Grand River Fishing Report

Grand River Steelhead caught in downtown Grand Rapids
Grand River Steelhead caught in downtown Grand Rapids

With arrival of spring, warmer temperatures are starting to arrive and that means one thing on angler’s minds; steelhead. The Grand has bumped to around 6500 cfs as a result of the melting of what little snowpack we had. This bump in flow is what we need to start our spring steelhead run. Recent trips have shown that the run has yet to start. Not many new fish have arrived to the system yet. Water temperatures have been around the 36 degree mark, which is still a little cold for the fish. All the fish we have encountered over the last few days have been dark, hold over fish that have been living in the river all winter long. Not seeing the new, fresh fish from Lake Michigan has made fishing tough. Next weeks forecast is showing more rain and warmer air temperatures, which will help bring new steelhead into the system.

Right now, larger beads and spawn bags have been what is bringing fish to the boat. With the high and dirty water, these presentations are what works best this time of year. The fish need to be able to see and / or smell what you’re presenting in order to have results. Try presentations with brighter beads such as Super UV Orange, Super UV Peach, UV Fireball, and Chartreuse in 10mm-14mm. Beads are usually the preferred presentation this time of year but larger “Choker” bags with 8-12 or even more eggs in them will work as well. Because the river is running “fast” and the water temp is still “cold” we’ve been running 11-20 gram floats, which slows your presentation down and allows time for the sluggish fish to see or smell your presentation. Remember to use the correct amount of weight to match your float bobber. This will allow your beads or bags to get near the bottom quickly.

Bottom bouncing is also a great technique to use as well. This method allows you to be on the bottom, in the strike zone, at all times.

Remember that this is the spring run. Be selective of fish you’re taking out of the river. Let the females go so they can continue their journey to the tributaries, create the redds, spawn and return back to Lake Michigan. This helps ensure we have a healthy, wild population of steelhead for the future.

Any day now large numbers if fish will be in all of West Michigan’s rivers, so come fish with us and experience what the spring run on the Grand River is all about.

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Fishing for Grand River Steelhead

Grand River Steelhead

The Grand River near Grand Rapids, Michigan has many opportunities to fish. Anglers can target anything from bluegills in the lower river bayous to smallmouth bass and pike in the upper sections of the Grand. However, its fishing for Grand River steelhead that gets many anglers excited.

Life Cycle:

Steelhead will spend around one year in the Grand River after hatching from an egg and return to Lake Michigan as smolt to grow. While in Lake Michigan, they will spend up to three years continuing to mature and eventually coming back to their natal river the Grand to spawn. Unlike salmon, once they spawn, they will then return back to Lake Michigan. These steelhead will continue to return and spawn in the Grand River for up to six years before dying. This gives these fish lots of opportunity to grow to huge sizes, sometimes exceeding 35 inches and 15 pounds.

The Fall Run:

Fishing for Grand River steelhead will depend on many things in the fall. Depending on water levels and conditions, steelhead start their push into the river during the middle of October and continue through December. Typically, we need good amounts of rain to bring these fish into the Grand and up into Grand Rapids. The fall run starts my favorite time of year to fish. There is nothing like watching your bobber float down river and seeing it disappear in the blink of an eye. Before you can even comprehend what happened, you are hooked up on a big dime bright and angry steelhead. You cannot tame these fish. More times than not, they find their way off the hook. With that said, sometimes you win the wrestling match and get to hold onto one of these Grand River steelhead.

Winter Holding:

As the season progresses and we move into winter, this is when we start seeing less and less people in the river. This is solitude season. Bite windows are small and inconsistent but fishing can still be good. Temperatures are cold, equipment gets frozen, and hands go numb. Steelhead start to hold in deep, slow winter time water. Float fishing these spots can be painful, as a result of how slow the current can be, but this is where they live when the water is 35 degrees or colder. The fights aren’t as epic, as the fish are lethargic, in the cold water but they can still pull pretty dang hard. When the days start getting longer and the temperature starts to get warmer, the spring push is on everyones mind.

