DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Kalamazoo River in Michigan

Some of the fish that travelers to Michigan hope to catch are smallmouth bass, steelhead, and salmon. While many streams in the area offer one or more of these fish, the Kalamazoo River is one of few that has all of them in abundance. 

You could consider the Kalamazoo River a diamond in the rough. It isn’t one of the most popular streams in the state, but once you visit it, you’ll wonder why that is the case. There’s nothing better than exploring this reborn river with the potential for hooking up with some trophy fish.

Fly fishing for smallmouth bass on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan

The Kalamazoo River comprises north and south branches and can be found in Albion, Michigan, and the surrounding areas. Like the nearby Grand River and Manistee River, the K'zoo is a large river at 150 miles in length and heads to the west before it empties into Lake Michigan in Saugatuck. As you work down the river, you’ll find a home to many beautiful smallmouth bass, as well as seasonal salmon and steelhead.

Lower Kalamazoo River

Several cold water tributaries feed into the Kalamazoo River and keep the temperatures ideal for year-round fly fishing. If you head downstream past the Allegan Dam, there are yearly runs of salmon and steelhead, which is what makes this a diverse fishery that all sorts of anglers will enjoy.

Float or Wade?

The best way to experience the lower Kalamazoo River is by boat, whether that means a canoe or something a bit larger. Wading is good in most locations above the Allegan Dam thanks to a firm, rocky bottom. 

Camping Along the K'zoo

Along the Kalamazoo River, there are 55 private campgrounds so anglers are right by the water from morning until night. The options range from rustic campsites to modern locations for recreational vehicles and trailers. Most of the available camps offer access to not just fishing but boating, swimming, and picnicking, as well.

Popular Destination

This area is known for recreation, so anglers who want to be alone will want to be selective about where to fish. There are archery ranges, golf courses, marinas, boat rentals, horseback riding, and more. Anglers can stay away from the crowds or spend their time not spent bringing in fish to explore other fun activities in Michigan.

Kalamazoo River Map and Fishing Access Sites

map of the best places to fish on the Kalamazoo 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 Kalamazoo River

Since the Kalamazoo River is quite long, you’ll find various access points for doing some angling. The Fort Custer Recreation Area offers a ramp and paddle craft access to the river. It’s located at 5163 Custer Drive in Augusta and provides a parking lot, public restrooms, and rustic camping options.

Another option is in the city of Allegan at the dam. There’s a short trail with a small parking area about two miles from Jaycee Park. Access for boats is available, as well as parking space, but the shorelines are tough to move around on so watercraft are recommended.

Merrill Park is a small city park that includes a boat ramp, parking for several cars, and restrooms. It’s also located near other access points so anglers can choose the one that best fits their needs. Keep in mind that this access site can be a bit challenging when the river is moving quickly.

The Trowbridge Dam Site is accessible from a dirt road that runs about a quarter of a mile down to a boat ramp. There is a parking lot available so anglers can stop close to the Kalamazoo River and get in some serious fishing. 

Best Time to Fish the Kalamazoo River

Best Time to Catch Smallmouth Bass

April is the best time to start fishing for smallmouth bass as they start to get ready to spawn. As water temperatures warm up so does the smallmouth bite. Fishing can be great during this month, but it all depends on the mood of the fish. Weighted lines and slow streamer tactics tend to be the best option.

Moving into May, the weather becomes more consistent and you can experience consecutive days of great fishing. Finally, at the end of the month, the fish start spawning and fish activity peaks.

Things start to slow down quite a bit in June since the fish are done spawning and are less interested in fly offerings. The best time to fish will be in the morning or late afternoon. The fish are hungry at those times, but tactics may vary based on how the fish are feeling.

Best Time to Catch Salmon and Steelhead

Fishing can be done during other seasons, such as fall for salmon and steelhead.

Chinook and coho salmon start to run in early September followed by autumn steelhead.  Salmon and steelhead can be caught indi-nymphing below Allegan Dam or on a swung fly.

Winter fishing is also possible, but make sure to bundle up before heading out to the Kalamazoo River. If the water is overly cold, it will make the fish slow down and patience may be needed to bring in trout and other fish.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Kalamazoo River. There are USGS stream gauges that 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.

Upper Kalamazoo River near Battle Creek, MI

KALAMAZOO RIVER NEAR BATTLE CREEK, MI

  • Streamflow: 334 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 2.89 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Kalamazoo River at Comstock, MI

KALAMAZOO RIVER AT COMSTOCK, MI

  • Streamflow: 642 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 4.11 ft
Streamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Lower Kalamazoo River at New Richmond, MI

KALAMAZOO RIVER AT NEW RICHMOND, MI

  • Temperature: 61.16 ° F
  • Streamflow: 1160 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 10.76 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph
USGS

Best Flies for Kalamazoo River

Your fly of choice depends on which fish species you are targeting in the Kalamazoo River.  That said, most smallmouth bass, steelhead and salmon respond well to typical nymph and streamer patterns.

Given the size of the K'zoo, finding the depth that fish are holding at is actually more important than fly selection.  Be sure to vary the depth you are fishing before reaching for the fly box.

Need flies? 

If you like to swing flies, RiverBum offers a great selection of classic steelhead flies that will catch fish anywhere. Set includes 30 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and durable fly box. 

Classic Steelhead Streamers

  • Purple Peril
  • Copper Top 
  • Comet
  • Jock Scott 
  • Bomber Black
  • Joe Gert
  • Blue Charm
  • Brite Pink
  • Egg Sucking Leech
  • Black Bear Green Butt  

If you prefer to dead drift flies, BASSDASH offers a great selection of some of the most effective egg flies and attractor patterns. Set includes 57 flies (see list below) and high-grade double-sided fly box.

Deadly Egg Flies and Attractor Patterns

  • Antron Egg
  • Glo-Bug
  • Crystal Egg Fly
  • Dot Egg Fly
  • Crystal Meth
  • Milky Nuke Egg
  • Ultra Maggots
  • Egg Sucking Worms
  • Flash Candy Fly

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot seven or eight-weight single-hand fly rod and matching fly reel with intermediate or floating line works well on the Kalamazoo River. 

Spey rods are also popular on the K'zoo. An 8-wt in the 12'6" to 13'6" range with a typical Skagit setup will get the job done.

Need Gear? 

Heading out to do some steelhead or salmon fishing and need an affordable fly rod, reel and line to get started?  

Look no further than the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit.  An 8 Wt. setup that is perfect as a first big-game outfit or backup travel rod.

  • 8-wt, 9-ft, 4pc Fly Rod
  • Large Arbor Reel
  • WF Floating Line
  • Cordura Rod Tube
  • 25-yr guarantee

Kalamazoo River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Kalamazoo 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

When coming in to fish the Kalamazoo River from Douglas, there are a few airports that will get you there. West Michigan Regional Airport, Ottawa Executive Airport, and Busscher Landing Strip Airport are all reasonable options. We recommend renting a car at the airport to easily get around the river and nearby small towns.

Many different campgrounds are available in the area or anglers can rent a hotel in one of the towns on the river. There are also tackle shops, restaurants, and other attractions to experience while spending time in Michigan.

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.

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