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Old 04-27-2002, 10:36 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2001
Location: Upper Mid West - Great Lakes Tributaries
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The Results

I guess my body and mind have sufficiently recovered now to write a lucid account of this past weeks to several of Michigan's blue ribbon steehead rivers in Manistee National Forest.


I left Monday morning at 12:30 AM from the South West surburbs of Chicago for the drive around Lake Michigan up the west coast of Michigan which is wine growing and dune and harbor country. Many resort towns along that side of Lake Michigan starting an hour outside of Chicago. It is four lane interstate all the way to Grand Rapids, Michigan where you pick up M-37 for the last hour drive to Baldwin which is the start of the Manistee National Forest. Usually a 4 to 4.5 hour drive from Chicago.

On way there decided to first stop and fish the Muskegon river below the Croton Dam in Newago. This is a western style river which is a tail water fishery for trout, salmon, and steelhead (wild and hatchery). Got there just before day break. Had heard the steelhead run was in full swing which runs well into May on the Muskegon. This river is 70-80 yards across in many sections and the water flows fast. Its nickname is the "Mighty Mo". River level was up so wading was tough. It was in the high thirties and snowing, looked like a PNW river with all of the snow covered pines and log jams, very picturesque, and COLD. Heard a flock of wild turkeys coming down from their roost gobbling in the woods across the river which was cool. Fished there for about 3 hours. Got to a run which almost always holds salmon or steelhead if they are in. Was running a Hex nymph off the St Croix 7/8 weight spey rod with a 9/10 weight sink tip fronted with a 3 foot deep water express home made head. It appeared to be getting down into their zone. Picked up a steelhead smolt 7-8 inches on the nymph. The water is gin clear in the Muskegon as the light got better could make out through the polaroids several olive ghost like shapes in the run. After 22 years of fishing for them this has become easier to detect. When I first started fishing for them I , there were times I ended up fishing to dark rocks or logs which looked like them may be a steelhead. Ran the Hex nymph down into them, which took a few swings. Felt the hit which was a strong one going away from me. 10 pounder came porpoising out of the river strong taking line fast. It was over in probably 5 seconds she was that hot. Went back thru the run and hit another one, good for a few head shakes and then was off. 0 for 2 on the Muskegon.

Decided to leave and continue north to the intended destinations the Pere Marquette (PM) and Little Manistee rivers both are all wild steelhead and salmon rivers. Got to the PM
in 45 minutes. Got my forest access permit and headed to the flies only no kill section in Baldwin. A 5 minute drive from town into the national forest. It was still cloudy, cold, and on and off Lake Michigan snow showers. Stopped at the access point to the Ledge Hole and Skeeties Cottage area where the Outdoor Life show made by Lefty Kreh and Jimmy Dean was filmed on PM salmon fishing about 20 years ago. One of my favorite areas to fish. Walked in to the river saw a couple of guides and drift boats decided to pass. Went to the Green Cottage access (well known access point for boat put ins and walk in anglers). Went upstream through the Whinnery Riffle, Basswood Run, The Cedars, and past The Whirlpool hole. Several fisherman in the area but none above The Whirlpool which many people pass up. However there are some excellent runs, holes, and undercut baks through out this bending log jam infested narrow area which holds fish. Plus it is shaded through much of the day which is another key many people do not take into account. Tom Jack cabin is at the top of this river bend. What a fantastic place that is and view of the river from two sides. Fished this section the remainder of the day on Monday thru dark. Had five more steelhead encounters in that section with fights lasting up to ten minutes. Fish were 8-10 pounds except for one beast which was 14-15 lbs. The current is swift here and although the water clarity was slighty stained still could go no more than a 6 lb leader with out alarming these fish. Three of these fish took me down into the The Whirlpool hole for the final stages of the encounter and it has one or two sunken trees in it. If they get under those trees, the game is over, which is what happened with three of them. The other two broke off on jumps when I was using the Rio Fluor Carbon. All fishe were taken on the Disco Caddis nymph. This was the hot fly of the week.

Mondays results were encouraging it appeared there would be enough steelhead around to make for an interesting week.

