Springtime In Detroit, Flyfishing

Published Apr 28th 2012

Early spring brings exciting trout fishing in the Detroit-area


Detroit map

Early spring brings exciting trout fishing on one Detroit-area river. This is the Huron River, which circles the western half of the metro area a mere 20 miles or so from such local landmarks as Henry Ford's original automobile manufacturing plant and the historical Motown Music Museum. While the Detroit area is lucky enough to have a couple of small, naturally reproducing trout streams, the Huron is not one of them. Rather, each April 1, the Michigan state department of natural resources stocks thousands of trout in the river. These are full grown rainbows and brown trout, ranging from 12 inches to monsters of 25 inches or more.

During the month of April, regulations on this stretch call for flyfishing only, catch and release fishing. This is a great opportunity for area fly anglers to warm up for fishing in northern Michigan's numerous excellent, natural trout streams, where the angling begins to take off later in the spring. Most of us have had our gear packed away during the six-month winter. April is the time to unpack, look for leaks in the waders, decide if the fly line will last another season, and inspect the overloaded fly collection for any gaps in coverage.
But what I really look forward to is plunging back into the woods and the river. The air is full of the cries of redwing blackbirds and the tiny spring peeper frogs (about an inch in size). The first vivid green shoots are breaking through the dirt. The weather may be sunny and calm or spitting snow and sleet, but nothing stops these signs of spring.

Detroit sights

The river where the trout are planted winds through hilly, wooded terrain. The river is generally two to four foot deep, 30 to 50 feet wide, with many good, fishy hiding places thanks to the curves and the wood in the water. In the main stream, the bottom is gravel and sand, but in many places there is serious mud to get through on the bank and next to shore before one gets to solid footing. More than once, I've sunk in mud up nearly to my knees trying to get into the water. Or I've discovered myself out in the middle of the river and unable to find a safe path back to shore, as my legs turned numb from the cold water. But that's a big part of the fun!

Detroit-area river sights

I generally do best using streamers in this early spring fishing, but always welcome the opportunity to brush up on dry fly presentations if I see any fish rising. Following are my notes on some of these April outings over the past few years.

Cold But Satisfying
2011, APRIL 7. Chilly, temperature in the 40s, cloudy, a couple of inches of snow the night before (rare in April here, but not unheard of). River high and cold due to late spring. Hiked back into the woods and went into the river at a meadow. Almost immediately began seeing fish but they were quite picky - lots of window shopping. Got a nice 20-inch rainbow on white conehead marabou muddler after a while, then things slowed. Tried various other things - gnat, wooly bugger, royal wulff - with no luck. Back to yellow conehead marabou and soon caught an 18-incher, so I guess bright streamers were the ticket this day. Both fish were strong fighters, the first diving down like a carp, the second roiling the surface. Very cold water: my feet froze making it difficult to wade back to shore and hike to the road. When I got back to the parking area, I chatted with a woman angler who was also packing up. She said she trains other women to flyfish, charging $300 for 5 lessons! "Most want to surprise their husbands," she explained.



Plan B: Bluegills
2011, APRIL 25. Left work early at 2 pm for another run to the river. This day was very fine and warm, sunny, upper 60s, frogs and birds singing. However, trout were few and far between, either due to the bright weather or the fact they've been fished over for a few weeks (or maybe both). Fished for 15 minutes for one large rainbow holding in the open in midstream, then I had sympathy and moved on. I noted three six-inch bluegills darting out from under a log to follow my wooly bugger. Decided to go after the bluegills. No luck drifting a caddis dry over the log, but then a nymph drifted under the log several times caught two of the three (or maybe one fish twice). Continued nymphing for bluegills and caught several more of these small but feisty fish during this pleasant afternoon.

