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Fly Fishing in Michigan - Fly Fishing the Boardman River in Traverse City, Michigan

Fly Fishing the Boardman River in Traverse City, Michigan

Traverse City, Michigan may be the epicenter of fly fishing in the Eastern United States. Located in the northern portion of the state, Traverse City is surrounded by the Boardman, Manistee, Ausable, Pine and Per Marquette Rivers as well as countless other streams and creeks that hold a ton of fish. It’s a fly anglers paradise.

Geography and Topography

Northern Michigan is a series of large, pine forests, rolling hills and miles of water. Lakes and rivers flow all throughout the northern section of state, so the vegetation and surrounding forests are extremely healthy. There aren’t stunning mountains peaking through the trees, but the action on the water is enough to keep you from looking at your surroundings.  

Get used to paying close attention to your backcasts. The vegetation that surrounds these rivers can cause anglers headaches, so learning how to roll cast before you hit the water can be beneficial.

Type of Water

The beauty of the rivers around Traverse City is that it’s not all skinny pocket water. The currents are overly fast and the width of these rivers allow anglers to work entire sections of river with a variety of flies. There are deep pools, riffles, cut banks and some beautiful eddies on all of the surrounding rivers.

Every corner you turn looks like “fishy” water. As a result, it can be a challenge to find where the fish are hiding, but once you do, you have a great chance at landing them. Stay patient and take your time with the fish, and you’ll learn their habits.


Traverse City sees a major change in climate throughout the year. In the spring and fall, temperatures are between 50 and 60 degrees during the day and get to near freezing in the evenings and mornings.

In the winter, the average temperature is in the mid-20s for a high and single digits for the low, so it’s extremely cold.

The summers in Traverse City, however, are beautiful. The average temperature is around 75 or 80 degrees and can get down into the 50s at night. Fish are generally active all throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Fishing on the Boardman River & Surrounding Waters

Due to the high number of rivers and streams near Traverse City, it’s challenging to choose which one is best, but a personal favorite will always be the Boardman River. Due to its proximity to town, it’s a great river to fish if you don’t have a lot of time. However, it extends far beyond the outskirts of town if you’re looking for a bit more solitude and a chance to land some larger fish. 

Dry fly fishing on the Boardman and surrounding waters is phenomenal. There are nice populations of salmon, steelhead, brown trout as well as brook trout. Plus, the crowds aren’t going to follow you into the Boardman like they would on many other rivers in Michigan.

Best Time of Year to Fish the Boardman River & Surrounding Waters

The best time of year to fish the Boardman is from early summer (May) to late fall (October). Water temperatures can get high in the summer, but they cool down in the fall. When those temperatures cool, salmon and steelhead will run in the section of river that connects to Grand Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan.

As a result, most people choose to start fishing the Boardman when these fish make their way into sections near Lake Michigan.

How To Access the Boardman River

Access on the Boardman River can be a bit tricky due to the private land that surrounds Traverse City, but there are still plenty of access points that give anglers a good chance to cover quite a bit of water.

Legion Park in the northern part of Traverse City is a good place for anglers to access the river. If you want a good chance at a salmon or steelhead in the fall, start here. As you work your way south and out of town, you still will have great access and a chance to land a healthy brook or brown trout.

Gear and Flies to Use

Depending on the fish you’re targeting, the type of gear you use changes. If you’re going after steelhead and salmon, you’ll want a 7-weight or 8-weight 9’ fast action rod. This rod is powerful enough to handle any aggressive runs these fish have.  

If trout are the primary target, use a 5-weight 9’ fast or moderate fast action rod. 

For trout, I stick with Adams dry flies (size 16 or 18), Pheasant Tail Nymphs (size 16) as well as Woolly Buggers (Size 4) and crayfish streamers (size 6). If the Adams dry flies aren’t working, I switch to Blue Quills or March Browns.  

If I’m targeting steelhead or salmon, I like to use Egg Patterns. Otherwise, I’ll throw a big Stonefly nymph or an Egg Sucking Leech. Anything with flash and enough weight to get deep is going to work.

Recommended Fishing Techniques

For steelhead and salmon, I like to swing or dead drift my flies. I’ll cast up and across streams at around a 45 degree angle. From here, I’ll let my fly drift downstream. As it’s drifting, I’m making mends to make sure my fly is leading the way. As it drifts below me, it’ll start to swing across the water towards me and then I’ll start stripping hard towards myself. I usually like to swing flies through slack water and pools.  

If I’m trout fishing, I like to fish with dries or nymphs as much as possible. Wherever I see a rise, I cast my dry. If I’m not seeing rises, I like to use a nymph rig. Pheasant tails, stonefly nymphs and prince nymphs usually are my favorite. I find slack water or a shallow pool and cast my fly above them. From here, I let my nymphs drift down towards the strike zone. As it’s drifting, I’m stripping in slack and raising my rod tip.  

I’ll also throw streamers for large brown trout. I find pools or cut banks and cast my flies a bit above them. I let them drop in the water column and give the fly a few hard strips when I think it’s in the right position.

Type of Fish Near Traverse City

Brown trout, brook trout, steelhead and salmon are the primary targets for anglers around Traverse City. Some of the inland lakes have bass as well as pike.



Traverse City is a fairly large city, but it still offers the small town charm that many northern United States towns have. The fly fishing all around Traverse City is world class and seclusion isn’t hard to find. Catching salmon and steelhead in the middle of the country is an amazing experience!

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