The Pere Marquette River, or the PM as we locals affectionately call it, holds a special place in my heart. It’s not just a river; it’s a living symbol of Michigan’s rich history, a testament to the beauty of nature, and a sacred place for us anglers. Let me take you on a journey through the PM, sharing my experiences, favorite spots, and the magic that makes this river so unique.
Probably the best way to describe the best spots to fish is to just move with the flow. I’ll start where M37 crosses the river just south of the town of Baldwin.
1. Ledge Hole Access Great for Wading
I still remember the first time I fished tossing a fly into the PM. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew the salmon run was happening, but the where and how was a complete mystery. A buddy pointed to the Ledge Hole Access and it worked out amazingly well. Easy parking, a short hike to the river, and easy wading. The river ranges from about 1 foot to 3 feet deep with good gravel for easy wading. Some of the bend holes get deeper so step with care.
If you hike a little upstream, you’ll get to the confluence with the Baldwin River, I’ve had great success just downstream of these rivers meeting.
Map to the Fish
From M37 turn west on W 72nd. In approximately 1.1 miles on the north side you’ll see a parking spot good for 5 or 6 vehicles.
Guide Pro Tip: Be respectful of the private property in this area. Michigan generally has a “wet boot rule,” meaning as long as your feet stay wet, you’re usually good. Trespassing isn’t cool, so don’t do it!
2. Whirlpool – Get Ready for the Big Time
Whirlpool can be accessed downstream from Ledge hole access. A favorite 2–3-hour wading trip is from Ledge to Green Cottage Access. Along the way, you hit some of the popular spots, and locals have named most of them: Whirlpool, Bass Wood Run, and Island Hole.
I’ve spent countless hours in this area, and I’m always discovering something new. The river changes with the seasons and water flows, and I suppose that’s why some folks call a river their “Home Water.”
One of my most distinct memories is of breaking my fly rod at Whirlpool. I had a nice King Salmon on, and during the fight, I swung my rod into a riverside branch. Pop! The top 18 inches snapped like a pencil.
What really stung was that it was the only rod I had with me. Don’t make my mistake; always bring an extra fly rod. I never leave home without a spare now. Read about my favorite size fly rod for salmon and steelhead 👉 What is a 9 Weight Fly Rod Good For?
Where to Go
This spot is only accessible by wading to it. It’s not far downstream from Ledge hole access. The easiest thing to do is to fish all the way downstream to Green Cottage and walk along the road back to your vehicle.
3. Claybanks 1, 2, 3 and 4
The echoes of the logging era (1860-1900) still resonate here. You can still find some old growth white pines in this area if you look closely. Claybanks can get really crowded during the peak salmon and steelhead seasons. Some deep runs along the banks are a perfect hold over spot for fish moving up or down river. Nymphing techniques using egg flies hung below an indicator is the name of the game here.
If you’re wading the best place to access this area is from Claybanks Campground. This is a Federal Campground so a parking permit is required. I’ve detailed the where Claybanks #1 is, the next three bends going down river are #2, #3 and #4.
Guide Pro Tip: Many of the parking areas and access points are in the Huron-Manistee National Forest and permits are required for parking. There is an office in Baldwin to get your daily and seasonal passes. Read more 👉 https://www.fs.usda.gov/hmnf
4. Waddell Riffles – A Must Fish
If you plan it right and pick a week day during salmon season, Waddell’s is a must fish. This area is best accessed by a drift boat or canoe. It’s a tough wade upstream to Claybanks and a long wade down to Gleason’s
The reason I mention timing is that this water holds the perfect gravel for salmon with a mix of the stone size they love and a current that provides a perfect redd.
Weekends and at the height of the season this area can be shoulder to shoulder. Swinging a colorful stream in front of these aggressive monster can entries an aggressive strike. I’ve hooked so many fish in this area my arms gave out.
Map to the Fish
This spot is easiest to access by drift boat or canoe. It’s worth it though!
