Float Fishing and Camping on the Big Manistee

Float Fishing and Camping on the Big Manistee

January 21, 2017

Michigan is home to endless fishing opportunities and is well known for it's Great Lakes rivers and streams, one of the best salmon and trout fisheries in Michigan is the Manistee River, which runs 190 miles through the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  

The lower stretch of the Manistee River aka "The Big Manistee", starts at the Tippy Dam in Brethren, MI and runs out to Lake Michigan in Manistee, MI. This stretch of the river is most known for the impressive seasonal migratory runs of Steelhead, Chinook Salmon, and Coho Salmon as well as a healthy abundance of Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and Smallmouth Bass, which can be found in this stretch year-round. The fall season will bring Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, and Steelhead. The Steelhead will stay in the river system throughout the winter with another healthy Steelhead run in the spring... making the fall-spring a great time to target Steelhead on the Big Manistee.

If you plan on fishing from a drift boat or Jon boat, then you have a few access sites (with boat launches) to choose from. Most people launch at the Tippy Dam and pull-out at High Bridge... this stretch is great fishing and usually will take an entire day (dusk to dawn) if you are working the holes. Or, take your time and sleep on the banks of the river in the Manistee National Forest (make sure to get a camping permit) and leave the site better than you found it. 
Launch Site Maintained By Float Time to Next Launch
Tippy Dam North DNR 3 Hours to High Bridge
High Bridge  USFS 3 Hours to Bear Creek
Blacksmith Bayou Campground USFS 2.5 Hours to Bear Creek
Bear Creek USFS 2 Hours to Rainbow Bend
Rainbow Bend USFS 5 Hours to M-55
M-55  N/A NA


There are many guide services and resident fishermen that could give you better advice than I can, so I will leave the fishing advice alone... If you are too stubborn/poor to hire a fishing guide then I would highly recommend checking the Orvis Lower Manistee Fishing Report frequently. This report is updated by guides that fish this river and has updated information on locating and targeting fish year-round. Another great local resource would be Pappy's Bait & Tackle, Rob will get you setup with whatever lures, bait or equipment you need! 

If you plan to float and camp on the Big Manistee, you will likely be doing so in unfavorable temperatures or conditions. Make sure to bundle up and wear plenty of layers. If you plan on camping, here are a few items that will save you from staying up all night feeding the fire: 

1. Merino Wool Beanie - This wool is warm, breathable and is able to absorb 30% moisture and still feel dry to the touch. 


2. Heavy Duty Duck Canvas Pants - Keeping your legs warm and protecting them from sharp objects is important when you are floating down a secluded body of water. Heavy canvas will protect you from hooks, pliers and knife slips. 


Or, even better... Waxed Canvas Pants - Any canvas that is finished with wax will repel water and give you an extra layer of warmth. Yes, you can just wear thick waders but once you get off the boat, you will want to have some pants to mill around camp in. 

Waxed Canvas Pants - Washington Alley

3. Waxed Canvas Canoe Pack - Do you see a pattern yet? Waxed canvas is the shit. The Duluth Canoe Pack below is able to repel water and hold a lot of stuff. When you shore your boat, you can just throw this bag on your back and hike into your campsite. 

Duluth Pack Waxed Canvas Canoe Pack - Washington Alley

4. Sidearm Pocket Flask - Eventually you will land a Steelhead or some type of fish... in this case you will need to properly celebrate. If you don't land a fish, inevitably you'll end up back at your camp which is a perfect opportunity to sit by the fire and reflect over some Traverse City Whiskey Co

5. Fingerless Wool Gloves - Fishing in cold temperatures can be a huge pain in the ass. Most fisherman would rather go glove-less than wear bulky gloves. You need the dexterity and sensitivity of your fingers at all times. That is why I choose the fingerless glove... best of both worlds.

Fingerless Gloves - Washington Alley


Big Manistee River Trout and Salmon Fishing Holes: See Map Below 

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