Spring Push:

Starting in March, we see more pushes of fresh chrome. The spring steelhead coming in are mixed with the more colored up fish from the fall and winter. Grand Rapids sees tons of fish from mid March to mid April. This is the ‘peak’ of our steelhead run but it is also when there is the most pressure on the river. Nothing really beats catching steelhead in a t-shirt with the warm spring sun out in downtown Grand Rapids. Once we start to transition into early summer, the steelhead season is about over. In the early weeks of May steelhead start to return to Lake Michigan. These are what we call “drop backs”. Steelhead that are beat up and exhausted from spawning in the upper section and tributaries of the Grand River. This typically marks the end of steelhead season and the anticipation for the up coming fall run begins.

With Grand Rapids being located so close to the Grand River, this gives many people and anglers lots of fishing opportunity to experience the fight and witness how awesome steelhead truly are through out each season.

Captain Max Werkman

Grand River Report

Spring has finally started to show its face in west Michigan and that means large numbers of steelhead are entering the river systems. Here’s our river report for March 12, 2020.

Water temps are anywhere between 38-42 degrees. These temps mean fish are on the move. Good numbers of chrome and dark fish are being caught which means this is just the first sign of our spring run.

Spawn and large beads have been bringing the most fish to the boat. Sizes and colors are all dependent on water level and clarity. Pink and chartreuse spawn bags with 5-10 eggs in them are the biggest producers. Fireball orange, chartreuse, and glow roe in sizes 8mm-12mm are the best beads from this past week. Number 4 hooks are what I prefer to run with for both bags and beads.

We are still targeting areas with 4-6 feet of water dept as well as transition water in search of moving fish. Transition water is defined as travel corridors or pinch points. These area are where you can intercept migrating fish.

This is the week when our spring run will start so give us a call to get in on the action. 

– Captain Max Werkman

Fishing High and Dirty Water June 2019

Fishing dirty water can be a challenge. Use these techniques and you’ll find success. I’m not going to lie. So far, this spring on the Grand we have seen below normal temps with above normal precipitation. The Grand River watershed is the second largest in the state of Michigan and when it rains that means higher flows and dirty water. Don’t fear it but rather embrace it for the challenge. Just because the river is high and dirty doesn’t mean the fish stop eating. The smallmouth bass and northern pike that call the Grand home are use to living in these river conditions.

High and dirty water means targeting the feeder creeks and fishing tight to the bank and structure. We have been using size 10 X-Rap’s in white, orange and perch color. When retrieving, jerk them slowly while keeping slack in your line. Once the you have jerked the X-Rap 2, 3, or 4 times reel the slack and repeat. This way the smallmouth bass and northern pike can hear the rattle, have time to hone in on it and right before they strike, see it.

Once you pick up a smallmouth on the search bait, switch to dredging with a 1/2 oz bullet weight and 3/O hook with a creature bait. We have been having success on black. The bigger the creature and the slower the bounce along the bottom the easier it is for them to see it. With a 1/2 oz bullet weight bouncing off the bottom that will create enough noise for the fish to hear it coming in these high and dirty water conditions. Remember to cast up river at a 45 degree angle and then let it bounce off the bottom down until the line is parallel with the current. Reel it in and repeat. Be patient and pick the area apart using a grid as a template.

Don’t let high and dirty water keep you off the river. Embrace your fear of it and you’ll be rewarded.

Captain Tom Werkman

Grand River Fishing report for May 2019

X Rap’s:

X Raps are the name of the game in the Spring Lake bayous right now.  This time of yearmthese lures have the best chance to elicit a strike from a largemouth bass or northern pike.  Here is our fishing report for May 2019.

Grand River:

With the high water in the Grand River right now, we have switched to fishing the shelter of the Spring Lake Bayous.  The gauge in Ada peaked at 14.5 feet on May 5 and has been slowly coming done.  As of today, May 8, it’s at 12.9 feet.  The river should be in decent shape this coming weekend, assuming no more rain.  Remember, the Grand River is the second largest drainage system in Michigan next to the Saginaw Valley and it takes time for all that water to move through the system.

