Summer Steelhead Fishing In Michigan

Summer steelhead fishing Michigan can produce large summer steelhead like this one.
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a Michigan summer steelhead.

It was about 25 years ago when I caught my first summer run steelhead on a Great Lakes river while fishing for late May drop-down steelhead. If it weren’t for another older angler who identified it as a Skamania steelhead, I would have just thought this was an odd-shaped steelhead with a huge tail, that fought extra hard.

What You Need To Know – In A Nutshell:

  • In Michigan, the summer run steelhead run starting in June, peaking in July and August and will stay in the river until March.
  • The summer runs are usually triggered by larger rains.
  • Some rivers get more significant runs of summer steelhead due to stocking efforts, but compared to winter run steelhead the numbers are low.
  • Common steelhead fishing methods work.
  • Common steelhead baits and lures work.
  • Most of these summer steelhead weigh 5 to 10 pounds, and some up to 15 pounds.
  • Michigan stocks a summer run strain of steelhead known as Skamania

Since then, I’ve been able to catch summer run steelhead in Michigan, New York, Ontario, and on the Pacific West Coast.

Early Spring steelheading with Fire Plug Charters Captain Alex Bialik
Early Spring steelheading with Fire Plug Charters is a great way to learn and get away from the crowns.

Skamania: This unique strain of steelhead was introduced to many rivers around the Great Lakes to create a summer steelhead fishery in the rivers. Nobody knew what the outcome would be. Some areas continued stocking Skamania while other areas stopped.

Michigan is still stocking Skamania in decent numbers on some select rivers. This provides good fishing even in the hotter summer months.

The cool water temps of the rivers allow the steelhead to be active, and they will constantly feed and chase down lures and baits.

Catch-and-release fishing for summer-run steelhead is problematic due to low recovery rates in warm temperatures, as noted by fisheries biologist Jay Wesley.

“If you’re going to target summer-run steelhead, probably the best thing to do is to keep them,” Westley said. “Their recovery rate is pretty low that time of year because of the temperatures.”

Fisheries biologist Jay Wesley, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Lake Michigan Basin coordinator

The Best Time to Fish

A nice steelhead.
Alex from Fire Plug Charters with a late summer steelhead.

On cooler spring years, some Skamania start entering Michigan rivers as early as May, with peak numbers from June to September.

Late spring and summer rains increase river flows, and my experience is that summer steelhead are most active early in the season due to high water levels from rainfall.

If you pay attention to the weather and fish after the rains, you have an excellent opportunity to fish for summer steelhead on some Michigan rivers.

Summer-run steelhead fishing on many rivers is not consistent every year, but when they are in the river, they provide an exciting fishing experience.

The summer strain is not mature enough for spawning yet when they enter the river, which makes them unique from the winter-run steelhead.

Michigan spring steelhead fishing
Image of John From Get Bent Guide Service. Click on the image to see more or to book a Michigan steelhead trip.

Skamania steelhead undergoes a staging period in the rivers before finally spawning in late winter and early spring.

The long staging period allows anglers ample opportunity to enjoy the run, and it allows the steelhead to travel long distances and to get very far up the rivers.

August is hotter and dryer, so the runs sometimes slow down until cooler nights, and the rains of September trigger more to run.

Pier Fishing For Michigan Summer Steelhead

Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a Lake Michigan Pier.
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a Lake Michigan Pier. Click the image to watch the video.

Anglers will start catching Summer run steelhead out from the river mouths and off the piers starting in May and June.

This can be a good spot for summer steelhead anytime from June to October.

Summer steelhead will often move into the areas of the river mouths and hold there until the conditions are ideal for them to start running the rivers.

Often ideal conditions are when river levels are high due to rains and in the evening when the rivers cool.

Anglers will do well when casting lures like spoons, spinners, jigs, and crankbaits. I discuss these baits and fishing methods on my page, Lure Fishing For Steelhead.

Bait works well, and most anglers will use the plunking method or slip floats.

Watch the guys at SBS Outdoor Action catch some Michigan summer steelhead from the pier.

Other common pier fishing spots in Michigan are Detroit, Grand Haven, Ludington, Escanaba, Holland, and St. Ignace. These piers offer good relaxation during the summer, providing extended strolling areas and a good view of the waters.

Lower River Fishing Opportunities

On some rivers, the lower river will only be good if you are there as the steelhead are moving through, otherwise, summer steelhead will move fast through the warmer lower river to get to cooler water in the upper reaches.

