The Pere Marquette River A – Z

The Pere Marquette River has hundreds of square miles of tributaries that are closed during the extended season and they, in turn, serve as phenomenal nurseries that easily produce and even exceed the systems “carrying capacity” of juvenile migratory Salmon and Steelhead as well as providing an extraordinary amount of reproduction in our wild Brown Trout population that is directly decedent of the genetic marvels nationally recognized as the very first planted (in the wild) in the United States. 

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.

BBT has hosted two river cleanups each year, spring and fall, since opening the doors to our little shop here on July 4, 1996. This is just one of over 50 great groups of people (as of this entry) that have done a whole lot of the hard work it takes to actually make a difference in helping to protect and preserve this awesome natural resource over all those years! A huge thanks to all of those people who didn’t just talk the talk, they literally walked the walk… 

 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 article, I will speak primarily of the Mainstream, but the miles upon miles of tributary water should most certainly not be overlooked.

(Click on the picture then, depending on your monitor, use the magnifier for a much larger version!) This is a display that we’ve had hanging in our shop for many years and a heritage that we are not only very proud to represent, but one that we have also taught our clients about for literally decades now! 

The Mainstream has an average depth of between 2 and 4 feet with deeper holes and runs in its bends and many shallower gravel riffles in the mix; the average width is between thirty and forty feet. The river’s current is steady and moderately fast, but it is considered to be easily waded thru much of it during normal water levels.

You should look for short periods of dangerously high water however during the main spring thaw and/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 little social break during a group guide trip…

A USGS flow gauge, located much closer to the lake around Scottville, is available to view on our home page, but be aware that this one can be very misleading when it comes to the areas most often fished further upstream due to a number of factors. (The water could actually be normal and clear above the Big South confluence between Indian Bridge and Custer, but blown out, muddy and high below it from isolated storms for example.)

PMTU has recently installed three more gauges further upstream. One just above the M-37 Bridge, another above Bowman’s Bridge and a the third in Maple Leaf area that are far more accurate to what’s currently happening upstream, and you can find a link to these in the easy links below or on the home page as well. (Initial graph shows the past 3 days.) Of course, a call to our shop is always welcome, but it can be hard to keep up with these during the busy seasons.

Steelhead are present for many months of the year. They are wild to the Mainstream, cunning and strong! A true test of your devotion, your skill and quite often your mettle in our heavily wooded waters…

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…

Big fun in a little river!

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!

A fine descendent of those very first Browns.

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!

Another beautiful evening float

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!

A “few” bugs in the air…

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.

These guys are huge fans of eggs for breakfast! (And lunch, and dinner, and a snack whenever they are on the menu basically… ;^)
We love our trout! Keep an eye on the reports right here as we basically live out there on the river…

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!

Too many or just enough? Hexes are just plain cool!

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 and the right bead (or bait) will produce as well. A smaller run of Coho (Silver) Salmon is mixed in, and it is not uncommon to catch a few of these along the way…

A true brute from the mid-river, mid-season!

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.

Another fine fall buck!

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 much better idea…

Charlie getting it done with John just before the Covid killed our business for a while. (Photo is from March 18th, 2020 just a few days prior to the historic pandemic shutdown.)

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.) Crank baits, spinners, beads and bait are a good spinning option here as well…

Click the pic to get/magnify a larger image. (I just like to show this one off whenever I can! ;^) Not my biggest, but definitely my prettiest!

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 and there are many avenues to follow when it comes to our Steelhead fishing; it all comes down to your preferred method and mindset as to how you will pursue them.

Donnie here is one of our on staff guides and his passion is swingin’ ’em up!


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.

We carry a pretty full line of Simms gear as well as some other well known brands and if it’s not currently in stock, we’ll get it to you! Stop in or give us a call for all your weather and wading needs… 

While in pursuit of trout a four or a five-weight rod on the mainstream 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 as well.

(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 around here 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.

Keep your hand on the cork! ;^)

For Steelhead a long seven or eight weight rod will do the trick. (I personally use and guide with Sage 10’ 8wt single hand and 11’ 7wt 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.

Want a reel that’ll handle both migratory species with ease, has a super smooth drag and is light in weight? These Sage Spectrum Max Reels are all I use these days simply because they are the very best tool for the job at hand! Let us send you one or stop in and check one out…


Click on the map image for a larger view!

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.)

A beautiful place to be at sun set! No filter needed… (Great shot John!)

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 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!)

Be sure to check each years regulations for any changes to what I’ve written…

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!!

A Christmas day well spent some time ago…

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 three decades now, (Since spring of 1992) guided in Alaska during the summers for 14 plus years and continues to host 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 in 2006 and took over that role representing BBT as well as area guide, tourist and landowner interest. 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 over three decades now as well. (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…”

“And here I am now, reflecting on all of the years and all of the miles I’ve rowed in this wonderful river called life. The career choices I’ve made, the smiles and laughs I’ve shared because of them and all of the great stories that were spawned and have since hatched from it all. I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything else and I am so looking forward to many more memories with all of those new folks I have yet to meet and all of my old friends alike…”
“Family is absolutely everything…”

Easy Links: