Manistee River

The Manistee River, also known as the “Big” Manistee, runs into Lake Michigan, and has a good resident trout population with runs of steelhead and salmon. It is a medium sized trout stream in its upper reaches and a large dynamic steelhead and salmon fishery below Tippy Dam. When the trout fishing slows in the fall in the upper section, salmon pick up the pace in August, with some great early streamer fishing, and are followed by a large run of Chinook and Coho salmon in September. Fall run steelhead top the list of great fishing with a fly in early October, steelhead enter the river to feed on salmon roe.

Originating a few miles to the east of Mancelona, the Manistee flows south for approximately twelve miles while paralleling the famous AuSable River which is just a few miles to the east. The difference between the two rivers is that after paralleling each other, the AuSable turns east and flows into Lake Huron while the Manistee turns southwest and flows into Lake Michigan. The Manistee flows for nearly a hundred miles from its headwaters to Lake Michigan.

The best trout water is found in its upper reaches from the vicinity of Mancelona Road (M-38) downstream over thirty miles to M-66. This stretch of river is small at first (approximately 15-25 feet wide) and gradually gets larger and swifter as it nears the M-66 Bridge (approximately 100-120 feet wide). The upper reaches of this stretch is home to beautiful brook trout. The farther downstream you venture the more brown trout you will find. There is also a healthy population of rainbow trout in the lower reaches of this section. The size of the fish can vary greatly. The overall consensus is that the farther downstream you venture, the larger the fish (there are very large trout found in the mid to lower reaches of this section).

Access can be found in many areas along the Manistee River. Access to the upper section of Manistee River can be found near M-38 (Mancelona Road) and is best fished with a light fly rod (2-4 weight). Below Mancelona Road you will find access in the town of Deward off of Fayette Road, County Road 612 Bridge, the CCC Bridge, and Sharon Bridge. There are also plenty of other areas to access the upper river. Access to the lower river can be found from numerous side roads off of M-55. River Road (parallels the north side of the river) and East River Road are found near the river, and lead to Tippy Dam. North High Bridge Road crosses the river a short distance below Tippy Dam while other roads parallel and lead to the river.


The river consists of a sand, silt, and gravel bottom with fallen logs, undercut banks, deep runs, beautiful pools, and sharp bends all creating good holding habitat for trout. In the upper reaches, you will find a lot of overhanging brush and good cover to provide shelter for the trout. There is a special regulations area for artificial flies only, located from M-72 downstream to CCC Bridge. This is a productive stretch of river that has a lot of good holding water and some trophy fish as well. The special regulations put upon this stretch have helped to preserve this great resource.

Below Tippy Dam is the area of the Manistee River known for its quality runs of steelhead and salmon. Every year anglers come to fish for the thousands of steelhead and salmon that enter its lower reaches. The water is big and in some areas tough to wade. A drift boat will certainly help to cover the water. The river below Tippy Dam flows aggressively towards Lake Michigan over a sand and rocky bottom. Fallen logs, deep pools, swift runs, and charming riffles all help to create classic holding water for steelhead and salmon. Bear Creek is a feeder to the Manistee that is found on the north side of the river. This creek is also an excellent fishery for steelhead and can be found along River Road near where it enters the Manistee or off of Coates Highway to the north.

The Manistee River is most famous for its steelhead and salmon fishing. Trout fishing is also excellent and provides anglers with exciting action on both the surface and subsurface for a wide size variety of trout from little brookies to large shouldered brown and rainbow trout. Hatches are prolific stirring the surface with hungry trout during the spring and summer. Streamer and nymphs will produce at almost any time. Steelhead and salmon can be caught on the usual Great Lake fly patterns; egg flies, woolly buggers, wet flies, spey flies, nymphs, etc. If you’re looking for an excellent Lake Michigan tributary for exciting steelhead and salmon or for a great trout fishery, take a look at the Manistee River.

Fall Steelhead fishing on a fly can be awesome below Tippy dam from October through December. Water temps can turn these silver bullets into freight trains, and make some of the larger fish almost unlandable!

Although the access and wade fishing is good on this river, the use of a guide will always provide a safe, exciting educational experience, and put you on the best fishing the river has to offer at that time of year.

Manistee River Access Info

Manistee River Map – by Fishweb
Manistee River Trail Map – by National Forest Service
Manistee River Access Points – by National Forest Service
Manistee River Levels – near Sherman, MI
Manistee River Levels – near Wellston, MI
Manistee River and Michigan Fishing Reports – by the Steelhead Site

Muskegon River Fly Fishing Guide Services

Support Groups

  • Michigan Council of Trout Unlimited
  • Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council
  • The Steelhead Site
  • Schrems West Michigan Trout Unlimited

Area Lodging

  • High Bridge Cabins – 231-848-4199
  • Northwoods Cabins – 231-848-4573
  • Wellston Inn – 231-848-7400
  • Trails Inn – 231-848-7064
  • Pine Lake Villa – 231-848-4505
  • Black Bear Inn – 231-848-4655

Weather Information

Manistee River Special Regulations

Check the DNR site for all the latest regulations

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