Exploring a Great Stretch of the Shiawassee River

The Shiawassee River runs for 110 miles through the middle part of Michigan. The river originates in Springfield Township, flows northwest through Holly and on through, Fenton, Linden, Byron, Bancroft and Owosso. At the end of its journey, it then joins the Saginaw River. There’s a small stretch that happens to be a favorite to float, especially for kids.

Vernon, just northwest of Durand, has two access points that cater to users of kayaks, canoes, small boats and wading anglers. The first access point is the Shiatown Dam Park on Bennington Road, just east of Bancroft Road. Here you will find the remains of the Shiatown Dam. The immediate area offers plenty of locations for shore fishing, and if you’re willing to wade a bit there will be even more opportunities. They’ve just revamped the launch there too, creating a nice paved ramp area. This gives you access to a three-mile float down to a bridge on Parmenter Road, which I use to get off the river. Here you’ll find some parking on the side of the road. This spot also gives access to wade upstream past the train trestle, and good fishing is just minutes away.

The three miles of river here are mellow, wide and shallow, with some deeper holes and small, sandy beach areas. These features help our kids enjoy this paddle. There are no trees to climb over and it’s a good place to swim. Any stretch of river kids can enjoy where I can also catch fish is good in my book. You can catch panfish, carp and suckers, but the abundance of northern pike and smallmouths really stands out. Whether you fish from shore, wade or float, you have choices on what to target. At Shiatown Dam Park I once watched a local use minnows on a jig head to catch 25 smallmouths while I ate my lunch on the side of the river. Drift a worm through the swirling pool here for many species too. There are always people fishing from shore, and they always seem to be catching.

If you’re just paddling, the trip could be done under two hours. The bottom composition is mostly sand, gravel and rocks, with a few muddy areas. The pike tend to hang out in eddies and slack waters. I’ve always had good luck using a number 3 Mepps inline spinner for pike and smallmouths. While you won’t find much around large rocks or ledges, plenty of deadfall trees supply ample holding areas for fish. Targeting these with a weightless worm such as a Senko or trick worm will entice bites from the smallies. And throw a spinnerbait in some of the faster-moving stretches where the river shallows out briefly. Dragging and hopping a jig or shaky-head worm through the deeper pools usually proves worthwhile too. Although the pike average around 24 inches, I’ve seen two that pushed 36. One was caught by a lucky angler and released; the other followed my lure just long enough for me to get an idea of his size.

The smallmouths average around the 16-inch range, however, I have landed several 18-inch-plus fish from this stretch. And if you decide to wade upstream from the bridge on Parmenter Road, you will want to stay right at the fork and then head past the train trestle. The north side of the river is sandy and easy to walk while the south side is much deeper and full of very fishable cover.

In the end, if you’re looking for a quick getaway, a few hours of float time or a new fishing spot, the Shiawassee River will not disappoint, especially in Vernon. And if you’re looking for a kid-friendly float, many youths will often request this area when your family is “decoding” where to go kayaking. The stretch is not too long, it has plenty of fish and there are sandy areas for just taking a break and swimming.

They don’t need to persuade me much to stay.