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The Rivers

The "Holy Waters" of Northern Michigan are incredible fly fishing destinations. Learn more about the Au Sable and the Manistee on this page, and be sure to visit soon. It's an experience like no other.

Michigan's Au Sable River is one of the finest trout fisheries in the nation. It also becomes a tremendous steelhead fishery throughout its last few miles below Foote Dam. The Au Sable's productive water is made up of the North, South, and Main branches. It is a large and in some areas powerful river. Prolific hatches, quality trout, and heavy runs of steelhead make this river famous. Special regulations have been placed in many areas along the Au Sable River system.

The Au Sable River is an awesome fishery. Trophy brown trout, "screamin" rainbows, dainty brook trout, and acrobatic steelhead are caught in good numbers each year. Hatches are extremely prolific and will challenge those of the Delaware River in New York State. Anglers come to this river for more than just its great angling as it is also a beautiful and serene river. The Michigan woods is home to a diversity of wildlife from hawks and eagles to deer and bear.


Starting north of Grayling, the Au Sable flows for over 100 miles before meeting Lake Huron. The river flows south from its origin paralleling the Manistee River. After flowing "side-by-side" for approximately twelve miles, the Au Sable turns east and flows into Lake Huron while the Manistee turns southwest and flows into Lake Michigan.


The Au Sable turns east and gathers the flow of the East Branch at the town of Grayling. A few miles east of Grayling the river flows past Burton's Landing, which is the start of the fly fishing only, catch-and-release section also known as the "Holy Water." This area extends for nearly nine miles downstream to Wakeley Bridge. Within this stretch the river consists mainly of sand and gravel. Beautiful trout filled pools, runs, and riffles litter this section. This is a very productive and also popular area due to the special regulations put upon it and from the diversity of the water. These eight miles, which have been designated fly fishing only are not called "Holy Water" for nothing.

Several access points are available for anglers to wade or float from. Thendara Road and Stephan Bridge are a couple of the many areas with good access. The water is fairly large but easy to navigate and wade.


The water from Wakeley Bridge to Mio Pond easily equals the quality of the water from Grayling to Wakeley Bridge. The water is larger and has more deep pools and runs for large trout to hide. Wading here can be difficult in some areas and caution needs to be taken. Prolific hatches exist here and throughout the rest of the river. Hexagenia Limbata also known as "Michigan Caddis" are a very famous and large mayfly that are prolific through this area. Large brown trout (twenty plus inches) are found feeding to this mayfly and are sometimes caught during this hatch. Many "old-timers" will often be seen "sneaking" around the river during this hatch looking for that trophy brown. A couple of good access points are found at The Whirlpool off of Cherry Creek Road and at Parmalee Bridge.


From Mio Dam to McKinley Bridge the river harbors an abundance of trophy size trout. Large brown and rainbow trout are in good numbers here. Like the upper areas quality hatches make it a wonderful stretch. The water is deep and strong in many areas. Wading is a challenge although it can be accomplished in certain areas. A boat is the best way to cover and fish this water. Hiring a guide will ensure the most potential out of this tremendous section of river. A few good access points are located at Perry Creek, Comins Flats, and Mckinley Bridge.


The South Branch flows northerly out of Houghton Lake towards the Mainstream of the Au Sable passing the town of Roscommon on its way. It meets the mainstream a short distance below Wakeley Bridge. A section for fishing with artificial flies only, no kill is located from Chase bridge downstream to Lower High Banks. Brook, brown and some rainbow trout can be found in its waters. Access areas are numerous along the river providing ideal areas to "hop" out of your car and wade fish.


The North Branch flows southeasterly passing through Lovells eventually emptying into the Mainstream a few miles downstream from the South Branch. The North branch is also a quality fishery with a section devoted for fishing with artificial flies only from Sheep Ranch downstream to the confluence with the Mainstream. This is a beautiful river with slick pools and quality trout. It is a great dry fly fishery like the rest of the upper Au Sable River system. Access can be gained in many areas along the North Branch's path.


The lower Au Sable River from Foote Dam to Lake Huron is a quality steelhead fishery. The river here is very large and by some standards dangerous. Careful wading is a must and a boat provides the best angling. Steelhead and salmon both migrate up this section of the river and can be caught in the same manner as the other great lake tributaries. Steelhead fishing is available (depending upon conditions) from late fall through early spring.


The Manistee River, also known as the "Big" Manistee, is a Lake Michigan tributary harboring resident trout 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 late fall steelhead pick up the pace and vice versa.

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. Streamers 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.


Originating a few miles to the east of Mancelona the Manistee flows south for approximately twelve miles while paralleling the famous Au Sable River which is just a few miles to the east. The difference between the two rivers is that after paralleling each other the Au Sable 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 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 over-hanging 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.


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).


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.


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 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.