Result - 0 for 7 day in favor of you know who on Monday. Talked to several of the locals who fish it every week they said it was slow, and I should have been there one of the last two weeks. They were having 10 to 20 fish encounter days.


Decided to try the Little Manistee which is a 45 minute drive from Baldwin. Saw lots of deer and wild turkeys on the drive through the forest. Went to the weir and DNR Fisheries facility on the lower river. It was closed they had already processed the wild steelhead needed for egg taking and opened the weir to allow all late running fish to run the river. Saw a couple of big ones below the weir. Little Manistee facility takes eggs from the fish which are used to supply Michigan and many other great lakes state DNRs with the Michigan strain of fish. This river is small but right in the middle of the national forest with limited access points at several bridges which you then must walk in from. No boats on this river way to many log jams and acute bends for them which is nice. Fished it for a couple of hours but it was evident that most of the fish appeared to have left for Lake Michigan. Could have tried two other access points but decided to head to the Big Manistee river which is a 20 minute drive through the forest. Went to Tippy Dam the upstream limit for andramous fish. Fished for an hour below the dam but there were quite a few anglers there. It was a beautiful day blue sky in the sixties. Decided to head back to the PM where I thought there would be lots of fish like Monday. Fished all afternoon, nothing. Evening went to the Tom Jack cabin section again and hit two steelies again on the Disco Caddis. Got some good fights out of them but using 4lb test and #8 hooks and the log jams again did me in.

0 for 2 on Tuesday


65 degree blue sky day, I knew I would be in trouble to find fish. I was they went into hiding as usual although the Tom Jack Cabin section occassionally showed fish moving around. In the afternoon brought my 6 weight rod also and through some drys and wets for the resident browns with no luck, maybe one strike but no hookups. What a dichotomy from throwing the 13 foot 8/9 weight spey rod to then swithing to a 8 foot 6 weight !! It was fun though. Good hatch of Grannon Caddis was coming off all afternoon. Took a nap on the bank it was so nice, and a herd of deer came within 20 yards of me before they saw me move. Very cool along with the Pilated Woodpeckers (Red headed) which were matting in the drowned forest by the river. My body ached all day on Wednesday and I wondered why am I putting myself through this physical torture. Fell asleep as soon as I got to the hotel room at 9:00 PM, I was exhausted, took 3 advil and half a quart of beer, lights out for me.

Result - 0 for 0 on Wednesday on Steelhead


Hit the flies only section again at day break. 6:15. First one there. Started another sunny day and thought I was doomed. Was praying for clouds, rain, snow anything but bright sun. Nothing for first two hours went back to the car and met one of the locals. Don't know what this fellow did for a living but he appeared to be on the river every day from his talk. A real michigan out doorsmen he was about 50 years old. He was some fly tyer, showed my his patterns which were really nice. We traded a few. The clouds came in and the snow showers started, my prayers were answered I hoped. Sounds sick doesn't it praying for foul weather, which I think the steelies prefer. Never had a good day steelie fishing in bright sun that I can recall unless the river was up and water clarity down. Not a very frequent occurrence on michigan rivers which run very clear all year. Very much like spring creeks. Decided to try a different area headed down to Gleasons Landing which is about 6 miles down river where the flies only no kill section ends. Fished there for several hours in snow showers and tranquility. Turned one steelhead to my smolt streamer but he did not hit it just showed some interest. So do not count this as a hook up. Also turned several nice browns in the 15-17 inch range in this section of the river. Decided to head back to the fly only section but try a different section the Clay Banks area. Drove back through the national forest on the one lane forest roads ran into more deer and wild turkeys. Got to the access point and there were no cars, could it be true that I may have the infamous Clay Banks and Deer Lick riffle to my self ?

Its a long walk into this area down a big stairway they put into for fisherman to avoid walking on the high steep clay banks through out this area. Got into the river and saw one drift boat which then moved on. Fished The Birches Section and turned one brown, on the smolt streamer. Then did the 5 minute walk and wade into the Deer Lick run area made famous by Ernest Schwieberts Field & Stream article and his short story "Portrait of the Pere Marquette". Mr. Schwiebert grew up in Chicago and spent his boyhood summers trout fishing on the PM with his father. He caught his first trout on a Dark Cahill wet fly in the Forks section upriver from where I was, so the PM is special place for him, basically where he learned to fly fish.

