Sunday, April 22, 2007
The Big Manistee, Little Manistee, and Pere Marquette
I turned 37 years old this past Friday. Just another number in what I hope to be many. My lovely wife talked me out of staying home for the event and into a solo road trip across the state of Michigan in pursuit of Great Lakes Steelhead. She is a wonderful woman and I cannot thank her enough as I didn't feel 37 on Friday but more like a child of 10 years. What a wonderful birthday present.
Western Michigan is a magical place heavily forested and filled with an abundance of wildlife. So much so that one has to be ever ready for a large buck to jump in front of your car as you drive across her. I witnessed 2 such events unfold on my way to the Big Manistee as well as a great deal of dead deer on the side of the roads. Wild Turkeys are also everywhere along the roads and if one is quick enough you can capture a nice picture.
My destination early Friday morning was Wellston, Michigan and the Big Manistee River below Tippy Dam. After quite favorable reports from fellow freaks adventures I figured now was as good a time as any to earn my wings on the fabled Big Manistee. For as long as I can remember my father would tell tails of his adventures at Tippy Dam back in the 60's. Snagging was allowed for Salmon and one can imagine the scene with leaded trebles literally flying everywhere. Although snagging is highly illegal today remnants of the past still prevail.
The river has two distinct fishing sections. Above the coffer and below the coffer. Above the coffer affords some slower water with a more industrial feel as the section is defined by the dam itself and the coffer that spills down into the river. This section can be deadly as fish stack up with no further means of heading upriver. The Big M's fish are strong and genetically blessed as I was to find out on this trip. After loosing a couple of fish I had to beef up my rig as much as I could to better my chances. After landing a few fish I decided below the coffer was more my style and afforded some breathing room so I ventured down to have a go. This section earns big water designation. The coffer spills down a raging flow with plenty of seams and riffles. I quickly learned that once below the coffer there are a million smolts. There are browns, salmon, rainbows and steelhead all aggressively pursing food. After my 4th crushed roe bag I decided to slip on a pink worm. First drift in and I hook a fair sized fish but quickly find out it is a nice sized Walleye. Wow Walleye also. This river is truly a magical place. The water has a magical golden bronze colour to it and the river bed is a mixture of sand an gravel. Steelhead are stacked in the fast water and when you get into one hold on because these fish can run as I found out many a time on this trip.
I fished well into the afternoon and decided I better do some more exploring. I wanted to visit the Little Manistee and add her to my list of rivers. After some poor directions from the local tackle shop I found myself driving down a network of Snowmobile/Atv trails with no signage other than trail marker numbers. The trails were in great condition but I couldn't help but wonder if anyone would find me if I broke down. A while later I found a side road and came upon the 9th bridge well below the village of Irons. The river is rather small with little or no defined banks. The water runs golden bronze and the river bottom consists of sand and the most beautiful gravel I have ever seen. Deep black holes abound with a plethora of logs offering cover and shade. Once the steelhead reach these waters they are on holy ground. I did manage a few resident rainbows but had no luck with steelhead. Local reports for the Little Manistee had been poor but I suspect that the fish blew through the weir and up to the spawning waters during the last big precip event.
Similar reports were coming out of the Pere Marquette and Betsie rivers as well.
Because of this I decided I would fish Tippy Dam again Saturday morning prior to the dreaded drive home. Saturday morning was a whole new story at Tippy Dam. I suspected that it would be slightly busier because of the weekend but I arrived to a full parking lot at first light. Luckily for me there as a decent room below the coffer but the fishing was slow. I hooked and lost a large fish early on along with a fat 12" Resident-rainbow but that was it. Being it was slow I decided to pack it in and hit a Baldwin, MI fly shop for some insight on the Pere Marquette. The staff at Ed's Fly shop were very friendly and accommodating with directions and a map. I drove down the road to the open water section and parked at a state run parking lot/river access station. I paid my $3 access fee and was on the water in no time. The Pere Marquette is a fly fisherman's paradise. Truly a text book trout river. Fallen sunken wood everywhere. Deep black abysses covered by a network of fallen trees. Large sweeping bends with decaying remnants of bank protection projects from years gone by. As per all of the Western MI rivers the Pere Marquette runs Golden. The river bottom was predominately sand and the water flowed steady with microscopic pieces of decaying leaf matter and such rolling over the sand ridges on the bottom. One could picture the trout lying under the sunken trees waiting in ambush for aquatic insects rolling down the river bottom. I was blessed to hook and release a stout 10" Resident Brown. These fish are truly beautiful creatures. I only had 1 hour to fish the Pere Marquette and She left me longing for more. This river is truly the quintessential trout stream and I look forward to my return.
Michigan has hidden treasures on her Western Shore. I can see spending much more time learning her hidden secrets and pursing my passion for Great Lakes Steelhead.