FISHING SEASONS OF THE MUSKEGON RIVER
We are exceptionally fortunate to be able to fish year round for various species of fish in west Michigan’s Muskegon river. Being a “tailwater” fishery, it never freezes over and provides year round activity. Tailwater is defined as being the water below a dam or other hydroelectric facility that is subject to changes in flows, caused by varying water release rates.
From resident Rainbow and Brown trout, to migratory salmon, steelhead and lake run brown trout of fall and spring, to scrappy warmwater species such as smallmouth bass, the Muskegon river has it all. A BIG river, spanning over 100 yards in width at certain points, we’re blessed to have this gem right in our back yard !
Cool mornings can change to very pleasant afternoons come March in Michigan as we get our first glimpse of spring. Those Steelhead that have wintered over in the river are the first to spawn at this time and we have new Steelhead, fresh from lake Michigan on their way upstream on their annual spawning run. Resident trout are found keying in on the eggs from Steelhead and insects floating as a result of the spawning process. Stone fly hatches can be very strong during March and provide the first good dry fly fishing opportunities. Average daytime temperatures range from the low 20’s to around 40.
This is the peak month for the spring Steelhead run on the Muskegon river. Anglers are able to pick which part of “the run” they want to fish. Deeper pools and runs hold “staging” fish, those not yet ready to spawn. Gravels sections or stretches of the river find actively spawning fish in more shallow water. Pools/runs/tailouts near these same spawning grounds hold “dropback” steelhead, those who have already spawned, have dropped back into slower currents and are feeding aggressively before returning to lake Michigan. Trout fishing picks up considerably as more Steelhead spawn and water temps get above the 45 degree mark. Average daytime temperatures range from the low 30’s to mid 50’s.
Possibly the best month to streamer fish for resident Rainbow and Brown trout, as well as dropback steelhead. The spring Steelhead run is coming to an end, however we typically have a very good Steelhead to angler ratio the first couple weeks of May, as angling pressure drops significantly. Early morning Steelhead “hunting”, followed by afternoon trout fishing with either streamers or early dry fly action, is a common plan for the day in early-mid May. Caddis hatches can pop up quickly and provide some good mid day dry fly action. Nymphing behind the last of the spawning Steelhead can produce very nice trout at this time as well. Average daytime temperatures range from the low 40’s to mid 60’s.
June is our best month for dry fly fishing for chunky Rainbow and Brown trout feeding on an assortment of Caddis and Mayflies, as hatches are coming into their peak, river temperatures are optimal and in general, river conditions are at their best. All techniques can work in June, from pre-hatch nymph fishing, to cloudy day streamer stripping and afternoon-evening dry fly fishing. The big bugs of summer show up, such as Gray Drakes, Brown Drakes and Hex’s in certain west Michigan rivers. Average daytime temperatures range from the low 50’s to upper 70’s.
Dry fly fishing still good in early July, with a mix of Caddis, Sulphurs, Gray and Brown Drakes, as well as Isonychia’s keeping trout “looking up” for food. Mid-late July terrestrial activity picks up with flying ants, inchworms, crickets and grasshoppers providing good food for trout on hot, windy days. Some early run Chinook Salmon begin to show up in smaller, colder rivers in NW Michigan. Skamania Steelhead, a.k.a. “summer runs” also arrive in certain west Michigan rivers and are epic jumpers for those fortunate enough to hook them. Smallmouth Bass fishing coming into prime time. Average daytime temperatures range from the mid 50’s to low 80’s.
Some of the hottest days of summer can be in early August and it reflects in fishing for most coldwater species of fish. Terrestrial fishing can still be very good on hot days, with good winds mid-late morning. Smaller, spring fed rivers stay the coldest and offer some of the better fly fishing opportunities. Smallmouth Bass fishing very good in August and we also have Skamania Steelhead to pursue in certain west Michigan rivers. Chinook salmon numbers in certain rivers increase dramatically at this time of late summer. Average daytime temperatures range fgrom the mid 50’s to upper 70’s.
