Complete Guide to Trout Fishing in Michigan

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You already know Michigan is a paradise for anglers, including some incredible trout fishing lakes and rivers.

From the vast expanse of the Great Lakes to the tranquil beauty of the inland lakes and streams to the remote wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, the state presents countless opportunities to reel in trophy-sized trout.

Whether you prefer open-water fishing, ice fishing, or a river trip, Michigan’s trout fisheries have it all. Remember to familiarize yourself with local regulations and obtain the necessary licenses. Practice responsible angling to ensure the sustainability of these fisheries for future generations.

Fly fishing streams and rivers throughout the state draw people from worldwide. But whether you’re an expert fly angler or a new bait enthusiast casting from the bank, there’s something here for you.

Michigan’s lakes and rivers offer abundant species and diverse habitats that cater to most trout fishing styles.

So let’s dive into the best trout fishing in Michigan.

11 Best Trout Rivers in Michigan

Anglers are going to fall in love with the rivers of Michigan. Fly fishing and more conventional fishing are productive throughout the state.

Au Sable River

Known as a blue-ribbon trout stream, the Au Sable River is a fly aficionado’s dream. Its clear, cold waters provide an ideal habitat for trout, including brook, brown, and rainbow.

The scenic beauty surrounding the river adds to the allure of this renowned fishing spot.

The Au Sable River, located in northern Michigan, is widely regarded as one of the finest trout fisheries in the United States and is designated National Wild and Scenic River.

The Au Sable’s clear waters, swift currents, and aquatic insects create the perfect habitat for trout. Anglers can wade and float along the river, and the numerous access points make it easily accessible.

The South Branch, which houses the fabled Holy Waters section, is the perfect spot for trophy-sized trout. Keep in mind that several segments of this river are restricted to artificial flies only.

The Mio Dam to Alcona section is around 30 miles of epic trophy trout water. The river is 100-150 feet wide with an average depth of 4 feet.

During summer months, hit the water at night during the Hex hatch to slam some massive browns. These beasts are nocturnal feeders.

The South Branch is perfect during June, July, and August.

It all starts in June with nighttime dry fly fishing during the Brown Drake, Isonychia, and Hex Hatch. August is perfect for mouse patterns and bigger surface streamers.

Grayling offers the best amenities in the area. Camping is available at several boat/hike-in spots along the river.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing the Au Sable River

Manistee River

The Manistee River offers a variety of fishing opportunities. Fly fishing is particularly popular here due to the insect life and the river’s unique currents.

Anglers can also opt for spin fishing and baitcasting, depending on their preferences and experience level.

Whether casting from the riverbanks or floating in a drift boat, the Manistee River’s large trout population ensures you’re never far from a potential trophy fish.

The Tippy Dam section is one of the most fished areas in the state, so be ready for a crowd. Steelhead are the big draw.

This area is also the perfect spot for novice steelhead anglers. Cast a salmon egg sack, and you’ll crush it.

Drift boats might be the way to go, as wading can be tricky with the strong current.
Above the dam, there are excellent trout runs in several sections with high catch rates.

The river has plenty of shoreline access along its length. If anglers overrun the spot you wanted, take a short hike upstream, and you’ll find some elbow room.

Night fishing at Tippy Dam is a great way to avoid the masses during the day and catch some big browns.

There are several campgrounds along the river. Manistee has all the amenities you’ll need, and you can find bait shops along the river.

More: Complete Guide to Manistee River Fishing

Pere Marquette River

The Pere Marquette River is one of the country’s most scenic rivers and is a hotspot for trout fishing. Its cold, clear waters harbor a healthy brown, brook, and rainbow trout population.

The river empties into Lake Michigan at Ludington, which has some nice beaches to relax on, and plenty of amenities for whatever you need.

The river has over 60 miles of free-flowing water to its confluence with Lake Michigan. It boasts the most extended undammed river section in Michigan’s lower peninsula.

Most of the stretch is designated to fly fishing only. Therefore, it gets less pressure during the salmon and steelhead runs and is perfect for the fly anglers among us.

Spend the time taking in the scenery as you float this river. It truly is something special.

As with other waters in the state, take along some Parachute Adams, Elk Wing Caddis, and Copper Johns. It should lead to an epic fishing trip that you’ll think about for years.

More: Complete Guide to Pere Marquette River Fishing

Boardman River

Located near Traverse City, the Boardman River is an angler’s haven. It offers fantastic opportunities for catching brown and rainbow trout.

Its varied sections, from the fast-flowing upper reaches to the calmer lower sections, cater to all fishing preferences.

Boardman fishes well from early spring through fall for rainbows.

Browns also move up the river and can be huge. You’ll find them all day long, though at night, during a hatch, you’ll experience something new. It’s a unique experience to catch a big brown in the dark.

