Michigan is in the center of the salmon and steelhead action in the Great Lakes, and two of its flagship rivers-the Pere Marquette and the Big Manistee-have long boasted enormous runs of both chinooks and steelhead. The third of the big three here, also a Lake Michigan tributary, is the Muskegon, north of Grand Rapids and roughly halfway up the west side of the lower peninsula. September and October are the best months for big chinook salmon, and the best fall steelhead fishing starts in October, as the chinook run peaks and then dwindles.
The hot zone is the tailwater stretch from Croton Dam down to Newaygo. This is big water, as much as 300 feet or more across in some areas, and best fished by boat, which will also help get you away from the crowds. There is some shore access, notably at Thornapple Avenue and Pine Avenue (on opposite sides of the river) not far below the dam.
The salmon are big, reaching 20 to 30 pounds or more. Steelhead pushing 20 pounds are taken here every year. Match your tackle to your quarry. Trying to hook and land a big chinook on a 6-weight trout fly rod is simply stupid. The people who try this every year lose lots of time and tackle, as well as aggravate their angling neighbors as the uncontrollable fish runs amok. A 10-weight outfit will allow much greater pressure on the fish; you still won’t be in total control, but at least you’ll have a chance.
Matt and Laurie Supinski’s Gray Drake Lodge on the river at Newaygo is an excellent option for lodging, food, and guided fishing. Matt Supinski is the author of Steelhead Dreams (Frank Amato Publications, $29.95), a terrific overview of Great Lakes steelhead fishing. Finish breakfast at the lodge, hop in Supinski’s jet boat, and he’ll show you how it’s done on the Muskegon.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources, 517-373-1280; www.michigan.gov/dnr. Gray Drake Lodge, 231-652-2868; www.graydrake.com.