Pere Marquette: Any Fish Will Do

The scent of skunk is finally gone! After a couple of outings without even a take, I was finally able to put a couple fish in the net on the Pere Marquette River. A nice brown trout started my day within my first few casts. That had me feeling really good about making the 3 hour drive, but things got a lot tougher after that, and a small rainbow was all I could manage the rest of the day.

The sun was out in force all day, I don’t think I saw a single cloud in 8 hours on the water. This combined with average water flow and crystal clear water made the paddling worth the trip even without the fish. However, the weather, water conditions, and large number of people on the Pere Marquette made for tough steelhead conditions. I talked to about 10-12 boats worth of people (including some pro’s) and all but one or two were shut out.

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Location: Pere Marquette River – Baldwin, MI

For today’s trip we floated the lower stretch of the “flies only” section of the Pere Marquette. Launching at Green Cottage and floating down to Gleason’s Landing. This is a great length for a day trip if you are going to fish heavily. However, if you are going to cover a lot of water quickly you may want to look into launching at M-37 bridge. It seemed that the people who hit the water early, starting at M-37, were the ones who had a little more luck with steelhead. That being said, if the conditions are right, the quick float from Green Cottage to Gleason’s is a prime stretch. The river was gentle and someone had cleared a couple of the freshly downed trees that were present two weeks ago. This made for a nice relaxing float.


Both fish were taken while bottom bouncing a chuck-n-duck rig, but the water conditions were also great for indicator nymphing. So we bottom bounced the deeper holes and busted out the thing-a-ma-bobber’s in the shallow runs. Later in the day I got bored not having any luck and started swinging streamers to work on my two-handed casting with the new Mystic Switch Rod. I love the casting combination of this rod with the Allen Kraken XLA reel and OPST Commando Shooting Head. I had one small grab, likely from a resident trout while swinging in front of a wood pile. Here are the setup’s used for each method:

  • Chuck-N-Duck
    • 7-8wt Fly Rod for Salmon and Steelhead
    • Large arbor reel w/ a strong, but more importantly, smooth drag
    • 200 yards of 20-30lb backing
    • Running Line (we like Rio SlickShooter for this. Casts great and only $14.95)
    • About a rod’s length of leader. We use 0x-2x Rio Flouroflex Plus. It’s a stronger line at each size
    • slide a small swivel on your line then tie a small barrel swivel on the end of the leader
    • the first swivel slides freely above the barrel. attach a pencil weight or slinky to this sliding swivel. this will help detect the light strikes that steelhead are known for
    • attach 2.5-3 feet of tippet material to the other end of the barrel swivel. typically a size or two down from the main leader (0x leader use 1-2x tippet)
    • attach your first fly to this tippet. for steelhead usually your primary fly, in our case an egg pattern
    • attach a second 2 foot piece of tippet to the bend of the hook of this first fly. again size down 1-2 sizes
    • finally attach a second fly to the other end. usually you want this fly to be smaller and lighter than the first so that it dangles in the current. A Hare’s Ear pattern is very popular on the Pere Marquette River
  • Indicator Rig
    • You can use the same rod/reel/backing in this situation. Although a longer rod is preferred for mending
    • Floating Fly Line – We like the Rio Intouch Xtreme Indicator Line
    • Same basic leader and fly setup, but we dont use the swivel and pencil weight
    • In place of the pencil weight we spread out 2-4 split shot down the leader. The shot varies is size from top (larger shot) to bottom (smaller shot). Your last split shot should be about 2-3 feet above the first fly. And your largest top split shot should be about 1-2 feet above that depending on depth of your indicator
    • We typically just use thing-a-ma-bobber’s as our indicator, but you are better served using a pencil style indicator for steelhead because their strikes can be so light. Blackbird Phantom floats seem to be a staple on the Pere Marquette River
  • Swinging
    • Again same rod, reel, and backing are okay here. a switch or spey rod is better, but an appropriately weighted OPST Commando Head will load just fine on your single handed rods
    • We use OPST’s 425 grain head on our 8wt 11’3″ Mystic Switch Rod.
    • 10′ of sink tip or versileader depending on your setup and water conditions – we usually go straight for T14 with the switch rod, but single hand rods will likely need to size down to versileaders
    • 5′ of flourocarbon tippet – typically in the 10-15lb range
    • attach your streamer with a non-slip mono loop knot for better action.

Flies Used:

I am going to start posting photos and videos of the flies that catch fish for us, but for now I can tell you that both fish were caught on the chuck-n-duck setup where the first fly was an egg pattern (glo bug egg in orange w/ white skein) and a Hare’s Ear in sizes 14 and 16. The Brown Trout took the egg, while the rainbow took the Hare’s Ear.

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