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

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.

Read more
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.

Chestnut Lamprey

Chestnut Lamprey

Chestnut Lamprey
Chestnut Lamprey attached to a Brown Trout

Chestnut Lamprey

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)

Manistee River

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.

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.

Changing Floats based on Water Type

Changing Floats based on Water Type

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.

Fishing Story

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.

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Dry Flies for Trout

Dry Flies for Trout

Dry Flies

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!

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