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 is next to none, drawing 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; its orange-red meat is excellent table fare. Then there are some 20-pound chinooks. They're called King salmon for a reason. Hooking one is guaranteed to be a memorable angling moment.  

An Angler Fishing in Grand Rapids

An angler fishes from the rocks near the east bank immediately below Sixth St. Dam. Photo by Howard Meyerson.

State fisheries experts say the Grand River’s 2015 fall runs could bring 10,000 coho salmon through Grand Rapids’ riverfront as they head upstream to spawn. Far fewer of the chinooks are expected because fewer have been raised at state hatcheries and stocked in recent years. Some of each will travel upstream as far as Lansing, having migrated from Lake Michigan where they spent most of their adult life. 

“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. 

“The chinooks start running in late September and peak in October. The 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 is typically mid-November.”

The 2015 coho run will be one to watch, according to Wesley.  The DNR changed its Grand River stocking strategy in 2013 hoping to improve coho survival and boost the number that return to the river every fall.  The result of that should show up this year.

The agency stocks the Grand River annually with 315,000 young cohos. Fewer now get stocked upstream in Lansing while more are stocked downstream closer to Grand Rapids. It's a move that shortens the distance to Lake Michigan and the number of big predator fish they might encounter. It eliminates the potential for peril from swimming through turbines at two hydro dams. Lansing now receives 50,000 young cohos where 295,000 were stocked before. The river near Lyons gets 240,000. Another 25,000 are stocked in the Rogue River, a tributary of the Grand just outside of Grand Rapids.

Anglers Sharing Fishing Tips

Anglers often gather on the banks along the river to swap stories and tips in between trips into the rapids at Sixth St. Dam. Photo by Howard Meyerson

“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 (below the coffer dams) 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. That’s where they and anglers congregate. The salmon eventually find the fish ladder at Fish Ladder Park on the west bank and move upstream to spawning locations. The park there is also a great location to watch others fish or get a look at the salmon as they attempt to leap the dam or swim through the ladder following the current. 

Anglers are reminded that an all-species fishing license is required to fish for trout and salmon in Michigan. They are available at Meijer stores, local bait and tackle shops and online (  An annual resident license costs $26.00. Annual senior licenses cost $11. Residents and non-residents can also purchase a daily license for $11 or a 72-hour license for $30. Michigan also charges a $1 surcharge used to educate the public about hunting and fishing.