My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Archive for December, 2010

What a long, strange trip it’s been, one angler’s journey

Over my 55 years on this earth, it has been my pleasure to fish some of the great waters in this country, and I have even managed to land more than my share of fish during that time. Looking back, I see that there have been several cycles in my fishing pursuits, from a kid with a cane pole fishing for panfish, to who I am today, some one that pretty much limits myself to catch and release fly fishing for trout.

 To quote myself, “When you pause to reflect on fishing, you often find out that the pursuit of fish has no bearing on your pursuit of fishing, or your enjoyment of the experience”.

Fishing has been described as a jerk on one end of a line waiting for a jerk on the other end, and that about sums it up as far as the actual catching of fish is concerned. But there is much more to fishing than just catching fish, if you look for it. I will admit that I still get the same adrenaline rush now days when a fish hits as I did when I was a kid just starting out, even though I know enough now to know it isn’t going to be Moby Dick on the other end of the line.  With as many fish as I have caught, especially given the number of really large fish that I have caught, you would think that I would have become jaded, or immune, to the feel of a fish tugging on the other end of the line, but I haven’t, I guess that’s why I still fish at all.

Most people fish for food, not because they have to, but because they like the taste of fish, and I do too, there are few meals better than a mess of bluegills fried up right, or a couple of trout cooked to perfection. However, that’s not the reason I still fish, as I have kept only a handful of fish over the last 25 years. People tell me I’m crazy to fish, then release the fish I catch, and ask me why I fish at all if I’m not going to keep them. Maybe I am crazy, but I don’t think so, I can come up with lots of good reasons for both sides of that question, why do I fish, and why do I throw the fish back.

I guess I’ll start with why I throw the fish I catch back, my flippant answer is they are too easy to catch, and they are. There is a saying that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. I don’t know if that is exactly true or not, but I think it is close. Catch and release was pretty much unheard of when I started fishing, yeah, you threw the little ones back “to grow up”, but no one released a “keeeper” that I knew of. That changed a bit when I started salmon fishing in the rivers. When salmon begin their migration upstream to spawn, they stop feeding and some of their internal organs shut down so the salmon can devote all their remaining energy to reproduction. I don’t want to turn this into a biology class, but by the time the salmon are ready to spawn, they are in really sad shape, especially the males. They have changed from beautiful, silver fish into the ugly, black swimming undead that they become in the rivers, until they do die. Large portions of their bodies are being attacked by fungal and other types of infections, showing up as white ulcers on their bodies and fins, if the fins are even still there. They are not an appetizing sight in the least, even though some people will keep them and eat them. I guess it is because I caught enough fish over the course of the year, that I had no desire to keep and eat a fish that was already starting to rot even before it was dead. So that was when I first started releasing fish that were keepers. That’s also when I started to realize how addicting Big Fish Fever can be to people, other fishermen would yell at us for letting fish that large go, telling us they would have taken them if we didn’t want them. Our response was “Why?, Why would you want a fish in that bad of shape?”, and they would tell us that they tasted just fine smoked, personally, I think they would have taken the fish home to show off, telling people they caught them, then dump the fish in the trash, but that’s just a hunch.

That was reinforced in kind of a strange way, fishing for salmon off the piers along Lake Michigan. Before the salmon start migrating up the rivers, they school up at the river mouths that dump into the Big Lake. It is easy fishing, if you know what you are doing, you can hit your limit quite easily. It was on one such day that Spud and I had done well, I think we had 7 or 8 fish between us when we decided to pack it up and call it quits for the day. If you think the walk out to the end of the pier is a long one, try it while lugging your rod, tackle box, thermos, net, and a hundred pounds or so of salmon back to the parking lot. I don’t remember how it started, but, we were talking about how heavy the fish were to carry, how many fish we already had in our freezers, and one thing lead to another. Spud yelled out, “Hey! Any one want a fish?” and we were almost trampled in the mad rush of the other fishermen ready to take us up on that offer. I think we gave all the fish away but one female, which we kept both for food and to harvest the eggs in her for bait on later fishing trips. It sure made the walk back to the truck a lot easier that morning!

The next time that we were out there fishing on the pier again, which would have been the same week or the next, we didn’t even bother putting the fish on a stringer to begin with. As soon as we landed a fish, we would turn it loose again. We found that turning a 30 pound salmon loose is almost as much fun as catching it in the first place. Guys would run up to us, nearly livid, asking why we threw it back, and telling us that if we didn’t want it, they would have taken it.

 I have to say at this point, Spud and I were becoming a couple of arrogant SOBs in a lot of ways, not that we weren’t both a little on the arrogant side to begin with. But, catching fish, and lots of them, when most of the fishermen around us were being shut out made us even worse than we were to begin with. It isn’t that we were rude, or kept how we did it secret, on the contrary, we would try to help out any one who wanted to know how we caught fish, when so many other fishermen couldn’t get a hit. It was fairly simple, we used light line, never higher than 6 pound test, smaller lures than most people, and we knew the fish, the rivers, the piers, and the lakes. It was almost surreal at times, we would land a fish, some one would ask us how we did it, we would tell them, and they would turn around and tell us it was impossible to land a salmon that way. We would point out to them that they had just seen us do it, and some of them would accuse us of lying. Huh? You just saw me hook, land, and release a fish using the rod I have in my hand, how could I being lying about any part of it? I believe that’s why 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish, the other 90% of the fishermen won’t even believe their own eyes.

I suppose it helped a lot in that there were two of us, both of whom knew what they were doing. We would each start out using something different, and varying how deep we were fishing, and our retrieves, until one of us had a hit. Then we would narrow down the pattern until we were both catching fish consistently. This is when turning fish loose really got to be fun, just to get a reaction from all the other fishermen around us suffering from severe cases of Big Fish Fever. I hate to say it, but we took great pleasure in the reactions we got from our fellow fishermen, many of whom would come unglued as we turned large salmon back. It was one thing if they didn’t know how to catch fish, quite another when they will call you a liar to your face when you try to tell them how to duplicate our results. Still worse were the snaggers. We would recognize some of the people fishing on the piers as people who would snag salmon in the rivers, or try to. Releasing fish became our way of rubbing their noses in the fact that we caught so many big fish that we didn’t even keep them all.

About the same time, catch and release was taking off among other sport fishermen as well. It does make sense, if you keep every fish you catch, pretty soon there won’t be any fish left to catch. That goes with other changes in the way a lot of fishermen thought as well. I think most of the states had regulations much like Michigan, in that there was a minimum size limit on game fish. For example, here in Michigan, trout had to be at least ten inches long. Those regulations were set with the idea that you had to let fish grow up to an age where they could reproduce, which made sense in a way. But fishermen were complaining that there were no large fish left to catch with the old regulations, so state fishery biologists began tinkering with the regulations in order to improve both the numbers of fish, and the average size of fish as well. With just a minimum size limit, as soon as a fish of legal size was caught, it was removed from the gene pool, and only smaller fish reproduced. This has led to many of our inland lakes being full of tiny panfish, with no large fish left, they have all been caught out. The problem has gotten so bad that the Michigan DNR has poisoned out some lakes completely, and then restocked the lakes with fish with a more diverse gene pool.

