Brad, Frank and Byron Banner

(Above) Brad Park (left), Frank Brown (middle) and I admire a good salmon. We have been friends for over 50 years. They live in Kentucky. This is one good example of how we spend time together.

Paula with King Salmon

Paula is holding a nice King. This is a fresh fish that had not been in the river very long. It weighed over 20 pounds.

Byron with King Salmon

I caught this King on a Wooly Bugger while wade fishing on the Big Manistee. This was the day I met Chuck Scribner.

Paula with Coho or Silver Salmon

Paula is holding a Coho or Silver Salmon that she landed. We don't catch many Coho on the trips we have made to Michigan.

Powell and Bill with a Steelhead

Powell and Bill Partridge with a beautiful steelhead.


Salmon Fishing in Michigan by Byron Begley

In 1966 the Michigan Department of Natural Resources stocked Coho Salmon in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.  A year later they stocked Chinook or King Salmon.  Their hope was the salmon would control the invasive alewife that had pretty much taken over the lakes.  The stocking was a success and the salmon entered the tributaries to spawn.  Twelve years later we were driving to Michigan to catch these large salmonids on fly rods. A new sport was born.  And the states found a new economy during the spawning months. In Michigan the King Salmon spawn occurs from late September through early November.

I hadn’t been in years but I was invited on a trip to Baldwin, Michigan in 1998 with some friends from Nashville.  We stayed in a lodge located on the Pere Marquete River.  The fishing was excellent.  On a day trip Mike Stump and I drove over to the Manistee River and fished below Tippy Dam.  It was crowded, there were very few fly fishermen but I managed to land a couple of Kings.  A guide drove by in a drift boat with an outboard motor, he stopped to talk and I got his name, Chuck Scribner.  I liked him. I planned to call him when we got home. A fly fisherman needed a guide and a boat to get away from the hundreds of people fishing below Tippy Dam.

I called Chuck and arranged for Paula and I to be fishing with him during the peak of the King Salmon run on the Manistee River the next Fall.  At the time Chuck and his wife Linda had a small cabin on their property that they rented to their clients.  We stayed there.  The fishing was excellent.  We fished three days and there is no telling how many fish we hooked.  We landed several.  Most of them weighed between 17 to 22 pounds.  We used 8 weight rods. 

Chuck would take us to his favorite spots in his large drift boat, we could sometimes see 50 to 100 salmon at one time and you would think catching them would be easy.  We drifted flies right by them without even a look.  Then occasionally a big male would turn and grab your fly.  When that happens the whole river explodes after the hook set.  Those fish will have you into backing in no time at all.  A battle can last 15 minutes or more. It is a heck of a lot of fun. 

The next Fall my buddies Frank Brown, Brad Park and I were there.  Frank and Brad loved it.  There is a lot of action, the photos are worth a thousand words and the scenery is something to see.  The Manistee River is beautiful.  We have been back a couple of other times over the years. 

We use a lot of egg patterns, nymphs and heavy weight to get our offering down.  Kings like to spawn in deep water sometimes 6 feet deep. And here is another problem.  Fairly often you foul hook them.  When that happens it is best to break them off right then.  You are not going to land them, snagging is against the law now (finally) and we are releasing them anyway.  Why waste your time.

There are two fly fishing methods used for catching salmon in the Manistee River.  One is called “Chuck and Duck”.  It is almost like using your fly rod as a spinning rod.  Instead of a tapered fly line a level running line is used.  Very heavy weight gets the fly down and casting it is like I said, using a spinning rod.  The running line causes minimal drag.  This is very effective but not as much fun as the second method.

The next method is using a sink tip line and casting streamers.  These big salmon love streamers.  The bigger and uglier the better.  They don’t really eat much during the spawn if anything at all.  But, if you pester them enough or they are trying to protect a redd they will attack a big fly.  We have actually done very well with chartreuse Girdle Bugs.  I even had a little success using a spey rod and sinking tip line.  You won’t catch as many fish this way but it is a lot of fun.

Try to target the males who are waiting behind the female.  They fight each other for position and will often attack a fly.  I would rather not catch a female but I have caught several.  And, you will often see some huge rainbows or steelhead holding behind the redds waiting for an egg to drift by.

A good example of a Manistee River steelhead is shown at the left. Powell Partridge caught this one. His son Bill is helping him hold the fish up. We told the Partridge boys about Chuck Scribner and they have made several trips to Manistee.

Another great fishing opportunity on the Manistee is fishing for lake run brown trout. These huge fish move into the river to spawn in late fall. Frank, Brad and I drove up there for that the first week in December a few years ago. We fished for three days without a single strike. The problem was the weather. When we arrived there was 24" of snow on the ground. Every morning when we went fishing with Chuck in his boat it was 5 degrees at daybreak when we shoved off from the ramp. The temperature never got above 20 degrees the whole time we were there. Our boat was breaking ice in the river on the last day. It was miserable.

You may get some cold weather during the salmon run or it might be 70 degrees during the day. But, what we experienced during December probably won't happen while you are there fishing for salmon.

Chuck Scribner can be reached by e-mail. You may also call him at 231-723-6193. He is an excellent guide and someone you would enjoy spending a few days with.

Byron Begley


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