Hello fishing friends! It feels like spring is around the corner. Birds are waking up, Ducks are starting there northern migration. And the spring run of steelhead is on its way. The river is in great shape.Good flows for both floating and wading. The flow rate has been steady for the past few days. This means to me that the fish are going to be happy and snappy. As the river starts to warm the brown trout bite should start to pick up as well.
Early Spring Steelhead
The spring steelhead fishing is starting to get good. With the winter fish still in the system and the spring run fish starting to show up the river is about to light up. Float fishing has been the game. Float fishing is an important method for this time of year. The steelhead are starting to move from the slow deep winter water into the faster straighter runs. Soon they will be concentrating on the gravel runs to spawn and make more steelheads. Because the fish are living in so many different types of water makes the float fishing a great way to cover many types of water without re-rigging at every stop.
That being said, this is a time of year that you have to fish every type of holding water. Runs from 3 feet to 10 feet and from slow to fast flow rates. You never know where you might find them this time of year. This time of year it’s best to fish it slow and fish it all. Beads, yarn and stonefly nymphs have been producing strong results.
Brown Trout Fishing
The brown trout are finally starting to wake from the winter slumber. The brown trout have been on the egg bite. With the steelhead starting to migrate to the spawning gravel the browns will be following them to the gravy train. Also with the salmon fry exiting the river keep an eye on the slack water and back eddies for some nice trout eating salmon fry. The insect thing is still to come. With the spring coming the water warming it shouldn’t be long before we get some top water action. It is a great time to be out on the river. The PM is starting to come alive. We still have a few open spring dates. Let us know if you want to get out!
Booking a Trip
One of my favorite times of year is just around the corner, learn more about how I like to fish Crank-baits for troutand steelhead. As water temps start to rise, no better bite on the river. Contact me for open dates.
Now is the time to get out and enjoy the this Early Spring Fishing. We have seen a big change the last few years in when Spring Steelhead starts. Read the blog post about we are seeing regardingSpring Steelhead on the Big Manistee and Pere Marquette River.
Didymo on the Upper Manistee continues to be a problem as it expands its chokehold upon the river. During August of 2022 we found new Didymo growth from Yellow Trees to the CCC Bridge. Didymo was not found previously in sections upstream of CCC Bridge. To put it bluntly, I would consider the entire Upper Manistee River System to be contaminated. Didymo is considered a very resilient invasive species and anglers will have to practice safe gear cleaning techniques to prevent spreading it between watersheds. These same cleaning practices will need to be followed after every fishing trip. It can be spread very easily and can result in detrimental outcomes for our trout streams.
We continue to follow the current safe cleaning practices for our gear. Currently, there are no effective methods to eradicate Didymo once it is established in a river.
To prevent spreading Didymo Clean, Drain, Dry your gear before entering another Body of Water.
Clean your gear by removing mud and debris from all surfaces.
Use a 10% Solution of Dishwashing Soap with hot water for 10 minutes. Then it must dry for 48 hours (mandatory if your fishing different streams).
The extent of the Didymo bloom on the Upper Manistee in 2021 was unbelievable. Didymo was observed in every section we fished downstream of the CCC Bridge. In one winter Didymo covered nearly 60 miles of stream bottom! This single event is disheartening when you consider any effort to limit its expansion into neighboring watersheds. Any efforts to do so are going to require extensive stream monitoring and habitat resiliency testing.
To determine the overall affect of Didymo on the Upper Manistee River is going to take time. However, the short term implications haven’t been favorable. The impacts to the fishing and our hatches were immediate. The hatches were inconsistent and showed lower overall insect abundance. The most alarming trend was a 65-80% decline in our catch rates. This decline was especially noticeable in sections dominated by Brown Trout. I would argue that Brown Trout abundance was immediately impacted by the presence of Didymo.
