Anglers of all experience levels will find excellent fishing opportunities in and around the Grand Rapids area in every season.

Kent County has an abundance of flowing rivers, lakes, and ponds in scenic natural settings, and our waterways are home to dozens of species of fish, some of which are fishable throughout the year.

Whether you head out in your own boat, hire a guide, or cast your line from shore, fishing in Grand Rapids is easy and rewarding.

Winter Fishing on the Grand River

The Grand River is one of several great places to fish in Kent County.

Photo by Shafi Subhan/Bryan Esler Photo for EXGR

The Necessities:

Local bodies of water & species

A great place to start is the Grand River, which runs right through downtown Grand Rapids. You’ll find steelhead, salmon, smallmouth bass, lake trout, catfish, bass and walleye in the Grand River, and it also offers the largest annual migration of steelhead in the Great Lakes region.

You’ll also find the big guys—salmon and steelhead—as well as many other species, in the Rogue River, located in Rockford, and the Flat River in Lowell, each about 20 minutes from downtown GR. The Rogue River is also a popular waterway for fishing brown trout and rainbow trout, both of is stocked annually in the river. The Flat River is great for catching smallmouth bass, as is the Thornapple River in southeast Grand Rapids..

Area anglers can also catch largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, northern pike, channel catfish, flathead catfish, brook trout, perch, walleye, and the aggressive muskellunge in nearby rivers and lakes.

Popular local fishing lakes include: Murray, Myers, Reeds, Big Pine Island, Wabasis, Campau, Lime, and Lincoln. You’ll find these and many more lakes and rivers mapped out on the Where To Fish page from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Fishing on the “Big Lake,” or Lake Michigan

If you want to fish the big lake aka Lake Michigan, take a quick trip to nearby Holland, Grand Haven or Muskegon where you can stand on scenic piers and reel in your catch. If you’re up for adventure and want to head out farther on the big lake, there are plenty of charter boats for hire.

Where can I find the biggest catch?

Anglers chasing the biggest fish can check Michigan’s Master Angler Report to find out when and where they’ve previously been caught. It details state fishing records and the biggest catches, by year, in two categories:

  • Catch and Keep
  • Catch and Release

Kent County waters are on the list every year including, in 2022, a 49-inch muskellunge in Murray Lake; a 42-inch flathead catfish, 39.12-inch chinook salmon and 32.75-inch rainbow trout in the Grand River; a 21-inch smallmouth bass in the Thornapple River; and a 15-inch crappie in Myers Lake.

Get your fishing license and get ready: no matter what time of year it’s fishing season in Grand Rapids. Wherever you are in West Michigan, there’s no shortage of possibilities for the ambitious angler!

A guy and girl fishing in a boat, on a river in grand rapids

Each season requires its own special kind of gear. In the summer, a boat is helpful for accessing deeper waters, increasing your chances of a catch.

Photo by Aaron Peterson for Experience GR

Fishing by the Season:


The lure of spring fishing brings people from far and wide to Grand Rapids and Kent County, as fish are hungry and readily take bait, lures and flies cast from boats, banks, piers and river shallows. 

April 1 is the start of the new fishing season and anglers 17 years and older are reminded that a new fishing license is required every year. Visitors and anyone who wants to give fishing a try can purchase a daily license.

The new fishing season coincides with the spring steelhead run on the Grand River in downtown GR. They charge upstream to spawn, giving anglers ample opportunity to snag them at the Sixth St. Dam or from the concrete flood wall along the river. Be extremely cautious if you’re wading or boating – the current near the dam can be quick and strong, especially in high spring waters.

Steelhead (and trout) are also abundant on Rockford’s’ Rogue River. A favorite gathering spot for steelhead anglers is just below the Rockford Dam. Brown and rainbow trout are typically found further upstream.

Walleye and northern pike fishing opens on the last Saturday in April for all Lower Peninsula inland waters, but trout fishing seasons vary by stream. Many are open year-round while others open the last Saturday in April. To be sure, check the annual Michigan Fishing Guide published by the DNR. You can download it here or pick up a copy where fishing licenses are sold.


Thanks to Michigan’s gorgeous summers, spending time on the water is time well spent.

“Fishing becomes a little tougher in the hotter weather because the bass tend to go deeper, so it’s easier to find them if you have a boat,” explains Tom Werkman, owner guide with Werkman Outfitters, which provides specialized guide service on the Grand River and farther north on the White River and Muskegon River.  “On the Grand River in the summer, you’ll primarily find walleye, smallmouth bass and northern pike.”

