Manistee River below Tippy Dam

Manistee River Fishing Report

Manistee River Below Tippy Dam

The Manistee River below Tippy Dam fishing report for early October. Water Levels are a little low for this time of year, but water is extremely clear with a slight green tint. Our main focus this time of year is on the migratory Fall Steelhead . With plenty of King Salmon spawning in the Upper Sections near Tippy Dam the Egg Train is cooking.

Still a good number of King Salmon in the holes in the mid river section, and would guess with the weather system headed our way this Thursday and Friday we should get one more small push of Kings and some Coho’s.

Fall Steelhead Fishing

Fall Steelhead fishing is one of our favorite times of year. The first signs of these magnificent fish have started to show themselves behind the spawning salmon. Egg patterns are the go to right now. Bead fishing is by far the most popular method, as matching the hatch (eggs) is pretty easy with a pegged egg on the line. Usually color isn’t that big of deal in the first few weeks. Steelhead will hunt out anything in the orange spectrum. If your pegging your beads or swinging a few flies make sure to check out our hook recommendations for steelhead.

Normally in the first few weeks of the fall steelhead season the swing bite can be tough, as so many eggs are flowing. But the next few weeks is a good time to tie flies as by the middle of the month things should be setting up. One of our favorite go to patterns is the Perch pattern as shown in this YouTube video

Fall Steelhead Swing Pattern

Booking a Trip

If you’re looking to book a Fall Steelhead or Trout Fishing Trip give us a call at (231-631-5701) or shoot us an email . The Manistee River below Tippy Dam is one of the best sections in Michigan for Fall Steelhead, we have a few dates still open. Also from what we saw last season December – February can be some of the best steelhead fishing of the year. Nothing beats the Fall Steelhead, but definitely don’t overlook winter.

Tight Lines,

Jon Ray

Upper Manistee Trout Fishing

Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing

Manistee River Trout Report

Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing report has us entering the first week of September and we are beginning the transition into our fall programs. The hopper fishing has been mostly good, there are some streamer opportunities around rain events, and the night fishing has been much improved this time around. There are a few hatches happening, but the bugs have been inconsistent for the most part. Water temps continue to swing 8-12 degrees on the Hot days and show more stability on cloudy/cool days. Water levels are currently low and clear and we could use as much rain as we can get.

More rain would be a welcomed sight as we have been in low flow stage since the peak of the dry fly season. At this point I would take a blowout event, that should hit the reset button and give the river a little longer lasting bump in flow. The sun is still heating the increasing number of wide open shallow, sandy areas of the river. With the shorter days and cooler nights, water temps should be less of an issue moving forward.

ATTENTION:

Michigan Trout Unlimited will be placing large woody debris in the river from Yellow Trees to King Trout Ranch on September 12 and 13, 2022. Yellow Trees Road will be closed to all traffic from Yellow Trees landing to Rogers Landing on Monday, September 12th and Tuesday September 13th. The Manistee river will also be closed to all use from Yellow Trees Landing to Rogers Landing during this time. For your safety please avoid any river use between Yellow Trees Landing and Rogers Landing on September 12th and 13th, 2022.

Didymo

Didymo on the Upper Manistee continues to be a problem as new sections fall ill to its presence and previously affected areas are still producing viable cells. I would consider the whole Upper Manistee River System to be contaminated with this Diatom. Didymo is considered a very resilient invasive species so you need to educate yourself on safe cleaning techniques that you will need to clean your gear or anything that touches the water. It can be spread between watersheds very easily and can be detrimental to our trout streams.

The amount of Didymo that we are still seeing on our floats on the Upper Manistee below CCC Bridge is very disheartening, it is going to take some time yet so see what happens next in the lower river. The short term implications have not been very good for what a longterm bloom may do to the ecosystem and fishing. We have found Didymo now from Yellow Trees to the CCC Bridge as well. I would expect it will continue to extend its presence further upstream as we enter the fall season and leaf drop allows more sunlight penetration through the tree canopy.

I would consider the Entire River TO BE CONTAMINATED and treat it as such. Clean, Drain, Dry your gear before entering another Body of Water. Currently, there are no effective methods to eradicate didymo once it is established in a river. To prevent spreading Didymo and other aquatic invasive species to new locations, it is critical for users to thoroughly Clean, Drain and Dry waders, equipment, and boats upon leaving a waterway.

  • Clean by removing mud and debris from all surfaces.
  • Use a 10% Solution of Dishwashing Soap with hot water for 10 minutes (Example 1 gallon of water is 12.8 oz of Dawn Soap). Then it must dry for 48 hours (mandatory if your fishing different water systems).

Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing

Upper Manistee Trout Fishing
Mousing on the Upper Manistee River

Late Season Fishing

So far the hopper fishing remains decent on most days. With the recent warm weather trips have been primarily going out first thing in the morning. Smaller hoppers in Tan, Black, Olive, and Yellow have been finding some fish. If you are not getting action try twitching and dragging the fly to elicit more strikes. With the low clear water you need to get your flies way out front and fish tighter to the structure.

The evenings have been pretty light on the bug front, but the White Miller’s have been attracting some surface attention. The Fall Isonychia is also starting to show up again and can provide some pretty good fishing when it’s present. Moving forward the warmer evenings will be more productive for the dry fly angler. The mornings are getting cooler and will soon give you a chance again with small streamers.

