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.

16 comments:

Trotsky said...

Your gay.
Happy Birthday you pos.

Merdus said...

Sounds like you had fun Brian! Too bad Gene couldn't accompany you on this one. I've done some research on creeks closer to your home (they were an option for us when we went up there) - shoot me an email if you have the time (paul.hurtubise@cibc.com)

p.-

lambton said...

G, If being gay means I have an unsatifiable desire to persue Chrome in the most heavinly places on earth you are correct. I am a HOMO.
so are you!

Paul,
Trip was alot of fun especially Friday which seemed to last forever with positive results spread throughout the day. I understand your grief with fighting these fish as stated in your last blog entry. They are incredibly hard to hold onto in that fast water scenerio. I am not accustomed to big fish in huge water but can't wait to perfect my skills :0)
I'll be sending you that email shortly as I have yet to fish a Michigan river I haven't liked. Thanks!
Brian

SD said...

Let me guess... the "bookend" was getting dusty, hence why you had to dunk it?

Good to see someone travelling around & getting into some.. Gonna be a messed up Opener this way...

lambton said...

Actually the "bookend" has really been getting a run for her money opposed to my usual spring habits.
Just trying to give a perspective of just how clear and golden the MI rivers run.
Hey, Whats up with you lately. Was wondering what happend to your blog?
You are correct about opener. Its gonna be messed up over our way as well. I'm most likely done til Late October.
B

SD said...

I've nixed it for good. Just no time due to the "Locker" job...

I've no desire to chase Steelhead or witness the ensuing slaughter this weekend.

I'm lucky enough to fish private water in the East every year. Just a few hundred yards from where most of FF.net will be located no doubt. Even that does not appeal to me.

Time to go chase Big "Pigs" on the Grand until Pike/Muskie open, then it's tossin the #10Wt for them until Aug, when the Chinnoks are within reach..

Oh ya...you may get your wish from me soon...s'all I'm sayin..

lambton said...

I hear ya about the opener. I'm just not into it this year. If we had some decent water and perhaps a few degrees cooler weather I'd be all for it but I cant get out there and chase droppies in low water in the heat. No fun...
Pike and Muskie on a long fly rod appeal to me. Hmmmmmm even bass.
I'll have to light a fire under G to get out on some water this summer for some coarse fishies.
As far as the last statement. ;0)
I'll start puttin a little sumthin sumthin away. Let me know.
B

SD said...

If... it transpires. It'll need to be moved within the next two weeks.

Sorry on the possible short notice

lambton said...

Timing is never perfect. Thats just a fact of life. Let me know.
Email me at lambton101@yahoo.ca

Trotsky said...

I may start a bidding war just to piss off Morin.

lambton said...

I thought you were saving for a GPS so you can go Geo-Caching with Rod ;0) You HOMO...

SD said...

Geo-caching tecno Nerd, G?

No wonder you have "anger issues" while at work dood.. I'd be asserting my testosterone too if I had "hidden" hobies like you do...

Sheesh...the things you learn about folk while in the Internet...

Trotsky said...

I have decided to go around and remove all the geocaches and replace them with mousetraps.
BTW- Anger issues?
:o)

lambton said...

Hey man! A little rage never hurt anyone. er....well it never hurt the one ragin. Rage on brother, Rage on!

P.S. good thing your are on your days off. Geesh...

SD said...

G:

how about "pent-up frustration" ?

Sounds more "politically correct"....

Either way.. I'm leading you on this front brother.. Those who "know me" are full aware of my...how you say ? "issues" ;o)

lambton said...

he he he...
That's why we fish.
to be at one with ones self. ;0)