This is my “home away from home” river. My wife and I have a piece of property on the water near Crystal Mountain right on the Betsie River. We are still trying to learn new water as our first couple summers have been focused on the stretch between Kurick and Psutka Rd.
Fish found on the Betsie River:
Although there are resident brown, brook and some rainbow trout, the main attraction here is the run of King Salmon in the fall. The Betsie River also gets a fall/winter/spring run of steelhead. The steelhead run has good years and not so good years, and it seems to get overshadowed by more prolific runs on the Manistee and Pere Marquette, which are both within an hour drive. This usually means that you will have less company out on the river, especially in the winter months.
Seasons and Techniques:
What we think really sets the Betsie River apart from other more popular streams is the fact that the Kings start running early. Typically by mid August you can find some large silver Kings in some of the deeper sand holes. These fish are willing takers and since they are fresh from the lake they are a riot on a fly rod. Although I haven’t tried it yet, I have heard many people say you can catch these fish swinging large streamers in the heat of summer. Watching a 25lb fresh King chase down a streamer is a real rush, and I’m hoping to check this off my bucket list this year.
- Summer – There are trout in the river. I haven’t done enough trout specific fishing here to tell you any secrets. But, I have caught enough decent trout while salmon fishing to know they are there. If you happen to be hitting the river during the summer months, focus your efforts above Psutka Rd and into Thompsonville. The Betsie River has lots of deep pools and log jams. Nymphing and swinging streamers would seem to be the ticket. I haven’t been on the water for a hatch there yet, but i have caught a couple small trout on small Adams and BWO dry flies.
- Late Summer/Fall – This is where the Betsie River shines! In a good year you can have large pods of salmon throughout the entire system by mid to late August. This is a lot of fun in a kayak, and its not unheard of to have salmon knocking into your boat and splashing you. If its not an ideal early run focus on the water below Homestead Dam. The main technique used for salmon on the Betsie River is chuck-n-duck. with the many deep sand holes it is the easiest way to get your rig down to the fish. Also, don’t forget my tip above. If you catch the run just right and you run into a pod of fresh fish, don’t be afraid to try swinging a large bright deceiver pattern or a leech with some flash.
- Late Fall – As the salmon begin to hit the gravel to spawn some fall steelhead will begin to trickle into the river. These fish will be focused in on salmon eggs, so that will be the choice of the day. I would come with a chuck-n-duck rig as well as a floating line with indicator rig. Use the chuck-n-duck in the same way you would for salmon, in the deeper holes. For the shallower runs use your indicator rig. Keep in mind that the steelhead will post up down stream from active spawning salmon. Chose your weapon according to the water behind the salmon. Use your bright natural red/orange egg patterns to mimic the fresh eggs early in the season. As the salmon taper down start turning to your “spent” egg patterns which will be paler in color. Don’t be afraid to try some white egg patterns as fall turns to winter to imitate dead/spent eggs that have had all their color drained out. Most people will focus all their steelhead energy below Homestead Dam. I have to believe they make their way above the dam in the fall/winter, but I haven’t seen people fish up there much until spring. This may be a good opportunity to get on some less pressured fish though. Sometimes less is more when it comes to steelhead.
- Winter – In good years the Betsie River is a formidable 4 season fishery. Again focus on the lower river, with most of your attention to deeper pools/runs and structure. If you are streamer fishing try larger patterns. These fish are cold and they want a big meal if they are going to chase something down. I have found the opposite to be true when nymphing. Try sizing your rigs down as small as sizes 14-16 when the water is clear. The Betsie River usually carries a bit more stain that some of its neighbors, so bulk things up in muddy water. Stoneflies, caddis nymphs, eggs (pale until closer to spring), and hare’s ears are all good patterns.
- Spring – I look at this as being similar to fall steelheading. you are going to use both chuck-n-duck in the deeper holes and indicator nymphing in the shallower areas. Your egg patterns will scale down to imitate steelhead eggs instead of salmon, but you will find fish positioned similarly behind spawning fish.
Map and Access:
The water above Kurick Rd is closed from October 1st through March 31st. There are lots of access points above Kurick and they can be productive for trout. We will add more specifics as we explore
Kurick, Psutka and County Line Rd Bridges – The upstream limit for year round fishing is Kurick Rd. These access points are popular with locals because the weekend warriors focus in on Homestead Dam. There is walk in wading access here as well as decent launches for kayaks and canoes. The river is full of sharp bends, but the water is usually tame. Watch for sweepers and you should be ok.
Access between County Line and Homestead is limited. I will update this after some more exploring.
Homestead to M-31 Bridge – This is where most of the action happens. you can start at either end and work your way up or down. The foot paths are fairly defined and most semi-experienced waders can fish all this water in a day. You can float it as well. Its a short trip, maybe 1-2 hours plus fishing time. Again lots of tight turns and downed trees.
Grace Rd and both River Roads – These two sections (Grace to 1st River Rd bridge and River Rd to 2nd bridge) can be awesome in late August for aggressive Kings that will chase a streamer or swung fly. However, you can also float the whole section without seeing anything. Fish migrate through the lower river pretty quickly, and there is lots of overhanging vegetation for them to stay hidden. So this is hit or miss, but when its a hit it is a ton of fun!
River Rd Bridge #2 to the mouth – I’ve floated this before without much luck. It was early August and the fish hadn’t really starting running yet, but i didn’t see a lot of likely holding water. It is my opinion that the fish run pretty quickly through this stretch and are hard to target. Thundersticks on spinning/casting gear down by Betsie Lake are probably your best option down here.