I expect Didymo will continue to expand its foothold in the Upper Manistee River as we enter 2023. The fall leaf drop will allow more sunlight penetration through the canopy and the colder temperatures will promote new Didymo growth. Further habitat decline will continue to allow for it to take over and expand its range in previously unaffected sections. At this current time I am not very optimistic that Didymo has run its course and will become dormant anytime soon.
Change the Conversation
This has been arguably one of the toughest trout seasons I have seen. The amount of change that has occurred over the past 5 to 6 years is very alarming. The Upper Manistee River has some systemic issues and neglected circumstances that need to be addressed. Habitat loss, water quality, invasive species concerns, all have reached their tipping point. We need to institute some major changes in our management approach if our aquatic resources are going to last for future generations to enjoy. It’s time to change the conversation!
Our state needs to manage our lakes and streams from a watershed perspective with a holistic approach. You can’t ask one biologist to manage several watersheds with the expectation of being effective, efficient, and able to identify problems before they occur. We need to bring Fisheries, Wildlife, and Forestry divisions to the same table. These departments need to review all the management recommendations under one microscope before implementing any action plans. The old days of stream management “between the river banks” has long outlived its effectiveness and we need a new direction moving forward.
The Upper Manistee River is designated as a Natural River. A Natural River is afforded extra protections for “the purpose of preserving and enhancing its values for water conservation, its free flowing condition, and its fish, wildlife, boating, scenic, aesthetic, floodplain, ecologic, historic, and recreational values and uses. The area shall include adjoining or related lands as appropriate to the purposes of the designation. The department shall prepare and adopt a long-range comprehensive plan for a designated natural river area that sets forth the purposes of the designation, proposed uses of lands and waters, and management measures designed to accomplish the purposes.” Yet the river is failing to thrive under these protections!
Natural Rivers Act
The Natural Rivers Act designation was implemented to enhance the river, but the permitting process for habitat projects is making this crucial work more expensive and harder to complete. It may be time to retool this law and make it more user friendly for its intended purpose. It’s also time to have a serious discussion about increasing the stream buffer protections afforded by this act. Moving forward we need to hold our State agencies more accountable for their failures, but also applaud them for their successes. Unfortunately our State failed miserably at developing an effective awareness campaign for Didymo.
Many of the issues I have mentioned are fixable, but it is going to take time, money, and hard work. Didymo didn’t just appear over night, this problem has been several years in the making. Didymo is just a symptom of larger systemic issues plaguing an already unhealthy system. It has likely been in the Upper Manistee River for some time, but the necessary conditions for Didymo to take over are just now being exposed. The overall river health is at its tipping point. Habitat decline, nutrient decline, extensive low-flow periods, increased solar exposure, and uniform habitats characterized by increasingly wide, shallow, sandy areas have all accelerated in the past 5 years. Our streams are in desperate need of more habitat monitoring and rehabilitation programs to mitigate the accelerated pace of change and unbalanced outcomes.
The Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing has been up and down throughout 2022. Hatches were lighter and far more inconsistent than what we should experience. More intense rain events followed by longer low-flow periods and drought are increasing the stream width and sedimentation issues. The loss of large woody debris has now outpaced the recruitment of new woody structure. Changing Hydrologic conditions and the lack of stable woody debris structures have accelerated the loss of critical deep water habitats. These trends have all accelerated over the past 5 years and now we are seeing the effects of rapid habitat decline.
Unfortunately the river can no longer maintain its characteristic cold water flows as it has become too shallow and impacted with sand. In 2021, we observed a colder two degree water temperature difference between the M72 gauge and the 4 mile access monitoring station. During June and July of 2022 that colder 2 degree difference in water temperature was lost and temperatures were uniform between the two gauges. In recent years water temperatures have fluctuated 8 to 14 degrees over a 24 hour period. A healthy stream shouldn’t show this kind of temperature profile. As a consequence we are now seeing significant Didymo growth above the CCC Bridge where it wasn’t found a year ago.
