Trout fishing MI, how much more pure can it get? The Adams was created here. Trout Unlimited was born here along the banks of the Au Sable. Hell Hemingway wrote about fishing here. Michigan’s fly fishing history covers everything from small stream Brook Trout and tweed to steelhead (depending on who you ask) and Gore-Tex. All that stuff has been written about thousands of times over. So let’s talk about something different, stocked trout lakes.
I can hear the groan now, you’re picturing some put and take pond with a cow path ringed around the edge full of 8 inch raceway rainbows. Occasionally a token broodstock fish cruises by just to give you hope even though you know that fish will never eat. I’m talking about a different kind of trout lake though.
Nestled in the heart of MI’s Upper Peninsula is a cluster of truly exceptional trout lakes offering a much different experience than the typical city park trout pond. Instead let’s explore a different kind of stocked trout fishing. It’s a cool (or cold let’s be honest it’s the UP) morning in late September or early October. The leaves are just hitting peak colors. You park at the trailhead and grab your rod out of the truck. Throw it on a pack with your waders and boots inside. Or maybe you’re dragging a canoe or raft or float tube in. Once you’re loaded up you start your hike. Some are as short as a few hundred yards, but some are a mile or more. Once you get to the lake it’s time get rigged up. Maybe you’re a fly purist so you set up a sink tip with a streamer, something with some flash and movement to it since there’s no current to give action to the fly. Or maybe you want to try a balanced jig. Some of us (myself included) aren’t quite so pure, so you might bring a spinning rod with a small jerk bait, or your favorite spinner, everyone has one let’s be honest. Depending on the lake you may even try live bait like crawlers or minnows if it’s allowed. After a little while you get that first strike and quickly realize this isn’t your grandpas stocked Trout. Instead it’s an 18-20” (maybe even bigger) bright red slab sided Brook Trout. Hopefully that will be the first of many for the trip. Even if the fishing isn’t the greatest on the day you choose many these lakes are ideal for an all day, or multi day, “wilderness” adventure. Most have a campsite or two on them where you can pull up and start a fire to warm up and cook some shore lunch if you managed to catch some fish. Maybe blow your fish whistle if you need to try to conjure up some “good luck”. One of these lakes in the Porcupine Mountains even offers several wilderness cabins, complete with canoes or rowboats to use. All you need to do is book your time and make the 4 mile hike in.
So what is it that makes these lakes so special? They all possess just the right combination of depth, water temp, dissolved oxygen, and forage to allow trout to survive and thrive in order to reach exceptional sizes. Brook Trout from 12-15” are common in the best of these lakes, with fish up to 20” or larger being a real possibility. Brook Trout aren’t the only species stocked (though they are my personal favorite) some lakes get Splake (a Brook Trout x Lake Trout cross), Rainbows, or in some cases retired broodstock Lake Trout which can provide a really unique inland opportunity during the hard water season. Fall surveys are done relatively often on these lakes to ensure the trout populations are remaining stable and producing enough fish of quality size to justify the investment of stocking. Trail cameras are also used to verify if anglers are utilizing the lakes so stocking can be adjusted in accordance with pressure.
Generally speaking these lakes fish best in early spring and fall when water temps are cool enough (<60F) to allow trout to comfortably access shallower water so they are more accessible to anglers. All methods can be effective it’s just a matter of trial and error until you find something works for you, just be sure to check the regulations because allowable gear type and open season can vary from lake to lake. I’d love to give you more tips but honestly I’m still trying to figure it out myself.
However your luck was be sure you leave a few beverages back at the trailhead for the end of the day. There’s no bridges and no Brown Trout, but Brook Trout and tailgate tequila does have a nice ring to it.