100 Best: Manistee River
Location: West Central Michigan
Type of stream: Spring seep fed, freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Brook, Browns, Steelhead and Salmon
Supporting Services: Grayling
Short take: Known as “The Big” for good reason
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest TU Chapters: Adams, Pine, West Michigan
No one doubts that the Manistee River has is justly nicknamed “The Big.” Not only does this sobriquet distinguish it from the Little Manistee, but it aptly describes this river of more than 232 miles. With the exceptions of Tippy and Holdenpyl ponds, all is first class trout water. Nearly 10 miles from County Road 612 down to highway M-72 is restricted to artificials only. The next 16 miles ending at Sunset Trail Road are set aside for fly fishing only. Below Tippy Dam the river runs for 25 miles to its mouth on Lake Michigan. Cool water, seeping into the river from the sandy glacial outwash soil, ensures that water temperatures, for the most part, are ideal for trout all year.
Downstream from Tippy Dam, the Manistee flows through the national forest land of the same name. Access is excellent. In places, the river’s banks grade into bogs. The lower Manistee is highly regarded for runs of steelhead spring and fall where they are joined by salmon migrating up from Lake Michigan. Though waders can walk much of the river, fishing from boat is the best way to cover this end of the Manistee. Upstream of Holdenphyl Pond to Sharon, the river tends to be warmish and trout fishing is modest. It picks up again the closer you get to the start of the fly fishing only section. which runs from the Civilian Conservation Corps bridge on Sunset Trail Road up to highway M-72. Open to year ‘round angling, though possession of fish is only permitted during the regular season, this is a favorite with guides because of its prolific hatches and sizeable stocks of big browns and brook trout.