The mighty Muskegon River is a famous tributary to Lake Michigan. Located in Michigan and flowing into the east side of the lake it is well known for its tremendous runs of steelhead and salmon. It is also recently famous for its population of resident brown and rainbow trout along with its prolific hatches due to the re-licensing of Croton Dam.
The Muskegon flows out of Houghton Lake over 200 miles away from Lake Michigan. It’s not the upper 100 plus miles of water that it is famous for but the mileage below Croton Dam. With the help of Croton Dam and its cold stable water, the river harbors tremendous numbers of resident brown and rainbow trout coupled with prolific runs of steelhead and salmon. The Muskegon is also a growing “bug factory” ever getting better with the new release schedule agreed upon by Consumers Power Company (CMS Energy) which is the operator of Croton Dam. The new program came about in July of 1994 and is responsible for managing more consistent flows which have stabilized the fishery.
The distance from Croton Dam to Lake Michigan is approximately 35 miles with the upper section from the dam to Newaygo being the most popular and productive. The river is very large averaging 200 feet across with many sections wider then 300 feet. It flows through typical Michigan land lined with beautiful pines and hardwoods. In many areas, the water is like glass with classic dry fly characteristics similar to what you would find on New York’s Delaware River or Montana’s Missouri River. Tight “scumlines” with trout found feeding to a multitude of insects is becoming increasingly more commonplace with the regulated flows. The riverbed consists mostly of gravel and larger rocks while the weed growth in the river is very rich creating an environment ideal for aq
There are as many “steelhead and salmon likely” runs, riffles, and pools as there are quiet dry fly pools. Steelhead can be found in the river anytime from October through late May. In the fall they are in the river to feed and can be extremely aggressive eating almost anything that passes them. Egg patterns and woolly buggers are the most popular in the fall and early winter along with spey and wet flies. Late winter and early spring is time for fishing lighter leaders with smaller egg patterns and nymphs. The fish at this time are a little less aggressive and will not chase flies like they will in the fall. Late spring is a great time for steelhead fishing also. The fish are fairly aggressive although they can be very selective. Fishing very small nymphs with light leaders is often necessary at this time. Heavy runs of steelhead can enter in the spring in preparation to spawn on the river’s many gravel runs. Salmon enter the river in late September and can be in the river till mid November. As in all fisheries, please check the Special Regulations before you fish.
Hatches on the Muskegon include a variety of mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis. During the spring and summer surface floating insects get inhaled by the river’s population of resident trout. It has even been said by some anglers that late spring steelhead will rise to some of the river’s hatches. Some of the Muskegons mayflies include Gray Drakes, Blue-winged Olives, Isonycias, and sulphurs. Caddis include a variety of species and sizes. Little blacks are the predominant species of stoneflies.
The best way to cover the water on this mighty river is by boat. This will enable you to get to the pools and runs inaccessible to wade fishers. Wade anglers do catch a good share of fish at different access areas along the way, a couple of which are found at Thornapple Avenue on the south side of the river and at Pine Avenue on the north side, both a short distance below the dam.
The Muskegon River is a beautiful and mighty river. The opportunities the river provides, with tremendous runs of steelhead and salmon along with its quality population of resident trout and diversity of hatches, are nearly unmatched. Only its neighbors, the Pere Marquette and the Manistee, have equal diversity.