Coming up with good regulations for trout streams is even harder, as every river is different. In fact, different sections of one river may need different regulations, depending on many factors such as stream temperatures, availability of food, access for fishermen to the river, and a host of other reasons as well. Ideally, you would find fish of every size and age in any body of water, so that the big fish can produce more big fish, and they would eat the smaller fish, keeping those numbers down, leaving more food for the big fish to eat. That’s the way it works in nature, and it works pretty well until we come along and mess things up.

The final pieces of the release them all puzzle happened a couple of years later, after one of my annual spring fishing trips. I had 2 weeks of vacation each year, I took the first week of May and the last week of September off for my vacations every year back then. I had a great week fishing, starting out in the Pigeon River Country fishing for mostly trout, and an occasional steelhead still in the rivers that time of year. Then I headed over to the west side of the state to join up with Doug for some fishing in Lake Michigan, along with fishing for the last steelhead of the season in the rivers there. We did some trolling for Browns out of Leland, where Doug’s charter boat was based out of, even though we used a small boat rather than the 53 footer he skippered as a charter captain. I wasn’t about to pay the fuel bill for Doug to use his charter boat, and neither was he, even back in the 70’s. We caught a few nice browns that way and a couple of Lake Trout as a bonus, and caught even more Lake Trout one evening surf casting in Good Harbor Bay.

I am not a big fan of Lake Trout, they aren’t fighters like the rest of the trout family, but I’ll tell you, landing Lakers on a fly rod makes for much better sport than catching them while trolling with the heavy gear normally used in trolling. And actually, Lakers aren’t trout at all, they are from the Char family, same as Brook Trout, but I don’t hold that against Brook Trout, as you can’t pick your relatives. That’s not something you hear of, fly fishing for Lakers here in Michigan. But, early in the spring when the smelt are running, the Lakers will school up in the shallow water around river and stream mouths to feed on the smelt that are running up those streams to spawn. So it was that evening in May, Doug and I met up with some of his other friends from the area, and we managed to land quite a few Lakers that night. At the time, I had the goal of catching every species of game fish in Michigan on a fly rod, and adding Lakers to the list was something I am quite proud of. I don’t know of, and I have never heard of, any one else in Michigan catching Lakers on a fly rod. I think it is somewhat common in other parts of their range, I’m not even sure about that. But that was back when I still set goals in my fishing, which I no longer feel any need to do.

When I was fishing the Pigeon River Country that week, I released everything I caught, as I had no way to preserve fish since I was camping. Fishing with Doug, I could store fish in his freezer until I went back home. Besides, as a charter captain, Doug had the “keep them all” mindset of a charter captain since his clients wanted to keep everything they caught. We fried up a bunch of the Lakers we caught, and had a pretty good party that night, my last night of vacation before I went back home. In the morning, I packed all the fish I had kept while fishing with Doug in my cooler, and made a stop for some dry ice to keep them frozen until I did get back home.

As if an entire week of fishing wasn’t enough, I just had to stop off at Otter Creek on the way home to see if there were any steelhead left in it. There was, so of course I had to start fishing, and it wasn’t long before I hooked a nice male of about 6 pounds or so, in the first pool upstream from the mouth of the creek where it flowed into Lake Michigan. He made one quick dash around the pool, then headed back towards the lake, which was less than 50 yards from the pool. I was sure I would lose him if he made the lake, so I was putting all the pressure on him that I dared to, but he still managed to get into the lake itself, and then a life changing event happened, the fish died, right in the middle of the fight.

It happened quickly, one second he was pulling for all he was worth (literally I guess), and the next second there was only dead weight on the end of the line, and he floated slowly to the surface on his side. I pulled him in, lifted him clear of the water, and felt an overwhelming sadness as I watched the colors fading from his body.

It was something I had seen before, hundreds of times. Trout are the most beautiful of all fish as far as I am concerned, dead or alive, but their colors fade out when they die, turning from rich, vibrant hues of almost every color of the rainbow, to muted tones, nothing nearly as pretty as when they are alive. That has always saddened me, but not to the degree it did that day.

I was far enough along my catch and release journey to know that trout will fight to the point that they need to be “revived” before you release them, but I had never had one die in the middle of a fight before. One of the reasons trout are so popular as a game fish is their fighting ability, but it comes with a cost to them, they will fight to the point that they are exhausted, too tired to maintain the flow of water past their gills which they need to “breathe”. There had been many times when I had held trout in the current of some very cold water while they rested enough to be able to swim away on their own again, even ruined a couple watches doing that, to say nothing of the cold, numb fingers I had as a result of it.

So why did the death of one fish bother me so much? I guess because its death was an accident of sorts, I didn’t mean to kill him. I had been taught that you don’t kill unless it is for food, you hunt for the sport of hunting, you kill, pull the trigger, for food. If you don’t need the food, you don’t pull the trigger. I certainly didn’t need that fish for food, I had a cooler full already, to be added to what I already had in the freezer back home. As a matter of fact, I was up to my gills in fish, I was having a hard time finding people to take what I couldn’t eat myself. All my family, friends, and coworkers had their freezers full of fish that I had caught.  If I had landed that fish, I would have released it.

As it was, I cleaned it, threw it in the cooler with his brothers, sisters, and cousins, and headed for home, wrestling with many questions as I drove. How many fish does one have to keep to prove they are a “good” fisherman? What is a good fisherman? Should I even continue to fish if I wasn’t going to keep any fish any more? Why do I fish? Was I being a complete idiot for even worrying about one fish? Why do I even care if others know I am a good fishermen or not? I guess I asked myself those questions before, and I continue to ask myself those same questions today, but in that moment, it was a big turning point for me, because in that same time frame, I was asking myself related questions about hunting.

The fall of that same year was the trip where I ran into violators everywhere I went when I was salmon fishing, as I wrote in my earlier blog, Big Fish Fever. One technique that the violators use to harvest salmon that I forgot to mention in that entry is a thing called culvert cleaning. Salmon, steelhead, all salmonids for that matter, prefer low light, they don’t like to be out in full sunshine. So they will often hold in the culverts under roads that streams and rivers flow through. The violators will position one or more people below the culverts with nets, then send a floating container with a few rocks in it and tied to a rope down through the culvert. As the container drifts through the culvert, if it doesn’t scare the fish out, they will shake the container by jerking on the rope, making noise as the rocks bang into each other, to make the fish leave the culvert. Then, the people with the nets will scoop the salmon up as they come out of the culvert.  That was when I vowed never to go salmon or steelhead fishing in the rivers again, a vow which I managed to keep until a couple of years ago.