Northern Pike:

Water temps in the Spring Lake bayous have been ranging from 53 degrees to 57 degrees depending in the time of day.  Water clarity is nicely stained and the weeds have yet to hit the surface.  The water temp is near ideal for the northern pike.  They are coming off the spawn and some look pretty beat up, so if you land one handle them with care.

We have primarily been using X Raps in size 10 on a medium heave rod with fast action tips with 20 lbs mono to create the best movement for lures.  When retrieving, remember to jerk the bait as much as you can in an irradict way.  The key is to keep some slack in your line as you jerk and reel.  The more irradict the retrieve, the better the lure will elicit a strike. Use colors that are more natural with added orange in them such a Perch or Tennessee Olive Shad.  This time of year the northerns will be in the weeds, between 3 to 10 feet deep.  If you find weeds in this range, work the line.

Northern Pike caught on an X Rap in a Spring Lake Bayou
Spring Lake Bayou Northern Pike

Largemouth Bass:

The bass are in their pre-spawn mode and are in the 6 to 10 feet range.  Normally this time of year you can count on starting to see some bass on beds.  However, with the colder than normal temps this has pushed the spawn back.  Once we start to get water temps consistently in the mid 60’s, bass will start showing up in the shallower areas.

The majority of the action we have been being with largemouth bass has come, again, on X Raps in size 10.  When fishing for the Green Trout, use the same techniques as you would for northern pike.  Use colors that are more natural with added orange in them such a Perch, or Tennessee Olive Shad as well.

Targeting bass with finesse fishing should improve as water temps rise, but right now it’s not producing the results we are looking for.

Largemouth Bass caught on a X-Rap
Grand River Bayou Largemouth Bass

The northern pike action has been good and the bass action will only get better as the water temps rise.  If you want catch these bayou bruisers then give us a call.  They easily cork over an 8 wt or medium heavy rod and give the angler a nice fight.

Spring Smallmouth and Grand River Dredging Update

The good news is spring is here on the Grand River and so are the smallmouth.  The bad news is, so is a proposal to the dredge the Grand River. which has nothing to do with the Grand River Restoration project.   I’ll get to the dredging in a minute.  The Grand right now is high, dirty and moving fast.  The crowds at the dam in Grand Rapids are gone and we have the river back to ourselves.  It’s finally nice to enjoy the quiet solitude of this river.  There are still some steelhead in the system but for the most part they are far and few in-between.  We have been seeing steelhead roll back over the dam, moving as fast as they can out to the big lake.

We have been transitioning over to smallmouth and northern pike and it feels good to be back in the warmwater game.  Water temps are running between 48 and 50 degrees depending on the day and the fish are hungry.  The river is high and dirty.  However, with that said there is about a foot and half of clarity, not to bad for the Grand.

Grand River Small
Grand River Smallie

When targeting smallmouth your allies, in these conditions, are going to be lures that create vibration and noise.  Success for us has been the 3/8 oz. double bladed willow leaf spinnerbait in both black and white.  Use leaders with 15 lb fluorocarbon tied to 30 lbs hi-viz Power Pro braid.  In these conditions, the best places to fish are going to be the feeder creeks and right up against the bank.  Fortune favors the bold and you’ll need to cast as far up those feed creeks as you can.  Don’t be afraid to lose a some hardware along the way.

Pre-Spawn Smallmouth
Pre-Spawn Smallmouth

Grand River Dredging Update:

For those you that don’t know, there is a developer, Dan Hibma, that would like to dredge the Grand River from Fulton Street in Grand Rapids to the Bass River Outlet in Eastmanville.  That’s 23 miles.  He feels that there are powerboaters that would like to take their boats from Lake Michigan all the way up to Grand Rapids.  In addition, he wants to put a marina right by Johnson Park in Grandville.  I wonder how they would get to the marina after last years flooding event when the Grand peaked at 42,000 cfs.

