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FLY FISHING THE LITTLE MANISTEE RIVER IN MICHIGAN

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The Little Manistee River is located just south of its "big brother" the Manistee River. Starting a few miles east of the town of Luther the Little Manistee takes a northwesterly track for approximately 40 miles to where it spills into Lake Michigan. The river is known for being one of the best steelhead rivers in Michigan as well as an outstanding resident trout fishery. There are a few Special Regulations to look over before venturing onto the river.

At the town of Luther the Little Manistee is small and littered with brush and overhanging trees. It averages 14-20 feet wide and harbors a good population of brook and some brown trout. Casting is difficult in some areas and a small stream rod is recommended (2-4 weight, 6-8 feet).

At M-37 the river is still considered small (20-30 feet wide) but increases in size as you move downstream towards the town of Irons. The brown trout population also rises and the size of the fish begins to increase. Eventually rainbows join the browns below M-37 and give opportunity to catch all three in one day; brown, rainbow, and brook trout.

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The town of Irons is located approximately five miles downstream from M-37. From Irons to Lake Michigan, there is approximately 20 miles of very productive water. The steelhead fishing is best in this stretch of water because of its' close proximety to the lake and there are many more holding spots for them to hide. The trout fishing is also excellent below Irons with plenty of room to cast and more prolific hatches. The river below Irons averages 50-75 feet across with a sand and gravel bottom for much of its length. Some of the best water is found between Nine Mile and Six Mile Bridges. The runs are deep with plenty of natural water diversions that create excellent holding habitat for both steelhead and resident trout.
Little Manistee Hatch Chart
Little Manistee Hatch Chart
Little Manistee Hatch Chart
The river below Six Mile Bridge slows as it nears the lake and has many good areas to fish. Look for appropriate holding water with better velocity to find trout and steelhead.

The river bottom for much of its length is made up of sand, gravel, silt, and small stones. Fallen logs, undercut banks, sharp bends, deep runs, and dark pools all create good holding cover for both steelhead and trout. Quality hatches of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies make for excellent dry fly fishing for resident trout. The diverse water below Irons creates excellent habitat for the steelhead that make their journey up this river each year.

Access can be found in many areas along the river. Bridges, pull-offs, and parking areas will help in finding access the river. A few areas are found at Six Mile bridge, near Nine Mile bridge, and near M-37 bridge. Private lands do adjacent the river in some areas so be careful to not trespass.

Steelhead can be caught on a variety of techniques and flies. A couple of productive techniques include using a floating line and leader with split shot (similar to standard nymph fishing for trout) or a sinking line and short leader with wet flies (spey flies, woolly buggers, etc.).

Hatches include many different mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis. Some of the mayfly hatches include Blue-winged Olive, Sulphurs, Hendricksons, Hexagenia, and Gray Drakes. Caddis include a variety of species and colors ranging in size from 12-18. Stoneflies are an important part of the food chain and include several species from little black stones early in early spring, larger brown stones in late spring, to little yellow sallies in mid summer.

The Little Manistee is a wonderful fishery every angler "needs" to try from its tight headwaters teeming with brookies to its charming water below Irons harboring large acrobatic steelhead and mysterious resident browns. The Little Manistee is also located a short drive from the "Big" Manistee River and other quality Lake Michigan tributaries.