The Grand River is the Longest River in the state of Michigan. It starts just south of Jackson and empties into Lake Michigan at Grand Haven some 250 miles later. There are several tributaries that contribute to the Grand River making it the 2nd largest watershed dumping its flow into Lake Michigan. The Grand River accounts for 13% of all the water that flows into the big lake.
A couple years back Field and Stream listed Grand Rapids as the nations 6th best fishing city largely due to the fishing downtown. The salmon and steelhead that come up the river to spawn congregate at the sixth street dam before traversing the fish ladder built by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Pure Michigan lists the fish ladder as a tourist attraction on its site. Some of the larger and stronger fish can clear the dam with one mighty jump under the right water conditions. The fishing can be just crazy good and fisherman flock from all over to catch some of the best freshwater game fish the world has to offer.
The 6th street dam is 450 feet across and isn't really a typical dam, it's actually a spillway. The water pours over the top and there is no way to change the water flow by any mechanical means. There is no reservoir or pond above the dam either. The dam was built in 1848 and the river dredged for its rock to make foundations for many of the buildings in the downtown area. At one time the river was a main waterway for the logging industry that was booming for several decades.
Before I get to involved in any fishing info I do want to point out that this part of the river can be dangerous. There have been instances where fisherman have lost their lives. No fish is worth a life. I would recommend using a wading staff for all wading anglers and a wading belt. I have taken a couple of cold water face plants dues to current, slippery or large rocks, or even a fish pulling on a stringer tied to my waist throwing me off balance. During low water condition a wader can cross the river near the dam with care. Once the water is on the rise be VERY careful.
There are several areas of interest for fisherman. The first and most obvious is the large concrete fish ladder located on the west bank of the river. Fisherman and guests can watch the current spawning fish traversing the damn on the wayward journey to their spawning ground. Sometimes this is uneventful and boring if no fish are jumping, but there are times when a fish or multiple fish are jumping the ladders every couple of seconds. There are posted fishing regulations about not fishing withing the ladder itself and how many feet away you must be to legally fish. The boundary is clearly marked by paint lines where you can legally fish.
The boils is a deeper hole between the fish ladder and the ice breaker, which is located in the center of the dam. The water literally looks like it is boiling as the water rushes straight down into the river at the base of the dam. There is a run right near the dam, one behind the center of the boils and one at the ice breaker. These areas have stronger current and can be tougher to wade through. Walk slow when wading and try not to lift your feet too high, the current can catch you quickly and toss you off balance. Some of the regulars in the area know of some of the other smaller runs and currents and will flock to those areas where the fish are holding. Some fisherman drift bobbers with jigs topped with spawn or waxies in the two center most runs. Others will cast a drift rig and drift flies, spawn, rubber eggs, and sometimes even crawlers. The boils have a different feel to them and your line may travel a different direction once it hits the water on each cast due to the churning deep water. Some anglers will choose to cast hardware because drift fishing can be difficult.
There is a boat launch on the Eastern shore of the river where many fisherman line up shoulder to shoulder to fish the run along the shore. This is pure combat fishing with drifting being the only method and flies and spawn are what make up almost every fisherman's arsenal here. I have seen many a crossed line and flared temper as fish become lost due to another fisherman. The water here is swift as the water travels over natural bedrock just below the damn. The footing can be slippery as some waders venture father out away from the crowd. They often huddle close together when doing this. Many of the locals fish here and they know each other well. I would suggest talking to the people around you and asking if they don't mind you jumping into their midst. Often times someone may be about to leave o you can find yourself chatting with a new group of friends.
As the water fluctuates you must be aware of your surroundings. The lower the water gets the boats disappear as wading becomes easier and safer. Do not let down your guard when in the mighty Grand, it's currents are always strong and unforgiving. When the water is clear and low polarized glasses will help you see debris, larger rocks and other obstructions before you stumble over them.
Steelhead enter the rivers in the late fall following the Salmon gorging themselves on eggs floating downstream. Anything that resembles eggs from will catch fish. Glo Bugs, Nuke eggs, and egg sucking leeches work well in the dark waters of the Grand River downtown. Rubber eggs and beads can catch fish as well. Spawn is a favorite bait whether it is drifted or floated under a bobber. You can find steelhead downtown all from fall to spring and some die hards fish in the worst weather all through the winter. Once the water starts to warm from spring thaws and warm rains there is another push of steelhead from Lake Michigan. The fish have spawning on their minds, but are still feeding because they will return back to the lake after they are finished. In the last couple of years there has been some fisherman Spey casting large gaudy articulated flies resembling leeches and minnows. Steelhead will pound the crap out of a well presented spey pattern !
Summer run steelhead fishing can be spotty at best, but there are always some fish in the Grand River system through the summer months. The summer run steelhead are the clinically insane beasts of the river and once hooked you would swear they escaped from the Circus after seeing their acrobatic jumps and leaps.
Fall fishing can be very exciting because you can catch large Browns, Lakers as well as the Salmon and Steelhead. Sometimes you never know whats on the end of your line until you actually see the fish up close. A mixed bag of fish is common for those who like to keep what they catch. Lake trout are few compared to years past when you could catch tons of them. All Lakers have to be released because they are out of season.