Now that we are well into April we are experiencing March-like weather. Seems fitting since March was so pleasant. After last week’s significant rains, snow and cold days and nights, the steelhead fishing has been a little more challenging that we are accustomed to for this time of year.
The water is dropping to ideal levels on both the Manistee and Betsie; however they are still a bit high. Clarity continues to improve but the water is stained while remaining fishable. Water temps are in the low 40s and the steelhead have started to hit gravel to do their spawning duties. But with the cold nights and fluctuating drops in water temperature, the fish have been found in the pocket water near gravel. Fresh fish have been moving through the Betsie and it seems that the spring run on that river is bouncing back nicely from a few lean years. A surge of fresh fish on the Manistee below Tippy Dam is highly anticipated.
There hasn’t been a magic fly pattern or one that has been working more than others, but the usual suspects are good places to start. Click here for a list of the Top 5 perennial steelhead patterns. When fishing runs and deep holes looking for fresh fish moving through the system, go with larger patterns so they have a better opportunity to see it. In pocket water, drop down in size and almost fish for them as if they were trout – the steelhead tend to revert to those characteristics once in the river for a while.
With the arrival of March, so came the warmer temperatures and sunshine. After months of weekly snow and thaw cycles we are starting the spring steelhead season with a lot less snow on the ground than normal. Water levels are up a bit from where they typically are this time of year and water temps are still in the mid 30s on the Manistee below Tippy Dam and upper 30s on the Betsie river. As the sun comes out, look for the water to warm as the day progresses and the fish to become more active.
The fall steelhead were late making their way upstream, but when they did in late Nov. and into December, they weren’t overly pressured. Look for those fish that wintered over to be hanging out in the deeper holes and just off the bubble lines/seams in the slack water. With longer days and sunlight, more fish should start to congregate at river mouths and with increasing frequency and start their migration. Any warm rain along the way will only intensify the migration. I am guessing that because of the lack of snow pack, the spring steelhead season will be long and drawn out, unless we get substantial rainfall which often creates a burst of fish in the resulting high water.
With the sunshine, keep an eye on any remaining snow along the riverbank for little black stoneflies crawling around. As one of the first aquatic insects to get active, these little stones are important to the steelhead angler. Other key fly patterns this time of year include green caddis, hex nymphs and larger egg patterns. As the water get’s dirtier through the season, increase the size of your pattern.
With a bunch of white stuff on the ground and a thermometer spending more time below the freezing mark than above, opportunities to fish have been limited. Still, when conditions are comfortable (think no or little wind) steelhead are playing along with our game plan of bending the rod. Steelhead numbers are decent for winter thanks to some timely rains late in the fall – these fish should “winter-over” until spring, with more trickling in all winter long.
Look for fish in the Manistee to be spread throughout the system from Tippy Dam to the mouth and with a tendency to lurk in the deeper, slower water in and around structure. Now is a good time to fish indicators/floats to suspend flies above wood but drift fishing and evening swinging a fly is working with water temps in the mid to upper 30’s – a rare occurrence for January. This time of year I like to fish a relatively large egg pattern (#6) in tandem with a hex nymph that has lots of motion to it. The Betsie and even the Boardman has had some fish in them for those looking to fish a smaller river and/or have limited time and need to fish close to home/work.
Trout fishing remains a possibility on the Manistee with the streamer bite continuing to produce, however you want to slow that strip down and fish some of the slower moving water rather than the fast stuff. It’s not a bad idea to shorten that fly’s size a little bit, too – fish are getting lethargic.
Keep cabin fever at bay by looking at the forecast and get out when those breaks in the weather offer an opportunity to spend it on the water rather than at the fly tying bench.
It’s December, but the rivers are acting like it’s still November thanks to a mild fall. After some significant rainfall last week (it would have been a lot of snow!) and a bit more since, the rivers came up but have since dropped to just above normal for this time of year.
With the rain came a “shuffling of the deck” – that is, the steelhead moved around throughout the river systems. Steelhead are scattered throughout the Manistee system and can be found in a mix of water types as they begin to transition into a late fall/early winter pattern. Fresh fish that are migrating up with the water will remain in the bubble lines and cross-overs where fish that have been in the system are starting to make the deeper water of holes their preferred residence. Look for fish to move towards structure as they get into a winter pattern as water temps drop. Thankfully the majority of the rain that fell last Thursday was warm leaving the water in the low 40s.
