A Fish For Every Season
Late summer means the “salmon watching” season—yes, that’s a real thing—on the Crystal River is almost here. Super shallow and gin-clear, the aptly named Crystal passes through The Homestead resort and is just about the best place around for catching a glimpse of Michigan’s most popular sportfish. Here’s the scoop on checking them out them during their annual spawning ritual, along with information and the best times of year to see a wide variety of river-running fish.
Chinook/King salmon, Wikipedia
August in Northwestern Lower Michigan brings cooler nighttime temperatures and late summer rain. And when those rains begin to fall, you know the salmon are not far behind.
There are three species of salmon commonly seen in local rivers during their annual, fall spawning run: Atlantic, Coho, and Chinook. Any angler who has caught a salmon will tell you they are a thrilling species to catch. Hard-hitting, super powerful, and downright huge, adult Chinook (a.k.a. “king”) salmon—the most common species seen in the Crystal anytime during the month of September—can weigh anywhere from 18 to 30 pounds.
Seeing them up close is a thrill, even if you’re not an angler. And that’s what makes the shallow, clear and slow-moving Crystal such a great place to see them in their natural environment throughout the month of September.
Early morning along the boardwalk at the Beach Club—or from the middle of the walking bridge spanning the Crystal River just upstream—is probably the best time and place to do a little salmon watching. Some guests even rent canoes and kayaks and float long stretches of the river for a chance to see a lot of salmon up close.
Roughly six miles long, the Crystal River slowly twists and turns its way through tranquil woods and swamps before passing through the town of Glen Arbor and, finally, the grounds at The Homestead. In addition to salmon, other wildlife—namely deer, herons, and waterfowl—are also commonly seen on an early-autumn float on the Crystal.
What Winter (And Spring) Brings
While the Crystal River doesn’t see the large runs of steelhead typical on larger Michigan rivers, steelhead can sometimes be spotted in the Crystal River as early as October when the fish often follow the salmon upstream from lake Michigan to feast on freshly laid salmon eggs. Adult steelhead—really just an overgrown rainbow trout—are sleek and silver and can reach 36-inches and up to 20 pounds; though, on the Crystal smaller fish of six to seven pounds are more common.
Unlike salmon that die after spawning, steelhead can lay their eggs and live on, returning to Lake Michigan to repeat the process year after year. Spawning steelhead can enter the river anytime between October and early May. Steelhead that follow schools of spawning salmon into the river will occasionally decide to “overwinter” here, getting a jump start on the spring steelhead spawning season (which typically begins in March).
The Fish Of Summer
If you were anywhere around the Beach Club this past June, you maybe noticed there some very large, dark, submarine-sized fish finning in the sandy, river shallows along the boardwalk. Spotting big fish in a small river is always pretty thrilling, even if they are just common carp.
Streams and smaller rivers like the Crystal offer the perfect spawning environment for all sorts of fish. Each species gets the urge to run the river and spawn at different times of the year. Exactly when depends on water temperature. Some species like freezing cold water. Others like it warm, (relatively speaking); think of it as nature’s little way of not crowding up the river.
So after the spring sucker run (typically in April), fish such as pike (which also like to eat the bottom-feeding suckers) spawning smallmouth bass and common carp can often be spotted near the mouth of the Crystal and along the boardwalk upstream from the Beach Club.
Guests commonly ask if fishing is allowed at the mouth of the Crystal and along the beach at The Homestead. And the answer is, yes. From surf casting for salmon in September to summertime smallmouth bass (brown in color, much smaller and torpedo shaped), the resort offers residents and angling guests a diverse list of species that are fun to catch. Just make sure you know the season dates and have a valid Michigan fishing license. Clickfor a link to the Michigan DNR website for more information.