Tips to Start Fly Fishing in Northern Michigan

Few outdoor sports can match the grace and allure of fly fishing (not to mention the awesome gear). Let these bits of advice inspire you to get started.

Taking up the fly rod requires a certain level of foolhardy courage and monkish patience. The final weekend in April marks the official opening of trout season statewide and with it the opportunity to hook a brook trout or brown trout on the fly. The hook and worm method is tried, tested and true, but having a brookie zip from the depths to gulp a surface fly will open you up to a new world. Take our tips to start fly fishing!

[Best Flies To Use in Northern Michigan]

When you start fly fishing, ask angling friends if they could loan you a learner fly rod. Any set-up in the 3- to 6-weight range will suffice. Those ready to purchase gear should consider a versatile 5-weight rod like a Redington Classic Trout, Cabela’s RLS or Temple Fork Outfitters Signature IIt. For a reel, pair with a Cabela’s Prestige or L.L. Bean Streamlight and you’ll be set. Tie on some tapered leader, and put in some time practice-casting in the yard before you head for the river. Pay attention to how the line loads up and doles out. Unlike hucking a heavy lure when spincasting, fly fishing is about throwing line like a lasso. Utilize a snap-pause, snap-pause motion, letting the back cast straighten completely before flicking it forward. For video instruction, check out YouTube. “How to Fly Fish—Beginner Fly Casting,” by Chris Myers, is a thorough and well-presented tutorial (view Myers’ videos here).

A decent dry fly kit to start fly fishing with would include Stimulators, Adams, Borchers, and Roberts yellow drake. [Video: learn to tie an Adams fly!] Stop in at the Northern Angler, Orvis, or the Old Au Sable Fly Shop and ask the seasoned staff for starters. Be sure to add floatant (hydrophobic gel or powder) to your purchase to keep dry flies floating (some flies are supposed to sink, but that’s for another article). When shopping, ask that helpful employee for a brief fishing report. While most anglers would sooner divulge their social security number than their favorite fishing spot, they can point you to some potentially productive water.

Guide Brian Kozminski leads our correspondent to the fish.

Fully equipped and confident, head for the skinny water for some daytime action. Sections of the Boardman River above Brown Bridge Road and north of M72 on the Manistee are excellent starter locations. In general, early mornings or late evenings are good times to spot surface-feeding trout. Once you reach the water, hitch up your waders, find a decent riverbank and then just park for a few minutes. Trout can be notoriously skittish, so rather than sloshing along, take a moment to see if fish begin to rise. Also study structure like cut-under banks, log-jams, and overhanging cedars, and watch and listen for slight dimples or ripples—the telltale sign of trout. Much of the fly-fishing fanaticism is tied to this stalk and select method.

Smear a dab of floatant on the fly, pull out some line and make a few false casts. Watch your backcast to avoid tree limbs, and then let ’er go. Be mindful of your drift and mend the line as needed so the leader and fly float ahead of all else. Most importantly, be patient and be prepared to donate some flies to the flora. The learning curve when you start fly fishing is certainly a bit steeper than other angling means, but the reward is addicting. When the cast is right and the drift true, the stars align, and that aggressive, brightly flanked brookie will devour your fly.

A decent fly rod will get you started but knowledge is your most potent weapon. Get your hands on Hatch Guide for Upper Midwest Streams by Ann Miller. The comprehensive and regional guide will tell you which bugs are buzzing around your head and what fly matches it. Chock full of detailed entomology, knots, and angling tips, this is a worthy riverside companion.

Andrew VanDrie writes from Traverse City. [email protected] 

Ready to learn more? Check out this beginner’s fly tying workshop presented by Matt Hartman of The Northern Angler Fly Fishing Outfitters.


Fishing in Northern Michigan