If you’re fishing the inland lakes, Werkman says they might reward you with bass and possibly northern pike, as well as bluegill and perch. If you’re after bluegill in shallow water, Werkman suggests using a hook, line, and sinker with a bobber.

The Flat River in Lowell also has good public access and you can catch smallmouth bass and northern pike there during the summer months. “It’s easy to wade into it in the summer but be sure to put water shoes on. It’s pretty rocky!” warns Werkman. When you’re done, head to quaint downtown Lowell to enjoy a beer or burger.

Winter Fishing on the Grand River

Don't let the cold stop you! Fishing during the colder months will prove to be fruitful due to time of migration.

Photo by Shafi Subhan/Bryan Esler Photo for EXGR


When the air is crisp and the leaves are colorful, the migratory salmon and steelhead are plentiful in the Grand River. “We target those species of fish during the fall,” says Werkman. They’ll put up a big fight and make you work hard. “Your drag can scream and it’s not uncommon to fight a steelhead in the river for five minutes,” he says. “People come from all over the states to fish our steelhead. You could also pick up a northern pike, smallmouth bass and the occasional walleye in the fall.”

Another great option is to join the other anglers at Fish Ladder Park, where you can fish the Grand River from shore. If the river isn’t flowing too fast, some ambitious anglers wade out to cast their lines for these aggressive beauties. Just be cautious if you brave the waters–there are plenty of holes and unknown obstacles under the surface.

When you’re fishing the inland lakes in the fall, you’re also likely to find some catfish. If you have a boat, Werkman suggests trying Murray Lake. “If you know what you’re doing, you can target musky there,” he says.


Wintertime excitement is seeing a flash of chrome in the cold, dark river! During the colder months, steelhead is your primary target in the Grand River, which you can fish as long as there’s open water.

When temperatures have dropped, you’re most likely to have success if you have a boat and can go a little farther down the Grand River. However, you can still cast a line from shore at Fish Ladder Park.

Another good river to fish for steelhead during the winter is the Rogue River, again, as long as you have open water. You’ll also find brown trout still lurking there.

If you’re into ice fishing on the inland lakes, Werkman says that once you get good, solid ice, you can fish on pretty much any of them. “I typically just go near the other ice shanties,” he laughs.

A truck pulling a fishing boat parked in front of a hotel in grand rapids

Have a whole experience with Werkman Outfitters, who will pick you up from a downtown hotel.

Photo by Paul Jendrasiak for Experience GR

Family Fishing Fun

You don’t have to leave the kids at home during a day of fishing! The Grand Rapids area boasts plenty of fun, family-friendly places to fish, with or without watercraft. Bass Lake, Bear Creek, Lincoln Lake, Pickerel Lake, and Reeds Lake all offer easy public access and are great for families. Keep in mind, children under the age of 17 can fish without a fishing license, but they must follow all regulations.

Millennium Park is another fantastic place to fish with young kids. “You can catch bluegills and bass there,” says Werkman, who suggests using a bobber with a worm to get your kids started. Fish Ladder Park is another good option for families with beginning anglers.

If you’re new to family fishing, the Michigan DNR offers a series of YouTube videos and other tips to help you get started.

Winter Fishing on the Grand River

Consider hiring a guide to ensure your fishing experience goes smoothly.

Photo by Shafi Subhan/Bryan Esler Photo for EXGR

Hiring a Guide

Whether you’re new to fishing or experienced, going out with a guide is a sure-fire way to maximize your time on the water. Guides fish these waters day in and day out and have an incredible knowledge base. They can help serious anglers seek their trophy and teach people new to fishing about technique, equipment, and more.

“The guides are going to know where the fish are and what [equipment] to use,” Werkman says. You can find contact information for Werkman Outfitters and several other area guides, including Betts Guide Service, on our fishing page.

“Fishing in Grand Rapids is a unique experience because you’ve got a phenomenal fishery running right through the heart of a major city,” Werkman explains. You can come for business, go steelhead fishing, and tour our breweries all in one trip. It’s a great way to experience Grand Rapids!

For more information on making the most of your experience, check out the DNR’s Weekly Fishing Report.

Learn more about the types of fish and fishing experiences in the Grand Rapids area in this Gifts of the Grand video, which is part of the Grand Outdoors series.