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.
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.
It’s the middle of July and the majority of our hatches are complete. The terrestrial fishing is heating up, our weather is shifting to more humid and warmer days/nights, and the larger fish in our rivers still prefer to hunt at night. Night fishing is a way of life here in Michigan, traditionally it was a quiet pursuit that was only whispered about in the back of a fly shop or amongst anglers that were already in the know. It’s popularity has grown quite rapidly throughout the past decade and Night Fishing has quickly become a popular pursuit among anglers chasing the largest trout of their season. The Night Fishing arena offers a very unique venue and one that offers its own set of challenges with respect to presentation and tact.
Hatches Wind Down
As the Hex hatch winds down a lot of folks will retire for the season and start breaking down their gear and hanging up their waders for the year. In my opinion, this is the time of year that the Night Fishing really takes off and an approach we commonly refer to as “Mousing” provides us with the means to catch sizable trout in the dark. The crowds are mostly gone and food is limiting making for some hungry trout hunting at night. This is our second chance to seek out the larger trout we couldn’t catch during the Hex hatch. Simply put, as much as I love the Hex hatch and the opportunity it provides, I still firmly believe Mousing is your best shot at the largest trout of the year.
Mousing is a form of Night Fishing that has gained considerable popularity here in the Midwest over the last ten years. This technique has been around since before my time and has provided anglers with a legitimate chance at a River Dinosaur while utilizing a completely unique time of the day to achieve success. Unfortunately in Michigan we need the darkness to make it work with conviction. Trust me when I say, “the night time is the right time and mousing is a hair raising experience!” Mousing is an aggressive and explosive way to fish, and much like streamer fishing you are targeting the larger predatory trout in a river system.
Fishing on rivers such as the Au Sable, Pere Marquette, and Manistee River will provide anglers with plenty of shots at trophy trout often leaving you on the edge of your seat. As with most fly fishing techniques presentation is very important. Fly placement, casting angle, pace, and moon phase are all primary functions to consider for your success. Understanding all of these critical variables will dictate your outcome and impact your chances for catching larger trout.
Mousing is a searching technique and you want to cover the water thoroughly during each outing. Casting your fly tight to the bank and moving your fly with popping strips while creating a wake behind the fly are important for success. Remember mousing is a game of cat and mouse and you want to keep the fish interested as long as you can in order to elicit a strike.The darkest nights tend to provide the most productive fishing. Knowing when the full and new moon cycles occur will further assist you in determining the best times to go. There are plenty of Lunar Charts and Lunar Apps currently available on-line or for your phones. Having a couple of your favorite Lunar Charts book marked will aid you in planning your next night time adventure. The brighter nights surrounding the full moon tend to be less productive and the fish are often more shy about eating the fly.
Life is full of lessons and when it comes to fishing in the dark and you should never approach an outing unprepared and under-gunned. When it comes to choosing the appropriate gear and equipment essential to Night Fishing, I have a very short list. First off keep it simple (K.I.S.S). As far as Tippett goes there isn’t a need to get super fancy or overly creative here. I simply use Maxima Ultra Green in 30# for the butt section and I will often taper down to 15# or 12# on the terminal end for a total length of 4-6 feet based upon conditions. However, when it comes to the rod and line I have very specific needs for these categories.
For starters I want a “Big Stick” that can deliver consistent casts over multiple distances. The Scott Sector 8’10” 7wt and 8 wt rods have been a work horse in my arsenal this season and they are definitely the customer favorite in the boat. This rod loads quick and is very accurate from short to long casts with flies of varying size. This rod has tremendous lifting ability which allows you to play fish quickly and confidently, both of which are important aspects to fishing in warmer weather and at night when you can’t see the bottom structure. The overall performance of this rod has been impressing me with every use from the streamer fishing earlier in the season and especially now casting for giants in the dark.