The large swings in water temperatures have been one of the most noticeable changes throughout the watershed. These big swings in water temperature have had negative impacts upon our insect hatches. This is the first year I have experienced so much inconsistency throughout the hatch season. Normally the Hex hatch lasts about two weeks, but the hatch was stretched out over an entire month. Water temperatures would drop at night to around 58 degrees and climb during the daytime reaching highs of 70+ degrees. These big temperature oscillations will continue to impact our hatches and disrupt our fishing until the habitat conditions promoting these issues are addressed.
Unstable weather patterns had some negative affects on the fishing this year, but that wasn’t the only observable change. Habitat decline has accelerated over the past 5 years. Habitat loss has reached a critical threshold and now the river’s ability to buffer against drastic change is losing ground. The Upper Manistee River has become dominated by expansive wide, shallow, sandy areas of uniform habitat lacking woody debris. Large areas of shade providing deciduous trees have also been lost to disease and invasive species. This combination of declining habitat variables is allowing for more light penetration to reach the stream bed. Habitat decline and a warming temperature profile are two critical changes we are now seeing on an annual basis.
The Upper Manistee River is becoming warmer as the stream becomes wider, shallower, and more surface water is exposed to sunlight. During June and July, the longest day length of the year, the river is struggling to maintain colder temperatures under sunny conditions. Intense solar exposure is winning the battle and we are now experiencing more days with 70+ degree water temperatures. Water temperatures have still exceeded 70 degrees on sunny days with high temperatures only approaching 75 degrees for the day. The lowest water temperatures we observed during June and July were typically associated with cloudy conditions and cold fronts. I firmly believe declining habitat conditions are a prerequisite for Didymo to take over a stream.
Studies have shown that shallow, wide, cold streams with moderate flows, increased solar exposure, and low phosphorous are more susceptible to Didymo blooms. Statistically, low phosphorous conditions appear to be the primary driver for Didymo blooms in streams. Phosphorous is a critical variable in trout streams often impacting algal and macro-invertebrate communities. When stream phosphorous levels are too high you will often see explosive algal and plant growth. One would expect to see increasing macro-invertebrate abundances due to increasing nutrient loads, but often there is a subsequent decline in species diversity. Didymo is a strange case, it prefers ultra low-phosphorous levels to bloom. This diatom is quite the opposite of most algae and will only show extreme growth in streams when phosphorous levels hit rock bottom.
Interestingly, phosphorous levels are at an all time low in the Great Lakes Region since the introduction of Zebra and Quagga Mussels. The post-mussel Great Lakes are functionally different today than the pre-mussel Great Lakes. Today the Great Lakes are primarily nutrient poor systems characterized by very clear waters which is a 180 degree change from the late 1980’s. Today nutrient loads are very different, the lakes are exceptionally clear, warm differently, and winter is pretty much a thing of the past. One has to consider the functional change that has occurred throughout the Great Lakes region and how these changes have impacted our inland ecosystems. Just a little food for thought regarding the primary driver of change to our regional ecosystems.
Here to Stay
Didymo has had an immediate impact this season, especially in the sections downstream of the CCC Bridge. The Didymo mat was very extensive and in some areas we observed over 95% coverage of the hard substrates. The amount of Didymo particles suspended in the drift from March until Late July was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was a completely different looking river downstream of the CCC Bridge. The stream bottom was almost completely covered in Didymo and there was a steady stream of Didymo particles flushing into Hodenpyle pond for over 3 months. Based on what I saw this spring, I don’t believe we have a very effective strategy in place to prevent this from spreading.
Insect activity was visibly lower and we observed inconsistencies within our hatches. Several hatches were virtually nonexistent. The overall insect activity was the lowest I have ever experienced on the Upper Manistee River. Didymo also had a tremendous impact upon our trout fishing. Every section we fished with visible Didymo growth suffered from diminishing returns. In other words you can’t catch what isn’t there! We experienced a 65-80% decline in our catch rates and it became very clear that trout Brown Trout are impacted by the presence of Didymo. There is ample research currently coming out of New Zealand that resembles our own observations. Studies have documented a 70% decline in Brown Trout biomass within streams affected by Didymo.