Many summer steelhead will congregate around river mouths and shorelines close to the river, and some will move into the river during low light hours and move back out if the conditions are not suitable, meaning the river is too low or too warm.

Low light hours in the morning and evening are the best times to fish anywhere in the river, but especially so in the lower section, as the steelhead move into the river during the darker hours of the day. The exception might be cloudy days.

Lake Michigan Summer Steelhead Fishing

A nice Michigan steelhead caught on Fire Plug Charters boat.
A nice summer steelhead caught while out with Fire Plug Charters & Captain Alex Bialik.

Summer steelhead fishing doesn’t always mean summer run fish. There are lots of winter steelhead, salmon, Great Lakes brown trout, and lake trout available out in the lake.

Anglers with their own boats will troll using spoons, plugs, and cut baits.

Other anglers can take advantage of the many charter boats like Fire Plug Charters.

Charter captains know the right depths and areas to find summer steelhead.

Many of them will even troll deep for salmon and lake trout and higher in the water column for steelhead at the same time.

The Best Rivers For Summer Run Steelhead Fishing In Michigan

While West Michigan doesn’t see a significant number of Summer run steelhead, some rivers do experience a substantial influx of Skamania (Summer Run) steelhead.

Pere Marquette River Summer Run Steelhead

Listed as a National Scenic Waterway, the Pere Marquette River holds the best scenic view, and although it is known for Winter and spring run steelhead, good numbers of salmon, as well as resident brown trout, and lake-run migratory brown trout, the Pere Marquette River also has summer run steelhead.

It is a blue-ribbon fishery visited by many anglers since it offers excellent steelhead runs.

Big Manistee River Summer Steelhead Fishing

The Tippy Dam on the Manistee River is known for one of the largest migrations of summer steelhead. Anglers typically target summer run steelhead above the coffer dam in Tippy.

Additional fishing opportunities can be found in the lower sections of some Manistee River tributaries. During the peak summer heat, the summer steelhead will often congregate at the creek mouths and in the lower sections of these creeks. These best are the mouths of Pine Creek, Bear Creek, and Pastor Creek.

The Manistee River is considered one of the best trout and steelhead fisheries east of the Rocky Mountains. The Tippy Dam along the Manistee River is one of Michigan’s most accessible spots for summer steelhead fishing.

Good salmon and great lakes brown trout fishing is also found throughout the river. For a Manistee River and Muskegon River fishing guide, contact Alex at Fire Plug Charters.

Grand River Summer Steelhead Fishing

The Grand River is Michigan’s longest river and one of the most significant tributaries of Lake Michigan. Fishing spots along the Grand River allow anglers to fish with views of the buildings and city life.

The Grand River also gets runs of steelhead and salmon.

Muskegon River Summer Run Steelhead Fishing

The Muskegon River is home to an abundant number of wildlife, including the summer steelhead runs.

Being the second-longest river in Michigan, it has become a popular fishing spot for many anglers in search of summer steelhead, winter steelhead, and salmon.

St. Joseph River Summer Run Steelhead

The St. Joseph River is home to an abundant number of Skamania steelhead due to the large and current stocking, and anglers will start experiencing summer steelhead fishing starting in June.

Some say this is the best summer steelhead fishing in Michigan and possibly anywhere in the Great Lakes region.

Rogue River Summer Steelhead Fishing

The Rogue River is described as an ideal habitat for trout due to its cold temperature, rock, and gravel, which prevent it from getting muddy.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) does not stock Skamania-strain steelhead in the Rogue River, and their presence is a bit of a mystery.

However, the runs can be good some years on the rogue and the smaller river that looks more like a trout river, it is preferred by many anglers over bigger rivers like the St Joe which due to the unpredictability of the Skamania’s presence.

Many anglers will continue to fish for steelhead into the fall when the regular steelhead season begins.

The Best Methods For Michigan Summer Steelhead

In Michigan, summer steelhead are often active, feeding, and can be caught using multiple fishing methods.

Float Fishing

Float Rods - Image By Dylan @mr_sandy_pond
Float Rods – Image By our team photographer Dylan @mr_sandy_pond

The float fishing method involves a long 10 to 14-foot fishing rod, bait, and float.

The float, also known as a bobber, allows the angler to keep the bait suspended at varying depths.

Float fishing is a popular technique for catching summer steelhead in Michigan because it can be used in slower and faster rivers.

One of my specialties is teaching and guiding with floats for steelhead, so I can assure you it is one of the most effective methods.

I explain why at Centerpin Fishing For Beginners, or for more advanced anglers, check out Centerpin Fishing For Steelhead: Tips and Tactics Used By Guides.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing for beginners usually starts with casting
Fly fishing can be one of the most effective steelhead fishing methods.