With some recent rains the streamer fishing has been giving anglers a few shots at some nicer fish. Smaller streamers in white/olive, black, yellow, and wet skunks have all had fish give chase. Keeping your bait moving but allowing the fish to have a kill shot (pause in your retrieve) has been key. Focus on the deeper water and structure right now for your best chances at larger fish. The streamer fishing will get better with more rains and cooler weather. As water temps begin to fall the streamer game should pick up some pace.

The night fishing rebounded nicely, but was still short of what I would expect to see. It felt as if we had some fish movement before the New Moon and as another warmup moved through the region we had another dip in production. There are a lot of reasons I can factor into why we were seeing inconsistent fishing this year, but my biggest concern is the lack of willing participants. We had some good nights, but overall the fishing lacked consistency and opportunity. Now that Didymo has been confirmed in the upper sections of the river it is starting to make sense. Didymo makes the majority of Brown Trout move, they don’t like it, and it was a trend we saw going back as far as last year as well.

Change The Conversation

This has been arguably one of the toughest trout seasons I have ever experienced. The amount of change I have observed in the past 5-6 years is very alarming and there are some serious issues and neglected circumstances that need to be addressed on the Upper Manistee River. Habitat loss, water quality issues, invasive species concerns, all have reached their tipping point. It’s time to change the conversation and make some major changes in our management approach of our aquatic resources.

It’s time our state begins to manage our lakes/rivers/streams in a Holistic approach and from a Watershed perspective. You can’t ask one biologist to manage 3-4 different watersheds and then expect them to be effective, efficient, and capable of identifying problems before they occur. It’s time to bring Fisheries, Wildlife, and Forestry divisions to the same table and start looking at all the proposed management recommendations within a watershed under one microscope before implementing action plans. The old days of stream management between the river banks has long outlived its effectiveness and we desperately need a new direction moving forward.

The Upper Manistee River is designated as a Natural River and is afforded extra protections for “the purpose of preserving and enhancing its values for water conservation, its free flowing condition, and its fish, wildlife, boating, scenic, aesthetic, floodplain, ecologic, historic, and recreational values and uses. The area shall include adjoining or related lands as appropriate to the purposes of the designation. The department shall prepare and adopt a long-range comprehensive plan for a designated natural river area that sets forth the purposes of the designation, proposed uses of lands and waters, and management measures designed to accomplish the purposes,” yet the river is failing to survive!

Natural Rivers Act

The Natural Rivers Act designation was implemented to enhance the river, but the permitting complications for doing habitat work and river enhancement projects are making the needed necessary work more expensive and harder to complete. It may be time to retool this law to make it more user friendly for its intended purpose while expanding its stream buffer protections. Moving forward we need to hold our State agencies more accountable for their failures, but also applaud them for their successes. Didymo didn’t just happen over night, this has been 3-5 years in the making, and unfortunately our state has failed miserably at addressing the issue from a public relations perspective and failed to adopt a mitigation strategy to prevent further blooms.

Many of the issues are fixable, but it is going to take some time, money, and hard work to make lasting changes and to build resilient systems for the future. Didymo is just the symptom of an unhealthy system and it has likely been the Upper Manistee River for a very long time. The river health is at its tipping point and all the necessary conditions for Didymo to bloom and take over are just now coming into play. Habitat decline, Nutrient decline, extensive Low-Flow periods paired with Excessive Heat, increased Sun Exposure in wide/shallow areas, these are all examples of critical changes that have accelerated in the past 5 years.

Unforeseeable Changes

Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing has been up and down throughout the entire season. Hatches this year were lighter and far more inconsistent than what we should normally see. Large water temperature swings are all too common now after changing hydrologic conditions within the stream. Enlarging rain events followed by longer low-flow periods are increasing sedimentation issues and widening the stream. The loss of large woody debris and critical deep water habitats have also led to an increased pace of change. This trend has accelerated in the past 5 years and now we are seeing the effects of drastic habitat decline.

Increasing swings in Water Temper have become prevalent throughout the Upper reaches of the stream. A year ago we had a 2 degree difference from M72 to our gauge at 4 mile. This summer that was absent throughout most of June and July. The river has become so shallow and impacted with sand it can no longer maintain its characteristic cold water flows. This pattern was very noticeable during our Hex hatch this year. Water temps were dropping at night to lows near 58 and then climbing during the daytime to highs at or above 70. A healthy stream shouldn’t show that kind of temperature profile.

These big swings in water temperature had an impact upon our hatching insects and we had Hex hatching as late as mid July this year. What would normally be a two week long hatch was stretched out for almost an entire month. This is the first year I have experienced so much inconsistency throughout our entire hatch season. Unstable weather patterns have had some negative affects, but that isn’t the only noticeable change. The big swings in Water Temperature over a 24 hour period have been the only consistent variable throughout the watershed. Habitat loss is at a critical threshold and the rivers ability to buffer against change is losing ground.

The Upper Manistee River has become dominated by wide, shallow, sandy areas that are exposed to more sunshine and lacking in- stream structure. These conditions are exactly what Didymo requires in order to take over a stream. Low Phosphorous is the primary driver considered to make a stream vulnerable to a Didymo bloom, but it still has to have the preferred habitat to bloom as extensively as it did last fall. As a consequence we are now seeing blooms in the upper reaches where we lost the 2 degrees in water temperature that were characteristic of that section a year ago.

