Tag Archive for: Manistee River

Upper Manistee Trout Fishing

Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing

Manistee River Trout Report

The Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing report for the third week of June has us fishing late into the night.  Over the past couple of days a heat wave drove our water temps into the “hot” zone.  With the heat our Hex hatch has started throughout the watershed.   This past week was filled with some great Isonychia hatches and the Brown Drake even made a comeback.  The Great Houdini Hatch best describes the Brown Drake this year. 

Water conditions have been dropping and rapidly warming this week.  With some intense heat and warm overnight temps, water temps have been on the HOT side.  There is some rain in the forecast and a slight cool down coming so keep the temps in mind while planning your fishing trips.  Water temps this time of year are mostly driven by solar exposure so even a cool day can get too warm.  The water temperatures have ranged anywhere from 63 to 71 over the past few days.  Typically water temps will peak around 8pm this time of year as we are in the summer solstice.  A little cool down is coming, but stay vigilant and keep an eye on the temps over the next few weeks.  

 

Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing

Upper Manistee Trout Fishing

Streamer Fishing

The Streamer bite has been put on the back burner for us.  Our focus right now is primarily on the dry fly fishing.  However, if we get a big storm or rain event the streamer could produce more opportunities especially in rising flows.  Smaller streamers have provided the best activity, but the fish are still focused towards the surface when insects are present.  Grinding through the slow periods and keeping the faith is always the key to success.

The best streamers have been primarily small baitfish and leech patterns.  The fish have seen a lot of presentations at this point so I’m always looking for something different to throw at them this time of year.  Best colors have been Ginger, Tan, yellow, and Black, but you need to play with color and size as it changes frequently.  

Warmer cloudy days are always the best, but this time of year I look for a cold front or bump in flows.  With water temps peaking in the low to mid 60s the best times will be early in the morning.  Water temps in the 60s will usually motivate the Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing towards the surface.  The fish have shown this shift over the past few days.

Peak Hatch Season

The Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing with dry flies is at peak now as our Hex Hatch has ramped up over the past couple of days.  Last week saw some pretty solid fishing during the Isonychia hatches.  Anytime the weather cools the Iso loves to show up and provide a great opportunity at some quality fish during the daytime. Most of the Isonychia activity has been light hatching, but there have been times where a few Isonychia spinners were on the water.  The best flies for us during the Iso hatch have been McCoy’s All Day Dun Isonychia- Grey, McCoy’s Boondoggle Grey Isonychia, and McCoy’s Iyso Dun Grey .

The Brown Drakes, which appeared to be finished, made a strong come back with the warmer weather.  As the hot weather arrived the Brown Drakes finished up over a couple of nights and our Hex hatch started to gain momentum.  The Dry Fly fishing has been pretty solid this past week with the warmer weather.  However, with warmer weather comes warmer water temps.  During the past few days water temps have made fishing difficult outside of the early mornings and after dark.  

Hex Hatch

The Hex hatch has been reported throughout most of the watershed.  With the heat, so comes our largest Mayfly.  The size and appeal of this bug is a main attraction for big fish and anglers alike. People come from all over the world to fish our streams during the Hex hatch.  The river can get crowded, busy, and water temps can be on the warmer side for safe trout fishing.  Just remember to check your water temps and respect other anglers space.  If you’re not sure of what to do when you encounter other anglers then just ask them.  They should tell you where they want you to go and do your best to try and accommodate.

This heat will make things go quick and I expect the hatch will fizzle out in typical fashion compared to recent years.  Typically this hatch is about 2 weeks of good hatching and spinner falls.  So far the best flies for us have been the McCoy’s All Day Dun, McCoy’s Boondoggle Hex, Reagan Hex Spinner, and larger Robert’s Yellow Drake.  Remember to be safe, have fun, and take time to adequately revive your fish for release.

Didymo

Upper Manistee Trout Fishing

Didymo on the Upper Manistee continues to be a problem with a high level of concern.  I would consider the whole Upper Manistee River System to be contaminated with this Diatom. There was new Didymo growth above CCC bridge and it has been documented as far upstream as Yellow Trees Landing.  The Didymo mats in sections below CCC are still breaking down and to my knowledge there isn’t any blooming like we saw in the 2022 season.  Didymo is considered a very resilient invasive species so you need to educate yourself on safe cleaning techniques.  River Users will need to clean their gear or anything that touches the water.  Didymo can easily be spread between watersheds and can be detrimental to our trout streams.

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).

New Shop Items

Check out the latest Mangled Fly T-Shirt plus Flex Fit Hats are back in stock. 

Trout Guide Trips 

We have very limited openings available during the peak hatch season, so make sure to book your dates now!  If you’re looking to book a Trout Guide Trip you can reach us at 231-631-5701 (leave a message) or shoot us an email.  We are excited for the upcoming Trout Season.   Also make sure to follow along on our social pages and our online fishing report page . for more updates. 

