ROCKFORD, Mich. Ask an experienced Michigan angler to name a few great rivers that offer terrific fishing, and one of the first they might name would be the Rogue River, a tributary of the Grand River.
Michigan fishermen love the Rogue, and who can blame them? The river offers two great attractions. The first is the excellent mix of species, including rainbows, browns and steelhead.
The second is proximity; the Rogue is close to where a lot of people live, including Grand Rapids to the south and Rockford to the north. A lot of anglers can get to this great water without having to travel too far.
Tale of two rivers
One angler who knows this water better than most is Glen Blackwood of the Great Lakes Fly Fishing Company (800-303-0567) in Rockford. Blackwood guides on the river, and he considers it to be two rivers rolled into one.
The first river, said Blackwood, is the "lower river," comprised of the flow below the Rockford Dam. The second river is the "upper river," which is all the water and real estate above the dam.
In a nutshell, the lower river gets more attention and more angling pressure because of the excellent steelhead run that takes place below the dam structure every winter and spring.
During February and throughout March, this is an incredibly productive stretch of water for metal headers.
The upper river, on the other hand, is more of a classic trout stream, and anglers can't start working this water until the trout opener the last Saturday in April to the last day in September.
Hit the lower river
With a warmer-than-average January, the Rogue offered ice-free fishing and good access for steel headers this winter. Consequently, a lot of anglers caught fish during a time of year that's traditionally pretty tough.
The real peak period however, starts this month, in March, and caps in April provided that the weather cooperates.
In fact, once the water temperatures rise this month, the lower section of the Rogue is expected to come alive as the trickle of winter fish turns into a huge run of spring fish.
The runs in March and April not only produce the most fish, but, according to Blackwood, late-running steelhead can be caught well into May too.
Until we get a shot of spring weather, however, anglers must continue to fish winter patterns.
"With temps as cool as they are right now, anglers using flies will need to have a very slow presentation to entice the fish," Blackwood said.
"The fish in this area are extremely lethargic. Most anglers using flies are using small Pheasant Tails, Hare's Ears, hex nymphs, green caddis rock worms, and small, natural-colored eggs. Anglers have the best luck with these types of nymphs because they're predominately what is in the river from now until mid-March."
Anglers using these patterns are not only catching steelhead, but also a fair amount of rainbows and browns.
If you like fly fishing, pay attention: The Rogue has a variety of healthy insect hatches, including all varieties that are found on other Michigan rivers. This is a very buggy river, and for that reason it's perfect for fly fishing.
"It starts with the black stonefly and moves on to BWOs, Hendricksons, two types of sulphurs, brown drakes, gray drakes and hexes," Blackwood said.
Of note, once water temperatures start to increase a little this month, steelhead will begin to go nuts for black stoneflies.
"Once the black stoneflies are on the river, the steelhead start to concentrate on feeding on them," Blackwood said.
"During early March, it's probably the most productive pattern."
If fly fishing is not your cup of tea, anglers fish the lower river with offerings that include spawn bags and spinners.
Where to fish
The Rogue offers good access. If you're going to fish the lower river section, there's public parking at the dam in Rockford.
Just below the dam is a city park, which also offers a fair amount of parking.
Michigan DNR recently purchased property on Childsdale Road and parking is available there too. Below that, there's also access via the Packer Bridge. During bad snows and freezing weather, however, some or all of these areas can be inaccessible.
If you would like to fish above the dam, there are plenty of access points, including at 11 Mile and Jewel. J
ust downstream or north of the Algoma Bridge, the Rogue River State Game Area parallels the River and provides public access too.
The best water for fishing with dry flies up above is probably from 12 Mile Road at Summit on down probably some of the best bug water on the Rogue.
Drive to the Rogue
To reach the river, drive north out of Grand Rapids on Highway 131. Rockford and the river are 15 minutes to the north.
For fly fishing information, contact the Great Lakes Fly Fishing Company (800-303-0567).
For bait and tackle, there's O's Bait and Tackle in downtown Rockford (616-866-7047) and Little Sack Grocery and Sports (616-866-4600).
To stay overnight, or for a few days of steel heading and trout action, contact Grandma's House B&B (616-866-4111); Chandler Lodge, also a B&B (616-866-4400); or the Comfort Suites in Rockford (616-785-7899).
The Grand Rogue Campground opens on April 28 and their season runs to Oct. 1. They can be reached at (616) 361-1053.
The Rogue is a Type 4 river under the Michigan DNR's river management system.
The lower river is open year-round, and the upper river is open from the last Saturday in April until the last day of September.
The limit is five fish per day, with only three fish over 15 inches allowed, and only one salmon allowed.
Minimum sizes for trout are 8 inches for brookies, and 10 inches for browns and rainbows.
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