The trout knew it was coming! Hindsight is 20/20, but I firmly believe Didymo was already impacting fish movement early on in 2021. In June of 2021 I would argue the river experienced significant fish movement from sections downstream of the CCC Bridge. We found clusters of large Trout surprisingly pooled up together which is a situation not commonly encountered before. Other reports from Upper Sections of the river mentioned more large Brown Trout in their catch. However, I have been finding more large Trout in poor overall condition during the past few seasons, probably resulting from crowded conditions and declining food availability. Studies in New Zealand have demonstrated larger Brown Trout are adversely affected in Didymo infected streams and those streams were dominated by smaller sized trout (lower biomass).
An interesting observation, that was confirmed by several other guides, was off colored water conditions for several weeks during June of 2021 and again in June of 2022. The water had a light tannic stain during a long, hot drought period. Typically the Upper Manistee River would have a gin clear appearance during low water conditions. Instead the water had a golden brown hue and the surface looked black during low light periods. Coincidently, Didymo cells are amber or golden brown in color. In August of 2022 we found significant Didymo growth in sections upstream of the CCC Bridge where the water color was off during June. It is my belief that these water conditions are a precursor for visible Didymo growth.
Didymo is a ghost and only becomes visible when it goes into bloom. In August of 2022 Didymo was discovered on the Boardman River in Traverse City, MI. It was found in a section that was previously sampled during the spring using rock scrapings. During the spring Didymo was not found anywhere outside of the Upper Manistee River watershed. This example demonstrates the importance of expanding our sampling techniques in an attempt to increase early detection of Didymo in our streams. Currently we don’t have an effective early detection method, this needs to be addressed if we are going to get ahead of this issue.
A study from New Zealand found Didymo in streams without bloom formations. In some streams Didymo was present only in the water column and not on the substrates. In other streams Didymo was present in both the water column and on the substrates, but no bloom formations were found in either case. The takeaway here is that Didymo won’t bloom unless the conditions to do so are favorable. Early detection, habitat rehabilitation programs, and an effective mitigation strategy are desperately needed to deal with nuisance blooms in the future. It’s time to change the conversation and to make the necessary changes to our prescribed management strategies in order to mitigate blooms in previously affected and unaffected streams.
So what does all of this mean and what will happen to the river? We are not sure, Didymo is a new threat, and the river has gone through a considerable amount of change over the past decade. Time will tell, but Didymo isn’t going to just disappear. I would be willing to bet it’s also more widespread than just within the Upper Manistee and Boardman River watersheds. After reflecting upon the past few seasons, I am even more convinced that Didymo is an indicator of overall poor stream health. Jon Ray fittingly compared Didymo to Cancer or Diabetes in an unhealthy individual. I totally agree with his comparison. Until you fix the root cause of the symptoms plaguing a stream, the stream won’t be able to become healthy and balanced again.
There is potential to avert further blooms on the Upper Manistee River. The State of Michigan hasn’t actively performed any stream habitat work in several decades. There have been several other projects that have been completed in that timeframe, but nothing at the scope of what Michigan Trout Unlimited has proposed. Michigan TU recently placed approximately 200 whole trees between Yellow Trees Landing and King Trout Ranch this fall. By using Helicopters to precisely drop large woody debris in-stream they were able to target the most diminished habitats in that section. I am excited to see the results of all this work in the upcoming season!
There are a lot of unknowns regarding Didymo. Largely, no one has any real answers to its native range or origin. Is it invasive or a native nuisance species? What are the environmental conditions that promote large blooms? How do we treat affected streams and prevent future outbreaks? These are all important questions that need to be answered, but the fact is Didymo is already here and it isn’t going to just go away.
