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

Archive for January, 2011

A quick update

I realized that none of my recent posts have been about my recent excursions out in the woods, so I thought it a good time for a quick update. I have been trying to save some money, so most of my hiking has either been around the apartment complex, or in Palmer Park, which is only a mile from my place. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been interesting things to see, but nothing major. I have been hearing a Blue Bird for two weeks now, I haven’t actually seen it though. But, I have seen a flock of Robins that has shown up nere at the complex. Those birds a month or more ahead of schedule, I wonder if it is because most of the snowstorms have passed south of us this year, and there is more snow down there? There’s also a flock of Cedar Waxwings feeding on the berries left on the trees here, but I can’t get close enough to them to get a good pic before they fly off.

We have also had a small hawk take up residence around here someplace, I haven’t been able to identify it yet, but it is going after the other birds that people are feeding. I did manage to get one so-so picture of it, one day when I have the time I will try to see if I can identify it.

I like walking Palmer Park, it is close to home, and by doing a loop on either side of the road that runs down the middle, I can walk five miles and not double over my tracks except for a little bit of the road on the way in and out. I haven’t been seeing much wildlife, but that isn’t surprising, it’s a popular place for cross-country skiers. In fact, they rent skis there at the clubhouse for the golf course.

I did go to Saugatuck Dunes State Park Sunday. It was sunny here, and we had a north wind, so I was hoping for sunny skies along the beach to get some good shots of the ice formations in Lake Michigan, but it was not to be. There was a line of clouds right over the beach itself most of the time, with just a couple small breaks now and then. If you ever get the chance to see the ice formations in person, it is well worth the walk and the cold.

Lake Michigan ice



An Ice “Volcano”

 If you do decide to check out the ice, just be careful out there, there can be cracks and crevasses in the ice-covered in snow that could send you into the cold waters of the lake with no way out if you are by yourself.

I have also been having trouble with my wireless Internet connection, I haven’t been able to get online at times, which has limited my search for a better way to display the photos I have taken, but I’ll keep looking.

I also let myself get caught up in an online debate over Global Warming and some other environmental issues, which has taken up some of my time. I’ll say it here and now, and if you want to debate me on the issue, fine, but, I do not believe man has anything to do with climate change. I think it has gotten to the point where many who consider themselves to be environmentalists would destroy the environment in the name of saving it. I put forth that proposition during the online debate and the people who believe that man is responsible for climate change pretty much confirmed that proposition. I spent way too much time on that debate, as you can’t convince the climate change believers no matter what. They take it on faith, like a religion. One of the local meteorologists has a blog, and that’s where the debate took place. The meteorologist holds about the same view as I do, but no matter how many facts we presented, no matter how much data we threw at them, the climate changers won’t budge in their beliefs, and in the end, resorted to name calling as is typical with such people when they can’t defend their point of view. I was actually quite surprised that the meteorologist would dare take such a strong stand and risk alienating viewers, and he did mention he has had pressure applied to him to change his views, if only publicly.

I was out doing my daily walk around the complex this morning, when I heard what I thought was the cry of a hawk, and fairly close by. I was getting my camera out of my pocket, making like a bobblehead trying to locate the hawk, when I saw it was a Blue Jay that has learned to mimic a hawk’s cry. Almost 50 years of wandering around in the woods, and birds can still fool me, and we call them birdbrains.

Anyway, that’s about it, walking close to home mostly, it will depend on the weather and price of gas where I go in February. I do want to get back to the Hudsonville Nature Center soon, maybe this weekend.

Would you like to fondle my rod?

Fishing rod that is….I know, it is a bad joke, and I’ve never met a woman who thought it was funny, but I’ve got it out of my system now, so you’re safe from here on in. By the time you finish reading this, you may be questioning my sanity, that’s OK, I question it on a regular basis as well. The premise of this entry is that over my years of fishing, I have come to believe that some fishing rods are in some way better at catching fish than other, almost identical rods are. You may call me superstitious, or even nuts, but some rods catch fish no matter what, while others seldom, if ever catch fish. I don’t know where this “power” comes from, but I am sure it exists.