The Scientific Anglers Frequency Magnum taper lines have been my favorite Mousing line for the past few seasons. They are available in both Glow and Non-Glow versions. I come from an old school approach, so NO glow lines in my boat. The line taper is the same in both Glow and Non-Glow versions so pick your poison. The Magnum Frequency line is a very good choice for casting larger flies. One thing I find helpful is to over-line my rods with a line that is one line wt heavier, i.e. run an 8wt on a 7wt rod. By doing this it has greatly improved the short game which is ultimately where most people struggle in the dark. I have tried a bunch of different lines and tapers, but I keep coming back to the Magnum as it is functionally superior for all my casting needs in the dark.
Mice, frogs, Waking Flies, and Gurglers are all examples of fly designs we fish at night, just to name a few. Mice and frogs are pretty self explanatory. Flies that imitate the size, color, and silhouette of your local mammal and amphibian populations found along most river edges are a great place to start when building up your fly selection. Waking Flies and Gurglers are designed to float high and move a lot of water all while creating a very well defined wake. Having flies that can perform well at the surface interface are very important. However, patience is the most important aspect of Mousing and being patient before setting the hook is really important. Most people pull the trigger too soon on the strike and 9 times out of 10 will fail on the hook set. Having nerves of steel and waiting for the fish to turn on the fly before setting the hook is critical. You won’t catch all of the fish that blow up the fly at night, but much like streamer fishing, you should be able to capitalize on a handful per outing.
Many people are apprehensive about fishing in the dark. Mousing is not for everyone and Night Fishing can be safe and effective as long as you take the time to learn the water you are fishing before the lights go out. Fishing with a friend or a guide is a great way to increase your safety and knowledge of the water you will be fishing. The advantage of fishing in a boat is priceless, not to mention the safety factor compared to wading, but the ability to cover water can make all the difference in the outcome of your trip. If you love to hunt big fish and if chasing Trophy Trout is a passion, mousing can provide the angler with one of the best windows of opportunity to cash in on Michigan’s bigger trout.
Peak times to target trout while Mousing range from July to September. However, there are always exceptions to the rule and opportunities may present themselves earlier or later pending conditions. There really isn’t anything else in the world that can compare to the peace and tranquility of a clear star filled night being violently interrupted by the explosion of a large trout. The intensity of the eat and the anticipation of the next take is what keeps us up all night and by the night’s end it leaves you craving more. When all of your senses are on high alert and the fish are playing there best game with your fly, this is where the addiction becomes reinforced. These are the visions dancing through my mind that keep me up all winter craving/thinking about the next opportunity to take on the darkness in search of the next Personal Best fish.
McCoy’s All Day Spinner – Isonychia
I am excited to announce a new fly pattern to be released by Montana Fly Company in 2021! The McCoy’s All Day Isonychia Spinner is very durable, has a very realistic profile, can be fished all day, and is a must have pattern for our Northern Michigan streams. This fly will be available in two sizes, #10 and #12, and will complete the Isonychia lineup in a series of foam based dry flies that I released through MFC in 2019.
The All Day Isonychia Spinner is a great searching pattern and is one of my go to favorites to target rising trout during an Isonychia Spinner fall. Make sure to check with your local fly shops for availability and I expect we will have a limited quantity available here online at Mangled Fly. Read more
The Chestnut Lamprey, Ichthyomyzon castaneus, is a Native Species commonly found in Lakes and Rivers throughout the Great Lakes region. They are considered to be an indicator species and their presence in a body of water has been closely associated with healthy clean water. There is, however, one negative component to their presence in a watershed and that is the negative impact they can have on fish populations during their parasitic phase.
The chestnut Lamprey has two primary life stages to complete its life cycle. The first life stage is the larval phase, commonly referred to as ammocoetes, in which the larval form is primarily a filter feeding organism. The larva will live in the fine and silty bottom sediments in slower backwater pools for an average of 5-7 years. When the larva reach 4-6 years of age they go through a metamorphosis and develop teeth and a sucking mouth disk characterized by the adult parasitic phase of their life cycle.
