Floating the Flint River Near Montrose

If you find yourself in Genesee County and surrounding areas you may want to check out the Flint River. Sure, Flint has gotten a bad reputation recently, but the river was not at fault. I’ve had the opportunity to kayak on countless rivers in Michigan and beyond and I can honestly say that the Flint River stands with the best. This river flows through everything, from heavily wooded areas and some small towns to right through downtown Flint.

I’d like to focus on a small section just south of the M-57. Running from the Flushing Township Nature Park north and ending at Barber Memorial Park in Montrose, this section offers clear water under normal circumstances. But this river can be affected quickly by rain that stains the water. Any substantial rainfall not only muddies the water but raises the water level as well. You can expect depths of 2 to 3 feet on average. Some deeper holes can be found that reach up to 10 feet while other areas are just inches deep and you have to drag your kayak or canoe. Under normal conditions, though, this section is an easy float. The current is a little quicker in the shallower areas, causing it to be a bit difficult to go back upstream. The float from the nature park to Barber Park can be done in two to three hours, but when we fish it we easily take six hours.

On this stretch, a typical Michigan hardwood forest surrounds you. Meandering downstream, you will come across several islands. It doesn’t matter what side you choose, as they all end in the same place. However, when the river is low, one side may leave you dragging. In lower conditions I stick to the outside corner, if available. Occasionally, you’ll stumble across a yard here or there. Don’t let those fool you though, as this area is packed with wildlife and it’s not uncommon to spook deer or flocks of ducks, spot curious muskrats or see map turtles.

The fishing in this area is outstanding, as this river is mostly sand and rock underneath. Large patches of flowing grass, rocks, boulders and laydowns provide tons of cover for fish too. You will find deeper pools that appear black on the bottom until you suddenly see “the bottom” scurry away and realize it was a pack of catfish. A simple nightcrawler on the bottom works well. The smallmouths thrive here, with most at 14 to 16 inches although I’ve caught some in the 18-inch range. Fishing the downed timber with weightless Texas-rigged finesse worms and wacky-rigged Senkos usually does the trick. A ChatterBait in the grass might not be as productive in numbers, but it may bring you in that big bite.

Carp tend to cruise the shallows here in the hot summer weather. Corn or ‘crawlers work to tackle these heavyweights, however I witnessed one caught on a Ned rig. These rigs can also catch sheepshead and finicky smallmouths. And don’t forget to throw a spinnerbait or a buzzbait to entice some bites from the local pike. You can also find some walleyes hanging out in the deeper pools year ‘round, and when these are running, the Flint River offers some really intense action. Round ball jigs with curly-tail grubs or minnows usually tricks these toothy critters. Wading is also an option in spots and this section is known among fly fishermen as “good” smallmouth water.

When accessing the area I strongly suggest a float. Whether it’s done via kayak or canoe, I’d put in at the Flushing Township Nature Park on the east side of the river at 8295 N. McKinley Road in Flushing. When pulling in you’ll come to a parking lot. On the left side you will see a two-track that leads back through the nature preserve and to a gravel lot down by the river. Here, you must push, pull, drag or portage your vessel about 100 to 200 feet to the water. You will want to leave your shuttle or pickup at Barber Memorial Park. On Seymour Road, just south of M-57 in Montrose, the trip ends where there is a nice park with plenty of parking, playgrounds, picnic tables and a boat launch.

Hopefully, some of you will check this area out this summer and enjoy it as much as I do.