Large Schools of Big Trout
2010, APRIL 1. Hot, hazy, mid-70s, river up and turbid. DOZENS OF HITS BY BRUISER MONSTER TROUT!!! Went in at a meadow and fished straight stretch to left. Saw good number of fish regularly rising to some kind of fly. Started with black wooly bugger anyway, but could entice no hits. Put on a gnat dry, then a yellow sulphur, then a caddis, but only got a couple of looks - what they were rising to were much smaller. Moved down toward a big bend in the river, where a guy entered right at the bend and caught 3 nice fish in 30 minutes. When he left, he kindly suggested I try his spot, since it had a lot of fish and structure. He was right. I thought I was seeing fish before, but in here was a school of 15-20 big trout. Back to wooly bugger since he said that's what worked for him. Nice 18 inch brown, maybe 2 hours after I started the day. After that, many strikes and misses. I thought I was missing setting hook but realized the fish were "striking short" (what does that mean?), confirmed by other anglers. Another 18 inch brown on a yellow conehead marabou. At times I seemed to work the pod into a frenzy like piranha, and I would suddenly get almost constant hits.

Brown trout

A very large, stealthy, fast fish off to the side of the pool took a half-dozen swipes at my streamers over 45 minutes. Finally hooked him on a large white conehead marabou - a 25-inch rainbow, great fight. At one point he peeled so much line off so fast that a tangle developed inside the reel stopping more line from going out, so I thought it was going to break off. Finally got him to shore. Had to revive him for 5 minutes afterwards, but he got his strength and swam off fine.
All in all, as summed up by one angler I crossed paths with, the day was "pretty good fun, eh?"

Ouch! Fishing Cut Short Today
2010, APRIL 15. Back to the river. School of large rainbows right by the road access, where I don't like to fish (preferring to hike back into the woods where it's less crowded). I tried it anyway and almost immediately buried a stonefly nymph deep into the middle finger of my left hand. Tried to back the hook out, hoping it was barbless. No luck, lots of blood. Cut the line leaving the hook in the finger, packed up gear, left the river, and drove into town to find a doctor's clinic, which turned out to have a very nice staff. They got me in right away, froze the finger with a shot, pushed the point of the hook through the skin, cut off the barb, and pulled it back out the other way. The next day I couldn't tell anything happened…the finger had healed completely.

Wild Weather
2009, APRIL 1. Rough weather: 25-40 mph winds, grey skies, occasional sleet. River very high due to recent rains. This extreme weather held down the crowd on this year's opening day as I'd hoped. Waded in through swamp and almost tipped my waders in an immediate dropoff next to shore. Decided to be safe and stay on shore. There was a small spit of land that let me get out over the water a few feet from shore. Slow fishing with bead head nymph at first. One "snag," which turned out to be big fish. Switched to a tan conehead marabou. An 18-inch brown took, probably the one who sampled the nymph. Good fight on 7X leader, let him run. Soon another big brown took, and another good fight.


After seeing one guy fearlessly wade into the river and another come by fishing in a kayak, I decided I was a chicken for standing on shore and waded in. A brown struck almost immediately after I reached midstream and fought like crazy, stripping off almost all my line. It was a 10-15 minute struggle. Turns out he was a bit smaller than the other 2, but hooked right in the tail! What a tussle! Realized the predicament of these stocked fish - their regular hatchery food supply (pellets or whatever) is suddenly cut off and they have to hunt for dinner in this new environment looking for unfamiliar food morsels while being pursued by pent-up anglers. At least they get released!

Other Detroit fishing opportunities (Big time)
Detroit has amazingly good fishing for a Midwestern U.S. urban area. The Detroit River connects two large lakes, Lake St. Clair on the north and Lake Erie to the south. (In French, "Detroit" means "straights.") Millions of walleye prowl this system offering a spectacular (and delicious) fishery, especially during spring spawning season. For example, see this page.
Lake St. Clair also features world-class muskie fishing with fish over four feet long not uncommon. For example, see this article.

The entire system also has excellent smallmouth bass fishing (e.g. see http://www.greatlakesbassfishing.com/), and bass tournaments are regular hosted.
This is mostly big water fishing calling for sturdy boats and serious equipment. There is some flyfishing in the shallower bays of Lake St. Clair, where anglers wade for smallmouth, carp, and pike. And some of the tributary streams offer good smallmouth fishing and host runs of steelhead out of the lakes in the spring and fall.


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