Muskegon River Steelies On A Different Schedule This Year

By Greg Knapp | 04/03/2012

Two weeks ago I saw the temperature gauge go as high as 89 degrees.  In mid-March in Western Michigan that is not supposed to happen. We are usually still dealing with the problem of frozen rod guides in the mornings rather than the dilemma of do I wear shorts or pants to river. I’ve been fishing the Muskegon River for the past two decades and can’t remember a season with such high temperatures.

It’s been an odd, uncharacteristic winter and I’ve seen things with our fisheries that are new to me. For example, usually Croton Pond is ice covered well into March or April keeping the river temps colder for longer. This year there was no ice during that time frame. Two weeks ago (in mid-March) we saw the Muskegon river water temps bump over 49 degrees in the peak of the day. The warmer water put steelhead into high gear. It’s made them spawn earlier and faster than I’ve ever seen.


Although our temperatures have dropped slightly the past couple of weeks, we still have above average water temperatures. A good number of our spring fish have come in, spawned, and are dropping out already.  While it might be surprising to those of you who aren’t from the area, but you can usually fish for steelhead here into late May. Some even pursue them into early June as spawners and droppies. By then I usually turn my attention over to other species. Once the fresh fish stop showing I quit. I’m not a guide that targets bedding fish. I’d rather leave the spawners alone to do their thing.

When it comes to fresh run fish, I think that we have seen most of them already.  We are still catching decent numbers of tight hens and an occasional chrome male here and there, but their numbers have been decreasing daily. More drop-backs are filling the void.  Even though the fresh run kamikaze biters are thinning out we are still having a great bite on the Bor X O Fire cured single eggs and a local speciality, a natural Fire Brine/Fire Power/Bor X mix, has taken its toll as well. It has definitely paid off switching to different cures alongside fresh bait on these highly pressured fish.


The fishing pressure on the Muskegon River seems to be higher than normal lately. I imagine this has a lot to do with the larger rivers such as the Grand, Kalamazoo, and St. Joe being too warm for this time of year and their fish already up in spawning tributaries or dropping out two to three weeks early.  Heck, my boat had our peak fishing on the Grand in January and February with all of the fish that filtered in all fall and winter. The White, Pere Marquette and Manistee are all way ahead of schedule, too.

This leaves the Muskegon, at least when it comes to having fresh fish. Although there are a lot of spawners right now I’m going after biters in the deeper or transitional water and still finding good numbers.  We have been using a mixture of methods this spring, all of which have had their moments: back bouncing, hot shotting and mostly float fishing. When you have clear water and lots of pressure like we’ve had lately I prefer a finesse approach and that is where the float fishing comes in.

Due to the crowds and pressured fish I like to downsize my baits more than normal. With the water clearing it will make a huge difference.  Single eggs, small spawn bags and micro jigs tipped with bait usually out fish larger presentations this time of year.  There are lots of eggs floating down the river also, so try to match the hatch.

If you are still hoping to get into some fresh run fish here in Western Michigan, I would get here soon.  This spring is not going to be like most others. If you wait until late April or May I have a felling you’ll be wishing you came earlier.

For more info on Knapp’s guided trips on the Muskegon River please visit