Unlike many dammed rivers and/or those simply not blessed with the vast reserves of swift, cold and clean free flowing tributaries this is a major contributing factor as to why it is that we can leave a mere 67 miles of Mainstream open year round without fear for our continued successful natural reproduction.
Regardless of any of the more recently “perceived” spawning or reproduction issues that are, in reality and in fact, on this river system, just socially driven objection to some (Yes, less than sporting “IMHO”) fishing method practices in this small portion of the system; the rivers production is outstanding, and it holds its own quite well just as it is*. The awesome reality of it all is that the “PM” is truly a wonder, it is so remarkable that it is world renowned as a veritable factory of natural reproduction that is recognized as being right up there among the very best anywhere!
*Reaching our “carrying capacity” and having fantastic natural reproduction does not necessarily equate to higher angler catch rates however. It takes a lot less fish than one might imagine reaching the protected spawning grounds to successfully produce that next round of fish or, the rivers “carrying capacity”, but survival in the lake remains an issue as well as a heavy harvest of those fish that are lucky enough to return into the river system in the fall, winter and spring.
Once these fish have been taken out of the system they simply can’t be caught again (Much less possibly participate in the spring’s reproduction) and “catch rates” over the last decade or so have decreased in line with a harvest rate that has steadily increased. Put simply, we understand fish for your table now and again, but we also highly encourage catch and release year around if you don’t really “need it” if for no other reason, even though there are many, than to share the joy with others and increase everyone’s catch rates.
The Pere Marquette River’s main hub for fisherman is the small town of Baldwin on M-37. It is located on the west side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula about an hour’s drive north of Grand Rapids and an hour south of Traverse City. Its mouth in Ludington is approximately 30 miles west of Baldwin as the crow flies. Those that don’t drive here (Directions, etc. are at the bottom of this page in the “Easy Links”.) commonly fly into Grand Rapids, but there is also a municipal airport with both paved and unpaved strips for those with private aircraft along M-37 (basically in Baldwin) and another commercial Airport in Traverse City.
Description & History:
The Pere Marquette, known to many as simply “The PM”, is named after the French-Canadian Jesuit Missionary Jacques Marquette who explored the Mississippi and Great Lakes region in the mid-17th century. It is a cold spring fed river with a basin that encompasses 740 square miles of drainage and its major tributaries are the Little South Branch, the Middle Branch, the Baldwin and the Big South. For the purposes of this entry I will speak primarily of the Mainstream, but the miles upon miles of tributary water should not be overlooked.
The Mainstream has an average depth of between 2 and 4 feet with deeper holes and runs in its bends and the average width is between thirty and forty feet. The river’s current is steady and moderately fast, but is considered to be easily waded thru much of it during normal water levels. (Look for short periods of dangerously high water during the main spring thaw or after a heavy rain spell. Weather is always a factor and we have that shown, forecasted & linked for you right here on our home page, click the three little dots for the future cast.)
A USGS flow gauge, located much closer to the lake around Scottville, is available to view on our home page and others as well, but that one can be very misleading when it comes to the areas most often fished due to a number of factors. PMTU has recently installed two more gauges further upstream just above M-37 and Bowman’s Bridge that are far more accurate to what’s currently happening up here and you can find a link to both of these in the easy links below. Of course, a call to our shop is always welcome, but it can be hard to keep up with these during the busy seasons.
The Mainstream begins at the confluence of the Middle Branch and the Little South Branch in Lake County just a couple of miles south of the Baldwin Village proper and just east of the M-37 Bridge. It then flows in a westerly direction for approximately 67 miles to its mouth at Pere Marquette Lake in Ludington thru a mixture of private, State and National Forest Service land made up primarily of hills and heavy forest then giving way to low lands of wooded swamp and pasture in its lower reaches. Pere Marquette Lake, in turn, empties into Lake Michigan where the migratory Steelhead and Salmon, born naturally to this river now, go out to grow…
The river, once teaming with the now extinct Grayling among other species was devastated in the late 1800s by logging, but with help, it has enjoyed a remarkable comeback ever since. (In July 1978 it was designated and protected as a Michigan Natural River and that same year it was added as a National Wild And Scenic River.) Rainbows were first introduced in 1876, Brook Trout in 1882 and on April 11th, 1884, the Baldwin River, a major tributary to the Pere Marquette, became the very first American river to ever be stocked with Brown Trout!