Didymo is Here to Stay

Didymo has had an immediate impact this season, especially in the sections below the CCC Bridge where it took over last fall. Insect activity was greatly reduced and we have experienced lots of inconsistency of our insect hatches as well. There were several hatches that were virtually nonexistent this year. Didymo has impacted trout abundance in all of these sections. Every section we fished this year has suffered from diminishing returns, in other words you can’t catch what is not there! In the impacted zones we witnessed decreasing abundances of trout as our catch rates fell 60-85% from what we should normally encounter.

We believe Didymo was already impacting fish movement early on in 2021 and maybe even as early as 2020. We witnessed a big fish movement in the lower river last year during June and our water color was off. It had a tea color during a long hot period of low clear water and drought. The water should have been gin clear, but it wasn’t, and again we saw the same water coloration in the Upper River this past June. This stuff is a ghost and only becomes visible when it goes into bloom. It’s important to expand our sampling techniques to include the water column/drift as it will more than likely show Didymo is far more widespread than previously thought. Hindsight is 20/20, but reflecting back upon the changes we observed last June, the trout knew what was coming!

Solutions?

So what does all of this mean and what will happen to the river? We are not sure, Didymo is a new threat and the river has gone through a considerable amount of change during the past decade. Time will tell, but Didymo isn’t going to just disappear and I would be willing to guess its also more widespread than where it has already been found. After reflecting upon the past two seasons, I am even more convinced now that Didymo is an indicator of overall poor stream health. Jon Ray compared Didymo to a Cancer or Diabetes, I totally agree with his comparison. Until we you fix the root causes of the symptoms the stream won’t be able to become healthy again. TU is going to be adding Large Woody Debris to the river corridor this fall, targeting some of the most greatly diminished habitats in the upper river. There is also talk of establishing a long term monitoring program focussing upon nutrient loads and looking at mitigation strategies to prevent future Didymo Blooms. As we find out more we will let you know how you can help to restore this river back to its recognizable form.

Monitoring Station

The 4 Mile Water Monitoring Station is back up and working! Make sure to click the link. I encourage folks to continue to monitor the stations just to form good habits and a lot can be said by watching flows and gauge heights to help in the decision making process on where to fish. Please continue to use the USGS site at 72, USGS at Sherman, and the Monitoring Station at 4 Mile Access.

Trout Guide Trip

If your looking to book a Trout Guide Trip you can reach us at 231-631-5701 (leave a message) or shoot us an email if your looking to book a Late Summer or Fall trout trip we still have a dates open. Have you seen the new Brown Trout T-shirt yet? Still have a few sizes remaining. Also make sure to check a few of the new colors we have in the Low Profile Trucker Hat and also the Full Size Trucker.

Ed

Pere Marquette Fishing Report

Pere Marquette Fishing Report

Pere Marquette Fishing Report

M

Spring is here and the Pere Marquette Fishing, with rain rain and more rain! That has been the way mother nature has treated us the last few days. The Pere Marquette was very high, over the banks high. With that being said the river stayed fairly clean and remained fishable.   Steelhead fishing has been pretty good. We have seen a mix of fresh steelhead, spawning steelhead and drop back steelhead. With that mixed bag in the river it has given us lots of angling options.

Steelhead fishing

With the steelhead spawning bead fishing remains strong. Larger floats and heaver weight under the float has made a difference in catch rate. Look for this to change as the water drops this week. The streamer/lure bite has also been producing some great action. With all the small fry in the river minnow patterns have been best.  

Brown Trout

Pere Marquette Brown Trout Fishing

Brown trout have had the feed bags on. With all the steelhead eggs floating down the river the browns are starting to fatten up. The dark water around the spawning gravel has had good numbers of browns in and around it. Egg patterns and beads have worked best in these areas. The streamer bite has started to pick up.

With loads of minnows in the Pere Marquette and the browns keying in on them, the smaller minnow patterns have produced some very nice browns.   It’s looking like mother nature will give us a break with all the rain and the river will drop some. The next week looks perfect for fishing. Finally some sun and warmth. It won’t be long and it will be time to get the dry flys out and get on a second shift schedule. Weather permitting.  Good luck out there and be safe!!!

Booking a Trip

Some of my favorite months of the year are coming up, with some best crank-bait fishing happing soon. I enjoy both crank bait and streamer trips, check out the video about how these two techniques are so similar.  Booking a trip is easy shoot us a text, or call us, (231-631-5701) or use the contact page.  

Now is the time to get out and enjoy the spring weather. Tight lines! 

Tight lines!

Jeff Topp

Spring Steelhead

Spring Steelhead and What Changed

Environment or Angling

What is it that feels like its changing? Is the environment around me changing, or is it my angling mindset? I remember back 20-25 years ago fishing for Spring Steelhead meant an April float down the Pere Marquette River. Now its seems Spring Steelhead for an angler/guide means a shift to fishing more in February and early March. What has changed? Why is that I’m more excited to chase Smallmouth Bass in April more than Steelhead nowadays? Why is it that my February steelhead fishing is as good as my November adventures if not better? I think we can all agree the environment is changing on many levels and Steelhead fishing in Northern Michigan is no different.

Spring Steelhead

To be completely honest, Spring Steelhead fishing has shifted ahead of what we considered to be our normal timing. The Spring Steelhead calendar has been pushing forward, simply put, February is becoming the new March. This isn’t a one year trend either! For the past couple of years fishing in February has been really good. I would argue that February has been as good as our best October/November days. There are a number of reasons causing this current trend.

First of all, this is the lowest angling pressure during the steelhead calendar (October to April). Most of the popular boat ramps only have a trailer or two on most days. During the weekdays it is usually light traffic and even on most weekends you normally only see a few other anglers in the know.