Float fishing works well here, allowing you to fish through the section and cover the entire width.

Fly fishing can be epic with flies like the Parachute Adams, Royal Wolf, and streamers. Mouse imitations work during the hottest parts of the year. Find out what’s working at the local tackle shop before heading out.

Traverse City has all the amenities you’ll need, and plenty of campgrounds are along the river. Forks State Forest Campground is a favorite for starting on a float trip.

Little Manistee River

Nestled amidst the picturesque landscapes of Michigan’s Northwoods, the Little Manistee River is a hidden gem for trout fishing enthusiasts.

This charming river offers anglers abundant brook, brown, and rainbow trout populations amid the beauty of the great outdoors. What could be better?

Fly fishing is the main draw here, though spin fishing and baitcasting are popular. From the shore or wading in the waters, you can cast your line knowing there is a chance to reel in a trophy.

It’s also a great river to learn how to fly fish. Wading is easy, and the trout love them some bugs.

Bear Track Campground is a local favorite, and the surrounding communities have plenty of amenities.

Platte River

The Platte River is not only famous for its scenic beauty but also its excellent trout fishing.

Flowing through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, this river is home to a thriving population of brown and rainbow trout. Anglers can enjoy fishing in a serene environment with stunning dunes as a backdrop.

The upper reaches closer to Bronson Lake hold large numbers of smaller trout. It’s a challenging section for fly fishing due to bushes, but spinning rods may fair well.

Farther downstream, it gets larger, and the fish follow suit. You can find rainbows and lake-run browns throughout this river.

The section from Bronson Lake to Platte Lake is about 10 miles long and is the most productive part. Trout can be found throughout the entire stretch.

The river above Route 31, east of Honor, is closed after September 30th. Check the current regulations for the Platte River.

Below Platte Lake, the river slows significantly and is mainly accessible via a float tube or boat. There is a resident trout population here, though fishing is less consistent than in those other sections.

Platte River has several campgrounds along its length. The area has plenty of lodging and restaurant options, and Traverse City isn’t too far to the northeast.

Black River

The Black River is the best fishery in the state for brook trout, Michigan’s state fish, and the only native stream trout species.

There is a 5-mile-long stretch that is open to artificial lures only, but the rest of the stream is very popular with both fly and bait anglers.

The Black River is a goldmine for anglers who want to escape some of the more popular areas and target less pressured trout. It is also a great place to target brook trout if you are concerned about catching one species over another.

There’s not a lot in the area for food and lodging, though a grocery store is within a short drive to the north.

Muskegon River

The Muskegon River is known for its epic trout fishing, particularly the lower section. The river is north of Grand Rapids.

Muskegon is at the mouth of the river and has all the amenities for those looking to eat or pick up gear. Several campgrounds are along the river, and some smaller towns have good diners.

Muskegon upstream to Croton Dam is the most popular section of this trout stream. The size of the river lets you find some elbow room, whether from a boat or shore. Cast a fly or spinner for resident rainbow trout or lake-run browns and steelhead.

Green Caddis flies work well in the spring and late fall. Late summer calls for mouse patterns in the evening, targeting roaming browns.

This river is a super popular spot in October, November, and December because of its accessibility and the arrival of steelhead.

For avid trout anglers, plenty of big brown, rainbow, and brook trout are available to target year-round.

Head to the upper section for big brook trout and fewer anglers.

While the Muskegon River is more famous for its steelhead fishing, it is one of Michigan’s best trout fishing waters. It is one place you should definitely have on your radar if you want to catch a lot of fish.

More: Complete Guide to Muskegon River Fishing

Dowagiac River

The Dowagiac River is a hot spot for anglers seeking brown and rainbow trout. Nestled in southwestern Michigan, the Dowagiac River plays host to both brown trout and rainbow trout.

These cold-water fish thrive in the river’s clear, cool waters, making it an ideal habitat for their growth and reproduction.

The river is picture-perfect, with riffles, pools, and submerged structures.

Trout fishing on the Dowagiac River allows anglers to employ various techniques.

Fly fishing can be particularly good. Nymphs, dry flies, and streamers are popular choices.

Sections of the river are designated for fly fishing only, so check regulations before heading out. For the fly stretches, try a Copper John or Elk Wing Caddis.

Browns love this river. Nighttime with a mouse imitation or lure will surely catch a monster.

There are several RV parks and campgrounds in the area. You should be able to stock up at any of the towns the river runs through. Berrien Springs is at the midriver point.

Fox River

The Fox River is a tributary of the Manistique River on the Upper Peninsula. It originates near Lake Superior and flows south to meet up with the Manistique River just below Manistique Lake.

Brook trout are in both the main Fox River and the East Branch. Since there aren’t major steelhead or salmon runs, this river is typically less targeted than its more famous cousins to the south.