Like most young kids back then, I started out with a cane pole with no real, flipping a worm and bobber out there as far as I could for panfish. My dad used a Shakespeare model 1810 reel on a fly rod, and when we were old enough, my dad bought my brother and I Shakespeare closed faced spinning reels mounted on long fly rods, I don’t remember the exact length, but it was either 8 or 9 feet long. Little did I know at the time how important that would be later in my fishing life. I don’t want this to turn into a how to fish lesson, or a lesson on fishing gear, but it is important to the rest of the story. The advantage to a spinning reel is that you can use lighter line than you can with a bait casting reel, and fly rods are generally longer and have a slower action than rods built for spinning or bait casting. By slower action, more of the rod bends while you are casting or fighting a fish than does a fast action rod, where only the very tip of the rod bends. Back then, I knew nothing about any of this, I was just happy to be able to cast and reel, whether it meant catching more fish or not.

My brother and I caught a lot of fish with those set-ups, still mostly panfish, but also a few bass and pike over the years as well. I almost caught one of the biggest Michigan bass I have ever seen on that rig, one that got away. I was still in my early teens, and we were fishing from the dock at my uncle’s cottage, in the rain. We were too stupid to come in out of the rain, which was also an important lesson in its own right. I hooked a very large bass, probably close to 3 pounds, while fishing between the lily pads that grew off to the side of my uncle’s dock. That was the first fish I had ever hooked that I couldn’t just reel in, it was pulling line off the reel against the drag, which had never happened to me before. Despite my lack of ability, I managed to play the fish out and bring it up close to the dock, but that presented another problem, it was also the first fish I had caught that I couldn’t just lift out of the water with the pole. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but it was decided that I should try to pull the fish up on land, so I went down the dock to shore, and was pulling the fish out of the water that way. It was almost completely out of the water when it threw the hook, flopped back into the lake, and swam off to fight another day. Of course it is always the big ones that get away, they are harder to hook in the first place, and a lot harder to land than the little ones.

After many years of good, and hard, service, that Shakespeare reel started wearing out, and open-faced spinning reels were becoming all the rage, so I went out and bought a Mitchell 300 open-faced reel that came with two spools for line. One spool was supposed to be a small capacity spool for light line, the other was for supposed to be a larger capacity spool for heavy line. I’ll explain the “supposed” part in a minute here. The thing was, the Mitchell wouldn’t work on the old fly rod I had been using up until that time, so I also purchased the longest, slowest spinning rod I could find at the time, one from St. Croix. At the time, you couldn’t find a long, slow spinning rod that would have been equivalent to the fly rod I had been using, no one made them, or so I thought.

I filled the small spool of the Mitchell up with 6 pound test line, mounted it to the St. Croix rod, and caught fish. Not a lot, not any large fish, but the outfit did do OK. And then I met Spud. He was already an accomplished steelhead and salmon fisherman, fishing that I had been wanting to try as well. He looked over my outfit the first time we went fishing together, and told me that while it would work, I would be better off with an even longer and lighter rod than the St. Croix that I had purchased just a couple of years back. That was late fall, and I could tell from what little fishing we managed to get in that Spud knew what he was talking about, and I read enough about that kind of fishing to know I wasn’t alone in trying to find suitable equipment. It was kind of funny, what my dad had always used, a Shakespeare 1810 on a long fly rod was about the best you could do as far as store-bought gear, and you would see a lot of guys lining the rivers using that set-up. The Shakespeare reels my brother and I had grown up with would have worked, but they couldn’t stand up to the wild runs that steelhead are known for, or the power of big salmon, the 1810’s had their problems with big fish too.

Spud used a custom-made rod, built by a friend of his, Doug, actually, he had a couple of rods Doug had built for him. He let me borrow one of his a few times when we went fishing, and I knew that is what I needed as well. That was the growing trend at the time, many fishermen were opting to either build their own rods, or buy a custom-made one, none of the rod manufacturers made a suitable rod for light line fishing for large fish. So I talked to Doug and worked out a deal for a custom-made rod of my own.

