Seasons of the Year for River Fishing

I’m often asked about the different times of the year to fish various rivers in Michigan, what’s available to catch and what methods or equipment can and are used to do so.  Below is a summary of sorts to help sift through the many months of fishing options.

Spring – March – May 

The first signs of spring bring the last of the snow melt, runoff, spring rains or combination of them.  This often brings river levels up and for those rivers that get spring run steelhead, will see them coming into their natal rivers on their annual spawning run.  This runs from mid March through mid to late May on many rivers.  Spring steelhead can be fished with either fly fishing or spin tackle equipment.  Most all of my spring steelhead trips are done on the Muskegon river in the Newaygo area and done from my 18’ jet boat.

Following the steelhead run, we see river temperatures rise and this is the beginning of the most important insect activity for the fly fisher.  It’s during this time that we see the emergence of them from sub surface bugs to flying insects and the best dry fly fishing opportunities of the year for resident Brown and Rainbow trout.  This is from late May – late June on many MI rivers.  This is all fly fishing.  I do a majority of such trips on the Muskegon river as well and also out of jet boat, but the Pere Marquette river in and around the Baldwin area is an option as well, I would use drift boat for that.

Summer –  June – August

As river temperatures rise and insect activity tapers off, trout fishing often takes a back seat to Smallmouth bass/Northern pike.  Eager biters most of the time and great fighters, pound for pound smallmouth are considered by many to be right behind salmon and steelhead for the respective battle they put up.  Common in certain rivers, is the opportunity to come across Northern pike and even a Walleye here and there.  All of these fish can be fished to with either fly fishing or spin tackle equipment.  

When river conditions are good for it, I will also fish summer trout on the Pere Marquette river, fishing terrestrials/hoppers/foam body, rubber legged attractor fly patterns.  Most summer trips done out of jet boat on the Muskegon or Grand rivers,  Pere Marquette summer trout fishing is done out of my drift boat and is fly fishing.  Summer smallmouth/pike can be either fly fishing or conventional equipment.

Fall – Sept – Nov

Fall run Chinook and Coho salmon kick off the fall great lakes big game fishing season, which are followed by fall/early winter steelhead.

Early run salmon are fished to close to Ludington on the Pere Marquette (PM), fishing with conventional equipment as we cast-retrieve lures and float bait under bobbers.  This is followed by mid and upper river trips with fly gear and some end of Sept/early Oct, I will mix things up and fish the PM and/or Manistee rivers for salmon and early fall steelhead.  It can be a mix of drift boat or jet boat use based on river, stretch of the river and fish we’re pursuing.

Mid October finds me switching to the Muskegon river north of Grand Rapids for the last of the salmon run, then it’s steelhead through the holidays and up to the new year.  Steelhead can be fished for with either fly fishing or conventional equipment.

Winter – Dec – Feb

December and early January can find the Muskegon river still fishing good for steelhead, how good it fishes during winter months depends on how good of a fall steelhead run we get.  If good numbers of them come in, a decent number may stick around or “winter over” in the river, providing opportunities to fish for them during the warmest part of the day, which are often just half day outings.  These can be fished with either fly fishing or spin tackle.