There's no better option than the Muskegon River in Michigan when you want to catch smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, salmon, and steelhead. The "Mighty Mo" ranks as the second-longest river, and one of the best tailwater fisheries in the state.
As a tailwater, the river doesn't freeze over and you can fish year round. It offers a variety of freshwater fish and provides a good chance of catching some really big game fish.
Even with so many fisheries in the state, the Muskegon is something special.
Fly fishing the Muskegon River for Michigan steelhead
The Muskegon River in a tailwater that flows over 220 miles from Houghton Lake down through Croton Dam and Muskegon Lake before reaching Lake Michigan.
The river is located in the western lower peninsula of the state. It's best known for its huge runs of salmon and steelhead alongside amazing trout and smallmouth bass fishing opportunities.
Since you can hook rainbow trout, brown trout, steelhead, and salmon, this river is a great source of fishing all year long. However, it hasn't always been available for anglers coming into the state.
In 1994, CMS Energy, which operates the Croton dam, started a controlled release schedule that improved the tailwater and made the river what it is today.
Nowadays, the tailwater is about 35 miles long and averages an impressive 200 feet wide. The best way to experience the lower Muskegon River is from a drift boat, but you can also find wading options on some stretches of the Michigan stream.
This river is a smooth flowing tailwater that resembles the Missouri River in Montana once it passes below Croton Dam.
The smooth water can make the Mighty Mo tricky to fish though. The current seams make it hard to make a good dry fly presentation and the resident trout can be selective. In addition, the vegetation found throughout the stream helps create a current that varies across areas.
The bottom of the Muskegon River is largely made up of soil and sand with small stones and includes some larger rocks and cobble.
All-in-all, the Mighty Mo ranks as one the top fly fishing destinations in Michigan, right up there with the likes of the Au Sable River, Betsie River, Boardman River, Manistee River, and the Pere Marquette River.
Muskegon River Map and Fishing Access Sites
Best Places to Fish the Muskegon River
Since the Muskegon is such a massive river with miles of river to fish, there are plenty of fishing access locations.
The town of Newaygo is the hub for many heading to fish the tailwater below Croton Dam.
Boat ramps below the dam are available at:
- Kimble County Park (Croton Drive)
- Pine Street launch site
- Thornapple Avenue launch site
Boat access lower down on the river can be found near the city of Muskegon at Cottage Grove. Take US 31 north five miles to Laketon Avenue before traveling west three miles to one popular access site.
Snug Harbor is another area with both a fishing pier and boat access in Muskegon. From the US 31 and Interstate 96 intersection, take US 31 eight miles to Michigan #120. Go west about two miles to Giles Road, go right five miles on Petersen Road, south one mile on Memorial Drive, and then right two blocks to Snug Harbor.
The Grand Trunk access point has a pier and provides boat access near Muskegon Lake. In addition, it has a wooden pier where bass and panfish can be found. Take Laketon Avenue west about two miles to reach the access site at the intersection of McCracken Street.
The last site to consider is Fisherman's Landing, which offers boat access. Take US 31 north for just under six miles before going west on Marquette Avenue. Hook a right on Ottawa Street and then turn left on Giddings Street to access this fly fishing destination.
Best Time to Fish the Muskegon River
Water temperatures in the Muskegon are regulated by dams and cold water springs. Warm water from the dams help keep the river ice-free in the winter. Cool water from the springs help keep the river cool in the summer. These combine to provide a year-round fishery.
Springtime tends to be the best time for Muskegon River steelhead fishing. Spring steelhead begin their annual run up the Mighty Mo in March.
The Mighty Mo also sees a run of Skamania (summer run) steelhead that enter the river at the end of May extending the steelhead season into late spring.
Since the Muskegon River enjoys a good amount of cold water inflow from springs, summer is a great time to for fish trout.
The river level can vary depending on the year, but you can expect a selection of hatches that keep the trout active.
The Muskegon is also a fantastic smallmouth river. With a strong population of this popular warm water fish, smallmouth bass fishing should not be overlooked.
As the fall months begin, salmon will start to make their way into the Muskegon River.
Chinook salmon and Coho salmon start entering the river the last week of August or in early September. King salmon fishing remains strong through late September and into early October. Most Kings meet their maker by the third week of October.
Soon after, fall steelhead and lake-run brown trout will follow, which makes this location a great option for fishing throughout fall. Fall steelhead fishing is particular fun as it is such a beautiful time of year.
For winter steelhead fishing, early winter is a good time to fish with early November being the best. You can expect to catch steelhead except on the coldest days of the year.
Once it gets into January and February, and the cold weather set in, the fish start to become sluggish. Fishing will continue to be good compared to many Michigan streams though thanks to the warm water discharge from the Croton Dam that keep the river ice free.
Stream Flow and Current Conditions
Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Muskegon River. The USGS stream gauge below Croton Dam 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.
MUSKEGON RIVER NEAR CROTON, MI
- Temperature: 33.44 ° F
- Streamflow: 1730 ft³/s
- Gage height: 5.36 ft
Best Flies for Muskegon River
During spring, aquatic insect hatches like small midges, tricos, black stoneflies, and sulphurs are a good choice. As the season progresses, the Gray Drake is one of best mayfly hatches and can be epic.
There are also plenty of caddis in the river. Fishing a caddis pupa and soft hackle tandem rig under an indicator will bring many violent strikes.
In summer, flies that imitate baitfish and crayfish work well, along with general attractor fly patterns.
Moving into fall, consider large nymphs and egg patterns for lake-run browns and steelhead that are searching for salmon eggs.
You may want to switch between big streamers and egg imitations in the colder water in winter. Bouncing nymphs and egg imitations in slow tail outs can also be effective.
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Muskegon River:
- Yellow Sally (#12 - 16)
- Yellow Humpy (#10 - 18)
- Parachute Sulphur (#14 - 18)
- Parachute Adams (#12 - 22)
- Light Cahill (#10 - 18)
- Elk Hair Caddis (#8 - 16)
- Yellows Stimulator (#8 - 14)
- Chernobyl Ant (#8 - 12)
- Griffith's Gnat (#16 - 24)
- Pheasant Tail (#12 - 20)
- BH Hare's Ear (#12 - 20)
- Rainbow Warrior (#14 - 22)
- Pat's Rubber Legs (#4 - 12)
- Golden Stonefly (#6 - 10)
- Tellico Nymph (#12 - 18)
- Zebra Midge (#16 - 22)
- WD40 (#16-20)
- Egg flies (#12 - 16)
- BH Wooly Bugger (#2 - 6)
- Sculpzilla (#4)
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.
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod and matching fly reel with floating line is perfect for fishing for trout on the Muskegon River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
You'll want to step up to a seven- or eight-wt fly rod for steelhead, salmon and lake-run brown trout.
Muskegon River Fishing Report
Area fly shops, local guides and websites that can provide a Muskegon River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:
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 best place to touch down for fishing the Muskegon River will be at Muskegon Airport. However, Grand Rapids Airport is another reasonable option. The first will situate you right in town, where you can get fishing access, visit tackle shops, and rent a modest hotel room.
Having a car is necessary since you may want to head upstream to try some of the waters farther away. However, you can just as easily enjoy the trout and other fish only a few miles from the city if you prefer to stick to a single location.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Michigan