Second, we have a solid population of fall and winter fish already in the river along with some early Spring Steelhead pushing in from Lake Michigan. Spring Steelhead are now starting to push in February, a common occurrence over the last few years. This year was no different and we saw really good numbers of steelhead throughout the months of January and February. Just like last few years, February is now setting up like March used to when I started guiding back in 2001.

I used to associate the start of the Steelhead run with the popular Warren Fly Fishing Show during the second week of March. I used to always hate working that show as I knew the fishing was so good on my home waters. Now I know that by Valentines day I need to be ready, almost a full month ahead of schedule.

Environment

The third reason for the change is linked directly to environmental conditions. Our winters have been milder by nature and not as harsh over the past 8-10 years. True, this winter saw plenty of cold days, but with far less snowpack than we are used to receiving. We now seem to have a roller coaster of temperature swings with small to big warmups. These warmups will bump flows and trigger runs of fish to come home early. The environment is beginning to show signs earlier that she is ready for our Steelhead to begin their trek home to their spawning grounds.

Other environmental cues also start speaking to us earlier in February. As the winter season has become less severe we are seeing blue birds and sand-hill cranes migrating back sooner. This past week we had little Black Stones fluttering on the surface on Feb 27th as water temps were peaking at 38 degrees on some smaller streams. The calendar is shifting and as anglers we need to take notice. If you enjoy steelhead fishing take a good look at your calendar and start taking notes because change is happening.

Spring Steelhead
Spring Steelhead

March

March fishing is still one of the safest months for Spring Steelhead fishing as you are less likely to get weathered out. This is the biggest negative for February, however fewer anglers on the water can make up for temperamental weather. Even though our winters seem milder, we can and will get long cold spells. If you can time the weather breaks and have flexibility in your schedule, February has proven to boast some solid Steelhead fishing.

Even though March can offer better weather and a good number of steelhead in pre-spawn mode, the number of anglers is increasing. It’s really a simple mathematical equation and fish divided by more anglers equals less of a shared opportunity.

Top 3

Can steelhead still be caught in April? Yes, absolutely! That is not what I’m trying to say here. As anglers we sometimes get stuck doing what we used to do and not what we should. I have enjoyed fun fishing for February steelhead the last few years and I need to share with our audience that this has become one of the top 3 months for Steelhead fishing in Michigan.

Applying the same mathematical principle leads me to this conclusion. The Fall Steelhead fishing is truly fantastic and will always lead the way for steelhead fishing for me. These fish are amazing and water temperature gives them the ability to do things I just don’t see with other Great Lakes fish. However, for pure numbers of Steelhead hooked in a single day, it’s really getting hard for us to beat February.

With Fall and Winter Steelhead in pre-spawn mode, Steelhead are more eager to feed. With fresh Spring run fish just showing up the Manistee River, Pere Marquette, and other Norther Michigan streams are at there peak spring-run numbers earlier in my opinion.

Streamer Season

What other trends have I noticed when I start thinking back on my angling career? One thing that also stands out is the big differences in the Spring streamer game. The Spring streamer season is for those anglers that want no part of the Spring Steelhead gong show. Streamer fishing gives an angler that escape. Now, just like with our Spring Steelhead, we are targeting Trout, Northern Pike, and Smallmouth Bass much earlier than in years past. This past April in 2021 opened my eyes to what the possibilities are.

On a side note, one of the best things that happened two years ago at Mangled Fly was the opportunity to work closer with Jeff Topp and Ed McCoy. The ability to learn more from each other about tactics/techniques and fly vs lure has expanded our guiding in new directions. The angling opportunities in April are now more diverse than just Spring Steelhead and I for one am all for it.

What I’m really excited about for this upcoming year is taking what we learned from last season and applying it to new waters. With so many of my past streamer trips painted into a trout corner, no matter what you did on some days, it was going to be a tough day on the trout stream. However, we now have a back up plan. No more sunny day April Trout-less days!

Trout

Trout fishing in April is still a very realistic option to pursue most days. However, what do you do during a cold front, especially one with bright sunny skies? It’s not to say you could’t catch the fish of a lifetime, but let’s be honest the sun is not going to help your chances. Having a second option to chase with streamers makes more sense and allows us to focus our Trout efforts at times where success is more likely. I will gladly fish for Trout with streamers on cloudy days knowing my chances are going to be much better.

What are the options now you say? How about targeting Spring Pre-spawn Smallmouth Bass as a viable option. These fish are a super fun and really don’t care if the sun is shining all day. Having diverse fishing opportunities is important for success. Conditions are never really consistent and during the Spring even less so.

Smallmouth Bass

Spring Smallmouth
Early Season Smallmouth Bass

One of the highlights of a tough April steelhead run was taking time off to learn a few sections of the river for different species. The 2021 Spring Steelhead season was one of the warmest on record. Looking back we had river temps warming up at a record pace. As Steelhead to hit their preferred spawning temperatures weeks ahead of schedule we were forced to try and figure out a different program. Let me tell you, Spring Pre-spawn Smallmouth Bass are a lot of fun! The Smallmouth Bass in April tend to be bigger on average and very, very eager to take both Fly and Lure.

The big mature Smallmouth are migrating in from the lakes on their way to their spawning grounds. Smallmouth Bass spawn when water temperatures reach 60 to 63 degrees. We were starting to find these fish eager to crush flies and lures in the high 40’s. We had success over varying conditions and these fish were still weeks away from spawning, making them super aggressive.

