The forests and rivers of Newaygo County are a magical outdoor wonderland where nature is on display year-round. The dense Huron Manistee National Forest, the rivers, lakes and streams — all spring fed, produce some of the most amazing trout, steelhead, and salmon fishing in the world. It’s the unique ecosystem of the aquifer with sandy percolating soil that traps every bit of moisture and stores them it in underground springs.
The rich canopy of conifers and hardwoods makes you feel like you entered the Black Forest of Germany. The logging era almost decimated the forest ecosystem, but it has since recuperated and provides lush foliage especially in the autumn — where the woods become ablaze with fiery orange and red maples that intoxicate the senses.
The Muskegon River is a giant watershed of over 200 miles. Below the Croton Dam the tail water is solid gravel — thanks to hydro-peaking operations of decades past which scoured the river. Today Consumers Energy manages the river for stable run of the river flows. As a result, the populations of wild Pacific-Kings and Coho salmon and steelhead rainbow trout are increasing every year and it has achieved a world-class status. It is not uncommon to catch 30-pound king salmon and 20-pound steelhead that can compare only to the West Coast empires of these fish.
What is so unique about Western Michigan rivers like the Muskegon and White, especially in Newaygo County, is that these rivers, despite being dystrophic and originating from marl and peat conifer bogs, are on the alkaline side. This means they harbor a tremendous amount of aquatic insects and vertebrates/invertebrates that fuel and render the much needed food chains. Here the brown, rainbow and brook trout all gain weight and become trophies.
For the most part fishing is allowed year-round especially below Croton and Hesperia dams. In addition to the salmon and steelhead populations you will find lake run browns, lake trout, walleye, pike, and bass in prolific numbers. The mayfly hatches and caddis provide incredible dry fly fishing.
The amazing baitfish population of these rivers, along with crayfish, give the hardware and bait fishermen plenty of river to be effective. April, May and June are abundant with stonefly, sulfur and Isonychia mayfly hatches, while August through October are the months for incredible caddis hatches. In the summer, fly fishing and tossing crank baits for bass are equally exciting sports.
In the fall and spring massive runs of steelhead and salmon allow fly fishermen who spey or nymph fish and bait fishermen who use salmon eggs and plugs to target these amazing beasts.
The beautiful thing about the Muskegon is the availability of public access points. These entrees to the rivers can be found at the Croton Dam Park, Pine Avenue, 72nd St. off of Thornapple Avenue, Thornapple Avenue boat ramp, Henning Park, New Bridge, Old Women’s Bend and Maple Island. Fishing the river by drift boat or jet boat is a very popular method. Wading is an option but be very careful in high river flows.
Due to the clarity of the water, fish can be very selective to both flies and hardware. In addition, the fish can be very picky due to the existing tremendous food source.
The Muskegon has many tributaries that are excellent trout streams in their own right. Cedar Creek, Penoyer Creek, Bigelow Creek, Little Muskegon and Tamarack, along with the Hersey River and Clam, provide wild brook, brown and rainbow trout — in addition to runs of salmon and steelhead.
These are cold water spring creeks that can be fished year-round in some cases. Read your Michigan DNR rulebook for closed seasons. There is nothing more exciting than wading tiny little creeks and watching trout scurry from the logjams to take your offering. Plus, it’s a great way to get exercise and walk for miles in the dense wooded forests.
The White River near White Cloud and Hesperia is one of the most esteemed trout and salmon rivers in the country. Its head waters produce wild brook trout in amazing numbers, along with the populations of brown trout and rainbow trout. It’s mayfly, caddis and stonefly hatches bring trout to the surface during their peak emergence.
The upper White River is loaded with tiny, “no-name” tributaries as they are about as wide as your bathtub and harbor tons of wild brook trout. They are often very challenging to fish, but with a short rod and a stealth approach, a small stream connoisseur will have a field day. Below the dam at Hesperia, steelhead, salmon, lake run browns and walleye pike cruise on the river all year long.
Public access can be found near the dam, Garfield Rd., Podunk and at Pines Point. The trout fishery also is very healthy in this entire stretch with amazing catches of large lunker bound trout. To the big fly fishermen, the Hexagenia hatch also very strong in the lower reaches.
One can spend a whole lifetime exploring the streams of Newaygo County. There’s so much water, and so little time that one need not travel to any faraway remote destination to find trout and salmon utopia!
Writer/Photographer Matt Supinski
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