Trout, Salmon and Steelhead are abundant and life is everywhere on, around and in the Pere Marquette River, just pull up a log or turn over a rock and you’ll see… The banks are busy with terrestrials in the summer months and the hatches of Stoneflies, Mayflies and Caddis rival that of any river anywhere, they are prolific!
Hatches & Trout:
See our Emergence Schedule in the easy links below for a more detailed list with timing, but amongst my personal favorites of the mayflies are the Hendricksons, Sulphurs, Grey Drakes and, of course, the Hexagenia Limbata! (Known simply as “the hex hatch” to most and mistakenly, as “the caddis hatch” to some of our old timers.) Various forms of early Stone Flies usually kick things off with Blue Winged Olives being a front runner of the true mayfly hatches. Little Black Caddis begin popping in mid to late April and just about every other form of caddis you can think of comes into play right on through October. Everything from a size 2 salmon fly stonefly to a size 28 midge, again, check the chart for approximate hatch times, but maybe give our shop a call to confirm the hatch is on and then pick your pleasure!
Matching the hatch is a given, but both Brown and Rainbow trout can be caught year round on the river and you should know, she does not give up her best easily… Proper presentation and more stealth than you might normally allow are both as critical to success as what you’re presenting.
Aside from the hatches large streamers (Sculpins, leeches and the like.) are often responsible for many of our larger fish to hand, but smaller patterns should be in the arsenal as well, especially in spring when the salmon fry hatch. Nymphing with a standard arsenal of the “normal stuff” is almost always productive since it makes up the lions share of almost any typical trout’s diet, only in this river, be very sure to add eggs, micro to gumball in size, to that mix.
Nighttime is the right time once the weather warms for those larger nocturnal predators and not only during the hex hatch, but with almost any type of waking fly as well. I’ve started “mousing” as early as mid to late April quite effectively on a number of years and that can continue right on thru October. You don’t have to have tall grass or actual mice along the banks to wake a good one up, trust me!
Salmon & Steelhead:
Chinook (King) Salmon, typically in the mid to high teens in weight, but as large as 30 pounds plus in some circumstances, usually begin to enter the lower river system in mid to late August and by the first week of September there are fishable numbers throughout the system until mid-October. Large flashy streamers on sink tips will produce some heart stopping takes, but more often than not, standard egg patterns and nymphs dead drifted is the norm on the fly; crank baits and spinners do a number on them with medium heavy spinning gear also. A smaller run of Coho (Silver) Salmon is mixed in and it is not uncommon to catch a few of these along the way…
Our fall run of Steelhead begin migrating into the river mid-October to feed on the feast of Salmon eggs and some of the most exciting and explosive fishing to be had continues thru the month of November, December and beyond, water temperatures provided. Most of these fish will remain in the system all winter long with some excellent Steelheading to be had in those windows of weather opportunities.
The spring migration of new Steelhead to the spawning grounds is very weather/water related and is therefore not quite as predictable, but by early March we are usually seeing the first big pushes and the fishing remains solid thru the month of April. The “peak” can happen at any time in between, but again, that can vary and a quick look at our river reports right here will give you a better idea…
Stripping or swinging streamers is effective for Steelhead as well as deep nymphing techniques and floating lines with indicators. (Check out “Rigging for Migratory Fish” in the easy links at the bottom of this page for a full description of both methods as well as presentation tips and a couple of short videos I just added to it.) Crank baits and spinners are a good spinning option here as well…
Stop in our shop for current productive patterns and rigging suggestions or, even better, hire one of our guides, (This including myself! ;^) who can show you the ropes and is happy to do it! Click on “Guide Trips with BBT” in the easy link below for details and keep in mind, here at BBT we don’t just cater to the elite and already accomplished angler; all skill levels as well as children are always more than welcome. (We believe that the most important job of a guide is that of teacher.) There are many avenues to follow when it comes to our Steelhead fishing and it all comes down to your preferred method and mindset as to how you will pursue them.
I would like to say that one size fits all when it comes to gear, but that is far from the case here on the Pere Marquette. Chest waders are the norm for most of the year, but many of us will brave the cold current wet wading during the summer months. It is Michigan and the weather can change fast, i.e., be prepared for a warm clear summer night to turn into a “pop up” thunderstorm at times.
