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.
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 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
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.
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!
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.
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.