Fishing Seasons

Fishing Seasons of the Muskegon River

Winter

December – Early in the month can be very good fishing, especially in bigger, tailwater rivers, which take longer to cool down than smaller, spring fed streams.  Trout are still active and it’s common to find fresh steelhead in some river systems.  Weather patterns often dictate how well fishing activity will be later in the month, as winter truly sets in at this time.  Lack of fishing pressure can make for some truly beautiful and peaceful days on the water.

January – Typically the front end of the colder temperatures of the year as we hit mid-winter in Michigan. With low water temperatures, fish tend to be somewhat lethargic, although sunny days can warm the water a bit.   Winter steelhead and resident trout fishing can still be good in early January, as fish settle in to their winter lies.

February – One of our “transition” months for both rivers and fish.    The beginning can be very cold, but by the end of the month, water temperatures begin to rise, trout activity picks up and steelhead fresh from lake Michigan enter their respective rivers in preparation of their annual spawn.   Trout fishing can be quite good in February, as fish will congregate in runs and “lies” that are attractive holding water for this time of year .  Nymphing for them with lighter rods, lighter tippet and small flies can produce both good fish and good numbers of fish for the dead of winter.

Spring

March – Chilly mornings can lead to rather pleasant afternoons as we get our first glimpse of spring. Winter holdover steelhead are spawning and new spring fish are coming into the Muskegon river.  With our first good rise in water temperatures, fishing for both steelhead and resident trout picks up significantly.  Pending water temperatures, some spring seasons will find our early black stone fly hatching, allowing for the first dry fly fishing of spring.

April – This is the peak month for our spring steelhead season in west Michigan.  Rivers have the most fish and fishermen at this time of year. Fishing can be very good for both spring steelhead and resident trout.   Trout activity picks up considerably once river temperatures rise above 45 degrees.  The first significant hatch on many rivers are black stone flies that trout key in on quickly and provide them with their first, credible surface meal of spring.

May – Probably our best month overall for streamer fishing.  Steelhead are nearing the end of their spring run and spawn, however we typically have a very good fish to angler ratio the first couple weeks of the month, as river traffic slows considerably.  Early morning steelhead hunting followed by an afternoon of stripping streamers for trout and dropback steelhead is a popular plan for the day in early to mid May.  Insect hatches really pick up with Caddis and black stone flies being the bugs of choice.  Nymphing with lighter rods and lighter line behind steelhead spawning areas can produce great  trout  as well.  Both resident and migratory suckers are amidst their annual spawn and can attract large trout, which post up behind then to feed on tiny sucker eggs.  Sight fishing for these large trout  is not out of the question and can excite the senses like no other !

Summer

June – Our best month for dry fly fishing hands down. Hatches are at a peak, water temperatures are optimal and in general, river conditions at their best. Dry fly fishing, nymphing or streamer fishing, all tactics apply for June. The BIG bugs arrive as well, from Gray Drakes to Iso’s, ‘tis the time for large trout surface snacks !  The Muskegon river has a great Caddis hatch that bring heavy shouldered trout to the surface as well.  Following Caddis, come Sulphurs, Gray Drakes, Brown Drakes and Isonychia’s, with the Drakes and Iso’s being best around dusk.

July – Trout fishing still strong in early July, but tends to slow down when water temperatures jump up near the 70 degree mark.  Once our primary hatches wrap up, hoppers, ants, beetles and other “terrestrial” activity picks up and can provide trout with great mid-summer meals. Some king salmon begin to show in lower stretches of certain rivers such as the little Manistee river and Pere Marquette river.   Skamania steelhead are a summer run fish that find their natal rivers mouths at some point in July and can provide some epic battles with these “whale tails”.  The Muskegon river is coming into prime time for smallmouth bass during the month of July and beyond.  These scrappy fish are arguably pound for pound, one of the best fighting fresh water fish that swims……..AND willing biters on top of that !  Low light topwater action can be great, while mid day is best fished sub surface, with baitfish and crayfish imitations on sink tip lines.

August – With Muskegon river water temperatures at their warmest of the year, trout fishing slows down come early August, but smallmouth bass are in their prime !  Early morning or late evening surface action with topwater poppers/gurglers/skating patterns will bring bronze backs to the surface.  Mid day fishing is best with sink tip lines and baitfish, crayfish or attractor streamer patterns getting the most looks.  At some point in August, we will start to see our late summer green Caddis hatches, which can turn the trout back on rather quickly.  The lower sections of certain west Michigan rivers will find early run Chinook salmon in them, which are a handful and a half come that time of summer.

Fall

September – Chinook salmon take over as they return to their natal rivers to spawn. In most smaller rivers, kings are at their peak in numbers, bigger rivers such as the Muskegon river will go into October for salmon.  Trout fishing can be good, as we see late summer Caddis providing dry fly fishing opportunities.  With dropping water temperatures, fish begin to pack on the feedbag in preparation for fall and the cool months ahead.

October – The salmon have peaked in the smaller rivers and will be on the downside of their fall run.   They’re just getting into their prime on big rivers such as the Muskegon and Manistee. Trout fishing can be very good by targeting spawning salmon and fishing behind them with floating line and indicator rigs. Fall steelhead numbers increase throughout the month, with the potential for some epic late October steelhead fishing always “there”.

November – Steelhead are the quarry of choice come late Fall.  With ample supply of high protein salmon eggs and other insects  flowing down the river, early in the month, steelhead are in their fighting prime.  Some late salmon are still around and quite feisty for such late arrivals.
Trout fishing can be very good through the month and preferred techniques include floating line/indicator nymphing.   Steelhead are eating eggs,  insect larva, chasing down streamers, it can be a magical time !