Go up north.
But if you’ve got a few free hours on one of the long summer days that lie ahead, and you want to catch fish that eat like hogs and fight like longshoremen, point your car toward the Eckert Power Station’s colossal towers.
I know, I know: Moores Park, where there’s a hydroelectric dam in the power plant’s shadow, sure doesn’t look like “A River Runs Through It.” But the tailwater below the dam is typical of the sort of blue-collar angling the Grand River offers in plenty as it flows through the Capital City. It also happens to be full of fish.
That includes one of my favorite species, the smallmouth bass. When they’re biting, it’s ridiculous fun. Cast a lure or fly that looks even a little like something a smallmouth eats — which is just about anything — and chances are you’ll soon feel a barbarous tug on your line. Feel it once, and you’ll be back.
Another great spot on the Grand — not least because it’s within shouting distance of the mole enchiladas at Pablo’s — is the area just downstream from the north Lansing dam in Old Town. It’s just down the road from Grand River Bait and Tackle, where you’ll want to ask for the latest fishing report.
Joseph Mull, who works at the shop, says the river in Old Town is full of bass, catfish, northern pike and huge carp.
“An average carp is bigger than anything else you’ll catch in the Grand River,” Mull said, and harder-fighting. Try a dough ball or some corn. Make sure you kiss your mother and make your peace with the Lord before you hook one; these scaly bastards commonly reach 30 pounds.
The Grand is the longest river in Michigan, so beyond all the great spots in the city, your fishing opportunities outside Lansing are limited only by how far you’re willing to travel. For nearby fishing holes, Mull recommends the Smithville Dam just outside Eaton Rapids, and the Fitzgerald Dam in Grand Ledge.
Don’t forget about the Grand’s tributaries. The biggest fish I’ve ever caught on a fly rod was a deep-bellied smallmouth directly beneath the bridge where Okemos Road crosses the Red Cedar River.
Of course, some people prefer still-water fishing. The Grand is a broad-shouldered old gal that gets pretty mean after a hard rain, so it’s maybe not the best place to fish with children.
For that, Mull recommends Park Lake in Bath Township. It’s full of bluegills — the perfect fish for beginning anglers — along with pike and bass. And you can teach your kid to fish in relative peace. “I’ve been out there for hours and only seen one or two people,” Mull says. “Nobody fishes it because nobody really knows about it.”
The Meridian Historical Village, just off Marsh Road, is another kid-friendly fishing spot. A new public fishing dock provides easy access to bluegills and bass, and there’s even a storage bin that holds fishing rods and tackle that visitors can use.
Other excellent places for fishing with youngsters include Lake Lansing and Hawk Island. Both offer rowboats for rent and provide ample access to great fishing, including public docks.
“Lake Lansing is known for its fabulous bass fishing” and hosts bass tournaments each summer, said Willis Bennett, Ingham County Parks director. He also recommends Burchfield Park in Holt, where anglers can catch trout from a stocked pond.
By the way, just because we’re talking here about so-called rough fish doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try fly-fishing in Lansing. The fly rod has become so closely associated with trout that people might forget that just about any species will take a well-presented fly. It takes a while to learn, but catching a fish on a fly rod is so thrilling and visceral that it’s hard to go back to your old spinning rig. I’ve never done any other kind of angling around here.
If you want to give fly-fishing a try, stop by Nomad Anglers in Okemos. They can sell you the right gear and get you started with some lessons.