The metamorphic phase appears to take place from October through the end of January as the ammocoetes enter the second life stage as parasitic adults. As the water begins to warm up in April the larva exit their burrows and enter the parasitic feeding phase of their life cycle. The Chestnut Lamprey tends to be more active at night and during low light periods. Peak feeding periods for the adults range from May through July with some adults holding over until the following spring to spawn. The adult chestnut lamprey will continue to feed until the peak spawning season occurs from June to July. After spawning the adults will die and the cycle is repeated. (Hall, 1963)
In Michigan, most of our trout streams have an established population of Chestnut Lamprey, but, the Manistee River has been mentioned as having a highly abundant population in the upper portions of the watershed, especially from County Road 612 to Sharon Road. As the water temperature reaches 50 F degrees the adults begin to feed. (Hall, 1963) This temperature change coincides nicely with the obvious annual appearance of Chestnut Lamprey on the trout we catch throughout the first half of our trout season. Most of the trout in our streams will react to streamer patterns tied with a long and “leechy” appearance and lots of undulating movement in the materials.
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In late April to early May the Chestnut Lamprey larvae metamorphosis occurs and they become parasitic. To say our trout dislike them is an understatement. Here are a couple of color combos that I like for our streams using the HFGC format. Flymen micro shanks, Chocklett’s finesse chenille for fill, MFC buggerbou for tail and top, MFC Kreelex fish flash for accent, and Senyo’s Chromatic Brush for the head. There are 9 articulations and a weighted cone hidden in the head.
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Matching the Hatch
Chestnut Lamprey will range in size from 4-5” early in their adult development and will attain lengths of +7” at maturity. It’s not a coincidence that as the lamprey continue to become more active that the streamer fishing becomes more consistent for us, especially on the Manistee River. The trout are not only actively feeding at this time, but they are also combating the presence of an “alien intruder” that will parasitize them if they let their guard down! It is not uncommon to see some pretty exciting visuals while fishing “leechy” patterns at this time of year. Some fish will recklessly chase them out of their territory and oftentimes will strike with violent takes.
Take this information for what it is worth, but having an understanding of the natural phenomenon that occurs during this time of the year can only help you. Fly selection, fly movement, and presentation are all critical components to angling success and having one more arrow in the quiver can only be a positive. The Chestnut Lamprey life cycle is really just an example of one more hatch that you should pay close attention to as we move closer to the opening day of trout season here in Michigan.
Hall, J. 1963. An ecological study of the chestnut lamprey, Ichthyomyzon castaneus, in the Manistee River, Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
As many of you already know, in 2019 I entered a new partnership with Montana Fly Company to produce and sell some of my favorite patterns. Last season I released several new Dry Flies for Trout. These new releases are patterns from my personal arsenal that I rely upon heavily for catching fish within our region. I am excited to have Montana Fly Company producing and selling my signature fly patterns as we move forward, the quality and attention to detail is second to none! Their is a limited quantity available for sale on our site, but please shop local at your nearest Fly Shop.
The flies that I currently have in production are available in two series. All of the flies are foam based Mayfly patterns that are designed to be fished all day with a touch of realism and an impressionistic silhouette that fish can’t resist. They are all mainstays in my arsenal and have been tied in multiple forms to imitate the Isonychia, Brown Drake, and Hex hatches that are found in Northern Michigan.
Here is a breakdown of all the flies that are currently available through MFC to complete your arsenal of Northern Michigan dry flies for trout . Ask your local fly shop about these patterns and pick some up today!Read more
New Fly Release
Montana Fly Company New Fly Release for 2020 – McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner – Burgundy Isonychia
I am very excited to announce a new fly pattern that will be released by Montana Fly Company in 2020! This fly will be available in two sizes and will help to fill the Isonychia spinner gap in a series of foam based dry flies that I released through MFC in 2019. The McCoys Boondoggle Spinner is very durable, has an irresistible profile, and is generally a must have pattern for the streams in Northern Michigan. Check with your local fly shops for availability, a limited quantity is available here online at Mangled Fly.
As with anything new it can sometimes be hard to predict demand so make sure to stock up before the supply becomes limited. If you are having difficulty finding the McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner pattern or any of my other fly patterns locally, please drop us a line and we will do our best to help you get these dry flies in your fly box for the upcoming season.
Look for several more fly releases with MFC in the near future as I have been expanding upon some old favorites and tinkering with some new stuff for release. Good luck with all of your angling pursuits throughout the upcoming 2020 fishing season!!