I was completely and thoroughly disgusted with “fishermen” at that point, and with fishing to a degree, but part of that was because of other things going on in my life. Things weren’t going well at my job, Spud and his wife, Chris, moved out of the area, and the real biggie, the woman I thought I was going to marry dumped me for her childhood sweetheart. Looking back, it was one of two really low points in my life, the other I will get to later. But then, I wanted my old life back, with Diane as my girlfriend, and Spud and I cracking jokes about how bad the weather was as we fished for steelhead on a cold and rainy March morning. But, I knew that none of that was going to happen, so I went the other way, and made as many changes in my life as I could, and I probably went too far.

I suppose you could say that was when I grew up, even though I was in my mid-twenties at the time. I decided that I no longer had anything to prove to anybody, not even myself. I gave up hunting, or I should say I gave up killing.  I still hunt, but I take a camera with me now rather than a rifle or a shotgun. In fact, shooting pictures of game is far more of a challenge than shooting game with a gun. My dog liked it that way even more, since I wasn’t shooting rabbits, she got to run them longer, and if there was anything old Plugger liked to do more than breathe, it was to run rabbits.

I hardly went fishing at all, I did go with my dad a few times, but that didn’t go well. He was as bad as some of those guys on the pier. He was always asking how Spud and I caught so many fish, but he refused to give our way a try. One day when he asked me to go trolling with him out on the Big Lake, I consented, with one condition, he let me run the boat and control how we fished. He agreed, reluctantly, and about an hour after we started fishing, I got us on a school of coho jacks, running 3 to 5 pounds apiece. I was having a great time, those coho jacks fight better than when they grow up, and we caught more fish than my dad and I had ever caught before, or after, while fishing together. Of course he wanted to keep them all, but I told him if he kept them as 5 pounders this year, they wouldn’t be around as 20 pounders the next year, and beside, we both caught and released more than our limits any way. But my dad wasn’t happy, they weren’t big enough for him. So much for me running the boat, it was back to endless hours of catching nothing trying to catch the big ones.

That did nothing to help my outlook on hunting and fishing, or life in general. For the turn around in my life, you’ll have to wait for my next entry, coming soon to this very blog!


The First Day of the New Year.

December 21, 2010, the winter solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight in the year. From now on, the days get longer, and the nights get shorter. In just a few days, I’ll put up my 2011 Trout Unlimited calendar. I don’t know why our “official” Calender begins on an arbitrary day like January1st, as far as I am concerned, the New Year is just beginning today. From this day until the Summer solstice, the amount of daylight we get each day increases. Slowly at first, with just a few precious seconds per day, then later in the year, a few minutes more daylight per day. Soon those seconds and minutes add up to hours, and even before the our Northern Hemisphere throws off the cold mantle of snow that accumulates over the winter months, I’ll be able to feel that winter is ending, and spring is just around the corner.

The end of January is often times the coldest part of winter around here, but I will be feeling spring coming. By then, there is a different feel to almost everything outdoors. It may be 5 degrees below zero outside, but if there is any sunshine, it will have a different feel. It is stronger by then, it penetrates deeper, through the layer of clothes I am bundled up in, and I can feel it in my bones, and my soul. The birds feel it too, I’ll hear them on those days, starting to practice singing their mating songs for later in the year. The air has a different feel to it as well, it is “heavier”, for lack of a better word, there is more to it than the emptiness of November and December. The animals know it, I’ll often see them out and about enjoying the coming spring as much as I do. Even the trees “know”, for by then, I’ll see the tree buds starting to swell in preparation for the new growing season, a new beginning, new life!


Hi-tech frustrations and other odds and ends

As some of you may know, I won the DeLorme Challenge for November, and the prize was $100 of merchandise from their website. For my free stuff, I chose the latest version of their software, and a rechargeable lithium battery kit with both AC and car chargers.

The package arrived Tuesday afternoon around 2 PM, and like a kid at Christmas, I ripped open the package, stuck the new software disk in my drive, and waited. The drive started, but nothing showed up on the screen, portents of things to come. I opened the drive, waited a few seconds, then closed it again, this time the install screen showed up. I started the install, and waited, and waited, and waited some more. Yes, it was installing, but at a pace where a sedated snail could have passed it easily. An hour and a half later, at 3:30 PM, it was time for me to leave for work, but the new software still hadn’t finished installing itself. I didn’t want to cancel the installation and go through all that again, so I left the computer running and went to work. I have no idea how long it took for the installation to complete, but it was only 2/3 of the way done when I left for work.

When I got home that night, it had managed to finish the installation, so I rebooted the computer and fired up the new software….it didn’t load. Great, reboot again, this time the new software did load, and it looked pretty good. I went to transfer the waypoints that I have saved on the handheld unit into the new software, and I got a warning screen telling me I need to update the firmware on the handheld before it will work with the new software, and that when I update the firmware, everything on the handheld will be lost. Sheesh, I backed up everything on the handheld in the old version of the software, then start the firmware update, which for some strange reason, I had to download from the Internet, 156 Megs. It seems as though they would have put that on one of the disks that came with the rest of the upgrades. A little over an hour later, I have the firmware update downloaded, but the instructions suddenly became a bit vague. I transferred the update to the handheld, but it didn’t take, I moved it to the wrong place on the handheld, so I try again. This time it took, took is a good term, as it took the handheld nearly an hour to perform the firmware update.

Somewhere in this timeframe, my Internet access quite working, I thought it had something to do with the new software and firmware updates, but I was banging my head against the wall trying to figure out the problem. I tried to uninstall the new software a couple of times, and each time I tried, it locked up the computer. So, I thought I would work with what I had since it was getting late. I tried to transfer those saved waypoints from the old software into the handheld, but that didn’t seem to be working either. I was one frustrated geek. I finally figured out that the waypoints are stored in a completely different manner with the upgrades, I suppose I should have read the help file. I still couldn’t get my Internet access to function, but it was after 4 AM and I was tired. I went to bed, and as I was drifting off to sleep, formed a plan to remedy the situation in the morning, which made it easier to sleep, knowing I had a plan.

When I got up in the morning and fired up the computer, my Internet Access was working just fine, must be Verizon had a failure the night before, something that does happen from time to time. So I didn’t have anything to fix after all.

After all that frustration, I will say that it was worth it as far as the new upgrades. The reason I couldn’t find the waypoints I have stored when I first did the transfer is that now, you can organize the waypoints into groups, a lot better than having hundreds of places to scroll through to find the one I am looking for. All I have to do now is to group all the ones I have saved already, it will take a little time, but it will definitely be worth it. I will group them by rivers and by locations, like one group for the access sites on the Pine River, and another group for the Pigeon River Country. Then, I can see the waypoints for just that river or area, and not have to scroll through all the waypoints to get to the one I want to view.