In the 12th hour, during the republican lame duck session last year, then Senator Arlen Meekhof slipped into legislation over $3.0 million for dredging.  He thought that no-one would see it.  There has been no public meetings on it, no citizen involvement and no input.  Seems all shady to me.  Oh and did I mention that the developer owns 200 acres of land on the Grand River. Oh, he has also offered up his property as a site to put the dredge spoils, so he can develop it.

Thankfully, there is a group called Friends of the Lower Grand River that has organized to stop this.  Through their efforts, and the turnout of Ottawa County citizens, it appears that the Ottawa County Commissioner’s will vote to oppose the dredge.  In addition, a number of local municipalities have also passed resolutions opposing it.  However, like all things that are environmentally destructive, projects like this are like zombies, they never die.  The only way this gets stopped is through the legislature.  Mr. Meekhof, when he added the appropriation rider did it in a way that if the money is not used in a given year it rolls over into the next and so.  Again, shady.

I don’t have to say, if the dredging goes through one of Michigan’s best steelhead runs will be destroyed.  If the Grand River is dredged, 50 feet wide by 7 feet deep for 23 miles, all the riffles, runs, holes and pocket water gets ripped out.  When you channelize a river it destroys habitat, biodiversity and water quality.  If you feel compelled please follow the Friends group on Facebook.  There you can get all the latest news and updates on this proposal.

Captain Tom Werkman

Ode To The Anti-Hero Shot

On a recent guide trip I thought about, “what makes a hero shot”. Which lead me to, “what makes an anti-hero shot”. Which further lead me to, is possible you can have an “anti-hero shot” and yet still have the “hero shot?” The answer is a resounding yes.

However, let me explain it better. In order for me to write an ode to the “anti-hero shot”, I have to first define what the “hero shot” is. A hero shot, for those that don’t know, is a picture of someone holding big fish. That fish, for example, could be a steelhead, salmon, northern pike, bass, etc. The hero shot usually gets posted on the different social media channels for various reasons, not the least of which is to get “likes.” That’s all fine and I need to come clean. I am guilty of posting the hero shot and have done it on many occasions.

This past week I did a guide trip on the Kalamazoo River for steelhead. I went there because I wanted to avoid the crowds, which we succeeded in doing. We fished the lower section, where I had been successful many times in the past.

The guide trip was, quite frankly, tough. We used all the tricks, from spawn and beads to back plugging and trolling. We worked hard for seven hours, covering all the usual runs, holes, pockets, seams, timber, etc. No bobber went down, no poles bent and no fish to net.

Finally, after about the seventh hour and near the end of the trip, the bobber went down in a riffle section of the river. Fish on! A dime bright steelhead was on the line, fresh from Lake Michigan. As a result, it jumped, tailed on the water and did a little run. A fight ensued, the fish was netted, unhooked and held up for the “hero shot.”

Man holding a skippy steelhead from the Kalamazoo River
Skippy steelhead

Certainly you can tell, from the picture, the steelhead was lucky to tip 3 pounds on the scale. Call it what you want, a skippy, dink, jack, whatever, and laugh, but we worked hard for that fish.

After that, the trip ended and we ran down river to boat launch and chatted some more about the day. The clients thanked me for the trip, got in their truck and head back home. We didn’t find any large steelhead that day, as a guide, I was frustrated. I couldn’t give them the hero shot they might have been looking for and it wasn’t for lack of trying. They worked hard and so did I.

The Real Hero:

To sum all this up, I came to the realization the hero of the day, or any day for that matter while on the river, is the client not the size of the fish. That is to say, when the client works hard all day, they don’t give in to frustration, they don’t complain and they keep going during the toughest of conditions, they are the real heroes. To me that defines the “small fish” anti-hero shot with a hero in it.

