As summer winds down and thoughts turn to fall, area sport anglers often turn their attention to the Grand River. September is prime time for salmon runs. The city’s downtown fishery draws anglers from all over Michigan who come looking for an exciting urban fishing experience.

What’s not to love about hooking a 6-pound coho salmon, often called Silver Salmon - its orange-red meat is excellent table fare; or, perhaps, battling a much larger chinook salmon, an experience guaranteed to be a memorable angling moment. 

State fisheries experts say the Grand River’s fall runs can bring thousands of coho salmon through the Grand Rapids’ riverfront on their journey upstream to spawn. Far fewer of the big chinooks are expected these days because fewer have been raised at state hatcheries and stocked in recent years.

“The biggest thing about timing is water temperature. If temperatures are in the 60’s the fish will come upstream,” explains Jay Wesley, a fisheries biologist and the state’s Lake Michigan Basin coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “If it’s really warm, they will delay… Based on historical data we get at Webber Dam (upstream from Grand Rapids), the first peak (of the coho run) typically is in mid to late September. We get a second peak during the first two weeks of November. They come and move through fairly quickly.

Anglers need to move fast when they do. A great way to check the status of the runs is the DNR’s weekly online weekly fishing report.

“The chinooks start running in late September and peak in October. Our chinook run on the Grand River is now much smaller than it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the fall runs also include steelhead. Summer-run steelheads are in the river in September and a Michigan strain runs late in September, but the peak of the fall steelhead run is typically mid-November.”

The agency stocks the Grand River annually with young coho salmon. The Rogue River, a tributary of the Grand just outside of Grand Rapids, also receives an annual plant.

In the springtime, steelhead run the Grand River to spawn.

September through mid-November is the time for salmon runs.

Photo by Experience Grand Rapids

“The best spot to fish salmon is at the Sixth. St. Dam in downtown Grand Rapids,” Wesley said. “If people are new to the area and don’t want to battle the crowds at the dam, there is also good fishing downstream where there are places people can wade when the water is lower,  or they can cast from shore.

“The second best spot is up on the Rogue River. It’s a smaller river system and is easier to wade and has a wilder character. It is also (relatively) close to downtown.”

Sixth St. dam is the first major barrier for salmon making their long journey inland from Lake Michigan. That’s where they and anglers congregate. A fish ladder at Fish Ladder Park on the west bank allows them to find their way upstream to spawning locations.

Fish Ladder Park is also a great location to watch others fish or get a look at the salmon as they try to leap the dam or swim through the ladder following the current. Fishing there is not allowed but anglers use the walkway there to access the river on the west bank.

A state fishing license is required to fish in Michigan and an all-Species fishing license is required to fish for trout and salmon. They are available at Meijer stores, local bait and tackle shops and online.