Tactics

One tactic that I personally spent some time on was the lure fishing. A lure that changed the way I used to think was the Z-Man Jerk Shad. Fishing this lure over several days opened up my eyes on how to properly fish a Jerk Changer and how to better imitate a dying minnow presentation. This lure changed the way I tie flies and how I fished them. I’ve always prided myself in applying lure fishing tactics to my fly game in an attempt to get better. Now some of you might not have heard of either these two styles, but if you’re into fishing for predatory game fish this style of fishing is so important.

This method of fishing also paved the way to what Ed and I did later in the year with Muskie in the fall. Watching a Muskie interact with a Jerk Changer will change your world. If I had not spent time with the Z-Man Jerk Shad I’m not sure I would know how to properly teach and explain how to present your fly (Jerk Changer) to Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Brown Trout, and Muskie.

Rods and Reels

When fishing for Spring Smallmouth Bass in early spring we tend to beef up our rods just bit from our summer program. One observation was the Spring Pre-spawn Smallmouth Bass really keyed in on bigger baitfish patterns. A 7wt or 8wt rods teamed up with a slow sinking line such as the Scientific Anglers Triple Density I23 were most commonly used. The leaders can be heavy this time of year as the water is usually a little murky or stained. It was NOT uncommon for us to run 16 pound fluorocarbon and even a steel leader.

Jeff Topp, once again our resident lure professional, recommends spinning rods in the 7-7.5 foot range with Medium Light to Medium Heavy power that can handle lures in the 3/16-1/2oz range. Choose your rods based upon the depth and cover type you are fishing. Jeff’s preferred line setup for river Smallmouth uses 15 or 20 lb braid for the mainline with 2-3 feet of 15 lb fluorocarbon as a leader.

Better Angler

I have for years felt like fishing for Smallmouth Bass make you a better angler. When Kevin Feenstra and I did our Smallmouth video together it really opened my eyes to the benefits of Crossover species like Smallmouth Bass. One of our mantras at Mangled Fly is teaching you how to be a better angler. Smallmouth Bass will not only teach you to be better angler, but they will give you more opportunities to learn from.

Crossover species allow you to work on proper streamer presentations that are also effective for trout

by Ed McCoy

Too often in the spring we are faced with bright and sunny conditions. How do you become better streamer angler with fewer chances? You need to catch fish. You also need to practice setting the hook and learning how to fish your fly (ie Jerk Changer) at the right speed. As streamer anglers with a fly, we always have slack in our presentation which can cause failure. There are plenty of times this has caused the angler to say, “I didn’t feel it” on the eat.

Crosstraining

To be a good angler you need to practice and learn from your opportunities. The same holds true for lure fisherman. Learning to fish your lure at the correct speed and understanding what your lure is doing under water is no different. Sunny day smallmouth bass trips allow you to practice all of these skills. Being adaptable as an angler will only maximize your Brown Trout chances on the next cloudy day.

Fishing both a fly and a lure has made me a better angler by far. My understanding of gear fishing has made me a better fly angler and my understanding of fly fishing has made me a better lure fishermen.

by Jeff Topp

Smallmouth Bass, unlike trout, are not shy when it comes to sunny days. Sometimes in the spring, Bass can be found out sunning themselves. They are feasting on the many different minnows that are also migrating to spawn. Gobies, Chubs, and many other baitfish, will provide the Smallmouth Bass with numerous prey choices. Smallmouth are not afraid of the sun and always appear to be hungry. This makes them a perfect teaching tool for anglers of all skill levels. No matter if you’re fishing a fly or a lure, Smallmouth Bass are the perfect crossover species.

Closing

I’m not trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom for those that love to fish in April for Steelhead. I am just trying to bring some much needed attention to what trends we have been seeing over the years. I truly understand February Steelhead fishing is not for everyone. I’m fine with that and I know I will continue to enjoy the fishing as much as I can over the next few seasons. With the changing landscape regarding Spring Steelhead, and Steelhead in general, the Great Lakes populations provide an exciting opportunity.

However, as things change, new options become available and our angling experiences begin evolving. In Michigan we are very blessed to have so much water to fish and a diversity of choices within. As a guide and avid angler, I am always trying to get better and its my job to make you a better angler as well. As an angling community, learning more about what other fishing options are available, should always be one of our goals. I hope everyone enjoys your spring season and good luck on the water no matter what fish you’re chasing.

Jon Ray

Invasive Species New Zealand Mud Snail

Invasive Species

INVASIVE SPECIES AND THEIR IMPACT UPON AQUATIC HABITATS

Invasive Species

Invasive Species the New Zealand Mud Snail

There are numerous threats to our aquatic ecosystems that will have lasting impacts upon our Great Lakes fisheries.  Water pollution/sedimentation, habitat loss/degradation, connectivity, and the list of examples goes on and on.  Invasive Species introductions is a topic that usually doesn’t get immediate attention until it’s too late.  The intentional or accidental introduction of Invasive Species can have irreversible consequences upon our ecosystems.  These invaders are often responsible for lost species diversity and altering food web dynamics within new habitats.

If left unchecked, the consequences are often disastrous to ecosystem functionality.  The ensuing affects often result in dire consequences that can’t be fully understood until its too late.  This demonstrates the importance of early detection and forward thinking approaches to minimize future introductions and spread.  Most Invasive Species tend to be undetectable in low population densities, by the time the are discovered its usually too late.