Brookies grow to massive sizes in this river due to a lack of competition and ample forage, and with the clean, cold water and huge insect populations, the brookies grow fast.

Simple flies and bait will work best along this river, with Elk Hair Caddis and Parachute Adams among the top flies to toss.

Check the regulations to ensure you’re within guidelines. Parts of the river are fly fishing only.

Camping options include the Fox River State Forest Campground. There are a few bait shops in the wider area, but either plan on bringing everything with you or stop along the way.

Jordan River

The Jordan River in the northwestern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula is the largest tributary of Lake Charlevoix. The headwaters arise from springs in Antrim County’s upper Jordan River Valley northeast of Mancelona.

Look no further for world-class brook trout.

Plenty of trails lead to the headwaters near Warner Township, where you can battle these football-sized beasts.

Anglers can also test their skills against brown and rainbow trout.

If you’re after trout on the fly, bring along some Rainbow Warriors, Adams, and Trophy Dungeons.

For the conventional angler, standard trout baits work great. Try simple nightcrawlers or crawfish for the bigger browns.

There are plenty of amenities in the area, and camping is near perfect at Graves Crossing State Forest Campground, despite the name.

8 Great Trout Lakes in Michigan

Plenty of waters across the state hold rainbow, brown, lake, and brook trout. Steelhead also move into the rivers and lakes during the fall/spring.

Lake St. Clair

Lake St. Clair is a short drive from Detroit and is considered by many to be one of the country’s best all-around fishing spots for everything from walleye to muskies.

And Lake St. Clair is well-known for its trout fishing. Lake trout, brown trout and rainbow trout are waiting to bend the rod. The lake’s cool waters and ample food supply create the perfect conditions for trout to thrive.

Trout fishing on Lake St. Clair can be productive throughout the year, but the prime seasons typically starts in early spring and again into the fall. During this period, trout are actively feeding and can be found in shallower locations around the lake.

Search for them in the flats, along weed beds, above submerged structure, and near drop-offs.

Trolling, casting, and fly fishing are standard techniques anglers use here.

Trolling drop-offs and offshore structures can be effective. Casting near weed beds and around structure can produce fast action in the spring and fall.

It’s a vast lake and shares its shoreline with Canada. Be aware of the border that runs through the middle of the lake.

The area has plenty of campgrounds, RV parks, restaurants, lodges, and hotels. If you leave anything at home, you can easily find it here.

Big Bay de Noc

Big Bay de Noc boasts a huge range of fishing opportunities at the northern end of Lake Michigan. The bay’s unique combination of rocky structures, underwater ledges, and submerged vegetation creates an ideal habitat for trout species.

Lake trout, known for their size and strength, offer anglers an epic challenge. These fish require both skill and patience to hook, making them a favorite among experienced anglers seeking a trophy.

Brown trout can be found near the shallower rocky areas and along the shoreline. Brown trout are known for their vibrant colors and impressive fight, providing an exciting battle and a possible trophy catch.

Spring brings fantastic fishing as the water warms and fish become more active. Summer offers pleasant weather and the chance to target various trout species using different techniques, from trolling to casting.

Fall is a favorite time for many anglers, as browns and lakers spawn and trout become more aggressive in preparation for winter, providing epic battles and monster catches.

There are plenty of campgrounds in the area. You shouldn’t have an issue finding lodging or dining options either.

Torch Lake

Torch Lake presents anglers with exceptional lake trout fishing near Grand Traverse Bay.

Renowned for its crystalline blue hues and excellent trout populations, Torch Lake offers primarily lake trout and brown trout to entice both seasoned anglers and beginners.

Lake trout, the apex predators of Torch Lake, inhabit its deep, cold waters.

Anglers seeking these elusive giants often employ downriggers and trolling techniques to target the depths where these fish reside. Try using spoons, plugs, and attractors trolled at depth.

The thrill of battling a powerful lake trout amidst the tranquil waters of Torch Lake is an experience that remains etched in memory.

You also can find brown trout in Torch Lake. These crafty fish tend to linger in the shallower waters along the lake’s edges, where rocky structures and drop-offs provide ample ambush points.

Anglers frequently utilize a mix of live bait, such as minnows or crawfish, and lures, like crankbaits and spinners, to entice these predators.

The best times for trout fishing at Torch Lake coincide with the cooler months of spring and fall when these fish species are more active.

Early mornings and late evenings are often the optimal periods, as the fish are more likely to be feeding closer to the water’s surface.

There are plenty of camping options in the area, and dining/lodging is available throughout the region.

Houghton Lake

Houghton Lake, located in Roscommon County, is another popular destination for trout fishing. Houghton is the largest inland water in Michigan. It’s a great place to target big trout.

Trout fishing in Houghton Lake is most productive in the spring and fall when water temperatures are cooler. Just after ice-off can be epic, as well as end-of-season fishing from September through November.

