Steelhead were stocked in several western Michigan lower pennisula rivers in the 1880's from a couple of west coast strains. However the Michigan DNR thought they were getting rainbow trout ! Some were stocked in the Little Manistee and Pere Marquette (PM). The Michigan fisherman and DNR could not figure out where the rainbow trout went at the following spring's opening day. They were gone (steelhead smolts went to Lake Michigan), and had to fish for the native Michigan grayling which were twindling. Also at that time they started stocking brown trout from Germany into the PM. The PM was the first river in US stocked with browns. At least that is what the fishing history books says. Pretty neat to fish where they first stocked them 100 years ago, which you can do on the PM.
The stocking of steelhead in the Michigan rivers was a wonderful mistake. Legend has the steelhead were not fished for a long time since not many people knew they were there or much about how to catch them, or that they were even in the river until the mid 1900s. This was because the Michigan trout season is the last Saturday in April to September 30th. The steelhead enter the rivers in Oct/Nov and for the most part are out of the rivers by the end of April. I guess not many people knew they were there nor new how to fish for them until the mid 1900s. Michigan gave some rivers a year round open season which had andramous steelhead and salmon. That is when the fly fishing for them started to develop and the locals figured out how to fish for the steelhead. King and coho salmon were stocked in Lake Michigan in the 1960s which also had more fisherman going after them in the rivers. Some old timers I met on the PM 20 years ago told me the steelhead fishery in the 60s was just as good as any place in the world. 20-30 fish on days etc.. Many large wild ones 20 pounds+.
The PM and Little Manistee rivers have had 100% natural wild steelhead for a very long time. The Michigan DNR stocks steelhead in most other Michigan rivers except for the PM and Little Manistee.
You can still have 10 fish days here when you hit it right. That is ten hooked not landed. My best day was 13 on and 3 landed.
PM has a large fly fishing only section (believe about 30 years old)
which last year was also made NO Kill for ALL trout and salmon species. PM has steelhead, king salmon, and brown trout these days all which are wild.
PM is a great river to fly fish and still has great runs. Only problem is the crowds that have developed over the last ten years and drift boats which were not existent when I started fishing it in 1979.
Give Michigan steelhead a try some time. The Big Manistee and Muskegon are the two rivers which equate best to western steelhead fly fishing.