Human Travel

In today’s world, people have the ability to travel to just about every corner of the globe.  Sometimes a hitchhiker can find its way into new habitats.  Albeit most of these introductions have been unintentional into our aquatic communities.  However, there are some serious repercussions associated with these introductions.  The aquatic invaders usually remain unchecked by natural control mechanisms and proliferate quickly as a result.  The lack of natural predators usually favors the Invasive Species with a competitive advantage over time.

Predicting the outcomes of Invasive Species introductions is very difficult.  In most cases there are cascading effects that ripple through affected ecosystems.  As invasive populations grow, ecosystem sustainability is often lost or greatly impaired leading to reduced Native Species diversity.  For the Great Lakes region this will ultimately result in reduced numbers of highly desirable game species.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes region has a growing number of Invasive Species concerns. Some notable examples would be the Sea Lamprey, Alewife, Spiny Water Flea, Zebra Mussels, Quaga Mussels, New Zealand Mud Snail, and now Didymo.  All of these examples have consequences that go well beyond the physical parameters of water quality.  The end result could have severe impacts upon the Trophic structure of our aquatic communities.

The Sea Lamprey almost wiped out the Lake Trout Populations thru uncontrolled predation. Alewife and Spiny Water Fleas had direct and indirect impacts upon Native Zooplankton populations and Juvenile Fish Survival.  Zebra and Quaga mussels have changed the Trophic cascades in the Great Lakes from the bottom up through decreased nutrient loads, clear/warming waters, increased Algal blooms, and reduced Salmonid populations.  Simply put these ripple effects have directly impacted the Economical value of our Recreational Sport Fishery.

New Zealand Mud Snail

One of the newest Invasive Species that is currently spreading throughout the Great Lakes Region is the New Zealand Mud Snail.  The effects of this new invader are not yet fully understood.  Researchers believe this invader will have adverse effects upon native snail species diversity by outcompeting native snails for food and space.  Concerns have also been raised regarding how the New Zealand Mud Snail may effect primary production stream ecosystems.  This will more than likely have dire consequences for macro-invertebrate communities and ultimately stream fish populations.  In a trout stream this could be detrimental.  As aquatic insect populations decrease, so will trout abundance in the affected streams.  The New Zealand Mud Snail can clone itself! It only takes one female hitchhiker to start a colony.  They are usually transported between aquatic habitats via anglers, recreational boaters, and other water-based recreational activities.

Didymo or Rock Snot

During the Fall of 2021, Didymo (or Rock Snot) is an Invasive Algae discovered blooming in the Upper Manistee River near Kalkaska, MI.  According to an MDNR press release,
this is the first known Didymo case in the Lower Peninsula.  The last Didymo bloom was documented in the St. Marys River near Sault St. Marie, MI in 2015.  Experts were shocked by the discovery as it indicates the spread may be greater than originally thought.  According to researchers, Didymo blooms form in low-nutrient cold-water streams.  Trout streams to be exact!

Similarly to the New Zealand Mud Snail, Didymo blooms can cover expansive stream-bed areas.  The blooms essentially suffocate macro-invertebrate habitat.  Long term impacts could lead to reduced aquatic invertebrate abundance, ultimately impacting trout populations over time.  Currently there are NO KNOWN MANAGEMENT solutions to eradicate Didymo so prevention is the only mitigation strategy available.  Like the New Zealand Mud Snail, Didymo is commonly spread by anglers, recreational boaters, and other water-based recreational activities.

What to do

I encourage everyone to take extra precautions throughout the upcoming season.  Throughly sanitize, wash, and dry your fishing gear and equipment after each use.  This will be very important to help prevent further spread, especially if you plan on fishing multiple watersheds over several days.  I would also encourage boat owners to invest in a separate anchor and rope for each river you fish. YOU CANNOT EFFECTIVELY CLEAN AN ANCHOR ROPE!  Whenever possible, you should avoid using anchors with complex surfaces such as stacked plates. These anchors are more likely to spread aquatic hitchhikers and require disassembly to properly clean.  A simple pyramid anchor is easier to clean without having to take it apart.

No matter what your preferred anchor choice is, I would encourage everyone to have one Anchor and one Rope designated to each watershed you fish.  The same would apply to the wade angler, a separate pair of boots or waders per stream would be the preferred option.  If you would like more information regarding Didymo, New Zealand Mud Snail, check out NZMS Collaborative.  Join the fight, end the spread, and get informed.

Tight Lines,

Ed

20 pound steelhead

Best Fishing Images of 2021

best fishing of 2021
Best Fishing of 2021

Best Fishing Images of 2021

I thought I would take a moment to reflect on a “best of our fishing images” collage from 2021 from our Instagram Feed. These are the highest liked images from 2021. If you’re not on Instagram or do not follow us via social media, here is a chance to see some of our best liked images. I thought I would go thru a couple of images and expand upon their meanings to us this year.

Also make sure to read until the end, as Ed McCoy goes into detail about a sea monster he has captured two years in a row on the Upper Manistee while mousing the last two years.

