The Manistee River fishing report below Tippy Dam for the middle part of March, is off to a cooler start than I would of guessed a month ago. 3″ of snow falling again this morning. Manistee River is in pretty good shape though, water is clear and has a good level to it. Our Spring Steelhead have been showing up in a slow trickle, I mean slow. No big wave, but ever since mid February we have been finding Spring Steelhead migrating up the Manistee River.
Last couple days fishing has picked up a notch so hope that continues, during the past week think we only saw a few hatchery fish, still mostly our wild strain this spring. But with big winds the last few days and river temps warm enough to trigger a spring push. Looks like this week we will learn a lot.
Currently Water Levels are on a slight rise with some much need rain that happened this week. With water temps now at 38.3 degrees, and will climb even more this week. We have started to see Spring steelhead fish behavior, meaning a it’s spawning time. With no Planted steelhead in the Covid years we need to leave spawning steelhead alone.
Below is our list of open dates, with next week giving us some warmer days and possible rain again, now is the time. Contact usor give us a call 231-631-5701 .
Also really excited for some new smallmouth water we will be expanding too. Prime Spring Smallmouth Dates are available.
Open Steelhead , Trout, or Smallmouth Bass Dates
Jon Ray – April – 7, 12, 13, 21, 25, 28 and May 4, 6-9, 11, 14 , 16-18
Ed McCoy – March – 26 and April 2, 6, 9, 12-14, 16-18, 23, 24, 27, 28
Jeff Topp – March – 29 and April – 11, 13, 14, 25, 26, 28-30
Fly Patterns for Spring Steelhead
Fly Patterns for Spring Steelhead this week continued to change on a daily basis. I continue to struggle to find a pattern. One day it’s all egg’s then the next day small minnow patterns or Alevin patterns. Once I feel good about my Alevin selection then the next day, can’t buy a bite on them.
Spring Steelhead definitely are more finicky than fall steelhead or winter steelhead. While still the same fish, they seem to have totally different behaviors. At least that is how I feel this week about them. Some weeks of fishing just get you a little more frustrated than other weeks. No matter what I still love these fish, but fly patterns in the fall are really simple in the spring don’t we can’t be afraid to change a couple times in the same run or pool.
Hello fishing friends! It feels like spring is around the corner. Birds are waking up, Ducks are starting there northern migration. And the spring run of steelhead is on its way. The river is in great shape.Good flows for both floating and wading. The flow rate has been steady for the past few days. This means to me that the fish are going to be happy and snappy. As the river starts to warm the brown trout bite should start to pick up as well.
Early Spring Steelhead
The spring steelhead fishing is starting to get good. With the winter fish still in the system and the spring run fish starting to show up the river is about to light up. Float fishing has been the game. Float fishing is an important method for this time of year. The steelhead are starting to move from the slow deep winter water into the faster straighter runs. Soon they will be concentrating on the gravel runs to spawn and make more steelheads. Because the fish are living in so many different types of water makes the float fishing a great way to cover many types of water without re-rigging at every stop.
That being said, this is a time of year that you have to fish every type of holding water. Runs from 3 feet to 10 feet and from slow to fast flow rates. You never know where you might find them this time of year. This time of year it’s best to fish it slow and fish it all. Beads, yarn and stonefly nymphs have been producing strong results.
Brown Trout Fishing
The brown trout are finally starting to wake from the winter slumber. The brown trout have been on the egg bite. With the steelhead starting to migrate to the spawning gravel the browns will be following them to the gravy train. Also with the salmon fry exiting the river keep an eye on the slack water and back eddies for some nice trout eating salmon fry. The insect thing is still to come. With the spring coming the water warming it shouldn’t be long before we get some top water action. It is a great time to be out on the river. The PM is starting to come alive. We still have a few open spring dates. Let us know if you want to get out!
Booking a Trip
One of my favorite times of year is just around the corner, learn more about how I like to fish Crank-baits for troutand steelhead. As water temps start to rise, no better bite on the river. Contact me for open dates.
Now is the time to get out and enjoy the this Early Spring Fishing. We have seen a big change the last few years in when Spring Steelhead starts. Read the blog post about we are seeing regardingSpring Steelhead on the Big Manistee and Pere Marquette River.