5. Tree Hole – Okay the Tree is Gone but Not the Fish
This spot is a tough one, the last here trips had a tree limb making casting difficult. A back eddy runs along the north bank with a deep transition. Streamers are a no in this spot but lobbing a indicator rig into the water can yield some success.
Plan on losing some flies here, but the excitement of a hook up is worth it.
How to Get There
Another spot that is best by boat. I’ve caught fish here and at Beaver Den Hole 100 yards down river.
6. High Banks Above Gleason’s
This spot gets over looked pretty often, usually the guides have hit the hot spots upstream and will start rowing to make up for lost time during the day. This just makes it better for folks wading.
Around Gleason’s Landing is a good chuck of public land so it’s easy to park at Gleason’s and walk up river to this area.
The area you’re looking for is east of the camper parking area. You will find a rough trail on the east side.
7. Bowman Bridge Access
A true wilderness experience, where the PM’s designation as a state-designated Natural River shines. It’s a place that reminds me why I love fly fishing.
The boat ramp area can be fished wading but the depth is going to limit how far you can wade. A great spot to takeout your boat when drifting downstream from Gleason’s Landing.
8. Rainbow Rapids
This is an easy-to-access section of the river. If you have an hour to kill and you’re driving by this is the place. The run is very easy to “read” and the gradient and gravel make it a perfect spot.
Guide Pro Tip: From M37 bridge to Gleason’s Landing is restricted to fly fishing only catch and release. You can find plenty of fish downstream from Gleason’s and I’ve got some access points detailed below.
The Thrill of the Chase: Fish Species of the PM
- Salmon: The king of the river. I’ve spent hours pursuing them, each catch is a symbol of strength and endurance. Think about 20 pounds of angry muscle using the current to work against you.
- Steelhead: A prize worth pursuing. The journey from egg to “steelhead” is fascinating, and hooking into any chrome trophy is memorable. They’re called silver bullets, once they feel a hook it’s like hanging on to a firework ready to explode.
- Trout: Including the historic German Brown, a timeless classic that never fails to excite.
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The Salmon Run: Timing, Tactics, and Triumph
When: Catch them at their peak
Starting in late August king salmon start moving up into the skinny gravel water around Baldwin and the activity starts turning off by October. There isn’t a perfect schedule but pods of fish move up and perform there once in a lifetime mating ritual and then die.
Folks plan annual “salmon camps” a year in advance, so book hotel rooms early. Water temperature and flow govern the migration, 2 to 3 days after a good rain is a great time to go. Yup, I completely understand the difficulties I’ve described – plan a year in advance, but it’s best two days after a rain. 🤦♂️🤦♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️🤷♂️
How: Master the art of salmon fishing
Two methods dominate the tactics for salmon. The fish aren’t actively feeding during the migration, so you’re trying to entice either a defensive strike or trigger a learned eating activity.
Swinging big shiny, flashy streams is my favorite but it can be tiring to cast hundreds of times in a single day. I’ve got an article describing how to setup a fly rod for swing streamers HERE.
The other activity which has more finesse is to drift nymphs under an indicator. I like this method for the difficult casting conditions because you can often reposition your fly during the drift with a big mend. Read more about this setup HERE
Steelhead Season: When and How to Land a Silver Bullet
The tug of a feisty steelhead after a cold winter is the fastest way to get your blood pumping. The PM is the perfect river system to have a 6 to 10 fish day or get skunked the entire season… It is called fishing and not catching…
When: Timing is everything
If you get it right, a lifetime of memories can be made in an afternoon. I’ve had over a dozen fish on and landed 7 in the span of 4 hours. The migration starts in February and tapers off in early May. When do steelhead spawn? Get the details 👉 When do Rainbow Trout Spawn
Weather, temperature, run-off and flows all contribute. The fish will be there it’s just a matter of you being on the water when the steelhead are active.
My plan is to schedule multiple short trips throughout the season. I’ve got the luxury of going mid-week to avoid the crowds.
