Pere Marquette River Fishing Report (Angler’s Guide)

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The Pere Marquette River, or the PM as the locals call it, is a paradise for anglers seeking abundant fish populations, pristine waters, and breathtaking natural beauty.

The Pere Marquette draws fishermen and fisherwomen from around the country who are eager to experience its exceptional trout, salmon, and steelhead fishing. This article will help you catch them.

Named after the French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette, the Pere Marquette River winds through the western region of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. It’s also one of the country’s most scenic rivers, earning a spot in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

The Pere Marquette is also the first river system in America stocked with German brown trout, which are now widespread across the country.

The river has hundreds of miles of tributaries open seasonally along its length, and a good portion of those are limited to artificial lures. Check the current regulations for more info.

The Pere Marquette’s cold, clear waters harbor a healthy brown, brook, and rainbow trout population. Where the river truly shines, however, is its off-the-charts steelhead fishing. These chrome monsters really draw the crowds.

At approximately 60 miles long, the river flows through a mix of forests, wetlands, and farmlands before emptying into Lake Michigan in Ludington, which has nice beaches and plenty of amenities for anglers. 

The Pere Marquette River

The mainstream averages a depth of between 2 and 4 feet with deeper holes and runs in its bends and gravel riffles strewn along the way. The average width is between 30 and 40 feet.

The PM has a moderately fast current that remains pretty consistent.

Check the weather before heading out. High water from the spring thaw or heavy rains can lead to dangerous wading conditions.

The upper section is upstream from Baldwin, and the middle river runs down from there.

The tributaries along the river are also epic trout fisheries. Salmon tend to run up the smaller creeks to spawn, leaving eggs and eventual fry for the resident trout to go wild on.

You can spend a lifetime fishing in this area and never cover all of it.

The river widens out below PM Lake. That short lower section offers a mix of species, adding pike, walleye, and crappie, before finally entering Lake Michigan.

Whether you’re a spinning enthusiast or a fly angler, there’s something for you on the Pere Marquette.

Pere Marquette River Fly Fishing

Fly fishing reigns supreme on the PM. An abundance of hatches throughout the year keep things active. There are several fly-fishing-only designated areas along the river, so be prepared.

A good 7wt or 8wt rod will handle any trout the river throws at you.

Bring along a good number of Hex imitations, streamers, and egg patterns. Egg patterns tend to be the bread and butter of this river, so have a few in pink, orange, red, and green. That should give you a good starting point.

Salmon, particularly early salmon, have a tendency to blow up rods.

This failure is usually due to angler errors such as overly aggressive drag settings or grabbing the rod above the cork for leverage, and not a problem with the manufacturer.

However, deploying a 9wt or a 10wt rod early on will give you all the strength you need. After you’ve spent some time on the river, you can scale back to an 8wt or 9wt for the largest fish.

Check with the local shops like Baldwin Bait & Tackle to find out the latest hatches and get on the water prepared.

PM River Spin Fishing

A medium heavy or heavy rod and at least 30- to 50-pound braid should suffice. While sections are fly-only, others allow bait and lures.

Remember that even where the regulations state that it’s flies only, you can cast them with a spinning rod under a bubble.

Skein eggs work for most salmon and steelhead fishing, where bait is permitted, while the upper reaches will call on standard trout flies.

Fishing the Pere Marquette

There are major runs of salmon and steelhead, along with lake-run browns and resident trout. Pere Marquette Lake gives you access to walleye, pike, bluegill, and some of the best crappie fishing in the state.

Salmon Fishing the Pere Marquette River

Salmon and steelhead make runs in big numbers up the Pere Marquette.

Chinook start arriving in late August and continue through October. September and October offer the best fishing for big kings. Taking a 25-pound salmon on a fly rod is a must for any fly anglers out there.

Coho salmon also are present in the river. Salmon runs occur primarily in the fall, drawing anglers from around the globe.

The best section for salmon is from the confluence with Pere Marquette Lake to Baldwin. There’s plenty of access to the river throughout this long section, and you’ll surely get into some monster fish.

The king salmon run begins to develop in September and will peak at the end of September to mid-October.

Spinning gear or streamers and fly gear in the lower river can prove very effective. Once the kings have fully moved into the river, they spread out to over 70 miles of fishable river.

The middle section of the river and its tributaries are the prime areas to target salmon. Steelhead and lake-run browns share the same waters.

Gleason’s Launch is a great staging area if you’re camping. Head here and wade up or downstream for kings, coho, and steelhead.

Also, don’t sleep on the big browns that also come through in the fall. Hit them at night with a mouse pattern.

Pere Marquette Steelhead

Steelhead, or rainbow trout that migrate to the Great Lakes, are another excellent reason to fish the Pere Marquette.

Spring steelhead are one of the crown jewels of the Pere Marquette.

These acrobatic fish provide epic fights. Anglers target them in the spring and fall.

Spring-run steelhead begin their trek in March. The peak run is late March to early April. The steelhead migration lasts through May, with occasional fish caught into June.

The Wadel Riffles stretch (variously spelled as Wardell’s, Waddel, etc.) of the upper PM is one of the most storied sections of the river. Local folklore says this section was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite spot on the river.

The Little South Branch is another excellent steelhead stream along with its two primary tributaries, McDuffee Creek and Pease Creek.

November and December welcome fall steelhead.

Fall steelhead follow the salmon to feast on the eggs they leave behind. Many steelhead drop back down to the lake, but some will stay upriver until the spring spawning run.

Deepwater nymphing, floating lines with strike indicators, and streamers are the go-to for these chrome monsters. Egg patterns are the favorite in the late fall, while Clouser minnows will catch them once the salmon eggs stop showing up.

Pere Marquette Trout Fishing

The Pere Marquette watershed received the first brown trout ever planted in the country, back in the 1880s. Technically, they were released in the Baldwin River, a tributary to the Pere Marquette. There are still lots of browns ready to chase your streamer or lure.

Fly fishing for trout is synonymous with the Pere Marquette. The river’s swift currents and varied insect life make it the perfect location for both trout and the anglers who chase them.

Dry flies, nymphs, and streamers are all effective, depending on the season and hatch.

Catch-and-release regulations exist for about 8 miles on the upper Pere Marquette River, where anglers must use artificial flies and lures only. It starts at the Michigan 37 (M-37) bridge and heads upstream.

The upper section offers perfect pools, riffles, and runs that hold some trophy browns and brookies waiting to bend the rod. Wading is easily accessible.

Trout season runs from late April through September. During this time, the tributaries are open for exploration before closing again in the fall for the spawn.

May kicks off the great trout fishing. Browns will aggressively chase streamers. Fishing for big trout at this time of year can lead to epic days on the water.

Sink tip lines and large streamer patterns will get these fish moving once the steelhead eggs have disappeared. Salmon fry have hatched and become a large part of a trout’s diet at this point in the season.

Then, mayflies and caddis begin to hatch by mid-May, and dry fly opportunities start.

If May was good, June is often even better for trout fishing on the Pere Marquette.

Streamers like the Clouser Minnow are still effective, and dry fly fishing is off-the-charts good.

The Hex hatch will begin around the third week and last for several weeks into July. This gives you the chance to catch some big brown trout on a dry fly.

Every season, anglers catch a few steelhead during the Hex hatch. Some anglers will travel the world for the chance to catch a steelhead on a dry fly.

Even though the Hex hatch begins to taper off midway through July, evening fishing will still be hot using dry flies and mouse patterns. Hearing a large brown or rainbow strike a mouse will leave you in awe.

Daytime hopper and terrestrial fishing also start in mid-July at this time.

Terrestrial fishing is hot in August. By the end of the month, the hunt for giant king salmon begins.

Pere Marquette Lake Fishing

Pere Marquette Lake offers some of the best crappie fishing in Michigan. It also has bluegill, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and yellow perch.

Each fall, the salmon make their way through the lake before heading up the river.

The fishing can be great here, particularly in the fall when the Chinook salmon get ready to move up the river to spawn.

Northern pike and yellow perch bring in the crowds during the winter ice fishing months.

Crappie fishing here can be off the hook, with big, aggressive slabs caught regularly.

The lake is seldom busy in the summer. Early spring is the best time for to catch crappie here, with giant slabs in the 16-inch range showing up, and 10 to 12 inches is commonplace. Hit the shallow reeds and bulrushes found on the south end.

Late in the spring and summer, try around the old slab docks on the west side of the lake, near the old pilings and docks off Peter Copeyon Park and the Ludington Yacht Club, and behind the car ferry. Pike cruise the area, and the crappie are abundant.

After the lake freezes, this same area is excellent for targeting yellow perch.

Planning Your Trip

A key point of reference for Pere Marquette River anglers is the town of Baldwin on M-37. It’s a bit over an hour north of Grand Rapids or a similar distance heading south from Traverse City.

The mouth in Ludington is 45 minutes west of Baldwin and is a good base for fishing Pere Marquette Lake, the lower river, and out into Lake Michigan.

Fishing between Ludington and Baldwin is excellent, so plan ahead if you stay over. Hotel rooms fill up quickly, and the campgrounds can fill the day they open for reservations.

Boat and Shore Access

The Pere Marquette has plenty of access points along its length.

Check out the boat and bank access spots, campgrounds, and other facilities at this Michigan tourism website and the USFS website for the Pere Marquette watershed. Some user fees and boating permits are required.

Most of the river can be waded, so bring the chest waders and get out there.

Boat access works for drift boats, personal watercraft, and inflatables.

The river has hiking trails along a vast majority of its shoreline, which makes access relatively easy. Wading is the primary approach.

Where To Stay

Baldwin and Ludington have plenty of accommodations, and several campgrounds are along the river. Gleasons Landing is a popular option about midway between the towns.

Wherever you choose, book early for the best dates. If possible, go during the week to avoid the heaviest crowds.

You can find supplies, restaurants, and other amenities throughout the area. 

Tackle shops are abundant and generally staffed by very knowledgeable people. Ask questions about hatches, tackle, and where the bite is on at any of them, and you’re sure to get onto fish. Baldwin Bait and Tackle is a local institution for Pere Marquette anglers.