Didymo on the Upper Manistee continues to be a problem as it expands its chokehold upon the river. During August of 2022 we found new Didymo growth from Yellow Trees to the CCC Bridge. Didymo was not found previously in sections upstream of CCC Bridge. To put it bluntly, I would consider the entire Upper Manistee River System to be contaminated. Didymo is considered a very resilient invasive species and anglers will have to practice safe gear cleaning techniques to prevent spreading it between watersheds. These same cleaning practices will need to be followed after every fishing trip. It can be spread very easily and can result in detrimental outcomes for our trout streams.
We continue to follow the current safe cleaning practices for our gear. Currently, there are no effective methods to eradicate Didymo once it is established in a river.
To prevent spreading Didymo Clean, Drain, Dry your gear before entering another Body of Water.
Clean your gear by removing mud and debris from all surfaces.
Use a 10% Solution of Dishwashing Soap with hot water for 10 minutes. Then it must dry for 48 hours (mandatory if your fishing different streams).
The extent of the Didymo bloom on the Upper Manistee in 2021 was unbelievable. Didymo was observed in every section we fished downstream of the CCC Bridge. In one winter Didymo covered nearly 60 miles of stream bottom! This single event is disheartening when you consider any effort to limit its expansion into neighboring watersheds. Any efforts to do so are going to require extensive stream monitoring and habitat resiliency testing.
To determine the overall affect of Didymo on the Upper Manistee River is going to take time. However, the short term implications haven’t been favorable. The impacts to the fishing and our hatches were immediate. The hatches were inconsistent and showed lower overall insect abundance. The most alarming trend was a 65-80% decline in our catch rates. This decline was especially noticeable in sections dominated by Brown Trout. I would argue that Brown Trout abundance was immediately impacted by the presence of Didymo.
I expect Didymo will continue to expand its foothold in the Upper Manistee River as we enter 2023. The fall leaf drop will allow more sunlight penetration through the canopy and the colder temperatures will promote new Didymo growth. Further habitat decline will continue to allow for it to take over and expand its range in previously unaffected sections. At this current time I am not very optimistic that Didymo has run its course and will become dormant anytime soon.
Change the Conversation
This has been arguably one of the toughest trout seasons I have seen. The amount of change that has occurred over the past 5 to 6 years is very alarming. The Upper Manistee River has some systemic issues and neglected circumstances that need to be addressed. Habitat loss, water quality, invasive species concerns, all have reached their tipping point. We need to institute some major changes in our management approach if our aquatic resources are going to last for future generations to enjoy. It’s time to change the conversation!
Our state needs to manage our lakes and streams from a watershed perspective with a holistic approach. You can’t ask one biologist to manage several watersheds with the expectation of being effective, efficient, and able to identify problems before they occur. We need to bring Fisheries, Wildlife, and Forestry divisions to the same table. These departments need to review all the management recommendations under one microscope before implementing any action plans. The old days of stream management “between the river banks” has long outlived its effectiveness and we need a new direction moving forward.
The Upper Manistee River is designated as a Natural River. A Natural River 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 thrive under these protections!
Natural Rivers Act
The Natural Rivers Act designation was implemented to enhance the river, but the permitting process for habitat projects is making this crucial work more expensive and harder to complete. It may be time to retool this law and make it more user friendly for its intended purpose. It’s also time to have a serious discussion about increasing the stream buffer protections afforded by this act. Moving forward we need to hold our State agencies more accountable for their failures, but also applaud them for their successes. Unfortunately our State failed miserably at developing an effective awareness campaign for Didymo.
Many of the issues I have mentioned are fixable, but it is going to take time, money, and hard work. Didymo didn’t just appear over night, this problem has been several years in the making. Didymo is just a symptom of larger systemic issues plaguing an already unhealthy system. It has likely been in the Upper Manistee River for some time, but the necessary conditions for Didymo to take over are just now being exposed. The overall river health is at its tipping point. Habitat decline, nutrient decline, extensive low-flow periods, increased solar exposure, and uniform habitats characterized by increasingly wide, shallow, sandy areas have all accelerated in the past 5 years. Our streams are in desperate need of more habitat monitoring and rehabilitation programs to mitigate the accelerated pace of change and unbalanced outcomes.
The Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing has been up and down throughout 2022. Hatches were lighter and far more inconsistent than what we should experience. More intense rain events followed by longer low-flow periods and drought are increasing the stream width and sedimentation issues. The loss of large woody debris has now outpaced the recruitment of new woody structure. Changing Hydrologic conditions and the lack of stable woody debris structures have accelerated the loss of critical deep water habitats. These trends have all accelerated over the past 5 years and now we are seeing the effects of rapid habitat decline.
Unfortunately the river can no longer maintain its characteristic cold water flows as it has become too shallow and impacted with sand. In 2021, we observed a colder two degree water temperature difference between the M72 gauge and the 4 mile access monitoring station. During June and July of 2022 that colder 2 degree difference in water temperature was lost and temperatures were uniform between the two gauges. In recent years water temperatures have fluctuated 8 to 14 degrees over a 24 hour period. A healthy stream shouldn’t show this kind of temperature profile. As a consequence we are now seeing significant Didymo growth above the CCC Bridge where it wasn’t found a year ago.
The large swings in water temperatures have been one of the most noticeable changes throughout the watershed. These big swings in water temperature have had negative impacts upon our insect hatches. This is the first year I have experienced so much inconsistency throughout the hatch season. Normally the Hex hatch lasts about two weeks, but the hatch was stretched out over an entire month. Water temperatures would drop at night to around 58 degrees and climb during the daytime reaching highs of 70+ degrees. These big temperature oscillations will continue to impact our hatches and disrupt our fishing until the habitat conditions promoting these issues are addressed.
Unstable weather patterns had some negative affects on the fishing this year, but that wasn’t the only observable change. Habitat decline has accelerated over the past 5 years. Habitat loss has reached a critical threshold and now the river’s ability to buffer against drastic change is losing ground. The Upper Manistee River has become dominated by expansive wide, shallow, sandy areas of uniform habitat lacking woody debris. Large areas of shade providing deciduous trees have also been lost to disease and invasive species. This combination of declining habitat variables is allowing for more light penetration to reach the stream bed. Habitat decline and a warming temperature profile are two critical changes we are now seeing on an annual basis.
The Upper Manistee River is becoming warmer as the stream becomes wider, shallower, and more surface water is exposed to sunlight. During June and July, the longest day length of the year, the river is struggling to maintain colder temperatures under sunny conditions. Intense solar exposure is winning the battle and we are now experiencing more days with 70+ degree water temperatures. Water temperatures have still exceeded 70 degrees on sunny days with high temperatures only approaching 75 degrees for the day. The lowest water temperatures we observed during June and July were typically associated with cloudy conditions and cold fronts. I firmly believe declining habitat conditions are a prerequisite for Didymo to take over a stream.
Studies have shown that shallow, wide, cold streams with moderate flows, increased solar exposure, and low phosphorous are more susceptible to Didymo blooms. Statistically, low phosphorous conditions appear to be the primary driver for Didymo blooms in streams. Phosphorous is a critical variable in trout streams often impacting algal and macro-invertebrate communities. When stream phosphorous levels are too high you will often see explosive algal and plant growth. One would expect to see increasing macro-invertebrate abundances due to increasing nutrient loads, but often there is a subsequent decline in species diversity. Didymo is a strange case, it prefers ultra low-phosphorous levels to bloom. This diatom is quite the opposite of most algae and will only show extreme growth in streams when phosphorous levels hit rock bottom.
Interestingly, phosphorous levels are at an all time low in the Great Lakes Region since the introduction of Zebra and Quagga Mussels. The post-mussel Great Lakes are functionally different today than the pre-mussel Great Lakes. Today the Great Lakes are primarily nutrient poor systems characterized by very clear waters which is a 180 degree change from the late 1980’s. Today nutrient loads are very different, the lakes are exceptionally clear, warm differently, and winter is pretty much a thing of the past. One has to consider the functional change that has occurred throughout the Great Lakes region and how these changes have impacted our inland ecosystems. Just a little food for thought regarding the primary driver of change to our regional ecosystems.
