By Maralee Cook

While many fly fishermen are happy to be on the water at any time of year, D-Loop Outfitters owner Dave Barkman will tell you there are three great reasons to fish the Big Manistee River in autumn: “There are large opportunities for migrating fish, nature’s beauty, and autumn is also the best weather of the year,” he says.

In the fall, the Steelhead population is 80 percent wild, with 8- to 12-lb. averages through December, says Dave. “Steelhead are in an instinctive, predatory mode. They’re aggressive, wild, and they’ll flip, run and fight more-so in fall because of the colder water temperatures. They’re feeding heavily for the onset of winter,” he says, adding that Coho Salmon and Brown Trout are also in abundance on the Big Manistee below Tippy Dam.

The section of the Big Manistee River below Tippy Dam is designated a National Scenic River. The changing colors of the leaves and wildlife visible along the river banks as autumn moves into early winter make for a beautiful float, Dave says. “We see deer, bear, otter, and geese and swans flying south on a daily basis. Half the thrill is being there and pointing out to clients, ‘Just stop what you’re doing and look and listen.’” A licensed guide for over 15 years, Dave and his wife, Amy, have run D-Loop for about four years. Dave also has his captain’s license and is fully permitted with the Manistee National Forest.

Because of the low numbers of houses on the Big Manistee from Hodenpyl Dam to the mouth, there’s a sense of being in the wilderness for miles, adding to the special experience of fishing the Big Manistee late in the year. The appeal of fishing with a local outfitter is that they know those special places that offer clients a challenging and rewarding experience, as well as providing gear for fishing different species – all making for an incredible experience on the water.

D-Loop Outfitters of Wellston offers guiding services, fly-casting lessons, lodging, and has the largest trout bead selection in northern Michigan. For more information, visit (article photos courtesy of D-Loop Outfitters)