Grayling Michigan

Grayling, named long ago for the Artic grayling that once populated its nearby streams and rivers, is now appreciated as the home of Trout Unlimited, the sport fisher’s most active advocacy and conservation group. Located in the center of northern Michigan, Grayling is surrounded by great trout fishing rivers, including the Au Sable and its legendary Holy Waters, the North Branch of the Au Sable, the South Branch of the Au Sable and the Manistee. 

If that’s not enough water to cover, there are other tempting places to cast off. Just west of town is the Boardman River. In addition, there is the Little Manistee and Pere Marquette Rivers near Traverse City, an increasingly sophisticated resort area for both summer and winter sports. While Michigan is called the Land of the Lakes, there is also an abundance of other rivers within a short drive from Grayling. These include the Sturgeon, Pigeon, Black and Jordan Rivers, not to mention the numerous stillwater options.

Kayaking and canoeing are Grayling favorites, attracting tourists from around the globe. One of its biggest draws is the annual Au Sable River Canoe Marathon, a night and day race which starts in Grayling and ends in Oscoda, 120 miles down river.  Cycling is also well supported here with an annual mountain bike race and festival. Inside the Hanson Hills Recreation Area there is a 20+mile, single track trail. The town even offers its own Bicycle Turnpike with 6 ½ miles of paved trails.

Replete with historical narratives, the area hosts Lovells Township Fly Fishing Museum, the Crawford County Historical Museum and the Hartwick Pines Logging Museum. Every April the nearby town of Kalkaska officiates over its National Trout Festival and the area’s Grayling Fish Hatchery brings people to the area year after year. Appreciating more than just fish, Grayling and its environs are home to art galleries, artisan restaurants and a wide choice of hotels, motels and lodges.

There are several ways to reach Grayling including:
  • Fly into Detroit Metropolitan Airport and drive approximately 3 hours
  • Fly into Cherry Capital Airport (Traverse City) and drive approximately 1 hour
  • Fly into Chicago O’Hare International and drive for approximately 5 hours
  • Fly into Sault Ste. Marie Airport, Canada, and drive approximately 2 hours 
Fishing Waters
Running parallel to the Au Sable for several miles, the Manistee, known to locals as the “Big Manistee,” turns southwest instead of east and makes its way to Lake Michigan. Regarded ... moreby the state as a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream, several miles of its waters are also designated as a national Wild and Scenic River. Similar to the Au Sable, experienced anglers consider this to be one of the finest fisheries east of the Mississippi.

Like the Au Sable, the Manistee was once home to Artic gray, and here too they disappeared as logging destroyed their ecosystem. Fortunately for the region, from 1933 to 1942 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) actively repaired habitat structures, reforested the surrounding area and planted millions of fish in the rivers and the streams that feed into them.

Today the river is primarily a brown fishery, although brook and rainbow can also be found, with the best fishing at the upper end of the river. Here, non-migratory trout tend to average about 12-14 inches. Initially a narrow, easily waded 15-25 feet across, over the next 30-miles it gradually opens up to as wide as 200 feet and picks up speed. Throughout the lower reaches of the river you can expect to find steelhead, salmon and large browns from Lake Michigan. In fact, the river holds the U.S. record for brown trout with a lake-river run, weighing in at over 40 pounds.

Public access is available for the entire length of the river with ample parks, campgrounds and boat launches. One section 17-mile section, between Michigan 72 and the CCC Bridge, is open year round and reserved for fly fishing only; it is considered the best place to catch resident large browns. The combination of a sand, silt and gravel bottom along with fallen logs, undercut banks, deep runs, and abundant pools, make the Manistee a great place for trout to thrive.
Referred to locally as the mainstream, the Au Sable wears the triple crown of fly fishing. The state classifies it as a Natural River and a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream, while it also ... moreboasts the rare distinction of being a federal Wild and Scenic River. First brought to international fame in the early 1900’s for its abundant supply of Artic grayling, the river acquired the Holy Waters acronym. Unfortunately, the grayling died out years ago, its habitat destroyed by the timber industry, but browns, rainbows and brooks live on.

Cooled by a plethora of fresh streams and the shade of dense forests, the Au Sable is considered one of the finest trout fisheries east of the Mississippi. The 9-mile section from Burton’s Landing to Wakely Bridge, aptly called the Holy Waters, is managed by the state as fly fish only/catch and release only. Easily waded, this stretch is also renowned for its impressive hatches and exceptionally large fish. The river between Mio Pond between Alcona Pond, has been designated as a National Wild and Scenic River since 1984.

Downstream from Wakely Bridge to Mio Pond the river widens out yielding more pools and fewer runs. The 23-mile stretch from Mio (approximately 30 miles below Grayling) to McKinley, is designated as Trophy Water and is famous for its 24+inch fish. Here parts of the river can be waded close to shore, but most experienced anglers prefer to use a drift boat or an Au Sable River craft. Unique to the area with a history going back over 100 years, these boats are long, wooden, flat-bottom skiffs that are both elegant and functional.

Steelhead season starts in March with the best fishing in April. Approximately half of these fish are hatchery planted and are marked by a clipped fin with the remainder coming in from Lake Huron. Salmon spawning begins in November, making it possible to catch steelhead below the beds on egg patterns below the Foote Dam.
Game Fish Opportunities:
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