Ode To The Anti-Hero Shot:

My little skippy, the anti-hero people think you are
As an angler I have longed for you
My heart has ached through the trials and tribulations 
of the day
fighting snags, wind, snow and rain
You come fresh from the big lake all dime bright
ready for that mighty big fight
my bobber goes down and I set the hook
You jump with scorn as I reel you in
net in hand and land you 
You many not be the beast I was hoping for 
but you’re a steelhead none the least
I hold you in my hands for the picture
before letting you go
don’t be embarrassed of your size
for what people didn’t see was I persevered

and for me that was the real prize

Captain Tom Werkman

The Spring Steelhead Run Update

With the recent warm temperatures in West Michigan spring is on everyone’s mind. With that, steelhead fishing is back. After a long winter of deep snow and polar vortexes the cabin fever can be broke by hitting the rivers. Here’s our fishing report.

After the recent flooding event in West Michigan, over the past few days we’ve been able to get out on area river to do some fishing.

Grand River

Depending on the day, fishing has been good, but a lot of these fish are still dark, hold overs from winter. We have seen a few chrome ones mixed in, which is a sign that our spring push of fish is just about to arrive.

As the water slowly starts to drop and water temps start to rise into the lower 40’s, the fishing will be getting better and better.

Lately, we have been targeting both spring spots such as buckets and pockets behind good gravel. In addition, we are also targeting the deeper runs and winter holes. We have been finding fish in both areas but most are they are still in deeper runs.

With the first fish of our spring run showing up a lot of these fish have spawning on their minds. That means on thing, eggs. Try using 8mm and 10mm beads as well as egg flies. Colors such as glow roe, peachy king, and peach roe have been bringing fish to the boat.

High Water Tactics For Michigan Steelhead

In the higher flows like we are currently seeing, we like running a bit larger floats. 11-15 gram floats with a shot pattered to match the float accordingly. This will slow your drift down a bit more to give the steelhead a chance to see your presentation.

If you haven’t check out our short film on “Gifts of the Grand” here it is. We partnered with Experience Grand Rapids and Aaron Peterson Studio to showcase the environmental comeback and fishing opportunities that exist on the Grand. The film was shown at the Mountain Film Festival in Saugatuck this past weekend.

Remember to use caution while wading in fast water and while on gravel. Leave spawning fish alone to do their thing so they can make more wild steelhead for all of us.

Captain Max Werkman

Grand River Fishing Report

Grand River Fishing Report from Grand Rapids to Lowell, Michigan:

This summer has been great for smallmouth bass and northern pike on the Grand River and the action only continues to be hot.  With the lack rain, the river remains low and clear, perfect for bronze-bomber action.  It seems the hotter the weather and the bluer the skies the better bite is on this river.

Man-Bear-Pig Fly

The name of the game has been “throw the kitchen sink” to keep the action moving.  Just when you think you have the right lure or fly you’ll need to change it out.  It seems the smallmouth pick up on your game right away.  Try using bigger flies and double-bladed spinner baits.  Remember, if that isn’t working or you have caught a few, switch up your streamer game or move to dredging a wacky worm off the bottom.

With the warmer temps the northern pike have gone deep but there are still some lingering around structure.  If you happen to hook into one of these river gators, remember to not play the fish, land and release it as quick as possible.  These warmer temps are not good for the fish as they prefer cooler water.

Grand River Northern Pike

On the salmon front, they are slowly trickling in but not in any great numbers.  Lake Michigan did turn over, couple that with the rain means a few kings have entered area systems.  As the nights get cooler and we get more rain look for more to slowly come in.  If you do go, go low, find the deeper holes and throw cranks up against the bank or drift skein through the hole to find success.

The summer action still remains strong and the smallmouth and pike action will continue to remain strong well into the fall as they start to go into their fall feeding mode for the winter.

The salmon action will also start to pick up and they will be big this year.  Many charter boat captains have been catching 30 lbs. kings out in Lake Michigan and it’s a good bet some of those will show up in the rivers we fish this year.

There is nothing like fishing the Grand River during the day, then heading out into downtown Grand Rapids to grab dinner and beer after the trip.  Fall is the best time year to get out and fish.  We have availability so call, email or text us about your trip and let’s get on the river.

Captain Tom