K-Zoo Tributary Trout
October 04, 2010
The feeder streams to the Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan offer good trout fishing. Here's a guided tour. (June 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
The drone of the traffic noise coming from the expressway was annoying, but soon I was immersed in the beauty of the stream.
Less than 100 yards from the highway, I cast my spinner into a deep hole. As the gold lure neared my rod tip, I spotted a large dark form following it, but the fish did not take the bait. Several more casts did not bring the fish back, so I switched to a copper spinner. It was a good decision because the big trout inhaled the lure on the next cast.
After a lengthy and splashy tussle, I finagled the brown trout into my net. It stretched over 2 feet and weighed over 6 pounds in the net -- a true trophy. The commotion attracted the attention of the landowner who was working in his yard, and I talked him into taking a photo of the trout before I released the fish.
The stream I was fishing was Rice Creek near the town of Marshall in south-central Michigan. This creek is a tributary to the Kalamazoo River, which is a large warmwater stream that begins as two branches south of Jackson and then flows west and a bit north to Lake Michigan at Saugatuck. While there are no trout in the mainstream, many of the K-Zoo's tributaries offer good trout fishing.
Let's start this guided tour upstream and move west, giving you the details on where to find trout in the Kalamazoo River watershed.
The South Branch of the Kalamazoo starts as a warmwater stream, but a large influx of groundwater where the creek dips into northern Hillsdale County results in ideal trout habitat. Wild brown trout are numerous here, so there is no need to stock the stream. The prime reach lies between Grove Road in Jackson County and Concord Road in Hillsdale County, with access at road crossings. Most of the trout will run between 8 and 14 inches, but some very large fish exist. Two years ago, I was having an average day on the stream, with my largest trout measuring 13 inches. I ran my spinner by an undercut bank and was shocked by the appearance of a huge fish in the ultra-clear water. At first, I thought it was a pike, but it turned out to be a 25.5-inch brown, nearly twice as long as my next biggest trout.
Rice Creek is the first sizable trout tributary to the mainstream, and it is stocked throughout its journey through Calhoun County. Even though its North Branch is a warmwater stream, the best trout fishing is found in the lower part of the creek -- below the confluence -- because groundwater additions more than counterbalance the warm inflow from this tributary. The Kalamazoo Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited is very active on projects to improve the trout fishing on Rice Creek. They are now working with the Department of Natural Resources to remove a dam near Marshall, which should help extend the trout water.
Moving downstream, Augusta Creek is the next major trout tributary to the Kalamazoo. Between Rice and Augusta creeks, there are four small streams offering fishing for brown trout. Bear Creek west of Marshall, Dickinson Creek and Minges Brook near Battle Creek, and Seven Mile Creek west of Battle Creek all contain brown trout, and some brookies are possible. Only Dickinson receives any planted trout. Access is limited to road crossings, and often you will need to get landowner permission because these creeks are small.
Augusta Creek is a good-sized stream stocked annually with browns. A long reach of it flows through Kellogg Forest just downstream from M-89. This reach is owned by Michigan State University, is open to the public and offers the best trout fishing. There is even a stocked pond on the property where kids can catch trout. You will also find good trout fishing above and below the forest, with access at the bridges.
Suburban trout fishing is found in Portage Creek, which joins the K-Zoo River in the city of Kalamazoo. The north-flowing creek begins as a trout stream and ends up as a Super Fund Site because of paper-mill waste. Obviously, the place to fish is upstream near the town of Portage. The prime reach is between Center and Milham roads. There are trails and parkland along parts of the stream here. Like Augusta Creek, this stream is stocked with brown trout, and it is open enough to fly-fish in some areas.
North of the city of Kalamazoo, Spring Brook joins the big river. It is home to an excellent population of wild brown trout and a few brookies. Interestingly, I have caught as many tiger trout -- a brook/brown hybrid -- here as I have brookies. This is probably a testament to the scarcity of the brook trout. If this stream were larger, it would surely be classified as a "blue-ribbon" trout stream. Much of lower Spring Brook flows through back yards, which makes it open enough to fly-fish but also requires that you get permission from the landowners. An abandoned railroad trail provides access to the middle of the creek, and this is probably your best bet for good trouting. The growth rate is good here, and the DNR has raised the minimum to 12 inches for browns below DE Avenue.
Just north of Spring Brook, Silver Creek offers small-stream trout anglers another chance at wild browns. There is a better chance at brookies in this stream than Spring Brook, and the best fishing is in the first few miles up from the main river.
North of the city of Kalamazoo, Spring Brook joins the big river. It is home to an excellent population of wild brown trout and a few brookies.
The outlet of Gun Lake becomes a trout river a few miles downstream from the lake. Gun Creek is stocked each year with brown trout. The best fishing is found in its middle and lower sections in the southeast corner of Allegan County. Most of the stream has been dredged and straightened, but there is plenty of wood in the water for cover. Access is at its many road crossings. The stream is open enough for fly-fishing in its lower half.
The next two trout tributaries to the Kalamazoo join the main stream from the south. Pine Creek is a fairly good-sized stream that flows through three counties and joins the Kalamazoo just west of Otsego. However, the people who named Michigan's streams must have been confused here, because this flow is known as Sand Creek in Kalamazoo County, Menthe Drain in Van Buren County and Pine Creek in Allegan County. While the water quality is good and quite cold, this stream lacks spawning habitat and therefore must be planted each year with brown trout. The fishing is fairly consistent throughout its length, and many road crossings provide access.
Swan Creek is found in southern Allegan County and joins the main river a short distance downstream from the Allegan Dam. Lakes in its headwaters keep the water too warm for trout until about 109th Avenue, and the best f
ishing is downstream from 112th Avenue. The creek is stocked with browns, and the lower creek flows through the Allegan State Game Area, so there is very good access to the better trout water.
While the Rabbit River joins the Kalamazoo fairly near its mouth in western Allegan County, you will have to travel east to Wayland to find trout in this tributary. There are wild browns in the headwaters of the Rabbit, and it is stocked as it nears Wayland. This is small, tight water, but large brown trout are possible. Bridges provide access, and most of the stream flows through wetlands and forest in this area.
The last trout feeder stream joins the Kalamazoo just downstream and across the river from the Rabbit confluence. Mann Creek is a small stream that used to be planted with brook trout and now supports a wild brookie fishery. Parts of this creek are also in the state game area, plus a number of bridges provide access.
Since most of these streams are small and the trout are wary, a cautious upstream approach is best. Ultralight spinning tackle is ideal, but in many areas, you can ply the stream with a fly rod. A lot of roll-casting will usually be required when fishing with fly tackle.
It is important to remember that these are small creeks, so their trout populations are limited. Practicing catch-and-release will help ensure these streams continue to provide quality trout fishing.
For more information on these streams -- including the latest stocking reports -- you can contact the DNR at (269) 685-6851. All or parts of many of these streams are classified as Type 4 and are open to year-round fishing with catch-and-release outside of the regular trout season. Consulting the 2007 Inland Trout & Salmon Guide will inform you about these and any other special regulations. Local tackle and fly shops can also help with current fishing information. Their phone numbers are available through local chambers of commerce, which can be reached through the Michigan Chamber of Commerce at (517) 371-2100, or on the Web at MiChamber.com.