Fly fishing for Michigan summer steelhead using nymphs, egg flies, and streamers is a very good option.

Summer steelhead are known to even take dry flies, which is pretty damn exciting.

I’ve been fishing dry flies for brown trout and rainbows and have had big summer steelhead grab my fly, which is always a surprise.

The right fly, leader setup, and the right size tippet, combined with the right fishing spot, are essential factors for a successful fly-fishing experience. I discuss all of this in my article Fly Fishing For Steelhead.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing uses a spinning lure to attract the attention of the summer steelheads. Summer steelhead is known for its long runs, so an adequate spin fishing gear should have a line that is solid and long enough to hold a steelhead.

Check out our articles:

Other Methods For Michigan Summer Steelhead Fishing

Anglers fishing the rivers will also use still fishing and drift fishing methods, and will change based on the area and type of river.

As an example, larger rivers that are fairly deep are often fished using the Drift Fishing Method.

Pocket water, shallower and smaller spots fish best using the Bottom Bouncing Method.

Even Bobber Doggin is starting to show up on some of the Michigan rivers. If you have not heard of this yet, check out Bobber Doggin For Steelhead, and Salmon.

The Best Baits, Flies, and Lures

An active summer steelhead will feed on almost anything and is quickly attracted to the right baits that could represent their natural food.


Rainbow trout baits

I find that summer steelhead fishing in the late spring and summer requires different baits than in the fall.

Many anglers and I use bobbers and small jigs tipped with wax worms, or nymph flies, worms, micro-streamer flies, grubs, and maggots, all of which are preferred over spawn bags at this time of year.

The exception is late summer and fall when early runs of salmon are in the river and starting to spawn.

Michigan Steelhead Feed behind big salmon like this one.
Michigan steelhead will hold and feed behind big salmon like this one caught by John from Get Bent Guide Service. For steelhead and salmon trips, click HERE.

This is when you will often find the steelhead behind big salmon in September, October, and November, feeding on eggs.

For steelhead fishing in the fall, once the salmon are in the river, the most popular baits are roe bags with salmon eggs or trout eggs. Fishing with beads can be an excellent option.

Worms and other summer baits will continue to work to.

Other popular baits include small crayfish, worms, leeches, and minnows. See 11 Best Baits For Steelhead.

Summer Flies For Steelhead

my steelhead nymphs
Nymphs are an excellent bait for all migratory species.

Artificial flies have been a popular tool for attracting steelhead.

Currently, there are many types available on the market, varying in pattern, size, and material.

For steelhead fishing, popular flies used are nymphs, wet flies, streamers, and egg patterns.

Summer is also a great time for swinging streamers and Spey flies, or casting and retrieving or stripping in streamers.

This assortment of steelhead steamer are some of the best flies for Pa Steelhead
This assortment of steelhead steamers are some of the best flies for summer steelhead fishing.

You might even end up catching some big resident brown trout since they love streamers to.

Because steelhead are aggressive at this time of year, a large flashy streamer can be a good option, however, more natural colors like black, olive, tans, and whites can also be good options.

If you are new to this method, check out Streamer Fishing For Steelhead.

Streamer flies like Woolly Buggers and Egg sucking leeches can also be fished under a float or with the drift fishing method.

Flies with flash and movement can also be used to stimulate the steelhead’s curiosity. Check out Best Flies For Steelhead.


Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a lure
Eli from SBS Outdoor Action with a nice steelhead caught on a lure. Click the image to watch the action.

The most effective lures for Michigan steelhead fishing are crankbaits, spoons, spinners, and plugs.

Many different colors and sizes will work when fishing for large summer steelhead in Michigan rivers.

Since they are aggressive in the summer, big and bright lures can work well..

Check out Lure Fishing For Steelhead, which discusses the methods guides use, the most effective lures, the best sizes, the best colors, suitable gear and setups for fishing lures, as well as how to fish them properly in different conditions.

Summer Fishing Rules and Regulations

Michigan is a large state rich with many migratory species, making many fishing opportunities accessible to experienced anglers and beginners. Since rules and regulations can change for summer steelhead fishing in Michigan, it’s best that you check online for the river you want to fish.

And Michigan summer steelhead fishing is undoubtedly a remarkable experience that has kept many anglers on the hook.

If you have any questions or some advice you would like to share on fishing for summer steelhead in Michigan, let us know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


Sources: – Michigan Steelhead Management And Research.

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