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.
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.
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.
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