The Little Manistee River (the little river) is located near Manistee, Michigan and is the life line to the Great Lakes Steelhead and Salmon fishery. Eggs collected from the river's weir system are shipped to fish hatcheries all over the midwest.
The Little Manistee River has a magic about it to many folks across the entire country and a very deep history to the Great Lakes region. The Little Manistee River is actually a tributary of the Big Manistee River as they both flow into Manistee lake a share a common channel into Lake Michigan. Starting in Ellsworth Twp. in Lake county the little Manistee River flows 64.6 miles west through private land, state owned, and U.S. forest service properties.
The Michigan Department Of Natural Resources (D.N.R) has been using the weir (egg taking facility) since 1967 both in the spring for Steelhead and in the fall for Salmon to ensure the health of Michigan’s multi-billion dollar sport fishery. Eggs from the weir are shipped to not just Michigan’s fish hatchery, but Ohio and Indiana as well. During spring and fall as the D.N.R begins egg collection and the weir “gates” will be down so fish are channeled into holding pens and cannot pass upstream. Because of this fishing the Little for migratory fish can be feast or Famine depending on how many fish have been passed through the weir by the D.N.R. During these periods the state has a weir hotline you can call to find out how many fish have been passed on any given day. I am not going to get into regulations for the river because they are way too complex and should be read with your D.N.R. fishing regulation book you receive when you purchase your license. Now with that being said I will tell you that fishing 300’ above or below the weir is strictly prohibited.
One interesting fact about the Little Manistee River that gets a lot of people excited is that it gets an early King Salmon run starting in late June and Early July. Be prepared to put on your hiking boots and spending some time walking in search of pools with these beasts in them. The most popular beat for this is between 6 and 9 mile bridge were most of the land is public land owned by the U.S. Forest service. Be equipped with a 10 weight fly rod and at least 0X tippet, Don’t forget strong hooks too!
Trout can be found throughout the river from the top to the bottom hiding in the river’s many log jambs. Because of the large quantities of juvenile Steelhead and Salmon the large brown trout feast and even grow larger. The river can only support so much biomass resulting fewer resident fish, but some very large ones. An angler will experience catching many 6-8 inch juvenile steelhead that should be treated with extreme care since these are our future. Targeting these large trout with large streamers is your best bet as they are keyed in on eating young Steelhead and salmon. Bring your 6 to 8 weight rod set up with a 200-300 grain sink tip armed with 12-15 pound maxima tippet and hold on!
Many hatches do occur on the Little Manistee River, but it takes a lot to raise a 22” Brown Trout to a size 12 hendrickson when there are so many 8” bait fish to eat! Not to discount the dry fly because at certain times and certain hatches you will raise that giant. A prime example of this would be the Hex Hatch once again!
Floating the river is difficult but can be done in a canoe, kayak, or inflatable raft. Now there are beats our guides float in a small drift boat, but be prepared for several portages. The Little Manistee sets up perfect for the wade angler with shallow water and a hard bottom and ample public access sites.
The Little Manistee River does have some great opportunities for the person that wants to camp along the river and fish. Bear Tracks campground is owned and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service and located on the banks of the river. Wake up and have your coffee around the fire and walk 20 yards to the river and hop in!