These seasons provide better conditions for trout to be active and feed, although Houghton Lake produces year-round and is one of the state’s best ice fishing spots.

Trout are particularly susceptible to lower oxygenated waters and will go deep in the summer.

Spring will find trout in the shallows, so search the Houghton Point area for some great flats fishing.

During warmer months, you’ll likely find them in the lower lake near Spring Brook Creek and the town of Houghton Lake. The deepest sections of the lake are between these spots.

Trout in Houghton Lake often hold near weed beds, drop-offs, points, and other underwater structures, abundant around the Houghton Point area.

Trolling the flats near the Muskegon River outlet with crankbaits or live bait can be exceptional in the spring and fall.

Pay attention to the retrieval speed and action that seems to be most appealing to the trout on a given day. Repetition is key once you catch the first fish. Experiment with different presentations and retrieve styles to find what works best.

Trolling is another great option for targeting trout once they return to deeper waters in the summer.

Houghton Lake has several access points and a few marinas as well.

There is plenty of camping, lodging, and dining in the area, so you should have no issues finding everything you need.

Lake Huron

Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, offers anglers exceptional trout fishing.

With its vast size, diverse underwater structure, and thriving fish populations, Lake Huron provides the perfect backdrop for an epic trip catching browns, rainbows, steelhead, and salmon.

Lake Huron experiences peak trout fishing during the cooler months of spring and fall.

As the days lengthen and the water temperatures begin to rise, trout move closer to shorelines and shallow areas to feed and spawn.

Cast flies or Kastmasters. Live bait works well.

Trolling is another popular technique on Lake Huron. Using crankbaits or live bait lets anglers cover larger areas and test out different depths to locate active fish.

Adjusting trolling speeds and varying lure depths can help bring strikes from trout throughout the water column.

Lake Huron presents too many spots to list them all, though hotspots around Saginaw Bay, Thunder Bay, Alpena, and the Straits of Mackinac are favorite locations. These areas provide a variety of structures and access to deeper waters where trout often hold.

Lake Huron is massive, so finding the perfect spot may take some time. Whether through the straits or in Saginaw Bay, you’ll have no issues finding lodging, gear, and food.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake is home to some excellent trout fishing. Located west of Traverse City, you’ll find basic amenities nearby and a couple of RV parks in the general area.

The lake is full of fish, including rainbow, brown, and lake trout. That’s if you can keep the footlong+ yellow perch off the line. Each species has its own preferred habitat and feeding patterns, so understanding their behavior can help you target them more effectively.

Trout are known to be finicky eaters, so having a variety of bait and lures is essential. For fly fishing, consider using nymphs, streamers, or dry flies. For spinning, try using small spoons, spinners, or live bait like worms.

The best time to go trout fishing at Crystal Lake can vary based on the season and weather conditions.

Early morning and evening tend to be good times, as trout are more active during these periods.

Spring and fall are typically the most productive seasons at Crystal Lake.

Crystal Lake requires a boat or kayak to reach deeper areas of the lake where trout are found. Check for any restrictions or regulations related to boating and fishing access.

The northeast side has public access from shore and boat. The water is 6- to 7-feet-deep in there, and the bottom is flat. Lots of perch and the occasional large walleye will keep you busy all day if the trout aren’t biting.

There’s a bait shop at the public fishing area, and the lake is surrounded by plenty of lodging and dining options.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior offers several species of trout to target. Lakers get the most attention, though browns, splake, and steelhead cruise these waters.

There are too many spots on Lake Superior to list, though Traverse Bay, Au Train-Shelter Bay, Keweenaw Bay, and Copper Harbor are all renowned for their fantastic trout catches.

Trolling is the most productive form to target trout on this massive lake. You can cover far more water trolling than any other technique.

Shore fishing is possible, with browns, splake, and steelhead caught from the bank throughout the warmer months.

There are several cities along the banks to stake your home base. Camping is a great option, and plenty of restaurants, lodges, resorts, and hotels dot the area.

Lake Michigan

As one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Michigan is a paradise for trout anglers. Its vast size and deep waters create ideal conditions for trout to thrive.

Lake Michigan offers opportunities to catch both brown trout and lake trout, as well as its famed salmon fishery.

Anglers can target them throughout the year, with spring and fall being particularly productive. Popular fishing spots include the Manistee Pier, Frankfort Harbor, and the Grand Traverse Bay area.

With its breathtaking views and the potential for trophy-sized catches, Lake Michigan is a must-visit destination for trout fishing enthusiasts.

The lake’s size can be intimidating, so stop by the local tackle shop for the best info. There are plenty of cities along the lake that provide anything you need.

Catch More Trout

Check out our simple overview of the top trout fishing methods and other tips.