Here to Stay
Didymo has had an immediate impact this season, especially in the sections downstream of the CCC Bridge. The Didymo mat was very extensive and in some areas we observed over 95% coverage of the hard substrates. The amount of Didymo particles suspended in the drift from March until Late July was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was a completely different looking river downstream of the CCC Bridge. The stream bottom was almost completely covered in Didymo and there was a steady stream of Didymo particles flushing into Hodenpyle pond for over 3 months. Based on what I saw this spring, I don’t believe we have a very effective strategy in place to prevent this from spreading.
Insect activity was visibly lower and we observed inconsistencies within our hatches. Several hatches were virtually nonexistent. The overall insect activity was the lowest I have ever experienced on the Upper Manistee River. Didymo also had a tremendous impact upon our trout fishing. Every section we fished with visible Didymo growth suffered from diminishing returns. In other words you can’t catch what isn’t there! We experienced a 65-80% decline in our catch rates and it became very clear that trout Brown Trout are impacted by the presence of Didymo. There is ample research currently coming out of New Zealand that resembles our own observations. Studies have documented a 70% decline in Brown Trout biomass within streams affected by Didymo.
The trout knew it was coming! Hindsight is 20/20, but I firmly believe Didymo was already impacting fish movement early on in 2021. In June of 2021 I would argue the river experienced significant fish movement from sections downstream of the CCC Bridge. We found clusters of large Trout surprisingly pooled up together which is a situation not commonly encountered before. Other reports from Upper Sections of the river mentioned more large Brown Trout in their catch. However, I have been finding more large Trout in poor overall condition during the past few seasons, probably resulting from crowded conditions and declining food availability. Studies in New Zealand have demonstrated larger Brown Trout are adversely affected in Didymo infected streams and those streams were dominated by smaller sized trout (lower biomass).
An interesting observation, that was confirmed by several other guides, was off colored water conditions for several weeks during June of 2021 and again in June of 2022. The water had a light tannic stain during a long, hot drought period. Typically the Upper Manistee River would have a gin clear appearance during low water conditions. Instead the water had a golden brown hue and the surface looked black during low light periods. Coincidently, Didymo cells are amber or golden brown in color. In August of 2022 we found significant Didymo growth in sections upstream of the CCC Bridge where the water color was off during June. It is my belief that these water conditions are a precursor for visible Didymo growth.
Didymo is a ghost and only becomes visible when it goes into bloom. In August of 2022 Didymo was discovered on the Boardman River in Traverse City, MI. It was found in a section that was previously sampled during the spring using rock scrapings. During the spring Didymo was not found anywhere outside of the Upper Manistee River watershed. This example demonstrates the importance of expanding our sampling techniques in an attempt to increase early detection of Didymo in our streams. Currently we don’t have an effective early detection method, this needs to be addressed if we are going to get ahead of this issue.
A study from New Zealand found Didymo in streams without bloom formations. In some streams Didymo was present only in the water column and not on the substrates. In other streams Didymo was present in both the water column and on the substrates, but no bloom formations were found in either case. The takeaway here is that Didymo won’t bloom unless the conditions to do so are favorable. Early detection, habitat rehabilitation programs, and an effective mitigation strategy are desperately needed to deal with nuisance blooms in the future. It’s time to change the conversation and to make the necessary changes to our prescribed management strategies in order to mitigate blooms in previously affected and unaffected streams.
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 over the past decade. Time will tell, but Didymo isn’t going to just disappear. I would be willing to bet it’s also more widespread than just within the Upper Manistee and Boardman River watersheds. After reflecting upon the past few seasons, I am even more convinced that Didymo is an indicator of overall poor stream health. Jon Ray fittingly compared Didymo to Cancer or Diabetes in an unhealthy individual. I totally agree with his comparison. Until you fix the root cause of the symptoms plaguing a stream, the stream won’t be able to become healthy and balanced again.
There is potential to avert further blooms on the Upper Manistee River. The State of Michigan hasn’t actively performed any stream habitat work in several decades. There have been several other projects that have been completed in that timeframe, but nothing at the scope of what Michigan Trout Unlimited has proposed. Michigan TU recently placed approximately 200 whole trees between Yellow Trees Landing and King Trout Ranch this fall. By using Helicopters to precisely drop large woody debris in-stream they were able to target the most diminished habitats in that section. I am excited to see the results of all this work in the upcoming season!
