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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

20 pound steelhead

Best Fishing Images of 2021

best fishing of 2021
Best Fishing of 2021

Best Fishing Images of 2021

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

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

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

20 Pound Steelhead Highlights

20 pound steelhead
20 pounder on the swing

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

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

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

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


Two Years in a Row, same trout

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

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

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

New Steelhead Limits

NRC Proposal for New Steelhead Limits Part 2

Current Status of Fisheries Order 200.22

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

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.

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 Steelhead Report

Pic of the Day – New Steelhead Swing Colors

New Swing Colors

Hard to believe after this many years that it took me this long to find love with the color purple on the swing fly program. But 2019 I finally did it. Have to thank Brett Howard for pushing me over the edge. This color combination has been in the Great Lakes Steelhead swing game for many years, but I just didn’t seem to ever gravitate to it. Well now that I have had success I find my self tying it more often. If your looking to expand you color scheme in your fly box here is a quick fly recipe.

Once the season slows down have goals of expanding this section of the Mangled Fly Blog, more details more videos and better fly patterns that need to be shared. Good luck this fall and hope this color can make it into your box.

  • I use cotter pins with medium weight dumbbell eyes
  • Hook is a size 1 Mosquito by Owner, this year using braid 50# to attach
  • Barred Rabbit or Marabou in Purple
  • Also experimenting with a sparkle brush as an underbody currently (purple)
  • Flash is Grape , as much as you like. I don’t count strands
  • Ice dub head ( defiantly chartreuse as the finishing color, but pink and orange have both worked as the core color)

Pic of the Day – Big Steelhead

Manistee River Steelhead

Well so far the Steelhead run of 2019 is very similar to 2018, they are big again. If you remember one of my posts from last year I have the same feeling for this year. The elusive 20 pound steelhead is going to make it’s entrance at some point. Yesterday we had a 15-16 pound steelhead give us everything we could handle with an extremely long run, where the backing knot sure was tested for a longer period in time than I’m comfortable with as a guide. That amount of line out of the rod on the Manistee River with all it’s log jams is never a good thing.

Jim my client did everything he could to just hold onto this beauty. After landing the steelhead everyone was in awe and a simple picture in the net is all Jim wanted. We revived this beauty and off she swam to continue on her journey.

As your headed out this fall be ready for some big battles. Good luck and continue to check back as we share a few pics and stories from the fall steelhead run.

Michigan Fall Steelhead

Fall Steelhead on the Big Manistee River

Back on the Big Manistee for the Fall Steelhead season, wanted to share some quick pics of the first few days back. First impressions are we have some big fish again this year. They are strong and hard to hold onto. Without a doubt these are my favorite fish to chase during the season, the speed and power of these Great Lakes strain of steelhead is truly impressive.

Check back through out the week as I will continue to post additional images and links. Also make sure to follow Mangled Fly on Instagram as we post additional pictures and videos on our Feed and Stories.

Still have a few open dates at the end of November as well and plenty of availability in December too. Open Nov dates are 26,27,29. Contact me if your interested. As reports from my charter lake captains is this run of 2019 Fall Steelhead should be special. Have a great fall!

XL Steelhead

2018 XL Steelhead

XL Steelhead

I like to think of the steelhead season like a hockey game.  It has three periods to the game, that last a total of 6-7 months.  Period one is the Fall-Run, then Winter Steelhead, and the final period is Spring Steelhead. In the first period of this game, the Fall Run  we have had some XL sized Steelhead show up.  In my personal experience fishing the Manistee River, we had some epic battles with steelhead.  These battle would make your cry on one hand, and almost laugh on another.  The pure strength , speed, and power of these fish left my anglers helpless, and these XL steelhead finished them off so quickly that we didn’t even know what happened.  I relate this too a UFC Fight.  Round 1 first 10 sec TKO.

Steelhead Guides

But two of my fellow Steelhead Guides had the opportunity of landing two extremely large steelhead.  Fellow Guides and Scott Fly Rod Pro’s. Kevin Feenstra and Brad Petzke shared these images and my mouth dropped.  Kevin’s fish came from the Muskegon River on a swung fly.  One of his Halloween Leech patterns.  (FYI now available commercially for sale)

XL Steelhead

20 pound Steelhead caught on the Muskegon River

The second fish of XL size was shared by Brad Petzke who guides the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, less is known about this fish as Brad works really hard to find steelhead hot spots so we are going to respect that and provide no additional details. But if your looking to fish the UP you have to give Brad a call.  I’m not sure if this steelhead was eating baitfish out of the Great Lakes, or Big Macs at McDonalds.  The girth on this fish is very impressive.  Great job Brad and thank you for sharing.

XL Steelhead

Amazing Steelhead from the UP in Michigan

Second Period

I look forward to the second period as winter steelhead fishing probably provides one of the best opportunities to land a XL Steelhead.  With water temps dropping these big Boyz don’t have full speed anymore.  Still have plenty of power to pull us all into deep timber but, the best chance to land a XL is starting now.  Stay tuned hopefully for more XL Steelhead pics to come.

Pic of the Day – 2018 Fall Steelhead Run

The 2018 Fall Steelhead run has begun, so far size of the fish is very impressive.  Looking forward to the next 2 months.  Make sure to check out the fishing reports for the Manistee River and the Muskegon River for more pictures and updated information.  Hope to see you out there, have a great fall.