Grand Rapids Fly Fishing
Grand Rapids is a special place if you fly fish. There are opportunities to chase trout, salmon, steelhead, smallmouth & largemouth bass, carp, pike, musky, panfish and gar. Downtown Grand Rapids you will find 6th street dam which is a common destination for anadromous fish species while up and down stream from the dam you will find plenty of opportunities for warm water species. One of our favorite locations is the Rogue River a tributary of the Grand that travels North through the town of Rockford. Salmon and steelhead will travel to the dam downtown Rockford while you can chase brown trout and rainbows either above the dam near 12 mile or below the dam at many road access points. Other tributaries to consider in the city include the Flat River, Thornapple and the Cold Water River. If you need help finding some new water or need a fishing report don't be hesitate to reach out to the shop. FISHING REPORTS
The Grand is the largest watershed in Michigan, and provides prime habitat to a multitude of fish species. It’s headwaters begin near Jackson, and it flows for 252 miles before draining into Lake Michigan in Grand Haven.
Grand River Access Points - LINK
The Grand has tons of different fishing options, for both warm water species, as well as migratory fish. Several dams along it’s length provide fishing access and wading opportunities.
Much of the river is wadeable in the fall and summer, but heavy snowmelt and spring rains often limit this, as the flows can be quite dangerous at times.
In the Fall, there are huge runs of Coho Salmon, King Salmon, Lake Trout, Lake Run Browns, and Steelhead. These fish tend to congregate below dams in large numbers as they attempt to migrate upstream. The Sixth Street dam and Weber dam are likely spots to have high numbers of these fish.
In the Spring, (typically early March), we receive the biggest push of steelhead. The Grand can be epic at times, as thousands of steelhead are congested at dams as they move upstream.
For the fly angler, the most common method for steelhead is an indicator rig. Usually a 10’ 7 or 8 WT rod is used, but many people are now using 7 & 8 WT switch rods. These allow you to fish indicators, as well as swing spey flies quite effectively. Egg flies paired with large nymphs are safe bets. Full spey setups are also common, and are becoming increasingly popular. Other methods such as center pinning, back bouncing, bottom bouncing, plugging, etc are also very deadly.
Other than Steelhead and Salmon, the Grand is a warm water mecca. Smallmouth bass, Largemouth Bass, Pike, Walleye, Carp, Catfish, Gar Pike, and Panfish are available throughout the river. Most of these species are targeted during the summer months. One of our favorite ways to target Smallmouth Bass is from a drift boat with topwater flies. This usually starts in May, and typically lasts until September. Stop in the shop for advice on access sites, fly choices, and float options.
The Rogue River is a tributary of the Grand, and offers some of the best wading opportunities in the area. Most bridge crossings provide river access, as well as adequate parking. Trout, Steelhead, Salmon, Smallmouth, Pike, and Carp are all available.
Rogue River Access - LINK
The Rockford Dam acts as a boundary between the “Upper Rogue” and the “Lower Rogue”. Migratory species (Salmon and Steelhead) cannot pass this dam since there is no fish ladder. Often times, the best fishing can be had right below the dam, as fish tend to congregate in high numbers there. Although the dam can be extremely productive, the entire lower river has fantastic steelhead water throughout. With lots of access and wadeable water, it’s one of the easiest accessible streams in West Michigan. Stop by our shop for questions about access, water conditions, and up-to-date reports (616-805-4393).
Our Steelhead season starts in late September, and lasts until roughly early May. That time frame is flexible, and is very dependent on the weather. Rainfall, air temps, water temps, wind direction, moon phase, air pressure, and several other factors are all in play. There are two distinct “runs” of steelhead: Fall and Spring. The Spring run is substantially bigger than the Fall. About 30% of the steelhead swim up in the fall, and the remaining 70% arrive in the Spring.
There are several different types of methods used, both bait and fly. An indicator setup is most common, on a 7or 8wt single hand rod. Many fly fishermen are using bobber rigs on Switch rods, which is extremely effective and fun. Centerpinning is also very popular, and highly effective (especially in Winter). Yet another method that’s highly addictive is swinging Spey flies. There are certain days where the swing bite is “on”, but for the most part, this method focuses more on quality over quantity. In the Rogue, this is mostly done with 7 or 8 wt Switch rods, with either a Skagit system, or integrated Spey line. There are many ways to configure a switch rod, but we can help!
The Upper Rogue is strictly a trout fishery, and starts near Kent City, where small creeks seeping out of wetlands converge to eventually form the main branch of the river. The bottom consists primarily of sand, with occasional gravel riffles and runs. Average depth is 1.5’, with the occasional deep spots that can be upwards of 7’ deep. Rogue River Access Points - LINK
Browns are most common in the Upper, with the occasional Rainbow and Brook trout mixed in. The average size is usually between 9”-12”, with a 15 incher being a “good” fish. There are much larger ones lurking around, and are sometimes brought to hand.
May and June are great for hatch matching and dry fly fishing. 3-5 wt fly rods are suitable for most trout in the system. Good hatches to hit are the Hendrickson’s, BWO’s, Sulphers, Caddis, Grey Drakes, and Brown Drakes. Again, most bridges provide decent access to trout water. Stop by the Grand Rapids shop for more detailed info.
The Flat is an awesome river nestled between our two stores, in Lowell MI. It’s a great smallmouth bass river, and has good numbers of carp, and even trout in its headwaters. The small span of river south of Lowell will receive Salmon and Steelhead in both the fall and spring. Flat River USGS Data - LINK
Flat River Access Points - LINK
Generally, the Flat is seen as a smallmouth bass river. It’s very shallow, wide, and easily accessible to the wade fisherman. The average depth is roughly 1’- 2' during normal flows, with deeper corners and trenches that provide shelter for bass, especially during low flows.
One aspect that makes the Flat so productive is the number of dams on it. Throughout its length, there are 4 impoundment dams on the Flat. These dams create reservoirs of slow moving water, which is where many of the smallmouth migrate to in the winter months. As the water warms in the Spring, they don’t have very far to travel to get to their spawning grounds. It makes for a unique fishery, since there are several different “rivers” in one.
The average size of the fish are roughly 10”-13”, with smaller and larger ones mixed in. They feed heavily on crayfish, small baitfish, and frogs. Floating and intermediate lines on 6-8wt rods are most commonly used.
The Coldwater River is a small tributary south of Grand Rapids that flows into the Thornapple River. It’s primarily a trout river, consisting mainly of browns and rainbows. Most fish are 9”-13”, with the occasional 18” mixed in. April, May, and June are peak dry fly months, with great Sulpher, Hendrickson, BWOs, and Caddis hatches. Nymphing with 3 or 4 wt rods can also be effective, as well as small wooly buggers fished with light sink tips. Coldwater River Access Fishing -LINK
One popular access site on the Coldwater is the Dolan Nature Sanctuary. It’s located off of Baker Ave, and provides nearly 1.5 miles of streambank access. Wading is easy when the water is at normal flows, with the average depth being 1.5’ deep. There are some deeper holes in this river, so wade with caution.
In 2015, a large section of the Coldwater Rivers’ banks were clear cut by the county drain commission. This changed the river substantially, but the fishing has more or less rebounded. After this mishap, the fishery was in question. Even though the outlook was grim, it has appeared to have recovered, and the trout population has basically stabilized.
USGS Water Flow Charts - Michigan - LINK
Thornapple River Access Points - LINK
Learn to fly fish! FREE Classes - LINK