Another great feature is the ability to Geotag photos. When I do one of my hikes or explorations and save a track, I can synch that track with a folder with the photos I took while recording that track, and the track will mark the exact position where the photos were taken. How cool is that! If I want to see where a picture was taken from, all I have to do is to refer to the saved track from that day, and I can see exactly where I was when I took the picture. That way, I can return to that spot again, or I can also send the GPS coordinates to others if they want to go to that spot. I love it! I can also Geotag files and hyperlinks, also good for organizational purposes. When I get home from a trip, I can write it up as I do now, but then link it back and forth with the track from that trip. That way, if I am looking at the track while planning another trip, I can click a link to open the journal entry for the past trip, or vice versa, I can open the track from with in the journal entry from that day.

There are other new features that I am still learning, hey, it’s only been a couple of days. I am not too sure about the rechargeable lithium battery though, I am not sure if it was charged all the way or what, but when I walked yesterday, the battery was going dead after only 40 minutes or so. That’s not good for hiking or kayaking! I will try it again, if that’s all the longer the lithium battery lasts, I will still be using a lot of the regular batteries, darn! I’ve tried the lithium battery again, and I am still not impressed. The set up will work great for my exploration trips in my vehicle, not so good for hiking and kayaking, but we will see. The cold weather may affect the lithium batteries more than alkaline.

Last Saturday I hiked a new to me park, Lake Harbor Park in Norton Shores, Michigan. I was impressed! For being where it is, surrounded by cities, it is an amazing place. The dunes are impressive, and there is almost a mile of Lake Michigan beach, plus the park butts up against Mona Lake and its channel to the Big Lake.

The beach at Lake Harbor Park

The reason there was so much undeveloped land for the park is that it used to be the site of large, upscale resort/hotel much like the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, in fact, the two were rivals. The hotel at Lake Harbor Park burned to the ground in the early 20th century, but the family that owned it never rebuilt the hotel or sold the land until recently. There are still some of the old foundations of the buildings left in the park, a little bit of history to go along with some great walking trails and the beach.

A land conservancy helped to put the park in place. A land conservancy is a non-profit group that raises money to buy undeveloped land to preserve for future generations. In this case, they helped create the park by purchasing the land, which they sold to the city at a reduced price so the city could afford it. Sometimes, it works the other way around, there are several preserves that used to be parks, but the governing bodies couldn’t afford to maintain the parks, so they have been sold to land conservancies to preserve. If you look on the right side of the screen, there are links to several that operate here in Michigan, and I will be adding more links as I find them. Many of them hold the land they have purchased and allow the public access. Some of these have developed trails, others are just tracts of undeveloped land of various sizes, from an acre to thousands of acres. If you are ever looking for a quiet place to spend a day, or even a few hours, you should look up the land conservancies in your area, and see if they allow access to their lands.

My favorite land conservancy is The Little Traverse Conservancy  for a couple of different reasons. One, they not only allow access to most of their preserves, they encourage it in order to attract more people to join up. Most of their larger preserves have a developed and marked trail system for people to use, along with detailed directions and maps, both printed and online. The fact that they have made buying undeveloped land along the Pigeon River one of their top priorities helps too, since it is my favorite trout stream to fish.

Right now, I am looking for a group that operates in an area closer to where I live, so that I can do more than just send a check, but the first couple I found don’t allow access to many of their preserves, unless you hire one of their guides, who only work with groups. I may be on to one that I feel comfortable with, I’ll post more when I know for sure.

I don’t want this blog to turn political, but I have to say that our Governor elect, Rick Snyder is impressing me by what he plans to do when he takes office.  Splitting the DNR again is something that should never have been undone in the first place. Back in the 70’s, it was a priority for environmental groups to split up the DNR, but it wasn’t until the 90’s that it happened. It is hard for an agency that is in charge of the use of our natural resources to also be a good steward of those same resources. By splitting the DNR, hopefully there will be more checks and balances on the use of the natural resources we have here in Michigan. I was a little disappointed that Rick Snyder didn’t put the appointment of the head of the DNR back under the jurisdiction of the Natural Resources Commission, but maybe he will later on. Rodney Stokes as the head of the DNR is a good appointment, but I would rather see the NRC make the appointment.

 I have read that some kook sued the Federal Government and won, as far as banning things like hunting and snowmobiling in parts of the Huron-Manistee National Forest. Come on, deer gun season is the only time the woods are crowded with hunters, and that’s two weeks out of the year. There are families that have hunted the same spots for generations, and now those places may be off-limits to hunting, because one guy doesn’t like hunters, and found a judge who would agree with him. I am not a big fan of snowmobiles, but there are miles of trails that have been paid for that may now go to waste if this silly ban holds. You can always find quiet places to be out and about in Michigan, any time of the year, so why this ban has to take effect is beyond me. The ban will be for nearly 10% of the forest, that’s a lot of land, just because some selfish slob doesn’t want to share the outdoors with other people who enjoy the outdoors in ways this guy doesn’t like. That’s what it boils down to, people not willing to share, and/or don’t like what others do for fun, so they look to the law to ban things they don’t like.


High tech exploring, the Internet, GPS and Google Earth

I am an explorer at heart, I always wonder what is over the next hill or around the next bend. I probably get that from my dad, like so many things about me. We were always exploring in some way or another, whether by car, boat, canoe, raft, or by foot. When I was out west, I found out why travelling by horseback is so popular out there, it is a great way to get around and cover more ground than you can on foot. Add a couple of pack animals, and you can live a comfy life without having to lug everything on your own back.

My dad often took the back roads to and from places, both to avoid traffic, and to see new things. We would often do day trips, with the entire family jammed in the car, a picnic lunch packed, and no idea where we where going or how we where going to get there. Of course gas was 25 cents a gallon, or less, back in those days, and five bucks would take you a long way. We would stop somewhere along the way, either a park or a roadside park, of which there were a lot more of back then, and eat our lunch, then take a different route home. On holiday weekends, my dad avoided the busy highways, like M 37 like the plague. As a result, we were always finding new parks, new places to visit, and new things to see. My dad made me the “official” map reader at an early age, like 10 or 11 years old, as my mom never could learn to read a map, and was directionally challenged to say the least. 

When I got my license, I would do the same thing, just hop in my car and take a drive. I wouldn’t have a destination in mind, or any kind of schedule, and I often would find neat things to check out.  That’s how I found the lighthouse/shipping museum on White Lake, just out for a drive along Lake Michigan. It is a place I have been to many times since, as there is also a nice beach there, and they are always adding to the museum. I was also looking for places to hunt and fish, sportsmen are always looking for Nirvana, the place where game is plentiful, and there are thousands of fish lined up waiting for you to make a cast. I never found Nirvana in that sense, I have found many good places to hunt and fish, and some spectacular scenery as well. I still avoid the highways if I can, especially on the way home. After a quiet, calm, peaceful weekend in the woods, I don’t want jerks tailgating me, cutting me off, or any of the other rude driving habits people have these days. I’m just not ready to deal with people yet, it takes me a while to readjust to civilization.