While in pursuit of trout a four or a five weight rod on the main stream is great for most dry fly and nymphing activity, but you may well want to up that to a six or a seven weight when it comes to the hex hatch or waking flies at night. Depending on the size of the streamer or streamer line you’re throwing a six or a seven weight should do just fine also. (Sage, Redington, Echo and TFO are among the brands of Rods and reels we currently carry, again, give us a shout, we’d not only love to have your business, but with an already thin pie getting sliced even thinner these days we can use it and will truly appreciate the support!)
Salmon, especially early Salmon, have a tendency to blow up rods. This is usually due to angler error (Over aggressive drag settings, grabbing the rod above the cork for leverage, etc.) and not a problem with the manufacturer, but for this reason we recommend a nine or a ten weight rod early on and an eight or a nine weight rod later on depending on skill level. As a guide here on the PM I usually put a more forgiving lower modulus nine weight in your hands for Kings until I’ve assessed the situation further; it may go up or down from there.
For Steelhead a long seven or eight weight rod will do the trick. (I personally use and guide with Sage X 10’ single hand and 11’ switch rods mostly) The extra length gives you added tippet protection when light leaders are required while the heavier weight rod still allows for quicker handling of the fish rather than fighting them past the point of exhaustion. Spey rods are popular here as well, but I’d stick to the shorter versions… With both Salmon and Steelhead a good reel with a smooth drag is more than recommended.
Access points for both the boating and wading angler are numerous. With the exception of the occasional tree or trees down, usually taken care of in a matter of days, the entire mainstream is floatable with loads of options for day or multi-day trips. Wading area is more than ample with miles upon miles of public lands available to both walk the banks and wade as well as some easily waded water thru private areas. (Michigan law allows wading thru private land so long as you stay in the water, with an exception allowing for you to get out just long enough to avoid a dangerous obstruction.)
Many of the access points along the river are managed by the USFS and parking passes as well as float permits are often required. Check with the local office (1-231-745-4631) or signage at these points for regulations during your visit. (River permits can be obtained thru the recreation.gov web site in the easy links.)
Below are “common access points” along the mainstream proper in order from top (M-37) to bottom. (Twin Bridges) There are several good maps of the PM including the one above here and two others we have linked in the easy links below. The Facilities Key is: P = Parking, BR = Boat Ramp or Slide, RR = Restroom, PK = Picnicking, C = Camping.
- M-37 Bridge, a DNR site with BR, P, RR & PK.
- Fisherman’s Trail or “Ledge Hole”, a USFS walk in trail with some parking, but no other facilities.
- Green Cottage, a USFS site with BR, P, PK & RR.
- Claybanks, a USFS site with a long stairway down to the river, P, C, RR & PK.
- Gleason’s Landing, a USFS site with BR, P, C, PK & RR.
- Bowman’s Bridge, a USFS site with BR, P, C, PK & RR.
- Mac Dougal’s, a private site with pay station to wade and fish or launch a boat with some parking.
- Rainbow Rapids, a USFS site with BR, P & RR.
- Sulak, a DNR site with BR, P & RR. (There are USFS camping and rest room facilities on the way in.)
- Upper Branch Bridge, a USFS site with BR, P, PK & RR.
- Elk, not really an “access”, but rather a boat in or hike in USFS designated camping area, between Upper and Lower Branch bridges.
- Lower Branch Bridge, a USFS site with “over the rail” access to launch a watercraft or walk in, no real facilities, parking along the roadside.
- Log Mark, again, not really an “access”, but rather a boat in or hike in USFS designated camping area, between Lower Branch and Mapleleaf.
- Mapleleaf, a USFS site with P & RR. (Trails lead off in various directions to the river from two different parking lots.)
- Walhalla Bridge, a DNR site with BR, P & RR.
- Indian Bridge, a USFS site with BR, P & RR.
- Custer Bridge, a non-USFS site with BR, P & RR.
- Scottville Bridge, a non-USFS site with BR, P & RR.
- Twin Bridges, a non-USFS site with BR, P & RR.
