100 Best: Little Manistee River

Location: West Central Michigan
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Steelhead, Chinook, Rainbows, Browns, Brook Trout
Access: Moderate
Season: Varies with section, check regs
Supporting Services: Wellston and Irons
Short take: The river for April Fools
Handicapped Access: No
Closest TU Chapters: Pine River
The Little Manistee could not be more different than its larger sibling to the north. While “The Big” is nearly four times as long and fed by the same cold groundwater seeps through the same glacial outwash plain topography, the Little Manistee runs free for about 55 miles from a low dam at Luther to Stronach on the upper end of Manistee Lake, 
Seldom more than three feet deep, the Little Manistee is never very wide. It looks so tame, so manageable, and it is until you tie into one of its winter run Chinooks. You forget the sleet that’s frosting your eyebrows and threatening to freeze your drag. Your mind is riveted on not stumbling as you chase the bruiser downstream. “Why can’t they hit on nice days,” you wonder “when the temperature is in the 50s instead of the 30s.” You know the answer. These hens and bucks are as obstinate as you. Salmon season closes on December 31, which die-hard anglers welcome with a hot toddy.
Much of the river bottom is made up of glacial gravels and cobbles and provides tremendous spawning grounds for steelhead. You won’t be alone on the river when the season opens on April Fool’s Day. Anglers from throughout the country and abroad crowd the river. A typical five-year-old returning steelie will average about seven pounds. Numerous bridges provide access. The 7.5 miles between Spencer’s Bridge and Johnson’s Bridge is set aside for fly fishing only. Many consider the river from the M-37 bridge downstream to Johnson’s Bridge as the heart of the Little Manistee’s trout water. Hatches of caddis, olives, brown drakes, sulphurs, and hexes are excellent. Mid-day anglers catch their share of browns and brookies, but much better fishing can be had when the sun is off the water.


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