The problem was, I found some places I really liked, but could never find my way back again. One example is a great beach I found on Lake Michigan one time, somewhere between Traverse City and Charlevoix, but I have never been able to find it since. I had been fishing all morning, and needed a break. I stopped at a party store for a bite to eat, then started exploring. I saw a deep valley that ran towards Lake Michigan and deep valleys usually mean flowing water, and flowing water often means trout, salmon, or steelhead, or, a good place to surf cast into the lake for fish. There was a two-track that ran off the back road I was on, and it looked like it went down the valley, so I turned onto it. It wasn’t a great two-track by any means, and on my way down, I was wondering if I would be able to make it back up. I made it down to the bottom, didn’t find a stream or a creek, but I did find a parking area on Lake Michigan, and no “No Trespassing” signs in sight! It was a great beach, some of it sandy, some of it rocky, and it was tucked in at the base of the high bluff I had just driven down. The only signs of civilization I could see where across the bay from the beach was on, and a resort down a ways on the same side of the bay that I was on. It was almost like having the whole lake to myself. I tried to make mental notes of where I was, but I have never found that beach again. Another cool spot was one Spud and I found along the Pigeon River. After a morning of fishing, we walked up to higher ground, and found a patch of wild strawberries where we decided to take our break. I’ll tell you, those little strawberries sure were good! But, I have never found that spot again. It was a great spot, a few large trees for shade, but open and grassy, a perfect place to take a break or to have a picnic lunch, even if the wild strawberries weren’t there.

I tried to always keep a good set of county maps in my vehicle since then, and especially while Larri and I were together. We made notes on the maps, and she would jot down more notes in a notebook. This worked OK, but it still wasn’t the greatest, as my set of maps are old, outdated, and falling apart, and I couldn’t find suitable replacements. It didn’t help that she wasn’t very good at reading maps, and reading, or writing, in a moving vehicle made her car sick.

So, when I saw the handheld GPS units that they have on the market, I thought that one of them would be just the ticket. But, they were expensive, and from what I could tell by reading the fine print, you had to pay extra for maps. Some even required a yearly subscription, something I wasn’t ready to shell out for. I saw that the prices were falling, so I started researching them. I went to geocaching.com, I figured that if any one knew about GPS units, it would be the people there. Geocaching is a “sport” where people hide things on public property, then post the GPS coordinates for other people to try to find what they have hidden. I found out that DeLorme units came with a good set of maps to begin with, but that you could also add more if you wanted. Still, it was a lot more money than I wanted to pay, so I held off, and continued to research all the different brands. Then, just before Christmas last year, and online retailer had the unit I had my mind set on for half price, and it came with everything! Even a large capacity SD card for more memory, so I took the plunge and purchased a DeLorme PN-40.

This is one of the best purchases I have ever made! I sure wish that there had been such a thing years ago! The roadmaps aren’t always correct, especially back in the woods, but it doesn’t matter. You can set the units to record the track you take, and you can save these for future use. I’ve saved a bunch of them already, especially up in the Pigeon River Country where not even the latest maps from the DNR are totally correct. You can also save waypoints, to mark things on the map for future reference as well. That unit goes everywhere I go now, whether it is walking, fishing, kayaking, or driving. When I find a good access site on a river or lake, whether it is for kayaking or fishing, I mark the spot on my GPS, so now, I can find them later. When I find a pretty place that I would like to return to sometime later, I mark it on the map. It is so cool to be able to do that in the first place, but with the software that comes with the unit, you can save all that information on your computer.

You can also do it the other way around, that is, you can add things to the maps on the computer while at home, then transfer that info to the handheld unit for reference when you’re afield. I can download the USGS topo maps to my computer, then send them to my handheld unit if I want to. I did this a lot when I first started using it, the topo maps are very detailed, too detailed for the handheld unit’s small screen. It was interesting to see how much the landscape has changed since those maps were originally drawn though. This is most noticeable about the dunes along Lake Michigan. The sand that make up the dunes is constantly shifting, and entire dunes have moved inland several hundred feet from when the maps were made in some cases. Some dunes get taller, some get shorter, and in other parts of the state, streams change their course, and manmade structures come and go. I do use the topo maps when planning trips, how close together the elevation lines are tell you how steep the hills are, which is a help. The DeLorme maps that came with the unit have that feature as well, but they are not as detailed or as accurate as the USGS maps are. The topo maps show just about everything there is in an area, from beaver ponds to gravel pits to you name it. If the surveyors thought it was a landmark of any kind, it shows up on the maps, even some foot trails. However, most trails have been made since the maps were drawn, but you can sometimes find maps that have been updated to show the bigger trails, like the North Country Trail. I’ll mark the places that look interesting on the maps, or Google Earth.

A split view, part USGS topo, and part standard map

As you can see from the picture, the topo maps are very detailed, but imagine trying to look at all those brown lines and figure it out while viewing the map on the small screen of a hand-held GPS unit.

 Google Earth is also a great tool for the outdoorsman, if you’re not aware of it, it is a program that uses digital satellite images of the entire world, with Google maps superimposed over them. It is remarkable how detailed some of the images are, most of the time you can pick out individual trees. As the technology improves, they update the images, the earliest ones weren’t as sharp as the latest ones. Using Google Earth, I have found boat ramps and other access sites on rivers and lakes that I couldn’t find any other way but Google Earth. I do use the Michigan DNR’s web site a lot, but it isn’t totally up to date, and doesn’t show county, city, or township parks or access sites either.

Google Earth image of the area mapped above

As you can see in the image, you can pick out the parking lots in Hoffmaster State Park in the image, and you can zoom in a lot closer than I did here. Another great feature of Google Earth is that users can upload photos, which appear as icons on the image. You can click them, and the photos load, sometimes they are of people doing various things at the locations, but often they are very useful scenery type pictures which can tell you a lot about the area. In the image above, all the little blue squares are icons for pictures. Some of the pictures are breathtaking, I’ll often spend time on Google Earth just checking out the pictures, looking for places to visit. I can also transfer my tracks from the GPS unit to Google Earth, marking my path so I can revisit it later.

