DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Flat River in Michigan

Michigan is known on a national level as one of the best places in the United States for fly fishing for trout, steelhead and salmon. This makes it no real surprise that anglers come from various states to fish the state with thousands of miles of water.  But what about game fish like smallmouth bass?

Smallmouth bass enjoy the warmer waters in Michigan. The Flat River offers exactly that. Add in an annual run of spring steelhead and you have another great place to fish in Michigan. Read on to learn more about planning your next fishing expedition into Michigan.

Flat River Description

The Flat River, also known as the Winding Stream, acts as a tributary of the popular Grand River and is located in the southern lower peninsula. This southern Michigan river is highly rated among those who prefer to fish for smallmouth bass rather than Michigan’s typical brown and brook trout.

Grand River Tributary

This river rises from the outflow of the First Lake, one of a series of connected lakes known as Six Lakes in Belvidere Township near Edmore in Montcalm County. The river largely moves in a southern direction and trails to the west through Montcalm, Ionia, and Kent County before ending up in the Grand River in Lowell.

Cover Bridges

Lowell isn’t the only city where you can access the Flat River. It also moves through places like Belding and Greenville. Years ago, this river was an essential water route and fishing source for Native Americans who lived near it throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Two covered bridges pass over the Flat River, offering easy access to the waters below. One of them is located in Kent County at Vergennes Township and is known as the Fallasburg Bridge. The other is in Keene Township, Ionia County, and is called the Whites Bridge.

Dam Access

Another benefit of the Flat River is the number of dams available that provide easy places to fish. The dams are at Whites Bridge, Greenville, Lowell, Belding, and Burroughs. The Flat River runs about 70 miles and has many entry points for any fly fisher coming into the area.

Warmwater Fishery

This is a warmwater fishery that is only about a 15-minute drive from Grand Rapids. It is excellent for fishing in warmer months for species like carp and smallmouth bass. Top water fishing and fishing with nymphs and streamers are popular here. Carp sight fishing offers a serious challenge even for the most professional anglers.

Flat River Map and Fishing Access Sites

Map of the best fishing spots on the Flat River in Michigan.

Get directions to fishing access points and real-time stream flow data with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Places to Fish the Flat River

Anglers who want to fish the Flat River will have a variety of options. The two bridges mentioned earlier give easy access to the waters to bring in fish. Whites Bridge is especially popular and can be accessed at 1600 Whites Bridge Road in Belding. 

Canoe Access

Those who plan to use a canoe will have the best luck on the stretch from Greenville downstream to Lowell. It has a moderate current, access to both bridges, and plenty of fish to be caught. However, there will be water enthusiasts other than fly fishers, so it can get a bit crowded during some times of the year.

If you go about two miles downstream from Jackson’s Landing, you will run into the Flat River State Game Area. This spot is where the river widens to 50 or 70 feet and moves through a wooden shoreline. Those who want more privacy and a bit of a challenge will appreciate this spot for its rugged appeal.

Anglers in boats can access the river at Tower Riverside Park near Greenville Road or off of Michigan #57 at Jackson’s Landing. Those who wish to visit White’s Bridge should take M #21 east leaving Lowell two miles to reach White’s Bridge Road. Then, take the road for six miles to get to an excellent access spot.

Best Time to Fish the Flat River

Anglers who want to bring in spring steelhead and smallmouth bass need to be sure they hit the water in the right seasons. 

Spring

The best time to catch bass is during the pre-spawn, which will occur in spring when the waters hit around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, both male and female fish will move into shallow waters to nest and feed.

Beyond the time of year, you also need to consider the time of day when chasing steelhead and bass in Michigan.

When the sun is shining down on the water, most fish will make their way into the deeper waters. This is why fishing in the early morning or at night tends to be the most rewarding; you can avoid the heat and crowds while catching more fish.

Summer

While spring is the best time to catch a variety of fish in the Flat River, that doesn’t mean all other seasons are off-limits. Fishing for smallmouth bass is excellent all summer. The fish may be slightly more challenging to catch but can offer a challenge for the average fly fisher.

In the middle of summer, smallmouth bass will be feeding at a faster rate than other times. As a result, the bass may scatter across the water between both deep and shallow water, other than the hottest days, when most of them will be buried deep in the water to stay cool.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the ABC River. The USGS stream gauge at Smyrna, MI provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.

FLAT RIVER AT SMYRNA, MI

  • Gage height: 3.92 ft
Gage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Flat River

Top-water patterns like foam poppers will get the attention of most bass.  Simple streamer patterns like a wooly bugger will also draw many strikes.

Spring steelhead respond well to stonefly nymphs, swung streamers, and egg patterns.

Need flies? 

Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere.  Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box. 

Dry Flies
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant

Nymphs/Wet Flies
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black

Streamers
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)

Gear Recommendations

The best fly for bass is a nine-foot, seven-weight with a matching fly reel. The best fly line for bass is a floating line with a heavy front taper that makes it easier to cast big bass flies such as poppers or streamers with ease.

Need Gear? 

Below are recommendations for essential gear to make the most of your time on the water.

Quality rod, reel, line and rod tube at a reasonable price. Backed by Orvis 25-yr guarantee, a brand you can trust.

High performance nylon leader, great for fishing Dry Flies, Nymphs and Streamers.

Excellent knot strength, stretch and suppleness make this the finest nylon tippet.  3-pack of the sizes you'll need the most.

Heavy duty, waterproof, yet breathable.  If you are tough on waders, these are for you. Backed by Simms Wader Warranty. If they leak, they got your back.

Most durable, yet comfortable, boot on the market.  Excellent foot and ankle support.  Great for rocky rivers. Lightweight and designed for all-day wear.

Sweet pack with ample storage. Unique harness system reduces neck strain. Sleek tapered face improves visibility - you can see your feet when wading!

Durable and lightweight. The carbon fiber frame floats.  Hooks don't get stuck in the rubber mesh bag . Extra length makes it easier to net fish.  Simply the best nets on the market.

Tough, waterproof and priced right. Hold 900+ flies in slotted foam.  If you need more storage - you have too many flies!

Simple, sharp nippers at great price. Clip on retractor keeps this must have gear at your fingertips.

Strong with a fine tip. Perfect for removing split shot and hooks. Simply the best fishing pliers.

The 580 Glass polarized lenses are super clear and somehow relaxing on the eyes.  Game changer.

Note: DIY Fly Fishing earns a commission (at no cost to you) on sales made using the links above. Thank you for your support!

Flat River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Flat River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of Michigan requires that all people who are 17 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a Michigan state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the  Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Trip Planning Tips

The nearest major airport for anglers who want to fish the Flat River is Gerald R. Ford International Airport. However, since it’s several miles from the closest towns to the river, you will likely want to rent a car for your excursion. Hotels, restaurants, and a few bait shops are available in Lowell and other nearby towns.

The Flat River doesn’t offer any public campgrounds very close to the water. However, anglers can take advantage of a private campground at the Double R Ranch. It can be found near the river close to Smyrna.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Michigan

About the author

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.

You May Also Like

Get Directions to the Best Places to Fish in America!

Check out our interactive map of over 30,000 of the best places to fly fish in the US. Get directions to access points, boat ramps, and real-time USGS stream flow data. 

Get App

Install
×