  • 20 Pound Steelhead – top left image and I believe the most liked image from the whole year. First these don’t come along very often, actually for me personally I have never seen a 20 pounder in the boat. With 20+ years of guiding, and too many personal casts to count I’m still on the hunt. Read more about this awesome guide trip below as Steve Pels goes into more depth about this once in a lifetime fish.
  • Big Muskie – Always a great adventure is our month of Muskie fishing, this year was no different as Brian Pitser of The Northern Angler landed the biggest fish on the season, middle image on the top row. This fish was pretty cool, because it was a blind figure 8. Brian did an amazing job of making the big circles required to get this fish to eat his fly. Not only do these fish make great images, but the flies we throw are fun to photograph as well. As you can see on the middle bottom row. Chicken’ sized offerings are sometimes required, bring your big boy rods to this party.
  • Underwater Image – every year I always wish I shot more of these, well this year I made a small purchase of new equipment and so far so good. Top right was my first day using the Axis Go and even though a few of my other shots didn’t make the top 2021 images they are my personal favorites.
  • Middle Row – is all about the steelhead and for Best Fishing Images steelhead are some of the best images I can get for the likes on the Instagram. Middle row shows of a big spring buck, a true awesome winter specimen , and a big late fall buck that we recently just landed. We are lucky to have these fish in Michigan, and thank you to all that helped us with the new regs and let the DNR and NRC that these fish mean so much to us.

20 Pound Steelhead Highlights

20 pound steelhead
20 pounder on the swing

One of the more memorable days in my boat occurred in mid November 2021. My clients were new to me and from our correspondence they have always wanted to try spey fishing but were unsure about it on this trip, thinking indicator fishing could be a good alternative. The night before our trip I double checked about spey fishing and told them that the conditions had been tough, with very low and clear water, not a huge amount of new fish coming in from the lake and a major temperature drop over night. After a short conversation about the challenges we were facing, they responded, ‘let’s go for it.”

On the run upriver in the morning my motor was acting up so I decided to stop sooner than I would have liked at a new run that I had not fished very much. I knew from conversations with my peers that the spot had major swing potential. After arriving to our first spot, we rigged up the spey rods and I began going through the basic mechanics of the cast, how we rig our rods and I jokingly explained rules numbers one, two and three if your fly gets grabbed. Rule 1: “Don’t do anything.” Rule number 2: “Don’t do anything.” Rule number 3: “Only do something when Steve tells you to.” We were getting into a good rhythm of cast, swing and step. My clients caught on quick and were getting their casts and swings dialed in. On our 8th anchor drop, the morning silence was broken by the most gratifying sound of short reel bursts, “ZZZzztt, ZZZzzt, ZZZzzt.” My first response is always, “leave it, leave it, leave it” but at this point, the fish was most likely already hooked. After a few more solid pulls and one sustained scream of the reel, I said, “go ahead and give me a light lift, it’s on!” The fish was clearly not pleased with its situation and proceeded to take multiple runs, jump 7 times and once we thought we had it beat, gator rolled and threw the hook.

Again silence filled the boat. We remained positive throughout the remainder of the day and had a lot of fun telling jokes and getting to know each other. Runs number two through four produced no action and I knew we were losing time. Run number five was a confidence spot and on our 3rd anchor drop my client fishing from the bow gets a promising rip. Then nothing. We worked that spot thoroughly, while thinking that was our last chance. Our time was up for the day but on the way out I thought, we have to hit one more, another confidence spot. We fished another hour after quitting time and I announced “two more casts guys.” On the last casts we were letting the flies hang down a little longer than normal and we admitted that it turned out to be a good swing day – they were pleased they learned how to cast and both got to feel the raw power of a swung fly take. Out of nowhere, the client fishing from the stern froze, his reel was screaming, I said nothing and he confidently lifted the rod, knowing that fish was on.

Its first run took us nearly to backing and each time it neared the boat, ran downriver like it was headed back to the big lake. The fish was tiring, never jumped, but as we were winning the battle, it would make large boils on the surface with its attempt to flee. Finally, the fish neared the boat and I saw a massive silver flash of its flank, I said “big lift!” and with a swift scoop of the net, we had it. This was not an average steelhead, I thought to myself, easy 16-18 pounds. But after lifting it out of the water for a quick photo and measurements, it turned out to be a 36.25” by 20 pound gorgeous wild female. A personal guide/client best in my boat and one that my client and I will never forget.


Two Years in a Row, same trout

Upper Manistee Trout Fishing Report
Robert P. From 2021
Night Fishing
Tim O. From 2020

2021 posed a lot of “interesting” scenarios on our local Trout water.  Low water, big cold fronts in May, intense heat in early June, then followed by a wet and warm late season.  Robert P. Joined me for a couple of nights mousing in August and he landed a personal best and the season’s best Brown Trout on our second night.  This fish was truly a treasure, but after further inspection and a gut instinct, it occurred to me that Tim O. landed this same fish in 2020!  So what’s the big deal? You knew the exact location where this fish lived, right?  The cool part of the story is this fish was caught about 13 miles upstream from her 2020 location!  

Kind of a cool story and it makes you think, why the big move?  There are lots of factors that play into fish movement, but my best guess is this fish is just nomadic by nature. It also illustrates the importance of catch and release angling allowing future anglers to enjoy the opportunity at a fish of a lifetime!

New Steelhead Limits

NRC Proposal for New Steelhead Limits Part 2

Current Status of Fisheries Order 200.22

The Natural Resource Commission convened the November 10th meeting by tabling the New Steelhead Limits for further discussion (Steelhead Proposal). Fisheries Order 200.22 will be back on the table and up for a vote at the December 9th meeting. There are a couple of probable outcomes for the Commissioner Nyberg Amendment at the upcoming December meeting. The NRC will either put the amendment to a vote or table Fisheries Order 200.22 for the upcoming 2022 agenda. If the Nyberg amendment is brought to a vote and passes then enforcement will begin on March 15, 2022.