Late summer Caddis hatches can provide some very fly fishing for resident trout on the Muskegon river and we can actually fish the hatch as it happens over the afternoon-evening. Nymph fishing with Caddis pupa or emerging patterns higher in the water column, followed by emerging dry fly patterns, can be deadly afternoon into early evening. Some rivers are at/approaching their peak numbers of fall run Chinook salmon. Skamania Steelhead are around to pursue as well, however much of their migration at this time of year is dependant upon cold water temperatures being close to the pier heads of their natal rivers. Smallmouth Bass fishing still good as they begin to feel a drop in water temps, which triggers early fall feeding. Average daytime temperatures range from the upper 50’s to low 70’s.
Early fall finds Chinook salmon entering the Muskegon river on their annual spawning run and October is the peak month for this. Right behind them are fall Steelhead, fresh from lake Michigan and feeding aggressively on loose flowing eggs and nymphs, which are kicked up during the salmon spawning process. Fall Steelhead are considered by many to be the most explosive and acrobatic freshwater fish of any in the United States. Resident Rainbow and Brown trout are keyed in on these same eggs and nymphs and some of the largest trout of the year show themselves during this feeding frenzy. Warmwater species such as Smallmouth Bass and Pike are wrapping up their fall/early winter buffet and begin migrating towards their wintering grounds. Average daytime temperatures range from the mid 30’s to upper 50’s.
The most diverse month of fishing in the fall/early winter season on the Muskegon river.. The last of the Chinook salmon are arriving, fall Steelhead fishing coming into the prime 30-40 days of fall, and resident Rainbow and Brown trout are still eager to chase down any tasty morsel, before water temperatures begin to drop as winter arrives. The peak month for fall Steelhead, we pursue them throughout the 30+ river miles between the town of Newaygo and the port city of Muskegon itself, where the river empties into lake Michigan. When low water conditions are present, we fish closer to lake Michigan and when flows are at or above normal levels, closer to Newaygo we go. Lake run Brown trout are entering the river in good numbers at this time and a shot at a trophy Brown exists on any given day. Average daytime temperatures range from the mid 20’s to mid 40’s.
The onset of the winter season finds the Muskegon river in a state of change, as colder weather patterns comes through the Midwest and bring water temperatures down in all rivers throughout the region. With the Muskegon river being the southernmost “big” river in Michigan that gets a strong Salmon and Steelhead run, it’s the last to feel the affects of mother nature and fishes good-very good, right up to and through, the end of the month. Early December will find water temperature going from the low 40’s down to the mid 30’s and as a result, the metabolism of fish changes and they simply feed less aggressively. The lake run Brown trout that start to come in on their annual spawning run continue to show themselves in December and on any given day, one could have a shot at a tropy lake Michigan Brown trout. Resident Rainbow and Brown trout are still actively feeding and best pursued with lighter rods, small nymphs and light tippet. Average daytime temperature ranges from mid teens to mid 30’s.
Typically the coldest month of the year here in Michigan, January finds water temps dropping and fish seeking out soft/slow current water that’s also near good food sources. Resident Rainbow and Brown trout are feeding on small nymphs & larva and often fished with nymphing rigs. Steelhead that are wintering over in the river and lake run Brown Trout that are on their way back to lake Michigan after having spawned in late November and December, are big game fish available to us as well. Average daytime temperatures range from the low teens to near 30 degrees.
Our “transition” month for both rivers and fish. Early to mid February can be the first signs of “spring”, with the trickle of Steelhead coming in fresh from lake Michigan, shoreline wildlife activity picking up and the emergence of our early Black Stone fly. Both resident trout and migratory steelhead key in on this hatch, which can be massive at times, with literally thousands of bugs floating by while wiggling their way to the surface or shore to emerge. Warm, sunny days trigger this and the days following can be quite productive fishing this nymph pattern for both resident trout and Steelhead. Average daytime temperatures range from the low teens to low 30’s.