Well found fish in the Deer Lick runs as usual. One old timer told me 20 years ago when I first started fishing the PM that if there are no fish in this section during the normal spring and fall steelhead and salmon runs, well then they are probably not in any upriver sections either where I had been previously. The river is very fast here so wading is difficult especially when you have to follow a hooked steelhead as Mr Schwiebert also had to do in his Portrait of the PM story.

Hit two steelhead here both which hit in the Disco Caddis nymph and gave great fights. One went into the backing on an upstream run which then reversed itself down stream jumping several times on its way back to Lake Michigan. Both took me down to the Swing Hole at the bottom of the Deer Lick run which of course has sunken logs through out it. I estimate both were about ten pounds. Had the one almost beached twice but he made succcessful runs deep into the Swing Hole down into the logs. Got him out once but not the second time. Each fish broke the 4 lb test down in the logs. That was it for Thursday. This was one of the beautiful peaceful solitude fishing experiences I have had in a long time. For 5 hours I had one of the best stretches of the river all to my self. No drift boats or other walk in anglers, snow showers, than bright sun shine and a beautiful sunset. A peace ful walk back through the national forest trail alone. Quite a day it was to remember.

Result: 0 for 2


Decided to go back to the Deer Lick area at the crack of dawn to beat any guides in drift boats that might come down from the Green Cottage access above and any walk in anglers. Had to get up and pack at 5:30, although the body felt better my 5th day straight of fishing. Was the first one to Deer Lick for the first hour any way. Not as much activity as the day before but ran a large hex nymph through all of the dark runs hoping to hit one on the head. Got down to the section of the run I was hitting them on Thursday and had the feeling something might happen. Well it did. Felt the hit and head shake, was a little late in tightening
up. Before I knew it a big buck 14-15 lbs does a massive head shaking jump throwing the fly. Will remember that vision for quite a while. Only fished until 10 AM. Guides starting coming down in drift boats and they were not seeing fish upstream but heading down stream to where they thought some fresh incoming fish may be. Supposedly the weir had passed a 1,000 fish the week before 40 river miles down stream and they were due to arrive. However there is a lot of river they can distribute them selves through. Above the flys only section of the PM is another 50 river miles of closed spawning water which they could go to or to the Baldwin river or Big south branch of the PM.

Result - 0 for 1

Summary Result - 0 for 12 - Steelhead Win Again

Water temps varied from 40-46 degrees, air temps from 38 to 62 degrees all week. This is the end of the run although there will be fish around for another few weeks but very scattered.


All in all a great week out in nature chasing wild steelhead, got to seriously use the spey rod and found it very effective in getting more efficient drifts and productive casts than possible with single hander. I was the only one on the river all week with a spey rod which surprised me. None of the guides appeared to be using them. Very difficult holding these fish with 4 lb test leaders but thats what it takes to get strikes in this clear water and small river width conditions. Saw lots of wild life, deer, turkey, grouse, hawks, herons, ducks, geese, muskrats along the river and on national forest roads. I have had days where I have hooked up to 13 steelhead and some people talk of 20 fish hook up days maybe landing 2-3 fish. Odds are not in our favor with these fish and our light tackle constraints. As R. H. Brown stated well "Such is the sum of the challenge"

Anyway all fish in the PM are wild and all in the no kill fly only section must be released. So I have no pictures of fish to show you from this week. They are all still swimming in the wild. But great memories they leave me with. I will be back for more encounters with these special fish again.

Have some pictures being developed into digital format will post up the good shots when I get them so you can see some of the country and river sections I was in.

I also learned I carried way to many flies. Turned out I needed only two patterns, Hex and Caddis nymphs. Marryat fly reel worked fine though on the fast runs so it may yet live to fish another time, before it is retired for a newer model.

I noticed there were not many people older than me fishing for steelhead, and I am only 54. I hope I can take it until at least 70, but I am not seeing many 60 year olds out there. It is tough cold ardurous fishing in Michigan most of the time for steelhead.

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