Manistee River Trout

Hawkins Outfitters

Fly-fishing for trout on the Manistee River is a year round pursuit. From the small jewel-like brook trout in head waters near Deward to the massive lake run browns in the lower water near the town of Manistee, Manistee River trout fishing is world class.

It is useful when looking at the Manistee River trout fishing to break the river into several sections, the upper water above the flies-only stretch, the flies only area, below the flies only to M-131, between Hodenpyl and Tippy Dams and below Tippy Dam.

The upper water is small, very wade able and loaded with brook and brown trout. This is the classic Manistee River Trout fishing. This area above M-72 has loads of public access. A wading angler armed with a rod no heavier than a 5 weight, some general searching patterns, like small Adams and Irrestables, can have a great day casting to the cover searching for fish.

The flies-only stretch of the Manistee offers some of the finest Manistee River Trout fishing. This water is still very wade able with an abundant food supply. Look for all of the classic Michigan hatches including Hendricksens, Sulphurs, Isonychias, Tricos, Blue Wing Olives, Brown and Grey Drakes and Hexes. This water is probably the best hex water in the state with hatches that can be so heavy it is actually difficult to catch fish because of the competition from natural bugs.

The Flies-only water is open all year with some of the best fishing coming before and after the general trout season. When the regular trout season closes most anglers shift their attention to steelhead and salmon. This reduces the pressure on Manistee River trout tremendously. November to March is considered prime time by many knowledgeable Manistee River anglers.

Form the downstream edge of the Flies-only water to M-131 the river begins to gain size and volume. This water supports trout in good numbers in the upper part of the stretch but the populations begin to decline as you go downstream. Though the food biomass is there, I believe that the number of underground springs decreases giving the water higher temps in the summer months. That reduces the trout numbers.
Manistee River trout anglers in this water have all of the hatches that areas further upstream have, so dry fly activity can be substantial. In addition the streamer fishing here can be outstanding. Try a Nutcracker, Fathead or any other big sculpin pattern. Bring a variety of colors; fish the fly close to cover and hang on. 20 to 25 inch trout are caught here all the time. This water can be waded but is best fished from a boat so that you can cover more of the river.

The float from Hodenpyl Dam to the backwaters of Tippy Dam at Red Bridge is the prettiest stretch of water in the state. With all of the beautiful spots we fish that’s quite a statement. This water can be waded by hiking to different areas but it is most enjoyed by floating it in a drift boat.

This water is open all year with special regulations after general trout season. Some of the best riffles in the state are located in this stretch. It has abundant insects and at times can be good dry fly water but it really comes into it’s own as streamer water. Work the riffles with large streamers in a variety of colors, every once in awhile you’ll be surprised by the fish that chase.

The Hodenpyl water is beautiful, challenging and fickle. If you are looking for solitude, big trout and a challenge this is the stretch for Manistee River trout fishing for you.

From Tippy Dam to the mouth of the river in Manistee. Manistee river trout come in two different varieties, stream trout and Lake Run browns. The Michigan DNR stocks over 40,000 small brown trout below Tippy Dam every year. These 6-inch fish grow very quickly on their diet of steelhead and salmon eggs. 18-inch fish typically weigh 3.5 to 4.5 pounds and reach that weight in a year or two. Correctly fished streamers, soft hackles and nymphs will all have their day.

Lake Run brown trout can top 20 pounds and are mostly available in the fall when they make their spawning runs. They can be found anywhere from the Dam to the mouth, most commonly around spawning gravel. Lake runs are most often caught on nymphs and eggs while fishing for steelhead. However quality guides can take you to areas where you can target these monsters. I have caught lake run browns on streamers and mice as well as nymphs and eggs. Look for Lake Run fish from mid October to year’s end.

Manistee River trout fishing is world class. There is a quality place to fish for trout anytime of the year. The Challenge Chapter of Trout Unlimited has a guidebook that covers all lot of the access points. It can be purchased online at