How: Equip yourself for success
The absolute best technique is called “Chuck and Duck” the fish are planted on the bottom and you’ve got to get your fly down to them. I’ve described the setup in this article 👉 What is Chuck and Duck for Fly Fishing
You can also swing streamers, but the key is to again get your streamer within a couple of inches of their nose. Read more about the setup in this article 👉 Swinging for Spring Steelhead
With so many eggs tumbling down the river, the steelhead are zoned in on eggs. Later in the season, you can drift small fry patterns with success.
The Pere Marquette Ethos: Is Catch and Release a Must?
Catch and release on the PM is more than just a regulation; it’s a philosophy I’ve come to embrace. It ensures the sustainability of the fish population and reflects the respect and love we anglers have for the PM.
Why the Pere Marquette is a Fly Fisher’s Dream
From its status as the first river to be stocked with German Brown trout to its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River, the PM has become my personal fly fishing paradise. Whether it’s the solitude of winter steelheading or the excitement of the Hex hatch, the PM offers an experience that’s second to none.
Wade or Float: Choose Your Adventure
- Wade: Water depths on the PM are perfect for the wade angler. With good access and enough river to spread fisher folks out, don’t hesitate to make it a “wade only experience” particularly in the flies only section.
- Float: Drifting down the Pere Marquette is going to give you the opportunity to hook into way more fish. Hiring a guide will provide the best opportunities for success and comfort. A lunch riverside with tired arms is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Brown Trout in June
I guess this is an honorable mention, the PM gets a good hex hatch in late June. This is night fishing, so if you want to try this learn the section of water you’ll be fishing well. A sure way to spoil an evening is to trip on a log and go swimming at midnight.
Know Before You Go: Fishing Regulations for the PM
I’ve learned to stay legal and ethical with the PM’s fishing regulations. Understanding the rules has been essential for a responsible and enjoyable fishing experience.
Here is a Free copy of the Michigan fishing regulations to download. 👉 Michigan Fishing Regulations
Tie One On: Favorite Flies for the Pere Marquette
You can try to experiment with different flies but egg patterns along with black stone flies during steelhead season and weighted streamers with a lot of flash are my go to for salmon.
Match the Hatch: PM Hatch Chart
Understanding the PM’s hatch chart has helped me fish smarter. From the Hex hatch in June to daytime hopper fishing in August, it’s a rhythm I’ve come to love. Read all about my favorite 👉 steelhead flies and salmon flies.
|Egg Patterns||8-10||Mid-February||Beginning of May|
|Black Stonefly||6 – 8||Mid-February||Beginning of May|
|Woolly Bugger (flashy)||6-8||September||October|
|Egg Sucking Leech||6-8||September||October|
Rest and Relaxation: Where to Stay Near the PM
Pere Marquette River Lodge – a down-to-earth lodge with a fully stocked fly shop.
Barothy Lodge downriver from the fly water, a beautiful park-like setting right on the river. Perfect for large groups and families.
Ivan’s Campground is just south of Baldwin. Full hook up and showers. Convenient for grocery shopping and restaurants.
Gleason’s Landing has a small rustic campground, limited sites and fills quick. 👉 LINK
I’ve always stayed at Baldwin Creek Lodge, great prices and clean rooms. This isn’t anything special, the owners are deeply rooted in the fishing and conservation for the area. Late check ins are the norm (envelopes at stuck on the office door)
Expert Guidance: Local Guides and Lodges
There’s one guide service that I highly recommend. Indigo Guide Service, Kevin and Steve have an intimate relationship with the river. Trusted, and knowledgeable and if anyone is going to put fish in the net, during the toughest conditions these guys will. Contact 👉 Indigo Guide Service
Clubs and Conservation for the PM
The Pere Marquette Chapter of Trout Unlimited has become one of the most active groups helping this watershed. Check them out and donate – Pere Marquette Trout Unlimited Chapter
One Last Cast on the PM
As I reflect on the fish caught, the techniques learned, and the friends made, I realize that the PM is more than a river; it’s a community, a tradition, and a lifelong passion. An invitation to return is always open, for the magic of the PM is endless.