Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"She's So Fly" is Fly Fishing for Winter Steelhead on the Manistee River in Michigan

Fly Fishing for Winter Steelhead on the Manistee River in Michigan

The Manistee River runs approximately 232 miles through Michigan's northern lower peninsula, through the villages of Sharon, Smithville, Mesick, Wellston and enters Lake Michigan at Manistee. It is considered to be one of the best trout fisheries east of the Rockies. The river rises in the sand hills in southeastern Antrim County, on the border with Otsego County, about six miles southeast of the town of Alba. These deep glacial sands provide it with a remarkably stable flow of clean cold water year round, making it a popular river for fishing as well as canoeing. Over the course of its length, it drops in elevation from around 1300 feet to 582 feet, with an average stream gradient of about 2.9 feet per mile.

The Manistee River is one of the finest steelhead, salmon, and trout rivers in Michigan and the Great Lakes area. Known as the "Big Manistee," or just "The Big," because of its neighbor the Little Manistee, the Manistee is one of the most diverse fisheries in the country. A pre-imminent river for the migration of Lake Michigan steelhead and salmon, it is also a quality trout stream.

Steelhead and Salmon Fly Fishing

From Tippy Dam downstream to Lake Michigan the Manistee river is nationally reputable as a migratory fish angling Mecca. The spring and fall runs of Steelhead surpass most rivers in the nation. Fly fishing anglers from around the world visit the gravel bars near the dam and the national forest woodlands on either side of the river further downstream. In addition, the fall runs of Coho and Chinook Salmon give an angler chances at silver trains of 30 pounds or more.

This is where I fished for winter steelhead this past November. I learned a new method of fly fishing called Chuck and Duck. Chuck and Duck fly fishing is the most effective fly fishing method to catch salmon and steelhead on the manistee river.

Big Manistee; Tippy Dam to Lake Michigan

From the foot of Tippy Dam to the confluence with Manistee Lake, the lower Big Manistee River offers over 25 miles of world class fishing. Depending on what time of year you ply its cold clear waters you have the chance of finding more than a dozen species of game fish. The river’s best known for it’s fall and spring run of anadromous species such as Chinook Salmon, Brown and Lake Trout, and Little Manistee strain of Steelhead. One more bonus for the summer angler would be the decent run of Skamania (Summer Run Steelhead).

The first mile below Tippy Dam is a high gradient riffle area which is very conducive to the spawning of anadromous species as well as a few others such as Walleye and Suckers. Further downstream the river changes moods and becomes wider, slower and favors species more attuned to this type of water such as Bass, Pike, and even a couple Muskie.

While the entire stretch of river is accessible, within the lower parts access is quite a bit sparser; most anglers choose to access it via boat. Shallow drafting V-Bottom boats have little problem navigating the lower waters, however the unfamiliar boater should still keep eyes to the water as there’s a number of submerged hazards.

Walk in access is very good for the first couple miles below the dam, as well as at a number of access sites spread out down the river. Wading is at your own risk. While the current slows considerably the further downstream you get, you can still easily take a wrong step and “float your hat”.


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