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The "White" Holds Memories Aplenty
An Article on Fishing Michigan's White River
By: Todd Schotts
[Previously Published in the MFFC Newsletter - The evening Hatch]
The White Holds Memories a Plenty
By Todd A. Schotts
(Previously published January 07’ in the MFFC Newsletter, “The Evening Hatch”).
The White River
This mid-northern Michigan River is rich in Indian Lore. Tales of ancient battles between native peoples
are chronicled in local histories, both written and oral. An Indian burying ground is located near one of
the cities where the river empties into Lake Michigan. The early Native American Indians called this river
“Waubishsippi”, but we know this river as the White River.
The White River drains Newaygo, Oceana, and Muskegon Counties, a watershed of about 300,000 acres;
which includes about 253 linear miles of streams. The White River also flows through portions of the
Huron-Manistee National Forest. In this vast watershed you can fish for brown, rainbow and brook trout,
steelhead, salmon, smallmouth bass, pike, walleye, and white suckers. But, the White also offers fishing
for various panfish. The White River is part of Michigan’s State Designated Natural River System.
The White River rises from the extensive Oxford Swamp, located in the northeast corner of Newaygo
County, where a number of feeder streams converge. Starting out, the White flows southward toward
White Cloud. At White Cloud the river runs into its first major manmade obstruction, the White Cloud
Dam. Then the river turns west for the next 10-13 miles, where it loses it trout holding capacity, with
minimal structure, and grassy, sandy banks. As the river flows by Luce Avenue to Hesperia it regains its
“trouty” characteristics with an abundance of gravel runs, deep pools and structure. Here it’s once
again an excellent river for trout. Before long though, it runs into its second major manmade obstacle,
the Hesperia Dam. Back in 1986, both of these dams, the White Cloud Dam, and the Hesperia Dam, were
almost lost in a major flood. I can still remember fishing the trout opener that year at my Uncle’s place
out by Luce Avenue (darn memory loss, cannot remember exactly where). As I was fishing a deep hole, I
hooked into a steelhead that got over the broken dam in Hesperia. Unfortunately for me, a 5-foot, ultra
light action rod just didn’t hold up to a leaping and dancing chromer. It wasn’t long before I heard the
ominous ‘C-R-A-C-K’, which spelled the end for that steelhead encounter, my rod, and my day of fishing.
As the river leaves the village of Hesperia, the river meanders and widens, and it gets murkier. Before
the river surges out to its final destination with Lake Michigan, you will come across the confluence of
the North Branch of the White River, where it meats the South Branch, which is also called the Main
Branch of the White. Now as the White makes its final push as a river, it will traverse muck fields and
swamps before it enters what is classified as “Drowned River-Mouth Lake,” or White Lake. This lake has
a surface of four square miles (2,571 acres) and is located between the cities of Whitehall and Montague.
The lake is roughly 5 miles long, reaching a maximum depth of roughly 70 feet. At its widest, it measures
roughly 1.25 miles across. It is here in Whitehall that the Indian Burying Point is located. Along with the
Native American history, the area is also rich in the history of the logging era. The last surge of this
bloated river system runs through White Lake Channel into Lake Michigan.
The White River system is fairly shallow and can be easily waded. But never take it for granted, as deep
pools are intermixed with fast water. The bottom is similar to the Au Sable or the Pere Marquette; with
shallow gravel riffles, dotted intermittently with holes and runs. As for the hatches; they would include
sulfurs, gray drakes and ephrons, with an abundance of caddis and stoneflies. The stoneflies usually
start to emerge in late February and March, with the major hatches taking place in May, June, July, and
August. So remember to bring your elk hair caddis’s and your stonefly patterns. But I would suggest also
throwing in some streamers like woolly buggers and white zonker’s, which may aid in moving a nice
brown or rainbow trout. Also, if you decide to fish the White’s upper reaches, make sure your fly box
also contains a few mice patterns.
‘Memories a Plenty’
The hidden treasure of this river is that it holds a special place in my heart. I can remember going up to
my uncle’s place for the opening day of trout season with my dad every year when I was young. We
weren’t familiar with the art of fly fishing, but we still had a blast catching brookies, browns, and creek
chubs using worms and hooks. Oh, and I cannot forget that dancing chromer that one unique year.
Unfortunately, my father passed away just over five (5) years ago; so we don’t have any of those opening
day memories to make. But I cannot wait to go and do some fly fishing in the areas where he fished when
he was a youngster with his brothers, or where we fished as an anxious son watching and learning from
his mentor, his father.
Tight Lines and this one is for you, Bub.