iconic outdoor attraction: Manistee River

The Manistee River has earned renown among river experts nationwide because few rivers as large as the Manistee receive such a high percentage of their flow from groundwater, giving the river a very stable environment—constant water flow, constant temperature—which in turn helps fish and the aquatic life on which they depend thrive. Fish biologists have identified 80 species of fish living in the Manistee River, which includes a mix of native and introduced species.

These days, the Manistee River supports one of the Midwest’s most vibrant fly-fishing scenes, as anglers wade their favorite stretches to fish their secret spots and guides launch MacKenzie boats and AuSable River boats to float clients down the stream year round—yes, even in the depths of winter. For anglers in the Wexford stretch of the Manistee, the most sought-after fish are brown trout and brook trout. Fly-fishing frenzy happens in mid-June when the trouts’ favorite food, the hexagenia mayfly, hatches by the millions and trout rise to feed on them. The populations of brown trout and brook trout are protected from the large salmon that swim in Lake Michigan because of dams that prevent their upstream passage.

The same sense of wild that draws fishermen to the Manistee River is what draws canoeists and kayakers to this renowned stream. Living in Wexford county means you can easily slide a boat into the Manistee River and paddle along miles and miles of forested shoreline, much protected by the U.S. Forest Service. Taking the trip leisurely means stopping along the river bank to camp at one of several maintained campsites, fishing into the dusk or just hanging out beside the campfire. Some families gather for annual rituals of a weekend canoe trip, connecting on the current and sharing meals around the campfire at night.