 

Tight Lines,

Ed

Manistee River Steelhead

Manistee River Steelhead Report below Tippy Dam

Manistee River

smallmouth bass below tippy dam

Trout/Bass fishing Below Tippy Dam

The Manistee River fishing report below Tippy Dam for the early part of May has us switching gears and targeting Trout and Smallmouth Bass. The trout have been actively pursuing small streamers and Black Caddis. The Smallmouth Bass pre-spawn run continues to offer anglers a fly/lure friendly day on the water.  May is always a fun and exciting month of fishing in Northern Michigan.  With the Michigan Trout Opener on the Upper Manistee and the Grand Traverse Bay Smallmouth fishing firing up, we find ourselves with a new focus and some warmer weather. 

Trout

Currently the Manistee River below Tippy Dam  Water Levels  are up a bit as some recent rains have blessed us with another water bump.  Flows on the Manistee River are currently 2050 cfs with water temps hovering around 57.  Trout are beginning to chase small streamers and take advantage of the abundant Black Caddis hatches that have started to pick up this week.  Swinging soft hackles this time of year and fishing small salmon parr imitations can be a fun way to spend the day.  The “Big Man” can offer an enjoyable experience for anglers of all skill levels, but its broad expanse offers a great setting for both beginning and intermediate anglers alike to dial in their casting and angling skills. 

Smallmouth Bass and Pike

 

Jon and I have both noted how we have switched programs to the Smallmouth Bass earlier this year than during previous seasons.  Jon has been busy exploring the river and many  Inland Lakes for a couple weeks now and I have joined in on the fun when I could.  The conditions the last few weeks have been perfect for Smallmouth Bass entering their pre-spawn phase.  The pre-spawn Bass are pretty receptive to throwing some of the largest swim flies of the season and can offer some epic visual eats.  So far the overall size of the fish and numbers in general have been very good.  

Northern Pike have been showing up more in our catch this week as well with the warming water temps.  Typically this time of year we like to run fine wire on our Swimbaits so we can fish any water type without prejudice.  The tax man is always lurking and if you don’t want to lose your favorite fly or lure wire up and fish without fear.  This time of year Smallmouth Bass are a great option for catching fish when we are facing tougher conditions on the trout streams impacting the bite.  Of course this can work both ways, so I went into more detail on how we adjust in this latest blog post.

Salmon Fry

The river is currently loaded with Salmon Fry.  We are seeing small bait balls just about everywhere in the slower edges of the river.  This is a great way to introduce someone to streamer fishing for trout or bass.  Fishing small streamer patterns on light sink tips is a fun way to dial in some critical angling skills.  Brown trout, Smallmouth Bass, Pike, and drop-back Steelhead are all utilizing this food resource.  Now is a great time of the year to get out learn, practice, and enjoy the water as the warmer weather adds a green landscape over the next week or so.

Booking a Trip

Manistee River below Tippy Dam is one of the best west side rivers in the state of Michigan.  Mangled Fly guides are starting to fill up their Summer Opening’s so give us a call soon to join in the fun at (231-631-5701) you can also shoot us an email.  Also it’s not too early to get your Fall Steelhead trips on the books.

We have a new sticker available in the shop, this sticker is pretty cool so make sure to get yours today.  We also have some new additions to the shop this year.  Hand tied Night Leaders for those of you that like mousing for brown trout.  We also put together a Night Fishing Assortment that saves you a few $$’s and comes with an easy box to store them in.

Ed 

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.

 

Hooks for Steelhead

Top Steelhead Hooks

Hooks for Steelhead

Top picks for steelhead hooks, talk about a sticky topic! I’m sure this is going to open a can of worms, but I wanted to address this topic as it gets a lot of attention amongst our guide staff. Every day, no matter what we are fishing, every rig we tie starts with a hook. It doesn’t matter if we are tying up a batch of streamers for steelhead, or if we are twisting up a bead rig for Alaska or Northern Michigan. The hook is usually the first item we start with.

Hook choices have consequences! Personally, I know I will never run a B10S hook again for trout. I’m fine using it for smallmouth bass, but I don’t have a scientific reason for it. Basically it’s the same reasoning I use when putting my right sock on first followed by my left. The same holds true with our favorite hooks for steelhead. It’s not really about scientific findings, but more about having confidence.

In order to shed some light on choosing the best hooks for steelhead, I have included a list of hooks preferred by Mangle Fly Guides below. This list of hooks has been proven over time and is Guide approved. For the purpose of this discussion, we chose hooks you can use for both swing and egg fly presentations. My hope is this list will help you decide which hooks to use this winter to prep your spring steelhead box.

