American Fly Fishing

By Kevin Feenstra

Michigan’s famous Muskegon River is widely known for its steelhead, salmon, and resident trout. The glamorous stretch of the river, from Croton Dam to Muskegon Lake, totals 46 miles of beautiful riffles, clear pools, and excellent fish-attracting structure. Yet the Muskegon is a very long river—228 miles in total—and much of it gets considerably less attention from anglers. Above Croton Dam, three impoundments quietly provide some fantastic fishing opportunities for warm-water species. Of course, the dams change the nature of the ecosystem dramatically, and each of these three reservoirs—Croton Dam Pond, Hardy Dam Pond, and Rogers Dam Pond—is unique.
   Croton Dam Pond, at the small town of Croton, gathers both the Muskegon and Little Muskegon Rivers into two separate arms, Little Croton Pond and Big Croton Pond. The character of these two ponds reflects the character of the two rivers. The Little Muskegon River becomes turbid easily and tends to carry a lot of sand and silt when it rains. Thus, Little Croton Pond tends to become muddy during a heavy melt or rain, whereas the big pond tends to remain more clear. Both of these lakes have excellent panfish opportunities, and also offer a chance at huge pike during spring, soon after the season opens. Locals know that Croton Pond is prime real estate for anglers who want to catch big pike. As summer arrives, Croton Pond can become a complicated fishery, with many of the big predators moving to the river channel and deeper places. Nonetheless, it remains a first-class fishery for smallmouth bass and panfish throughout the year. Its proximity to the tailwater fishery (the boat launch to Croton Pond is literally a mile from steelhead and trout fishing) means you could spend a half day fishing for cool-water species and then spend the rest of the day fishing for warm-water fish.
   The “big” Muskegon’s next impoundment, upstream (north) from Croton Pond, is Hardy Dam Pond, formed by one of the largest earthen dams in the country. This large reservoir has several boat launches that accommodate a wide variety of watercraft. Hardy is surrounded by substantial public property that is home to great nature trails and other outdoor recreational opportunities. You could spend a lot of time getting to know this part of the river system, but two areas are of prime interest to fly fishers. The upper end of the pond, narrow and riverlike as it leads up to Rogers Dam, offers excellent smallmouth bass and pike fishing, as well as good prospects for carp. Furthermore, fly anglers catch large perch and the occasional walleye.
 The lower end of the reservoir, close to Hardy Dam, has lots of rock structure along the shore and is excellent for smallmouth. If you want a shot at a truly large smallie, Hardy Pond is the place to be.
   Heading upstream from Hardy Dam Pond, the next impoundment is Rogers Pond. Smaller than its two downstream counterparts, it contains myriad warm-water species, including channel catfish, which grow large and sometimes take flies. In fact, I’ve had catfish here try to eat 3- to 4-pound smallmouth bass I had hooked. Rogers Pond is also a gateway to parts of the Muskegon known for fantastic smallmouth bass fishing.
   In all three reservoirs, poppers and attractor streamers serve well, but during hatches of Hexagenia and Ephoron mayflies, fish will eat dry flies Terrestrial patterns, including hoppers, cicadas, and caterpillars, are likewise effective, especially on windy days when such insects get blown onto the water.
   The Muskegon River offers much more than its oft-publicized tailwater fishery and top-flight steelhead runs. Indeed, Croton, Hardy, and Rogers Dam Ponds contribute even more variety and intrigue to this lengthy and beautiful river so rich in local lore and angling opportunity.


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