Utilizing a holistic management approach and establishing long term monitoring programs should be top on the list. As we hear more on what you can do to help in this fight and as we find out more information regarding Didymo we will be sure to let you know. Right now the best thing you can do is voice your concerns with your local State agencies and demand change in how we manage our resources. Demand more from our resource managers and continue to help out with local projects that can help preserve and protect the future of our favorite trout streams.
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/didymo-on-the-upper-manistee.jpg?fit=640%2C360&ssl=1360640Ed McCoyhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgEd McCoy2023-02-16 14:12:502023-02-17 12:09:06Didymo on the Upper Manistee
Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing report has us entering the last month of the year and we are beginning the transition into our winter programs. With our primary focus on the Big Manistee Below Tippy Dam, and winter fishing the Pere Marquette River. We find ourselves spending less time on the Upper Manistee River trout fishing. But when the occasion pops up it’s always a treat. Access can be limited this time of year so play with caution. Not many ramps are cleared of ice and snow so be careful.
Upper Manistee River Trout Fishing
Winter trout fishing on the Upper Manistee River means streamer fishing. With Brown Trout have finished spawning so this can be a good time of year to target some bigger trout. Not too often do you see the small guys chase this time of year. Primarily you will see the adults out looking for those bigger meals. As was the case the other day, not many chasers but the fish we did get was a really nice post spawn hen that was eager to crush our streamer.
Look for fish to be sitting in slow woody spots. Using cover as a hiding spot to ambush prey, but also to conserve energy during the winter. These spots are not always the deep spots either, normally some of the best spots are only a couple feet deep.
Also fly size isn’t normally our biggest patterns, more the 3-5″ stuff. Color that matches the bottom color or water hue are normally best. Look for sculpins, leeches, and small baitfish to be your best bet.
New Trout Flies
We havenew Trout Fliesthat we will be selling this year. Ed McCoy has released new patterns and over the coming months we will be getting stock so make sure to check back or sign up for our Newsletter to get the updates when they arrive. The new McCoy Iyso Dun Grey is currently available and this is sure to be a winner this June during the Iyso hatch. Get yours while they are still in stock. This are sure to sell out.
Didymo on the Upper Manistee continues to be a problem as new sections fall ill to its presence and previously affected areas are still producing viable cells. I would consider the whole Upper Manistee River System to be contaminated with this Diatom. Didymo is considered a very resilient invasive species so you need to educate yourself on safe cleaning techniques that you will need to clean your gear or anything that touches the water. It can be spread between watersheds very easily and can be detrimental to our trout streams.
The amount of Didymo that we are still seeing on our floats on the Upper Manistee below CCC Bridge is very disheartening, it is going to take some time yet so see what happens next in the lower river. The short term implications have not been very good for what a longterm bloom may do to the ecosystem and fishing. We have found Didymo now from Yellow Trees to the CCC Bridge as well. I would expect it will continue to extend its presence further upstream as we enter the fall season and leaf drop allows more sunlight penetration through the tree canopy.
I would consider the Entire River TO BE CONTAMINATED and treat it as such. Clean, Drain, Dry your gear before entering another Body of Water. Currently, there are no effective methods to eradicate didymo once it is established in a river. To prevent spreading Didymo and other aquatic invasive species to new locations, it is critical for users to thoroughly Clean, Drain and Dry waders, equipment, and boats upon leaving a waterway.
Clean by removing mud and debris from all surfaces.
Use a 10% Solution of Dishwashing Soap with hot water for 10 minutes (Example 1 gallon of water is 12.8 oz of Dawn Soap). Then it must dry for 48 hours (mandatory if your fishing different water systems).