Streamer Hooks

Streamer fishing for steelhead is not easy and you typically must capitalize upon fewer opportunities. You need a hook that is strong enough to land the Big Boyz, but light enough for your fly to move properly. The following is a Guide recommended list of streamer hooks for steelhead.

  • Owner Mosquito – is our number one choice for steelhead swing flies. This hook is a top choice personally and for Ed McCoy and Steve Pels as well. Most importantly, this hook has proven to be strong enough to handle the biggest Manistee River steelhead. Another advantage with this hook is the light wire, allowing me to pull a high percentage of my flies back from the log jams on 16# fluorocarbon. I like this hook in size 1 for most of my steelhead streamer patterns.
  • Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap – this is another one of Ed McCoy’s go to hooks. Ed runs this hook in size 1/0 and 1. He likes the big gap and very positive hook up ratio on fish that eat the fly from behind. This is a great hook later in the season to capture those fish that are nipping at the tail.
  • Daiichi 2557 – This hook has a super sticky point and will not bend out on hot fish. It has an oversized eye and makes passing trailer wire through the hook eye very easy. As is the case with most of our swing flies, we use wire or braid to attach the hook to our shanks. Steve likes this hook from size 1 to 4.
hooks for steelhead
Streamers for Steelhead

Bonus Streamer Hook

The bonus streamer hook is a “baby treble” and I was scared of what might happen upon hooking up. Baby trebles in size 10 or 8 work really well and more or less pin the steelhead upon contact. This is one of my late season hooks that might ruffle a few feathers. I only run this particular hook when temps are dropping from 40 degrees into the 30’s. I prefer this hook for days when one bite is likely all we will see on the swing. When you’re searching for one bite and only getting lethargic tugs or pulls, this hook can save the day. Try this treble hook on your next cold front fishing trip.

  • VMC 9650 – I use this hook in size 10 and size 8. It’s super sharp and strong enough to land most steelhead. An added advantage to these light wire hooks is you will get all of your flies back from the many log jams along the Manistee River. Another bonus with this hook is the oversized eye makes passing wire or braid through them a breeze. One point of caution regarding this hook. I would not recommend using these treble hooks in October or during heavy spring run off, it will not hold. If the steelhead is super charged up it will bend them right out. Please understand, when you hook up with this hook you have to take your foot off the gas. You can’t pull as hard as you normally do with the bigger heavy wire swing hooks.

Egg Hooks

The meat and potatoes fishing in the Great Lakes area is with egg patterns. It’s not uncommon for me to fill the tackle box with 1000’s of egg hooks in my preseason orders. Having tried a slew of egg hooks over the years, here is where we stand currently on the best of the best.

  • Blood Run Tail Out Ed McCoy favorite hook for pegging beads. The Blood Run Tail Out works great in size 1 to 4. It has a straight eye, so snelling your knot is a top selling point here. These hooks are super sharp and they will not bend out! This is not as ideal when fishing around all the wood, but there is never a question in confidence when fighting big steelhead on our float rigs.
  • Raven Specialist – is Jon Ray’s go to hook when fishing beads.  Especially the size 6 option for size 10mm or 8mm sized beads.  The benefits of this hook are the smaller diameter gauge metal, along with the micro barb make for better penetration and great hook up ratio. This is the perfect all-purpose hook. It is considered the most dependable Steelhead hook on the market with its great hooking and holding power.
  • Owner SSW – when it comes to fishing beads and egg patterns, no one on our staff has more experience than Jeff Topp. Having guided in Alaska for over 22 years, when Jeff recommends a hook I listen. For bead fishing he likes the size 4 hook with 10mm beads and the size 6 hook with 6mm to 8mm beads. The number one reason he likes this hook is the wire. This hook has a very strong thin wire making hook penetration better for Alaskan Rainbow Trout and Manistee River Steelhead. This razor sharp hook serves him well from size 6 to size 1 depending upon the bead size he is fishing.

Closing Thoughts

With so many hook options available at your local shops to choose from it can get confusing. I know this is just a sampling of choices, but the idea here is to help you make educated hook selections. Over the last few years we have been tying fewer yarn eggs, but the same hooks we use for fishing beads also work really well when tying big rag style yarn flies. For instance, the red Owner SSW listed above is one of my favorites to tie oversized egg patterns on for Spring Steelhead.

Treble hooks in the fly fishing world are nothing new, but I personally had no experience with them back in the day. Ten plus years ago, when I first ran treble hooks, I was very nervous and pessimistic to be honest. What would happen to the steelhead? How torn up would the mouth of my prized fish become? Would my fly just get tangled up in all the treble hook points? Experience has played a big part in answering some of these concerns. For example, the bigger hooks listed above actually do more damage than the VMC treble hooks.

This current list of hook choices is what we prefer for most of our fishing situations. I’m sure over time I will edit this list as new hooks are forged and some of the old standby’s are no longer available. Please feel free to add your favorite hooks in the comment section below and thanks again for checking out the blog.

