Anglers of all experience levels can find a great amount of fish in and around the Grand Rapids area no matter what season it is.
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, don’t wait to get in on the Grand Rapids’ area fishing action.
Grand Rapids and Kent County have plenty of lakes and rivers to fish on all year round.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
Local bodies of water & catch
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 nearby Rockford, and the Flat River, located in nearby Lowell. The Rogue River is also a popular waterway for fishing brown trout and rainbow trout, both of which the river is stocked with annually. The Flat River is great for catching smallmouth bass, as is the Thornapple River.
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.
Fishing on the “Big Lake,” or Lake Michigan
If you want to fish the big lake, or Lake Michigan, take a quick trip to nearby Holland, Grand Haven or Muskegon where you can stand on the 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 2017, a 33-inch channel catfish caught in the Grand River; a 14.74-inch crappie caught in Campau Lake; and a 34-inch rainbow trout, also caught in the Grand River.
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!
With the proper equipment, fishing can be a year-round sport in Grand Rapids.
Photo Credit: Credit Experience Grand Rapids
Fishing by the Season:
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.
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.
“On any given day, the Grand River is one of the best run steelhead rivers in Michigan,” says Werkman. “It gets a fantastic run of steelhead, particularly in the spring!”
Although the initial steelhead run happens in the fall, significantly more steelhead participate in the springtime run. Whether you fish from Fish Ladder Park in downtown Grand Rapids, go out on a boat of your own or with a guide, or head up to the Rogue River, there are lots of access points. “Right in downtown Rockford there are a couple of places where you can park and then walk to the Rogue and start fishing,” Werkman explains.
If you head to the Rogue River and aren’t sure where to start, you might find success with the other anglers gathered just below the Rockford Dam. Brown trout and rainbow trout are also plentiful in the Rogue, although you’ll have better luck fishing for those upstream.
“As the water starts to warm up, you’ll also find more active smallmouth bass and northern pike,” Werkman says. Many area lakes, like Reeds, Lincoln, and Murray, also contain largemouth bass.
Fact: Children under the age of 17 don't need a fishing license, but they must obey all fishing regulations.
Photo Credit: Experience Grand Rapids
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. 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
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.
“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, be sure to visit the fishing page.