As many of you already know, in 2019 I began selling my signature fly patterns through Montana Fly Company. This year I am excited to announce several new fly patterns that are available through Montana Fly Company in 2023! There will be two new dry flies, a Mouse, and Frog pattern to round out the new releases. The dry flies are an Isonychia Dun and Spinner variation. The Mayfly patterns have been some of my most productive searching and hatch matching patterns over the years.
I am excited to announce a new fly pattern to be released by Montana Fly Company in 2021! The McCoy’s All Day Isonychia Spinner is very durable, has a very realistic profile, can be fished all day, and is a must have pattern for our Northern Michigan streams. This fly will be available in two sizes, #10 and #12, and will complete the Isonychia lineup in a series of foam based dry flies that I released through MFC in 2019.
The All Day Isonychia Spinner is a great searching pattern and is one of my go to favorites to target rising trout during an Isonychia Spinner fall. Make sure to check with your local fly shops for availability and I expect we will have a limited quantity available here online at Mangled Fly. Read more
https://i0.wp.com/mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/mccoys-all-day-spinner-isonychia.jpg?fit=900%2C600&ssl=1600900Ed McCoyhttps://mangledfly.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/mangled-fly-fishing.jpgEd McCoy2020-12-18 02:27:002020-12-18 10:50:34New Fly Release McCoy’s All Day Spinner
Our latest upload to our YouTube Channel is a super simple baitfish pattern that we call the Ice Dub Minnow. A favorite pattern to fish below Tippy Dam, but also works great below Hodenpyle Dam and in the backwaters for smallmouth bass on Tippy Pond. Of course these are only a few of our favorite spots, as it has worked really well for bluegills in the spring when they are shallow and pre-spawn.
If you honestly haven’t tried hunting big pre-spawn bluegills, and you want to test your skills this is a great activity during quarantine. No motor needed for this type of fishing. Get ready to be humbled by the big gills. Great casting practice before the big bugs start hatching on our trout rivers.
What also makes the Ice Dub Minnow so great is that you can easily teach it to kids and get them started in fly tying, but also it’s a great pattern to fish with kids, to get them a taste of fly fishing. As I mention in the video this minnow pattern really does fish well by itself, with a tiny split shot. I tend to like Sure Shot, but black bird shot will just work as well. Size No 4 or No 6, are both really small and easy to cast.
Let this fry pattern swing in the current with small twitches of the rod, and it will fish itself. Small minnows can’t swim very fast for very long, so they become easy meals for hungry trout. Fish this pattern in the shallows where small baitfish tend to hide. Good luck and Stay Safe.
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 Michigandry flies for trout . Ask your local fly shop about these patterns and pick some up today!
Montana Fly Company New Fly Release for 2020 – McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner – Burgundy Isonychia
I am very excited to announce a new fly pattern that will be released by Montana Fly Company in 2020! This fly will be available in two sizes and will help to fill the Isonychia spinner gap in a series of foam based dry flies that I released through MFC in 2019. The McCoys Boondoggle Spinner is very durable, has an irresistible profile, and is generally a must have pattern for the streams in Northern Michigan. Check with your local fly shops for availability, a limited quantity is available here online at Mangled Fly.
As with anything new it can sometimes be hard to predict demand so make sure to stock up before the supply becomes limited. If you are having difficulty finding the McCoy’s Boondoggle Spinner pattern or any of my other fly patterns locally, please drop us a line and we will do our best to help you get these dry flies in your fly box for the upcoming season.
Look for several more fly releases with MFC in the near future as I have been expanding upon some old favorites and tinkering with some new stuff for release. Good luck with all of your angling pursuits throughout the upcoming 2020 fishing season!!
Been a fun fall of shooting Mother Nature dining out. Started with the Heron and Pike images. Now here is another image of the cycle of life. Had the opportunity to fish below Tippy Dam for Brown Trout. While working on a few patterns that that we will be adding to the Hawkins YouTube channel here this winter. I shot some video of the flies in action and then extracted this still image of the brown trout showing off his main meal, with my small dinner mint sized fly in his mouth.