Fly Fishing The Muskegon River


I left Wakeley Lake (last week’s column) and spent the next day floating down 9 miles of the most beautiful, scenic and most wild rivers I have ever seen…The Au Sable. The water was as cold as any I have felt and the wildlife was abundant…that is to say the wildlife above the water line. In those 9 miles I managed to scratch up four lone brook trout as my quarry for the day? Not exactly what I had in mind but for certain I was fishing and not just catching; what I do know is that me and infamous Au Sable just didn’t connect…maybe another day?

Ah…just down the road a few miles was my good friend, The Muskegon River. I was able to fish The Muskegon several days last year, mid-summer for smallies and then again during our fall break for steelhead and smallmouth and thus I knew, or should I say, felt confident…that I could regain my swagger from the beat-down I took at the hands of the aforementioned Au Sable.

We had made reservations at Ed Henning Park which is conveniently located about a half mile from Newaygo and smack dab on the banks of The Muskegon. We pulled in, set up our site and made our way to the Muskegon Fly Shop for some good advice…and a few fly tying materials. The guys there are not only knowledgeable but quite nice and in just a few minutes my plans were made as I would go up-river from the campground, put in at Thornapple and float/fish my way back down to the campground (Thornapple is oddly enough just a river bend from Carmicheal Flats-you’ll notice that they misspelled my name, so it goes).
Bridge over Muskegon RiverIf you haven’t yet or ever been on the Muskegon, it is a big river…but a manageable river as long as you use your head and stay ahead of yourself while fishing. What I mean is you have to watch down-river for logs, limbs, trees, etc…that in river lingo we call sweepers…and get ready to dodge and weave. My first afternoon on the river was somewhat productive, but highly frustrating. You know as a fly guy when you are fishing well…and when you are not. On this day I have to admit that in golf terms I shot a 100 and frankly if it were a golf course I would have walked off in disgust; truth is on a river you can’t just ‘walk off’. No one but yourself is going to get you down river six miles…so at some point I decided to suck it up, go to a top water popper and forge ahead. Oddly enough as soon as my attitude improved I started catching fish and by the time I reached the campground I was ready for another day; much like hitting that great drive on hole number 18 while playing golf…odd it happens that way?

The next day was going to not only be better but I’d be fishing new water as I was going to leave the campground and float/fish my way down-river, towards Lake Michigan, to Anderson Flats whereby I would give Vickie a call and she would come and pick me up. I shoved off from the boat ramp at the campground and rowed straight across the river, hopped out, made one cast and hooked up with a spicy little 14-inch smallie. Next cast, bang, another nice fish…two casts later, you guessed it…I hooked and landed a chunky 15 inch smallmouth; at that point I grabbed my phone and called Vickie back to tell her that my 5-6 hour trip was probably going to be longer due to the fish cooperating.

The Muskegon is tannic water; now not tannic like The Nakekagon in Wisconsin…but tannic and very clear. The fly, or in my case flies, that were working were a pair that I had tied the night before. They had lots of white ostrich hurl for a tail, a section of red estaz for an abdomen and I had finished them off with pearl synthetic hackle for a head; in the water they stood out and gave so much movement that I myself would have eaten one!
Bass caught fly fishing the Muskegon RiverMy last day was going to be a short run from the campground, about a mile down-river to the city take out. I decided to slow things down a bit as I would stay between the seat and foot peg of my blue, Creek Company, Voyager float boat…but would spend most of the day walking from good looking structure to another. As it turned out it was my most productive day-by thoroughly covering the water I was able to land about 20 smallies, of which a few were in the 14-16 in range.

The Muskegon is filled with hundreds of long timbers that lay in the bottom of the river, along with the many boulders…this creates a ton of pocket water for fish to conceal themselves and jump on a passing meal. This few hours was one of the most fun afternoons I have ever had with a fly rod in hand as I carefully walked the logs and made big cast in and out of cover, behind boulders and as I did so the river became a big puzzle, where would the next fish hide…it all culminated as I neared the railroad bridge where a creek flows into the river. At that point my instincts told me there had to be a nice fish waiting to eat any helpless meal that was being swept from small water to bigger water. I positioned my boat so that I had the perfect angle to cast into the current allowing my white fly to get ‘washed’ down and through the turbulence; I made a couple of quick upstream mends so that my fly would be washing perpendicular to the river and before I could even think I noticed the end of my green fly line had jolted forward. Without hesitation I strip set with my left hand and felt the line tighten on a nice fish…seconds later I lipped a very black 15 inch smallmouth (he was black due the silt from the smaller creek). Several long and powerful strips found this fish all mine and all on the video below.

What a river…and what a nice place to leave any worries or troubles behind. I can already picture my next float down the wild and scenic Muskegon…but these past few days were the culmination of our three week vacation and boy do I love and Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

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    • Randy Slikkers
    • March 8, 2021

    I am really interested in your inflatable pontoon. Would you share the make and model?

    • Jeff
    • March 9, 2021

    It’s made by the Creek Company, model is the Voyager.

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