Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Michigan Lake Profile – Manistee Lake, Manistee County

Manistee County’s Manistee Lake is a lake for all seasons


By Bill Parker



If variety truly is the “spice of life,” then Manistee Lake in Manistee County is a veritable spice rack waiting to be opened.


Manistee Lake is a lake for all seasons. Spring offers a variety of opportunities to catch northern pike, walleyes, panfish, and steelhead. In the summer, anglers target walleyes, panfish, and bass, while fall anglers keep their eyes out for the fall spawning runs and target migrating salmon and trout. When the winds of winter roll through western Northern Michigan anglers head to Manistee Lake for panfish, northern pike, and some of the best steelhead fishing around.


“One of the primary values of Manistee Lake from a fisheries perspective is its use as a staging ground for spawning runs by chinook salmon, coho salmon, (and) steelhead,” wrote DNR fisheries biologist Mark Tonello in a summary of the most recent survey of the fishery in Manistee Lake. “Staging salmon and steelhead in Manistee Lake provide popular fisheries that generate many thousands of angler hours each year.”


Tonello said the lake is also important to the lake sturgeon.


“Manistee Lake also provides critical habitat for lake sturgeon, a state-threatened species,” he wrote. “Adult lake sturgeon utilize Manistee Lake as a staging area for spawning runs, and both adults and juvenile lake sturgeon live and feed in Manistee Lake at different times of the year. The Manistee River/Manistee Lake population of lake sturgeon is one of the largest found on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.”


If catching a Master Angler fish is on your bucket list, Manistee Lake is a good option. Between 2018 and 2019 no less that 15 fish meeting Master Angler minimums have been caught in Manistee Lake. They include a 33.5-inch steelhead, six rock bass between 11.5 and 13 inches, two walleyes (32.75 and 29.25), one white perch (11 inches), one channel catfish (29.5), one flathead catfish (32.25), two northern pike (45 and 43.25), and one bluegill (10 inches).


Manistee Lake is located in southwest Manistee County at the town of Manistee. It’s a drowned river mouth lake due to the fact that both the Manistee River and the Little Manistee River dump into the lake before it drains into the Manistee Harbor of Lake Michigan through a 1.5 mile-long channel. 


Manistee Lake is approximately five miles long and a half-mile wide. It covers 930 acres, although you could probably create an argument with that statement as the size of the lake fluctuates based on the rise and fall of Lake Michigan water levels. Manistee Lake features a maximum depth of 50 feet. The southern and northern ends of the lake hold most of the shallow water and the middle portion is the deepest.


The shore of Manistee Lake is heavily developed with industry and parts of the lake have suffered from chemical pollutants over the years, leading to a consumption advisory for some species by the Michigan Department of Community Health. Check the MDCH pamphlet Eat Safe Fish for updated advisories. 


There are four public access sites on Manistee Lake and one on the channel leading to Lake Michigan. The DNR ramp at the south end of the lake in the town of Stronach and a city-owned access site on Arthur Street in Manistee feature universally accessible fishing piers.


The Michigan DNR has never stocked Manistee Lake, but DNR records show that the Manistee River and the Little Manistee River have been heavily stocked over the years, primarily with salmon and trout.


“Manistee Lake anglers benefit from these stocking efforts, as many adult salmon and steelhead move through Manistee Lake as they ascend the Manistee and Little Manistee Rivers for their annual spawning runs,” Tonello wrote. ”


During the most recent survey, a total of 665 fish representing 20 different species were netted. Bluegill, rock bass, and yellow perch were the most abundant.


“The panfish populations of Manistee Lake also appear to be healthy,” Tonello wrote. 


The survey nets captured crappies up to 12 inches, bluegills to 8, largemouth and smallmouth bass to 17, northern pike to 38, sunfish to 7, rock bass to 9, walleyes to 27, and perch to 12.


In the spring, anglers target steelhead at the mouth of the rivers. Walleyes, bass, panfish and pike are also caught in good numbers, primarily in the shallows. 


When summer moves in anglers mainly target bass and walleyes. Panfish move into the deeper holes in the summer and are often difficult to locate.


Salmon and steelhead move to center stage in the fall as the lake fills with migrating fish headed into the Manistee and Little manistee rivers. A few walleyes are also caught in the fall, but usually as incidental catches by anglers targeting salmonids.


In the winter Manistee Lake serves up some of the best through-the-ice steelhead fishing around.


The steelhead bite lasts all winter and occasionally a salmon will show up, too. Anglers also target  perch and some very nice northern pike.

Manistee Lake

Nearest town……………Manistee

Surface water……………930 acres

Maximum depth………….50 feet

Water clarity……………………Clear


Fish species present: alewife, black crappie, bluegill, brown trout, bowfin, brown bullhead, chinook salmon, channel catfish, coho salmon, flathead catfish, gizzard shad, largemouth bass, longnose gar, northern pike, pumpkinseed sunfish,  rainbow trout, rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, white sucker, yellow perch.


For information: DNR district fisheries office (231) 775-9727, the DNR web site http://www.michigan.gov/dnr, Don’s Sporting Goods (231) 723-5028.

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