So when I am planning a trip, whether it is hiking, fishing, or kayaking, I’ll fire up my mapping program and Google Earth, along with the Internet, of course. Any interesting features get marked with a waypoint, I use yellow ones for places I haven’t visited yet. I’ll check online to see what information I can glean about where I am planning on going. I can often find maps and brochures about places to visit. Even blogs, like mine, can be good sources of information, but it does take a while to weed through all the useless web sites I run into. I should say that when I plan a trip, I have no itinerary, I only plan on what area I am going to, after that, I go with the flow. Weather is such a huge player when I actually get to where I am going. This last year, it seemed like there were very high winds during every long holiday weekend that made flyfishing tough. Since I don’t fish to catch fish, but instead, I fish to relax and enjoy myself, battling 25 MPH winds often means falling back to plan B, like going exploring. But even then, the new high-tech stuff can help, deep river valleys are often sheltered from the winds, so a quick check of a topo map will show me places to avoid the wind if I choose to fish. This may run counter to most people’s notions, but “bad” weather, like rain, is time to go fishing, and bright sunny days are for photo explorations, in general. Trout bite best in low light conditions, like cloudy or rainy days, and pictures generally turn out much better on bright sunny days. Mostly, I go with my gut feelings, which will be the subject of a blog one of these days, for it is too much to put in here.

Once I have places marked, and I am set to go, I transfer the information from my computer to the hand-held GPS unit, so I have it with me all the time. Then, as I come to the places I have marked with yellow waypoints, I will either delete them, if they’re not worth coming back to, or change the marker to green, meaning I have been there. There is a comment section for each waypoint where I can add my own notes, like if an access site is good as a take out or put in spot for kayaking, and the amount of parking available. The greatest thing though is that now, when I find a good spot to fish, or an interesting place to explore farther, I can add that waypoint to the GPS unit, with notes, and find it again another time. This is where my camera(s) come in handy, when I find something of interest, I take pictures along with marking the spot on my GPS. I’ll even take pictures of signs, both to help me remember, and for more information later on. I always have at least one camera with me at all times, and on extended trips, I bring both my cameras with me. One camera is a compact digital Canon that I can fit in one of my pockets. The other is a Nikon, which takes better pictures, but is too good to risk while fishing or kayaking, and kind of big, heavy, and bulky to carry when hiking. Sometimes people wonder why I take some of the pictures I do, they are for future reference on my part.

Here’s a perfect example of how it all works. One day this last summer, I went fishing on the Pere Marquette River. Rivers are always changing, a tree falls over into the water, and it makes a good holding spot for trout, sometimes, sometimes not. Sometimes it becomes more than just a holding spot, sometimes because of the current and other factors, it will create a deep hole that will hold many fish, especially larger ones. On this day, I found a new tree in the water, and it looks like the current is digging a deep hole under the tree, I marked this place to make sure I go back again this next year. After I finished fishing, I was just starting back towards home, when I ran into a couple of guys looking for an unmarked access site. I knew where it was, I have been there many times. I don’t know if the locals tear down the signs or what, but there is never a sign at the corner you need to turn at to get to that access site. I was able to tell them where it was, but I could also show them on my GPS unit, since I had already been there and marked it.

On my way home, I decided to take the back roads just to see what there was to see. I found 3 more good places to get on the PM that I didn’t know about before. Of course those spots are now marked, and pictures have been taken, so I can find them again. Farther down the way, I saw a sign along the road about a nature preserve I didn’t know about. It is owned by the Michigan Nature Association, who own and run many such preserves all over the state. Of course I marked it on the GPS, and took pictures, including their sign, which has their web address on it. That way, when I got home, I could look them up on the Internet, and find their preserves when I am looking for new places to explore.

Michigan Nature Association

Then, after I am home from a trip, I upload any new waypoints, comments, and tracks I have recorded on the hand-held GPS to my computer, along with the pictures I have taken. I am actually getting all the information organized these days, the computer helps out a lot. I have a workbook that I have started in Lotus Smartsuite that I use to store information in, the nice thing is I can do a lot of it by links, both to things on the Internet, and to stuff I have stored on my computer. This blog is an extension of that, like a journal, one that I have started many times and never kept up on. I have a bunch of notebooks with just a few entries in each one, writing longhand is not my forte, but I do pretty good on a computer. I link, copy, and paste, a lot, and that saves a lot of typing. Like on the fishing trip to the PM, it is easy enough to add a link to my workbook that calls up the PM project from my mapping program, a link to open the Michigan Nature Association’s web page, or to open the journal entry I made about that day that I have put together by copying and pasting from the notes I made on my GPS unit. It is all pretty slick, you can do the same thing in Microsoft Office, if you want help, let me know. I hope to someday incorporate a lot of that information here on my blog, but that will take some time yet.


Thanksgiving weekend, 2010

While my original plan for the weekend, going to the UP to paddle out to Saint Helena Island were ruined by the weather, it was a terrific weekend never-the-less!

First, about the weather, we never got the storm they were predicting for the weekend, at least no real snow, but it was cold with a bitterly cold wind blowing most of the time. I know they have calculations that are supposed to tell you what the wind chill is, but those figures are just an attempt to quantify what I don’t think can be quantified. The wind was brisk this weekend, but I have been out in stronger winds and not felt as cold as I did this weekend at the same temperatures. This happens a lot, sometimes it feels warmer than the stated windchill, other times colder. I don’t know if it is the humidity or what other factors come into play, but it was down right nasty this weekend. I was keeping my hands in my pockets, with my right hand around my camera to keep it warm, and as soon as I pulled the camera out of my pocket, it felt as though it was frozen, and my hands with it. The air temps were around 30 on Friday and Saturday, a little warmer and some sun on Sunday, not all that cold, except for the wind.

On Friday I went to Palmer Park, only a couple of miles north of where I live. It is a nice park with a number of trails to walk, Buck Creek flows through it, and there are some wetlands along the creek. I went there the for the first time a couple of weeks ago because of the Novemeber DeLorme Challange, and I liked it then, so I decided to check it out more this weekend. According to my GPS unit, I managed to walk almost five miles on Friday, it isn’t that big of a park, but it is almost a mile long. I started out walking the trail that runs along the western edge of the park, all the way to the boardwalk along Buck Creek, to the end of the Boardwalk. There wasn’t a lot going on as far as wildlife or things to see, but it was a pleasant walk, despite the cold wind. Once I got to the end of the boardwalk, I turned back, and at back at the creek, I went east into the golf course section of the park, well, the edge of the golf course. The creek and wetlands separate the golf course from the rest of the park on the northern end. There isn’t a marked trail there, but I went along the edge of the golf course, because it is the highest land in the park, and I was able to look down on the wetlands. I saw a few birds, some ducks, and a pair of muskrats, but surprisingly, no deer. I say surprisingly, because when I got to the bridge over Buck Creek to get me back off the edge of the golf course and into the main part of the park, I saw deer. There were 4 of them there, a couple of them standing, and a couple laying down. I got some pictures, not the greatest though. I continued back up to the north along the low side of the wetlands, and saw more deer back in the swampy sections, too far back to get any pictures of them. By the time I got back to the start of the boardwalk the second time, it was getting late, so I walked back to my car right down the center of the park, and saw more deer there. It’s kind of funny, I saw a group of 5 deer browsing their way through the park at a right angle to the direction I was heading. I saw a couple of people walking towards me, so I stopped behind some trees so I wouldn’t scare the deer away, and the people would be able to see them. The people walked up to me, and I asked if they had seen the deer, they had walked right passed them, but they didn’t see the deer, until I pointed them out. Some people are about blind I guess.