There are a lot of unknowns regarding Didymo. Largely, no one has any real answers to its native range or origin. Is it invasive or a native nuisance species? What are the environmental conditions that promote large blooms? How do we treat affected streams and prevent future outbreaks? These are all important questions that need to be answered, but the fact is Didymo is already here and it isn’t going to just go away.
Utilizing a holistic management approach and establishing long term monitoring programs should be top on the list. As we hear more on what you can do to help in this fight and as we find out more information regarding Didymo we will be sure to let you know. Right now the best thing you can do is voice your concerns with your local State agencies and demand change in how we manage our resources. Demand more from our resource managers and continue to help out with local projects that can help preserve and protect the future of our favorite trout streams.
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/didymo-on-the-upper-manistee.jpg?fit=640%2C360&ssl=1360640Ed McCoyhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgEd McCoy2023-02-16 14:12:502023-02-17 12:09:06Didymo on the Upper Manistee
Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing report has us entering the last month of the year and we are beginning the transition into our winter programs. With our primary focus on the Big Manistee Below Tippy Dam, and winter fishing the Pere Marquette River. We find ourselves spending less time on the Upper Manistee River trout fishing. But when the occasion pops up it’s always a treat. Access can be limited this time of year so play with caution. Not many ramps are cleared of ice and snow so be careful.
Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing
Winter trout fishing on the Upper Manistee River means streamer fishing. With Brown Trout have finished spawning so this can be a good time of year to target some bigger trout. Not too often do you see the small guys chase this time of year. Primarily you will see the adults out looking for those bigger meals. As was the case the other day, not many chasers but the fish we did get was a really nice post spawn hen that was eager to crush our streamer.
Look for fish to be sitting in slow woody spots. Using cover as a hiding spot to ambush prey, but also to conserve energy during the winter. These spots are not always the deep spots either, normally some of the best spots are only a couple feet deep.
Also fly size isn’t normally our biggest patterns, more the 3-5″ stuff. Color that matches the bottom color or water hue are normally best. Look for sculpins, leeches, and small baitfish to be your best bet.
New Trout Flies
We havenew Trout Fliesthat we will be selling this year. Ed McCoy has released new patterns and over the coming months we will be getting stock so make sure to check back or sign up for our Newsletter to get the updates when they arrive. The new McCoy Iyso Dun Grey is currently available and this is sure to be a winner this June during the Iyso hatch. Get yours while they are still in stock. This are sure to sell out.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/february-spring-steeelhead.jpg?fit=640%2C427&ssl=1427640Jon Rayhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgJon Ray2022-03-03 19:51:142023-01-30 12:21:45Spring Steelhead and What Changed
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.
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/steelhead-fishing-northern-michigan-355.jpg?fit=640%2C427&ssl=1427640Ed McCoyhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgEd McCoy2021-12-02 21:13:472021-12-11 23:38:03NRC Proposal for New Steelhead Limits Part 2
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 Limitsbeing 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.
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/fall-steelhead-northern-michigan296-2.jpg?fit=640%2C640&ssl=1640640Ed McCoyhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgEd McCoy2021-10-31 10:35:002021-11-14 14:10:30NRC Proposal New Steelhead Limits
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.
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.
I can still remember the day when the light bulb turned on and I finally understood the need to change my float to match the water type I was fishing. Changing floats based on water type isn’t something you hear much about. Actually it’s a simple change that can make a big difference, especially in the spring, when steelhead themselves are changing the water types they utilize.
Let’s start with a real world scenario, or as I like to commonly refer to it, my lightbulb moment. It was December and I just spent the past 60 days fishing for steelhead on the lower Manistee River, the section closest to Lake Michigan. Most of those days were spent primarily fishing floats in the lower end of the river. I had my confidence rig all setup and ready to go and for whatever reason I decided to change it up and shift the guide trip towards Tippy Dam.
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/float-fishing-steelhead-355.jpg?fit=640%2C427&ssl=1427640Jon Rayhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgJon Ray2020-02-23 10:50:582020-02-23 10:52:07Changing Floats based on Water Type