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Fall Steelhead Manistee River

NRC Proposal New Steelhead Limits

NRC Proposal New Steelhead Limits

New Proposal

There is a new proposal up for consideration by the NRC that would reduce Steelhead bag limits on several sections/streams in Michigan. Here is the NRC Proposal New Steelhead Limits being considered by the NRC. The current steelhead management plan for Michigan needs to be revised to reflect current trends, conditions, and annual adult spawning migrations. We are not opposed to people having the opportunity to harvest a fish even though we practice catch and release. This request for change has nothing to do with gear restrictions and by no means should we dictate how people can legally fish for steelhead. Steelhead populations are in decline and have been on the long slide for over the past decade. Which raises several questions and highlights a need to address and discuss the future of Steelhead management in our state.

Data gaps and changing environmental conditions have muddied the waters, but indicators are everywhere. Anyone that has spent any amount of time on the water can see the changes that have occurred. Which poses several questions. What is the current status of spawning steelhead in our streams? Does the current management scheme reflect what anglers are currently experiencing in their catch rates? Can a declining steelhead population survive added angling pressure with todays current harvest allowance? The MDNR has admitted there is a problem, but currently there has been a failure to act even though there are plenty of red flags.

Little Manistee River

The Little Manistee River Weir boasts the best available data for returning spring Steelhead. This little river is the sister river to the Big Manistee. Albeit smaller in size, it can still shed light on the current trend of Steelhead returns in the Big Manistee River. Since 2002 there has been a significant reduction in Spring Steelhead in the Little Manistee River. The 6 year average from 2009-2014 was 3,433 returning adults and from 2015 to present it was 2,389 returning adults (excludes 2020). In the last 6 years there has been a 30% reduction in average spawning adults. If this trend continues, then what? The spring 2021 returns were the lowest since 1970. More importantly, every year since 2003, the spring steelhead counts have been below the 53 year average of 4,648 adults.

Are we just going to standby and watch our Steelhead populations decline to a point of no return? It’s not far fetched to consider the outcome of 10 more years of decline. The consequences could ultimately exceed the ability of the population to recover. There is a COST TO NO ACTION! Steelhead catch rates are declining statewide as well. Right now this state has a Steelhead catching issue. The proposed rule changes will probably not boost the overall population size, but a declining Steelhead population will not promote productive fishing. This proposal is a good start to a long overdue conversation. Catch Rates, Harvest, and Angler Satisfaction are currently out of balance. We can’t afford to wait for things to get any worse! Now is the time to have a serious discussion regarding harvest limits. What should our annual harvest look like based upon today’s current steelhead population trend? We need to bring the Harvest and Catch Rates back to the middle and rebalance Angler Satisfaction.

Big Manistee River

The close proximity of the Little Manistee River to the Big Manistee River also raises parallel questions. Is there a similar population trend occurring in the Big Manistee River? What about the rest of the Lake Michigan Basin? Is this trend occurring throughout the Great Lakes Region? We believe it is! How can we continue the “Business as Usual” model? To say there isn’t a biological reason to consider a regulation change is a dangerous claim. Just because you have an inherent lack of data doesn’t excuse you from responding to the problem. Changing the regs is a short term fix that will allow more time for data collection. Fully understanding the complexities surrounding the Steelhead population decline will take time. How long will “the data collection” take, 5-10 years? Can we justify waiting that long without taking action? Is it worth risking this popular fishery? Just a little food for thought.

Email NRC

We encourage everyone to email your own letter to the NRC. This is an important issue and if you enjoy fishing for steelhead you should be paying attention. Acting now may avert loosing something that is more than 100 years in the making. Here is the email for the NRC , please send your public comments to this address before November 10th.

cold weather fishing gear

Cold Weather Fishing Gear

Cold Weather Fishing Gear
Cold Weather Fishing

Fall and Winter Steelhead Gear

One of the more difficult challenges we face in the Midwest during Steelhead season is staying warm. This leads to many questions when preparing for your fishing trip. What do I wear? What cold weather fishing gear do you bring on your trip? With over 30 years of fall/winter steelhead fishing under my belt, I thought I would share how I layer myself before each steelhead trip.

I live by the philosophy that if I get hot I can always take it off. I’ll also share a few bonus tips, tricks, and some new technology along the way. We found some new tech last year that we used with great success and I’ll share that as well.

Base Layer

Once I determine wether the day is going to be wet or dry and what the overall forecast is, I can make my base layer choices. I have two layering systems that I can choose from based on what the weather forecast might be for the day. If I believe it’s going to be wet I prefer my base layer to be a Merino Wool based material. Having tried almost every other type of layering fabric, wool is my go to choice for wet days. No matter how cold and wet I get, wool based materials still keep me warm. The majority of my favorite wool base layers I purchase have been from Patagonia and now Duckworth. Duckworth is a new company for me, but to say I’ve been impressed is an under statement . Make sure to check out the Mens Powder Hoody, you will not be disappointed.

One more quick tip here, no matter if it’s a wet or dry forecast, I will NEVER wear cotton based materials! Even on the unseasonable warm days I still go with a synthetic base layer on dry days. Synthetics are always my go to base layer, wether the forecast is wet or dry. I always start with some sort of wicking layer for my base. Some of my favorite wicking layers range from our hoodie less sun-shirts to any of the Simms fabrics.

To complete the base layer system I choose for the day, I may double up on my base layers depending upon the low and high temperatures for the day. It’s not uncommon for me to start with lightweight layers and then add a mid or expedition weight base layer before adding one of my favorite layers of all, the Puffy Jacket.

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