White River

The White River is located in west Michigan about 50 north and a bit west of Grand Rapids.  The White River rises from the extensive Oxford Swamp in north central Newaygo County and flows out into an upland area, before continuing it path west towards lake Michigan.

Continuing onward, the White River flows in a southwesterly direction through the southern section of Manistee National Forest. The river passes through Oceana County and into Muskegon County and White Lake. The lake and river discharge into Lake Michigan, near the towns of Whitehall and Montague.

The White River system drains a surface area of approximately 300,000 acres (1,200 km²) and includes about 253 miles (407 km) of streams. A wetland river, it is bordered by ooze for much of its length. The swampy conditions make the river and its tributaries an ideal living area for beaver and other wetland small game. During the fur trade era, trappers found the White River was one of the most productive rivers in lower Michigan. Later, loggers harvested old-growth timber along the river. The timbers were floated down to now-vanished sawmills in Montague and Whitehall.

The White river is popular to the fly fisher for salmon, steelhead and trout. Trout fishing slows a bit once the heat of summer settles in, especially a couple miles below the Hesperia dam. Fall steelhead fishing can be either very good or very slow, it’s simply “that kind” of river, with very little middle ground for some reason. Spring steelhead and fall salmon bring anglers to the water below the Hesperia dam due to it being a rather small and wading friendly river system.

Fishing Seasons

Spring (March-May) brings fresh steelhead into the White river and the first hatches of the season. Big, hungry trout eagerly sip, chase and slash at the stoneflies emerge on certain March and April days. Other hatches that follow include Caddis, BWO’s and early Sulphurs.  Streamer fishing in the spring provides an opportunity for not only trophy trout, but also “drop back” steelhead, who have completed their spawn and are heading back to lake Michigan.

Summer (June-August) kicks in with more Caddis and mayfly hatches, along with rising water temperatures.  Once water temperatures of late July and early August rise, hatches taper off and it’s terrestrial time for trout and streamer time for Smallmouth Bass.

Fall (September-November) is a great time to be on the river with the changing of colors in Michigan. Trophy pacific Chinook salmon enter the White river in September and are targeted heavily from October – early November. Fall steelhead come in once salmon begin to spawn and are fished from late October through the end of November. Trout fishing can be very good as well with streamers and indicator fishing behind spawning salmon.

Winter (December-February) is a very tranquil time on the White  river. Bald eagles soar overhead, mink scamper along the bank, muskrats swim a chaw full of grasses to their dens and flocks of feeding turkey barely acknowledge our presence, intent on scouring for sub-snow morsels. It is also a great time to swing big, articulated streamers for resident trout, steelhead and lake run brown trout.  Floating line and indicator rigs, as well as bottom bounce nymphing in slow tailouts and pools is a great way to find a winter “biter”.

White River Access Information

Both walk in and small craft access points are located from the Hesperia dam, down to Pines Point Campground.

The Hesperia dam has a nice boat launch and some walk in fishing areas close to the ramp itself.

White River Guide Service

  • www.westmichiganflyfishing.com
  • www.westmichiganfishingguide.com
  • www.westmichiganangler.com

Support Groups

  • Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited
  • Great Lake Sportfishing Council
  • The Steelhead Site
  • Schrems west MI Trout Unlimited


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