This is a good time of year to target the steelhead with a number of different techniques including floats/indicators, bottom bouncing/Duck-and-Chuck, and swung flies as you can target a variety of water. Eggs still are working but a nymph bite has become stronger. As for swung flies: brown with copper and Olive with gold have been working.
Trout fishing remains an option for those looking to extend their season especially with the mild temperatures. Conditions below Tippy Dam remain good for those looking to fish streamers for some chunky browns and the occasional steelhead. White baitfish patterns like Dirty Hippies – Rainbow, CF Minnows – Rainbow, and Half and Halfs in gray/white/grizzly have been producing.
The weather finally realized what time of the year it is as temps dropped and so did some white stuff. The water temp on the Manistee below Tippy dam is still in the low 40s which makes it ideal for both steelhead and trout fishing. More steelhead have entered the system since the past report and they are relatively spread throughout; word has it that other rivers like the Betsie, PM and Boardman also have more fish in them as well. Fresh fish continue to trickle in and some of fish are starting to get a hint of color that show’s their relation to rainbow trout. This also means that fish are beginning to transition to some holding water rather than mostly runs which has been the primary focus of anglers so far this fall.
As steelhead move around, target all types of water including holes, tail-outs, structure and around wood. Now is a good time to fish indicators/floats, swing a streamer/spey fly, or even cast streamers for steelhead. Streamer fishing the lower Manistee for trout remains good with 3-4″ baitfish patterns working well when olive and naturalsculpin/goby patterns aren’t and hold on tight if a steelhead grabs the other end of your 6 wt. streamer rod – you’ll know it. The water levels are o.k. but are running clear – drop down in leader size and/or consider using fluorocarbon especially when the sun is out.
Don’t replace your fly rods with snow shovels just yet – there is still some good fishing to be had – especially if the predicted mild El Nino keeps temps moderate.
Even though we are approaching the mid-point of October, the weather feels far from it and the fish have been acting accordingly; migratory salmon continue to trickle into local rivers like the Manistee and Betsie. Most fish are moving in and hitting the spawning gravel immediately rather than staging in deep holes in the lower river systems so look for fish in the pocket water near gravel for your best salmon fishing right now. Color change on the trees is just starting in some areas – which is also later than normal, so look for color season to be prolonged also.
The water levels are low and clear and are running warm for this time of year – the Manistee is just below 60 degrees and when things change – that is, we receive some significant rainfall and water temps drop – a good push of fish should move in. Last week’s rain mostly went into the ground and didn’t increase levels much but the forecast is calling for more rain and favorable North and Northwest winds which should only help get more fish to move upstream. Some steelhead are around but like the salmon, not in the numbers we typically expect this time of year. Those who keep their flies moving and keep at it are typically the ones rewarded with chrome and a lot of fin-attitude. Then again, the steelhead have been hard to land with the temps beings so warm but that’s one of the reasons we like to fish for them so much.
The trout fishing has been a little slower than normal for this time of year – also because of the weather. The water is low and clear so stealth is paramount. Streamer fishing the bigger sections of rivers with some meaty looking fly patterns are getting some pre-spawn browns to play, but like anytime of the year – keep the flies moving and stay positive – you are only one cast away. Terrestrial fishing continues thanks to the warm weather but mix it up and when there are a lot of leaves and other debris floating down the river, the surface fishing really slows and it’s time to tie on a streamer.
It’s officially “Fall”, but it sure feels like summer with the past three weeks being unseasonably warm making things feel more like August rather than the end of September. As a result the migratory salmon fishing on Lake Michigan’s rivers is off. The lack of cool weather and north/northwest winds are keeping the water at the river mouths too warm and therefore not concentrating the fish in ideal numbers to encourage a trip upstream. There are some fish in the Betsie and Manistee rivers, but they are scattered and simply not in the density/numbers we are used to for this time of year. Look for this year’s migration of salmon to be prolonged well into October with steelhead mixed in. Until then, fish the water thoroughly for those few fish around.
With the weather being nicer than normal, water conditions are still ideal for some dry fly fishing on the upper Manistee and Boardman rivers. The terrestrial bite is still going and some mid-sized streamers fishing on floating lines are providing some action. Look for the dries with rubber legs twitched near and in the wood to get some of those vibrant colored brookies to play as well as the occasional nice brown trout. Keep in mind regular trout season ends Sept. 30th on certain rivers and sections of rivers – consult the MI-DNR regulations to determine what closes and what remains open.