I have long preferred the soothing and varied tempo of the Manistee River- ‘Spirit of the Woods’ as legend would have it, restores and refreshes me. It’s more popular sister river to the east, The Au Sable, can hold the title/moniker birthplace of Trout Unlimited, but the 190 miles of Manistee has plenty of space for anglers, hikers, kayakers and other recreational users to enjoy. Designated Wild & Scenic, the Manistee has three distinct sections, The Lower, Middle and Upper Man. The Lower Manistee has a significant salmon and steelhead run from Lake Michigan, drawing thousands of anglers from across the country. The section between Hodenpyle Dam and Tippy Dam is one of the most gorgeous places in Michigan and popular with hikers/campers along the Scenic Trail. Above Hodenpyle Dam and it’s impoundment is the ‘Upper Manistee’- which has attracted anglers for its trout fishing and Wild & Scenic beauty for decades.

photo by Sam Bosworth

We have noticed increased recreational use and fishing pressure in the last decade, in part due to the pandemic and more people getting out to enjoy this part of the state. Sediment control and erosion have been key concerns for the rivers vitality and addressed recently by MITU and Upper Manistee River Association. Some 150 pine trees were airlifted by helicopter and strategically placed along the banks near Yellow Trees Landing to aid in establishing a river channel and moving some sediment. Another 150 trees would not hurt. There is no shortage of woody debris and structure in most places of the river, giving ample places for trout to hide. A few years back SEEDS helped restore much of the deteriorated CCC structures, ensuring more trout condos for years ahead. Didymo was confirmed a few years ago by LTBOI(Little Traverse Bay Odawa Indian) adding to the concern of spreading more invasive species like the New Zealand Mud Snail and Zebra/Quagga mussels. We have not seen algal blooms as prolific as fall of 2020, but we need to spread the word. Trout Unlimited was quick to respond with signage at many boat launches and access sites, also distributing information on how to properly clean and disinfect boats/waders to prevent the spread. Some anglers believe the ‘Rock Snot’ has been present for years, but until recently it was not confirmed nor monitored. The increase in recreational use poses a direct impact simply because many kayakers/tubers don’t clean or disinfect their boats before they travel to nearby rivers or lakes. MITU INVASIVE control 


The challenge of catching a trout on the fly is most rewarding. We practice Catch & Release to promote healthy fishery for the future.

The river has remarkable macroinvertebrate diversity, making it an excellent choice for fly anglers. From M-72 down to CCC Bridge is Flies Only with special creel restrictions allowing possession of two(2) trout from the last Saturday in April to September 30 (brown trout minimum 18″, brook/rainbow 10″) and shall not include more than one fish greater than 18″. There are multiple access sites along Arrowhead & Military Road for wading anglers to work a few seams with a soft hackle or drift a Copper John. Below CCC, the river begins to grow and has fewer wade sites, but is popular for the drift boat anglers looking to throw meat. The river gains intensity below Sharon and M66, deeper pools, gravel and riffle zones provide for multiple hatch opportunities if you are well stocked with Borchers Drakes or Roberts Yellow Drakes. The larger food sources are dace, darter, sculpin, crawfish and native Chestnut & Brook Lamprey, which were poisoned for a number of years. Since the DNR/FWS ceased lamprey control, brown trout populations have rebounded and are healthy today.

The introduction of Arctic Grayling has been proposed for the headwaters of Manistee River. Skinny water near the Deward stretch may provide suitable habitat for the once native species to re-establish with the aid of Remote Site Incubators-RSI, to allow the young grayling to imprint on the river. There is much debate in the angling and TU community. I would love to catch a Grayling in my home state- Sure,  but- they have slow growth rates, browns will eat them, (they eat everything), you simply can’t add one species to an ecosystem without having impact on another species. Will it draw a new crowd to the river? How will they protect the species while it grows/establishes? Do we close a section of river? There are many unanswered questions- for more information visit Michigan Grayling Initiative— Re-WILD.