Manistee River

The Upper Manistee River

From Traverse City take Garfield Road south of town to the light at Hammond Rd. Turn Left – continue through the light at Three Mile rd. – bearing Right at the 3-way intersection. After Four Mile – you will make a left at the next obvious 3-way intersection – and Lo!, you are on Supply road. (eventually crossing the Boardman River – you’ll see signs for Ranch Rudolf and the Forks – your near the north branch)

Above CCC Bridge: Take Supply Road until it seems to end; that is , you take it across 131, through South Boardman, cross M-66 and continue. Supply will change to a gravel road. Continue on to a stop sign. Turn Right and continue over the CCC Bridge. The Fly fishing Only water is upstream of the bridge. Turn Left on King Road and drive upstream. You will find a number of access spots mingled with private property. I like this area very much. Varied bottom of sand and gravel, good wading, and the opportunity for larger fish. You’ll like it too. Easy walk but wading skills may come in handy.

Fine stretches of the Manistee may also be reached from M-72 area between Kalkaska and Grayling (see below for getting to Grayling) and County Rd 612 further upstream form M-72. Grab a map and check out these roads and the connecting Manistee River Road.

The Lower Manistee River

Tippy dam is 25 miles west of the City of Manistee, just north of Wellston on M-55 and east of Brethren 4 miles. To get there from Traverse City, take US-31 south towards Honor. Just as you pass the State of Michigan Platte River Fish Hatchery, turn left (south) on County-669. continue on until you get into the small village of Brethren, and turn left (east) on Coates Hwy. Continue four Miles until you see the sign for Tippy Dam Recreation Area – turn right (south) on Dilling road. The road dead-ends at the State Recreation Area. There is a fee required for both the State Recreation Area and the adjacent forest property.

According to

Tippy dam is known for its migratory runs of steelhead and salmon. The dam itself is the upper boundary of these great game fish that leave the big water of Lake Michigan and return to their natural river to take part in their spawning mission. Beyond steelhead and salmon, anglers will find healthy populations of Brown Trout and Smallmouth Bass.

The river below the dam is some of the widest water in the state varying from 200 to 300 feet in width. Depths vary depending on run, pool, tail-out relationship but all wading anglers will want to be cautious when on foot – especially in times of stained run-off conditions. Much of the land adjacent to the river is USFS property and is open to the public. As you approach the High Bridge access and Bridge, private property becomes intermixed. Those fishing the Manistee are typically best served fishing from a boat as not only is it a strong and often deep river, but a lot of submerged logs lay along the bottom as a reminder of the lumbering days of Northern Michigan.

The Fish

Most anglers have heard of “The Big River” from stories told by a friend or articles in magazines. This river simply has one of the best salmon runs in the lower-48 states. Chinook (King) Salmon are the most common salmon but Coho (Silvers) numbers seem to be getting stronger each year. While snagging was once legal years ago, the practice is no longer legal or acceptable. With big fish come some crowds but having the place to yourself isn’t a problem in the spring and Fall. Frankly, there are plenty of fish to go around in the Big Manistee.

The fall Steelhead follow the salmon into the river each year and the numbers vary depending on conditions. When water temperatures are good and water/river levels are strong after a fall rain – things only get better. Hooking a fall steelhead that has been living on a steady diet of salmon eggs in 50-degree water can give you the hardest, most unpredictable and spastic fight you can imagine a freshwater fish could provide.

Throughout the winter, anglers will find fall fish that become characterized as “winter fish”. With those holdover fish comes trickles of new fish throughout the winter months and those of us looking to get a cabin-fever-reliever can find some fish to play the game while getting away from the four walls that seem to close in on us during the winter months.

Spring Steelhead are typically in the river system in good numbers from Mid-March through the first part of April. Because these fish are here to spawn, the numbers/population of fish in the river are at their highest. A right of spring, fishing for steelhead is one of the best times for people to get into steelhead. Look for a warm rain to bring up the water temps and levels to bring a “run” of fish in the river.

Throughout the spring steelhead run, anglers usually find their fly rods bent, but not the sheer weight of a steelhead alone. Their is a healthy population of Brown Trout in the section of the river that remains here all year. And why should they leave? The dam itself creates a tail-water fishery which equates to a food factory.

Large populations of scuds and sowbugs provide a health diet for the fish when the midges and baetis aren’t around. In the spring and fall there are literally thousands of pounds of eggs drifting down the river from spawning fish for the trout to eat. If that isn’t enough, there are lots of fry from steelhead, salmon, suckers and walleye which makes an all-you-can-eat fish dinner for the resident trout. Ever see a trout with stretch marks? This is the place.

Trout fishing below Tippy dam is solitary and peaceful compared to the spring and fall runs. Fishing remains good until early July when water temperatures become dangerous for trout survival but turn optimum for Smallmouth Bass.

Smallies migrate into the river as water temps increase and can provide both great streamer and trout fishing below Tippy Dam top-water action. Targeting wood structure, these “bronzebacks” are fun to play along with and their ability to jump is awesome. I only wish they grew to 20 pounds! Gaudy baitfish streamers one day, loud poppers and sneaky sliders the next, offer the angler a variety of conditions during the warmer months of Summer.

At one time the dam significantly fluctuated water levels on a daily basis when “peak electricity demands” required it. Through efforts of the Federation of Fly fishers, Consumer Power and FERC, this now is a “run river” where the amount of water flow above the dam is what comes out of the dam. This has helped eliminate some of the erosion and as a result has exposed a lot of gravel for both aquatic insects and natural reproduction.