekend. Steelhead fishing is still pretty good on the Pere Marquette and other area Rivers. Winter is fast approaching though, with colder night and day time temps the water temps are dropping. Right now water temps are around 36 to 38 degrees so fish are starting to use more Winter type pools and runs. There are a good amount of fish in the system. Just because there are a lot, doesn’t mean your going to go out and catch a lot everyday. Especially, now that the river levels are high and getting cold, some days you will have to work for it. That’s what makes a Steelhead Angler a Steelhead Angler when it comes to fishing flies. (: Flies last week, it was Clown Eggs in more Natural , Neutral Colors and for the Swing, the bite really started to pick for me last weekend and had been pretty good through out the week. Flies have been more Natural Baitfish patterns in Olive, Brown or Tan. Also with water temps dropping Nymphs are starting to work , try Hex’s,Stones and Hares Ear’s. Remember Beads are not Flies so keep them out of the Fly Water.

Fall is fading fast!!With classic November winds the leaves have now fallen and the seasons are changing. Colder weather is heading in,along with some white stuff in this weeks forecast. This will sure make the Deer Hunters happy as they take to the woods this week, with the Firearm Deer Season kicking off . The Pere Marquette River is in great shape,with some more rain last week we saw the water come up a little and it is holding a good stain. Which has made the fish Happy, we had a great bite last week with not only Steelhead but Trout too. Steelhead are now scattered through out the whole river. Last week we hooked fish on all techniques from Indicators to Swinging. For Flies it was Clown Eggs in variations of Orange, Chartreuse and Hubba-Bubba. For Streamers it was big and flashy Leech and Sculpin Patterns, fished very slow. This week with the colder weather on the way means the water temps will start to drop so don’t be afraid to try some Nymphs to Hex’s, Stones and Hare Ear’s should also start to produce. Thank you to all the Veteran’s out there for your service in protecting our Country.

December
The Pere Marquette River is still fishing well for Steelhead. I would say after being on the water most of the week, it’s a every other day bite right now. We have seen a number of little fronts come in and out of the area over the last few days. With this it brought cold and snow and warm and rain. The fish were happier on the days before warm front came. And before the system came in on Sunday. That’s right warm, it got above freezing up here this week. (: To Winter Steelhead Anglers it felt rather balmy out. Looks like some more arctic weather is on the way for next week. This will bring shelf ice and cold water. The River is starting to drop fast and clear , especially in the upper stretches. The middle to lower river is holding a better stain. For flies last week, Leech patterns seemed to work best, less flash and more movement. With Intruder style patterns in Balck and Purple. For Eggs try more natural tones like Cheese, Grapefruit and Apricot. For Nymphs, Stones, Hex’s and Hares Ear Nymphs are fishing well. Look for more natural , smaller flies to start working well with the colder and clear water. Last week I got to spend some time on the water with friends and family it was a lot of fun.

Winter came early this year, It’s what it’s and at least this will give the river and the fish a little down time too. Right now the river is flowing slush and shelf ice is forming. Water levels and temps are dropping, it’s still holding a nice little still. With high temps in the teens during the day and lows in the single digits at night, I have had to postpone most of my trips. I found myself on the water Sunday, Monday and this morning. Sunday the Angling pressure was high in the upper river with a lot of boats, which was surprising seeing it was 16 degrees out. The bite was good, despite the pressure. I had a group trip with Clint at the Red Moose and we managed to find some happy fish that were really eager to eat. Water temps were still warm, so I’m suspecting the Steelhead knew things were about to get ugly too. Monday on the other hand, was brutal with temps in the teens and 20 plus winds