Pere Marquette River Worth the Trip to Michigan

The Pere Marquette River, often referred to as the “PM,” is one of the premier fishing destinations in the Great Lakes region. It’s also the longest free-flowing, undammed river in Michigan and home to lunker brown trout, steelhead and king salmon.

The main branch of the PM runs uninterrupted for roughly 70 miles through the west-central portion of the state. 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 at Pere Marquette Lake in Ludington.

History has been kind to this gem, keeping her free flowing and full of naturally reproducing fish. One of the PM’s greatest claims to fame is being recognized as the first river in North America to be stocked with brown trout. Today, brown trout are found in all stretches of the Pere Marquette, however, the specially designated flies-only section from M-37 downstream to Gleason’s Landing is regarded as the “best trout water.”

Steelhead are a big draw to the PM; they’ll leave the river by the end of May to return to Lake Michigan and come back in the fall. Kevin Morlock is a longtime guide here. His outfit, Indigo Guide Service, is a premier guide service. He spends endless days on the water each year and has come to the conclusion that river mouths are often overlooked for steelhead. He says when it comes to actually fishing the river mouth timing is everything and that now is a great time.

There is a relatively narrow window when conditions are optimal for river-mouth fishing. If I were to design my perfect scenario I’d already be making casts as the sun creeps over the eastern horizon to the calm, clear water just in front of where a small creek dumps into the river. Feeder creeks or a smaller river dumping into a larger one just inside its own mouth are generally ideal. Riprap, concrete piers, sandy beaches and rock flats are also top-producing locations.

Techniques for catching river-mouth fish vary greatly. Fly fishermen find success swinging flies down and across the current, and when they rip flashy streamers. A general rule with flies is unless sight-fishing to shallow cruisers you’ll need to get your fly slightly above the depth of fish. Sometimes fish will want your presentation just above the bottom while other times they’ll be aggressive in the middle. Large flies tied in leech or bugger patterns are always a favorite. Clouser Minnows and other flashy streamers will also trigger aggressive fish. Sink-tipped or a full-sinking fly line helps for getting your presentation down, and split shot will drag down a floating line.

Fishermen throwing lures will suffice with a multitude of options, varying from spoons to jigs to Rapalas. Change up your patterns, your retrieve speeds and depths until you find a combination that works. I like to fish from the bottom up unless it’s obvious fish are in the top layer of the warmer water. Counting down your presentations will help to establish a pattern of probing different depths too. Live bait and eggs will work as well. When using the live bait be sure to check local fishing regulations to know what is and is not legal on the water you’re fishing.

The classic image of the old Michigan fly fisherman decked out in a vintage wool sweater and tattered fly-fishing vest still exists on the Pere Marquette—it’s a timeless destination. And the PM is a must-fish destination for any serious trout angler.