On Saturday, I headed over to Muskegon State Park. I have a love/hate relationship with Muskegon State Park, and the area in general. Of course, the Lake Michigan beach there is beautiful, as beautiful as any beach in Michigan. I learned to swim there, it was where we went a lot when I was a kid. Muskegon Lake is a fantastic fishing lake, I had my best day of bass fishing there if you go by the number of fish I caught that day, it must have been close to 100. Mostly small to medium-sized bass, a few larger ones, but I caught them all in just a couple of hours, nearly one every cast. But, Muskegon is an industrial city, old and ugly, and the paper mill on the southern shore of the lake reeks! The acrid smell is so bad, that there were a few times when I was fishing that my eyes started to burn and water from the paper mill fumes, and I had to move to another part of the lake to continue fishing. I think the paper mill closed down a couple of years ago, and while I feel sorry for the people who worked there, all I can say is GREAT!

Anyway, I checked out a couple of trail maps early on Saturday, and had a plan for which trails I would walk that day. If I knew how great the trails were, I would have planned to do more, which is what I’ll do the next time. I started out at the Snug Harbor area, where the boat launch and picnic area is, it is also the trailhead for a couple trails there in the park. There are a couple different maps available online for Muskegon State park, this is the best one I found. I did the trail to Lost Lake, it is a cool trail, you start out walking through a “tunnel” through pine trees growing in a swampy area, then pop out to more open hardwoods. The trail runs right along the base of a large dune, so I was sheltered from the wind. Lost Lake is noted for its plant life, of course November isn’t the time of the year to check that aspect of the lake out, but I will next spring for sure. The lake and the trail are nestled in at the base of the dunes, so you get the feeling of isolation that I like so much. After checking out the lake, I cut over to the Scenic Ridge trail to head back to my vehicle. That is an awesome trail! You start out climbing one of the dunes, and you just keep on climbing, slow and steady, right up the spine of the dune. The farther you go, the better the views get! It reminds me of a smaller scale version of some trails I have done out west, where the one side of the trail is almost a vertical drop, and the other side is down a steep hill. According to my GPS unit and the topo maps, it was a climb of 263 feet, not huge by any means, but that’s not bad for Michigan. The view along the way is very good, but not great for taking pictures, as you are looking through trees most of the time. I am glad I hiked it the direction I did, the climb was slow and steady, but not the decent, that is quick, and the trail is washing away in places because it is so steep. I imagine it would be a fairly difficult trail doing it the other direction. On the way back to my vehicle, I walked over to Muskegon Lake itself, and there were dozens of swans! I am pretty sure there were over a hundred, maybe close to two hundred, but they were scattered all over the northern edge of the lake, and I wasn’t going to bother trying to count them all. Not ready to go home yet, I checked out a couple other trailheads in the park, including the “Blockhouse”. It was built to look like an old fort, and is on the top of one of the dunes between Lake Michigan, and Muskegon Lake, so the view is great, if you can get in it. It was locked up Saturday, so I couldn’t get in to take pictures.

It is only a few miles from there to one of the newest state parks in Michigan, Duck Lake State Park. I have been going to Duck Lake and the beach there since I was in my early twenties, but I hadn’t been there since the state park was built there. In a way, I am sorry I went back. The park itself is nice enough, but it is trashed! Every where I looked were piles of trash, it was disgusting to see what people have done to the area. I know not all the trash is local, some of it is trash that has been blown over from Wisconsin, like all the balloons and such, but the majority of it was from people being pigs. Pop and beer cans everywhere in the brush, garbage bags all over, some full, some ripped apart by critters, old junk tires, you name it, people have “disposed” of it there. I tried to shoot a few pictures, but every time I fired up the camera, I would see trash in the viewfinder, so I didn’t take any.

Still not ready to return home, and needing something to put me back into a good mood, I stopped off at the Muskegon River channel to Lake Michigan. The USS Silversides is moored up there at a museum on the channel. The Silversides is a WWII submarine that has the 3rd highest total of Japanese ships sunk during WWII of any American submarine. It was re-assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Reserve after the war as a training ship. When it was de-commissioned, a group from Muskegon bought it, and are restoring it as part of their efforts to preserve a little of our history. I think it is open for tours, but I didn’t check on that, but you can here.

The USS Silversides

Which brings us to Sunday. Except for the trash at Duck Lake, it had been a great weekend so far, I really thought Sunday would be a bust, but what do I know. I am the leader of a kayaking group, and I have 3 trips on the schedule for next year that either I haven’t done at all, or haven’t done in years, and I needed to confirm some things for those trip. And, since it is deer season in Michigan, which limits where I feel safe walking, I thought Sunday would be a good day to do the road trip to check things out.

The first stop was the Silver Lake area. I have been there lots of times, mostly running dune buggies and 4 wheelers in the dunes, never kayaking. From my memories of the area, I thought we could kayak on Silver Lake, then run down Silver Creek to Lake Michigan, and if the winds were light, go from there to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse via Lake Michigan. In case you have never heard of it before, the Silver Lake area is party central during the summer. The beaches and dunes attract people from all over the country, and it is the only place in Michigan that I know of where you are still able to take off-road vehicles on the dunes. During the summer, traffic is bumper to bumper, in the winter, it is like a ghost town, with almost everything boarded up. Since it is November, I had the area pretty much to myself. I parked at the tail of Silver Lake, where Silver Creek flows out of the lake, and walked the trail, and the road, all the way down to Lake Michigan, where there is a small county park. The good news is that I was right, you can kayak the length of the creek, the bad news is we may not be able to get near it in the summer, we will see. I continued walking down the road to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse, less than a quarter of a mile from where Silver Creek enters Lake Michigan. The lighthouse was built in 1874, and while it is a minor lighthouse in the grand scheme of Great Lakes Navigational aids, it is still pretty cool never-the-less. The only thing left standing is the light tower itself, the keepers quarter’s were torn down in 1954.

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Little Sable Point Lighthouse

Silver Lake dunes

 

It seems my memory isn’t as bad as I had feared, the plan for that kayaking trip will work out very well if the weather cooperates.

The next stop was the Big Sable River, which I haven’t canoed since I was a kid. Back then, I didn’t drive, so I wasn’t sure of which section of the river we did. The Big Sable flows into Hamlin Lake near Ludington, Michigan. In case you’re wondering why the word sable shows up so many times in Michigan location names, it is the French word for sand I believe, and that is one thing we have a lot of in Michigan, especially near Lake Michigan.

