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06 July 2005
Big Manistee Fishing Report [June 22 2005]

Day 3 of vacation...

Manistee Riveroddly enough, began with a late morning! We got up, ate breakfast, made some PB&J sandwiches for lunch and dinner and headed off toward Harrietta to fish the Big Manistee and one of its tributaries, Slagle Creek. The day was again very hot (~95 F), clear and sunny. Not perfect fishing conditions, but near perfect enjoy-the-river-anyway conditions. The job of finding our target location, the mouth of Slagle Creek in the Manistee, was not straight forward. We made several wrong turns but eventually found our parking spot at the end of a long and circuitous two-track on top of a high bluff over the Manistee. This location is within the Huron-Manistee National Forest and, note to self, camping is apparently permitted here. We hiked a short distance to the top of the bluff overlooking the big river below and enjoyed the view for a few minutes. The river below is big (1200 ft3/s) and it winds back and forth through its deep riverbed of sand, gravel and the occasional large tongue of sticky, slippery clay. We breathed in the beauty of the view, then collected our wits and headed down the long path to the river with our fly rods. The footpath follows Slagle Creek all the way to it's mouth. As we hiked down, we were perplexed why anyone would claim to have fished the little creek - it's such a narrow, steep, cold, brush- and log-covered trickle. We didn't even notice anything you could call 'pocket water' on our hike down. But, we'll get back to this stream later...

I chose to exercise my 7 wt spey rod. I don't get that many chances to fish with it in the summer and this river section is a perfect opportunity. I tied on a heavy sink tip and a white zoo cougar. I caught a large 17" rainbow in this general vicinity last fall on a white articulated zoo cougar and I couldn't stop myself from tying on something similar. I choose flies this way a lot. It's not usually the most intelligent thing to do, but I can't help myself. It's like trying to plant a straight row when the disk/plow/rototiller marks are crooked. Know what I mean? I just can't go away from a fly that worked last time. Anyway, we arrived at the bottom to find the creek mouth emptying it's cold, cold water into a swift, bright blue-green, undulating river. The water flows very swiftly here and, where the bottom rises and the water becomes shallow enough to wade, can easily knock you off your feet. I swung some big streamers and B drifted big dry attractor patterns in several spots with no results. We hiked back up to the car for a snack after an hour or so.

Big Manistee RiverWe ate a little lunch and drove upstream to fish Slagle Creek near a bridge. Here, the creek is a completely different animal than the steep, splashy trickle we observed near its mouth. Here, the creek is wider, 20-25' wide, with occasional undercut banks, logjams and deep holes. Its depth varies from 1 to 4' deep. I addressed it with my little 6' 3 weight and wet flies and nymphs. B tied her ant pattern and caught a couple of little 'bows. I had a million hits but hooked only one. There were lots of small, eager, acrobatic trout here. And deer flies. After fishing this upper stretch of Slagle Creek, it is easier to imagine the presence of the big fish of which we've heard stories. We hiked back to the car for another snack and then drove north to check out another small stream we've heard fantastic stories about. That stream did not meet our expectations so I won't even mention its name.

We drove back toward Mesick, around the north side of Hodenpyl dam to the suspension bridge area of the Big Manistee River for some evening fishing. Our fingers were crossed in hopes of a nice big bug hatch and/or spinner fall. We set up at a bend just downstream from the bridge before dusk. Fish were rising everywhere. However, I could not identify significant numbers of any particular insect presence. I saw a couple of gray drakes and a few light colored caddisy-looking flies, but no major hatch of any one bug. And some of the bugs I did see floated downstream unnoticed by the rising trout below. The fish were leaping half- or entirely clear of the water on many of their rises, so we suspected they might be after emerging bugs of some sort. Some of the rainbows jumping out of the river on the far bank were extremely big fish - in the 20+" category. Or course, even with my spey rod, they were well out of reach. We were joined by a couple of rude anglers who jumped into the river way to close to us given that we had long stretches of river available on either side of us. One even wedged himself between B and I for awhile - it seemed like steelhead season. They didn't stay long. I got a few smacks on attractors, hex and gray drake dries, but not as many as I would have liked and nothing was working consistently. I ultimately switched to skittering a muddler across the surface, but only encouraged strikes by trout too small to be hooked. I was frustrated, but still managed to enjoy the spectacle of the big, beautiful fish wrecklessly smashing bugs at the surface. B was downstream in a flatter, quicker section lifting and swinging picket pin and bird's nest nymphs and her ant and had good results. She caught a bunch of gorgeous rainbows in the 10-12" size range. I tried lifting and swinging soft hackle wet flies in the 2 seams I was fishing and could not duplicate B's results. The fish action slowed down a bit as darkness fell and then turned on and off again several times. Eventually, the feeding slowed to infrequent, little-fish slurps. We fished on until about 11:45 and decided to call it a night. We discovered that ours was the last car left in the parking area again.

We joked on the long drive home that the schedule we were keeping during this week of hex hunting was beginning to approach drug-dealer's hours....

Food obsession so far this week: pickled bologna
Today's Hex Something Hatch Rating: bonkers
Chances of revisiting stream locations fished: 1:1
Did I get to use a spey rod? Yes!
Enjoyment grade for the day: A, would have preferred more/bigger fish, but no complaints

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