The entire watershed including its tributaries is open from the Last Saturday in April until September 30th and the mainstream, described above, is open year round. The Pere Marquette is broken up into many types of regulations and it is best to check on-line or, with your license agent for current regulations in the area you plan to fish. Current Special Regulations include a “flies only” stretch from M-37 Bridge to the downstream edge of the boat ramp at Gleason’s Landing. (8.5 Miles) It is catch and release fly fishing only for all species all year with a zero possession limit on fish, bait or scent. (Exception being that a child under the age of 12 may keep one trout or salmon with a minimum size of 8” and a maximum size of 12”.)
Also, from the downstream edge of the boat ramp at Gleason’s Landing to the upstream edge of the boat ramp at Rainbow Rapids (10.5 miles) from the last Saturday in April until August 31st is Artificial Lures Only with a daily possession limit of 2 trout or salmon; with no more than 1 brown trout 18” or greater, and no more than 1 rainbow trout. Minimum size limit: All salmon 10”; Brook, brown and rainbow trout 8”; except the harvest of fish greater than 14” and less than 18” shall be prohibited for brook, brown and rainbow trout. (Yea, I know, but I didn’t write it!)
Same section, Gleason’s to Rainbow, from September 1st to the Friday before the last Saturday in April is managed under type 4 regulations (All types of Natural and artificial baits may be used.) with the exception of only during these specified dates and daily possession limited to one rainbow trout 10” or greater. Again, please see the Michigan DNR web site to check on current regulations for all sections prior to your trip. (Link below) This is also available in a take it with you with handout book at our shop or any other license agent.
About this Article and the Author:
This “article” was originally written back in 2015 by Steve Fraley with the understanding that it was to be part of a “50 best fly fishing rivers in the Midwest” kind of book and he was to be the contributing author for the Pere Marquette. Many hours were spent researching it all and double/triple checking it for accuracy… It only recently occurred to him (after reading some misinformation on the web about the Pere Marquette) that this was sitting somewhere in waste. A few words have been changed to put more emphasis on our own business and website that it is now being published from, all else remains the same. Credit to John Karakashian for several of the photos!!
Steve has had ties to the Baldwin area and Pere Marquette River for most of his life. He has been guiding primarily fly fisherman with some spinning in the mix on the Pere Marquette River for well over two decades (3 come spring of 2022!) and guides in Alaska during part of the summer as well as hosting trips along with his business partner John Karakashian to destination locations like the Bristol Bay area of Alaska, Patagonia Argentina and Ambergris Key (San Pedro) in Belize.
He served on the board of the Pere Marquette Watershed Council for many years until John joined the shop as co-owner and took over that role representing BBT. After the hand off of that particular torch he took a seat on the board of the Pere Marquette Chapter of Trout Unlimited for some time and continues to hold title of Treasurer to the Michigan River Guides Association as he has for the past 28 years. (Since 1993)
He makes his home in Baldwin Michigan where he is a founder (est. 1996) and co-owner of Baldwin Bait & Tackle (The Fly Shop @BBT), The premier fly & tackle shop with guides and lodging (Motel BBT) in this area of Western Michigan catering to the Pere Marquette and surrounding rivers, lakes and streams.
A couple of quotes from some previous world wide web entries that sum it all up:
“I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world! I’ve been co-owner of the shop since ’96, guiding since ’92 and I enjoy all of it now even more so than I did when I first started. Perhaps that’s because we become better at what we do the longer we do it, but I prefer to think that I’ve just become even more fond, if that is possible, of a job that’s sole purpose is to bring smiles to other peoples faces and a little joy to their journey in this life! Just think about that for a minute, I mean really, really think about it… I get to be a memorable part of all of those lives! How awesome is that?!?! Pretty awesome I’d say…”
- Directions to us and contact form
- Home page
- USGS Scottville Gauge
- PMTU M-37 Gauge/Water Monitoring Station
- PMTU Bowman’s Gauge/Water Monitoring Station
- Emergence Schedule
- Rigging for Migratory Fish
- Guide Trips With BBT
- Recreation.gov the USFS site for river permits and much more!
- US Forest Service Pere Marquette River map (Printer friendly version)
- BBT Pere Marquette River Map: East portion and printer friendly version
- BBT Pere Marquette River Map: West portion and printer friendly version
- Michigan DNR Rules and Regulations