Jon Ray

Drone image of the Big Manistee River

Birds Eye View Fall Steelhead

Taking a look from above down on the Big Manistee River  while we step thru a run looking for a steelhead.  Fall colors are about done, as heavy winds have really blown away our fall colors.  Water levels continue to be low and clear this 2023 Fall Steelhead season.  But we keep grind out most days finding a few steelhead to play.

cold weather fishing gear

Cold Weather Fishing Gear

Cold Weather Fishing Gear
Cold Weather Fishing

Fall and Winter Steelhead Gear

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

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

Base Layer

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

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

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

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Manistee River Tree Drop Update

Upper Manistee River Tree Drop Update

Yellow Trees

Manistee River Update

I recently had the opportunity to float below Yellow Trees and take a look at what impacts the tree drop had within that section. In September of 2022 Michigan Trout Unlimited helicoptered in almost 200 whole trees and placed them strategically throughout the river between Yellow Trees and Rogers Landing access sites. This was a prescribed woody debris addition through a collaborative habitat rehabilitation project lead by Michigan TU with assistance from several governmental agencies and private donors. I have been patiently waiting to see what the outcome of this wood addition would look like.

As many of you know, the Upper Manistee River is suffering from systemic habitat decline resulting from several external factors and from years of hands off management practices. The scope of this project is one of the largest wood additions we have seen within the watershed. My hope was that the added trees would help the river to cut down again as opposed to the widening stream width we have observed over the past decade. My first impression was mostly positive as we floated into the section where the majority of the trees were placed.

Desired Outcomes

There were several aspects I was hoping to observe in the areas where the trees were placed. Increasing depth and scour, silt bed formations in the calm water behind the trees, exposing woody debris on the stream bottom, and funneling the current to the middle of the river channel. To my surprise all four of these conditions were being created by the new wood additions. To me these conditions I have described are what makes the Upper Manistee River unique and slightly different from other trout streams in Michigan. Most of these attributes were declining or have become completely absent in this section during the past ten years.

Depth and Scour

Manistee River Tree Drop Update

I would say that 90% of the areas that woody debris was placed in the river went through some sort of change. There were a couple of stream reaches where the depth had more than doubled around the new wood. Increasing stream depth is important for several reasons. Deeper water is more stable from temperature change, this is something that has been lost over recent years as water temperatures in that section are quite volatile and can change by as much as 8-12 degrees in a 24 hour period. Deep water habitat is also critical for large trout abundance and overall population dynamics within a stream. The more suitable places there are for trout to live equals more trout, it’s a pretty simple concept.

Silt Beds

Sand has always been an issue on the Upper Manistee River, but it is even a bigger problem today in our ever changing environment with the current hands off approach. Overall, the erosional issues we dealt with in the past have been lessened to a certain degree by other projects focusing on this problem. However, rain events have changed how the river behaves during high and low flow periods. As the river began to cut out (or widen) instead of cutting down (or deepening) the sand bed load was continuing to increase. As a result the majority of the large silt beds that previously lined the river edge were filled in by sand. As we floated through the treated section it was eye opening to see how much new silt has already collected behind the trees and in the calm water in between tree placements. This is good news for burrowing insects like the Brown Drake and Hex.

Exposing More Wood

One habitat aspect of the Upper Manistee River that makes it unique is the amount of large woody debris that lines the stream bottom. As a result of the extensive logging that occurred over a century ago the volume of large woody debris trapped in the stream channel and buried by sand is mind blowing. This is one habitat variable that has been buried with time. There were a couple of reaches where multiple tree placements have exposed some of that buried wood. This was one of the habitat aspects I was really hoping to see maximized as a result of this project. Exposing more of this lateral woody habitat will only increase the amount of cover in the stream and create more favorable ambush sites for more fish to utilize. It’s a “more bang for your buck” scenario and will provide more cover for larger fish as well.

Channelizing Flow

Overall my first impression is mostly positive. The current appears to be funneling more to the middle of the treated areas and with some high water events more scouring should occur only improving the overall habitat conditions in this section. I believe the value of this work will continue to improve the overall stream health as we move forward. More work needs to be continued in reaches upstream and downstream of the Yellow Trees section. Some of the treated areas will need to have additional woody structures added to see the desired outcomes, but overall it’s a great start to mitigating years of neglect. The positive take home message here is that most of this change has occurred during low flow periods and we are just now entering our spring runoff period.

Ed McCoy

Didymo on the Upper Manistee

Didymo on the Upper Manistee

Didymo

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.

Unforeseeable Changes

Trout Fishing on the Upper Manistee

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.

Habitat Decline

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.  

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 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.

Ed McCoy

New Steelhead Limits

NRC Proposal for New Steelhead Limits Part 2

Current Status of Fisheries Order 200.22

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

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