I have a flyer from the USFS for the Big Sable River that I picked up at the ranger station for the Huron-Manistee National Forest. It is a good one, listing all the bridges that have access to the navigable section of the river. I stopped at most of them, and I found out that the section I had originally planned to kayak was tight with a lot of logjams. The middle section of the river is much better, much like the Pere Marquette as far as size and flow. That also avoids the crowds closer to Ludington, as in the summer, the Big Sable is a popular river to float in tubes, especially for the people staying at Ludington State Park. At one of the bridges, I saw a good-sized trout take off as I walked up to the railing to look down in the river. I have heard that this is a good trout stream, I guess I will have to try it out to see for myself.

When I was pulling up to one of the bridges, there was a Michigan Conservation Officer lecturing a group of 5 to 8 deer hunters. I have said it before in another blog, but it deserves to be repeated, the men and women who are COs deserved to be thanked every chance we get. They are a fine group of professionals who are on call 24/7/365 days a year, and they know they are likely to be facing groups of armed citizens on a daily basis. Each CO is assigned a territory,and they answer all calls in their territory. It doesn’t matter if they’ve spent the day testifying in court, if a call comes in at 3 AM about some one poaching deer, they answer the call. After he finished with them, he stopped by and chatted for a few minutes, they don’t have a lot of time during deer season. I could see his jaw drop as I thanked him for his work, I don’t think that had ever happened to him before. I sensed he wanted to continue the conversation, but he had two other calls to investigate, but he did tell me the Big Sable is a great trout stream, and off he went.

My last stop was the Little Manistee River, and what can I say about the Little Manistee that hasn’t been said already. It is a beautiful little stream, probably the best trout stream in Michigan! Steelhead reproduction is so good in this river that the DNR operates a harvest weir on it to collect eggs and milt for the state’s hatcheries. As far as I know, all steelhead raised in Michigan hatcheries come from the Little Manistee. They also collect eggs and milt from salmon in the fall, but salmon are not allowed to continue past the weir like steelhead and trout are. I could be wrong, but I don’t think salmon were ever planted in the Little Manistee, and that the salmon that do run it are like those in the Pere Marquette. The PM was never planted with salmon, a few “lost” fish found their way up the PM and established a breeding population on their own. I know there have been calls to install a fish barrier, or weir, on the PM to stop the salmon from returning. It is thought that blocking the salmon will result in even better trout fishing.

Back to the Little Manistee. I consider the stretch from 9 Mile Bridge to 6 Mile Bridge to be the most challenging water to run in a kayak or canoe in the lower peninsula, and I am not alone in that opinion. That section of the river is as fast or faster than either the Pine or the Sturgeon, the two fastest rivers in the lower peninsula. To make it even tougher, the Little Manistee is less than half as wide as the Pine, and even tighter than the Sturgeon. There are lots of very tight corners with logjams everywhere, and every twist in the river has tricky currents that will spin you around like a top, or throw you into one of the logjams if you’re not on your toes.

I made stops at the 9 and 6 Mile bridges, just to see if the access sites had been improved since the old days, they have been a little, not much, at least there is some parking at each of them now. Then I headed off to the DNR weir, and that’s when things started getting interesting. I took a little side trail on a lark, I don’t even know why I turned there. There was the typical USFS numbered signpost at the corner, but after I made the turn onto the trail, I saw a second sign saying “Link’s Pond”. OK, I thought to myself, I’ll check out Link’s Pond. The 2 track only went a short distance before it was blocked off, so I got out of the explorer to look around. It was blocked at the top of a steep hill with a powerline running across the valley and the river at the bottom of the valley. I thought it would be a good photo-op, but you couldn’t see the river through the trees. There must have been a magnet at the bottom drawing me down there, because I decided to walk down to the bottom of the valley, even though there was really no reason to, other than curiosity about Link’s Pond.

I get down to the bottom of the hill, and off to my left I see this strange concrete structure that looked like it could have been a water trough at one time, and off to my right, I see a small man-made pond covered in duck weed and algae. I thought to myself, “That must be Link’s Pond” and I continued down the path, trying to get a view of the river. As I go past a tree, I suddenly see a large sign off to my right, and past that, an eagle gliding along at a very low altitude with the sun shining on its white head and tail, a beautiful sight! I start fumbling for my camera, thinking what a great shot it would be, but he landed in a tree before I could get the camera ready to shoot. So I took a few shots of him in the tree, and I am trying to look around at the same time, as the sign was about a larger pond there, and the eagle had been flying over it when I first saw it. The second pond was also manmade, but not a little hole dug in the ground, but it was formed by damming a good-sized stream. As I’m looking around, I see several more concrete structures, some strange pipes and other signs of human activity, but what it was all about, I have no idea. I kept looking back at the eagle, hoping to get a good shot of it in flight, but one of the times I turned around it was gone, I didn’t see where it went. I finally did see the river from down there, a small view looking down the stream that formed the pond. It was getting late in the afternoon by then, I am definitely going back one of these days to explore the area a lot more. Not only to try to figure out what the man-made structures are all about, but it is a beautiful little spot, with the hills, the stream, the pond, the river, and pretty groves of trees on higher ground between the wet areas.

I made it back to my vehicle, checked out the DNR weir, then took the back roads starting for home. The weir is open to the public, even when it is in operation, if you want to see a lot of large trout andor salmon, you should stop in some time and check it out. As I am driving along what was little more than a 2 track, I see a white bird on the ground along another 2 track. At first I thought it was a fake, a decoration for some one’s driveway or something, but as I was looking back over my shoulder at it, I saw it move, it was no fake. I slammed on the brakes to continue looking at it, my first thought was that it must be a seagull, but then I saw it was no seagull, I wasn’t sure what it was. I was reaching for my camera as I put the explorer in reverse, and of course the bird took off. I snapped a picture hoping to catch it in flight, but some how or another I missed, it didn’t show up at all. I lucked out though, it landed in a nearby tree, and I was able to get one so-so picture of it before it flew away.  From what I could see, it was a partially albino red-tailed hawk. I have seen goshawks, it wasn’t one of those, the only color this hawk had on it was brown, not grey as goshawks are. I walked over to where it had been on the ground, it had been feeding on a deer carcase, so I thought it might be back. I drove down the road a ways, then waited for a while, and walked back to where it had been, but it wasn’t there. I hid out for a little while, but by then, it was close to dark, so I doubted if it would return.

The unknown raptor

 I suppose it could have been an osprey, but it was a lot more white than even they are, and it looked too big to be an osprey. Looking at it now, it does look a lot more like an osprey than it did when I was seeing it live, it may have been due to the lighting at the time.  But even osprey have brown wings with a white body, this bird is almost all white except for a few small brown patches, mostly on the wings. Either way, I am happy to have seen it, and gotten a picture.

 So what more could I ask for on a long weekend? Nothing, it was nearly perfect. One day of walking close to home, seeing lots of deer and other critters, one day of hiking the dunes with some fantastic scenery and trails, one day exploring places new and and old, and finding more places to explore at length, and a little history thrown in what with the USS Silversides and the lighthouse, and it was my idea of the perfect weekend.