We classify the gamefish of the Muskegon into three groups: migratory fish, cool water resident fish, and warm water resident fish.
The migratory fish of highest concern to us are steelhead, lake run brown trout, and salmon.
Steelhead enter West Michigan rivers as early as late September. The fall steelhead fishing gets to be very strong by the third week of October. During the months of October, November, and December, the Muskegon is transformed into one of the Midwest’s premier spey fishing rivers. It is during this time frame that we love swinging streamers and spey flies for these magnificent game fish. This is our passion in fishing, and we have been doing this for a very long time. Steelhead continue to be available through the winter months and can be taken on swung flies and nymphs during the cold weather periods. As spring approaches, the numbers of steelhead increases, and peak season is during late March and April. Nymph fishing is common during this time frame, as steelhead feed heavily on salmon fry, stoneflies, and eggs. As the fish finally head out of the river in May, they respond very well to the swung fly approach. The Muskegon River is a premier steelhead river, with opportunities to catch these fabulous game fish nine months of the year.
Lake Run Brown Trout are an often overlooked game fish that are most abundant from late September through March. Lake runs are meat eaters, and the most productive flies to catch them imitate sculpins and other bait fishes. They are an impressive looking fish, and many anglers catch the brown trout of their lifetime while fishing for salmon or steelhead.
King salmon enter the Muskegon in August and September, but are not fished heavily until they concentrate in October. The peak season for these fish is the month of October. These fish average around 12-13 pounds but can grow much larger depending on the forage that is available in Lake Michigan.
Cool Water Resident Fish
There is a very strong population of resident brown and rainbow trout. Both types of trout can be found in the twenty miles of river below Croton Dam. Though these fish are available year around, the fishing is best when water temperatures are most favorable for their metabolism. During the winter months, resident trout can be caught with a variety of nymphs and small streamers. During the cold water times of the year, the trout cling to the soft edges of the river. As winter progresses into spring, the trout feed heavily on the varieties of types of fry that are in the river. Early hatches of stoneflies can provide for great dry fly fishing in March and April. May and June are prime time for fishing dry flies for trout, and you can find great hatches of caddis, sulphurs, gray drakes, Isonychias, and a variety of other flies. During the fall, trout fishing again picks up as the trout will congregate behind spawning salmon.
Warm Water Resident Fish
There are a lot of warm water species available. Of note are smallmouth bass and northern pike. Smallmouth are another favorite fish, and the Muskegon is quietly a fantastic smallmouth river. We fish about 80 miles of the Muskegon, and every mile of the river is seasonally excellent fishing for smallmouth bass. The best window of for these fish is from late June until late September. The best conditions for these fish is warm, clear water. Popper fishing for smallmouth is a blast, and floating the river in the summer is one of the funnest and most relaxing trips that we offer. Some of the largest smallmouth are caught on small crayfish patterns.
Northern pike also inhabit the entire system. The slower areas and the reservoirs produce excellent fishing and these fish are for the most part neglected. We like to fish for them during the months of May-September. An interesting development in the last couple of years is that muskellunge have been reintroduced to certain parts of the river system, and they may eventually provide sport.