At many river mouths and wave-lashed beaches, ‘surf’ anglers fish alone or in clusters of two, three, maybe half a dozen. At Manistee, on Lake Michigan, on one early November Saturday, you can count them in the dozens.

That’s when a handful of fishing buddies hold their Manistee Cup steelhead fishing tournament. It’s not limited to surf or pier fishing, nor even to Manistee, but it most electrifies that zone here where land meets lake.

This year’s 22nd annual tournament takes place November 3, headquartered at Lakeshore Resort, adjacent to the beach and the Manistee public launch ramp.

This year, rules are different. In the past, entry fees went into a pot, producing cash prizes for the biggest steelhead, other trout and salmon. But some worried that cash prizes brought out the worst in some anglers who were willing to bend the rules, or break them outright, for a fistful of dollars.

Nothing proven, mind you, but a dark undercurrent.

Anglers in a past Manistee Cup tournament weigh the results of one’s effort.

In addition to such outright cheating as fish caught in advance of the one-day contest, organizer Rocky Curry said in an email they’d heard about “fish shuffling.” An angler catching two fish “might give one to a friend or relative so they could enter it into the tournament if it was bigger than a fish that they caught or if they had not caught a fish at all.”

In response, the hosts restructured the prize system.

This year, the biggest fish will win bragging rights – captor’s name on the Manistee Cup and a plaque is his or her hands – plus first choice from the prize table.

Money? You can still win it, with a different kind of fisherman’s luck. At a banquet after the fishing, names will be drawn from among those present, for cash prizes.

Besides making potential cheating less profitable, organizers hope to dial back competitive intensity, too: some anglers “even camp(ed) on the pier to reserve choice real estate along the breakwalls,” Curry said.

Curry and his buddies hope taking profit out of the picture will create a lower key, more fun experience. “We want fisherman who are motivated by the cup not the money.”

Under the leaden November skies of a past season, a ‘surf’ angler tangles with a steelhead at Manistee.

If you’re going to fish the surf for fun or bragging rights, use high quality spawn, preferably untreated, tied into spawn bags with foam floating beads. Most anglers thread a sliding sinker above a barrel swivel, with a leader of four or six pounds test running to a small treble hook. A small split shot about a foot before the hook holds the line down but lets the bait float.

Cast, set the rod in a sand-spike rod holder, snug up the line and ease off the drag. Now, set another line (or two, since Michigan allows each angler three lines) and watch for the rod-bending sign of a strike and the reel’s controlled release of line. Most fights end with a fish slid (it helps by swim motions) onto the sand.

WHAT: 2012 Manistee Cup Steelhead Tournament
WHEN: Saturday, November 3
HEADQUARTERED: Lakeshore Motel, Manistee
ENTRY: $25, paid at Lakeshore Motel by 10:00 p.m. Friday, November 2

Rule synopsis:

  • Fishing begins at 12:01 a.m. on November 3
  • All Michigan waters open
  • Legal fishing methods only
  • Weigh-in at Lakeshore Motel between 4:00 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, November 3
  • Heaviest single lake-run rainbow (steelhead) wins. Tie? Coin-flip determines winner
  • Committee decisions final.
  • You may enter one fish in each category: steelhead, brown trout, coho salmon, king salmon, menominee.
  • Boat fishing limited to rivers and inland lakes. Lake Michigan off-limits to boat fishing

For more information on Michigan fishing go to

All images by Steve Griffin

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