Doug is one of those guys you read about in fishing books that you doubt if they truly exist until you meet one like him yourself. Doug was a true fishing bum, he lived to fish. He lived in a hippy/commune type arrangement with several other people, renting what had been a house for the servants at a large resort on Glen Lake. For spending money, he worked as the mate on a charter boat in season, and built custom fishing rods in the off-season. He drove an old beat to crap van that was falling apart, seldom ran, and was rusting away. Where he found the paint, I don’t know, but he had painted the van in an ugly orange color by hand, you couldn’t miss it, it was called the Valveeta van, and for good reason. It was the color of Valveeta cheese. Most of the time it sat in the drive way with the hood up, not running, but on those rare occasions he was able to drive it, every one knew who it was because it stood out like a sore thumb.

The rod Doug built for me was a thing of beauty, starting with a translucent burgundy un-sanded Lami-glass 9 foot long fly rod blank. I am not sure, but I think he must have cast a spell on it when he was building it, I wouldn’t put it past him. I could see Doug lining up a batch of his latest creations right around midnight, with incense and candles burning, chanting made up words just to freak his roomies out. Doug would do something like that if only as a joke, but I do know this, that rod caught thousands of pounds of fish for me, there was something special about it right from the very beginning.

The beginning was April Foold Day, 1974, the first time I got to try out “Bigstick”. Spud and I fished for steelies in Sand Creek that morning, and the “Bigstick” proved it could catch fish that first morning.

Me, with my first steelhead, many years ago

That was the first of countless fish that I caught on the “Bigstick”, which also became known as “Killer” or “Ole Faithful”, how many fish, I have no idea. I used it for everything, from small panfish to salmon and steelhead, and seldom did I fail to catch at least something. Even if I didn’t manage to catch something, I often came away with at least a good story to tell. The Bigstick was a couple of years old by the time of this story, spring steelhead season was over, the middle of May. I had just refilled the spool of the Mitchell reel, only by then, for playing the big fish I was catching, I would fill the large spool made for heavy line with 6 pound test. I had seen Spud get stripped, that is, a large salmon made a very long run that Spud couldn’t keep up with, and the fish took every bit of line he had on his reel, and of course, got away. So instead of filling the small spool made to hold a little over 100 yards of light line, I was using the large spool for light line, and filling it with nearly 600 yards of line, no fish was going to strip me! That should also tell you something about how often I fished back then, it was the middle of May, when most fishermen would just be getting their gear ready for a new year of fishing, and I was replacing the line on my reel already, as it was getting worn out. And yes, line does get worn out, it can only take being stretched so much, along with the cycles of being wet, then drying.

Anyway, it was hot that day, with temperatures getting up in the mid-eighties, way warmer than the average May day. If fact, Spud and I tried to get our girlfriends to go with us, as a picnic rather than fish, but they were both busy that day. We borrowed my dad’s boat, and went trolling off Grand Haven, but we didn’t have very high hopes given the weather, and our late start from trying to talk the girls into going along. We had been reading about people having luck trolling the “scum line” for steelhead, so we thought we would try that. Lake Michigan is large enough that pockets of water with different temperatures form, and where those pockets meet, it forms the “scum line”. We found the scum line in eighty feet of water. We set-up our rods to high line, that is, we didn’t use downriggers or weights, we let out 100 yards or so of line, and let our flatfish work 10 feet or so below the surface. I have to tell you, I have never found a better lure to troll with than a pearl colored flatfish overall. Some lures get hot for a while, or certain times of the season, but you can’t go wrong trying a pearl flatfish. You can cast them, but they always get the hooks tangled up in the line, and they are more trouble than it is worth, even though they do catch fish that way.

We had been trolling for a while when I noticed that the Bigstick was acting funny, and since I was driving the boat, told Spud about it. By then, the rod tip was bent over almost all the way down to the water, and he grabbed the rod out of the holder and hauled back to set the hook. Then he hauled back again, which was strange, he yelled up to me that he thought we had gotten snagged on something, which made no sense, since we were only fish 10 feet or so down in 80 feet of water. I bumped the boat into neutral as we were having that discussion, and Spud was insisting we had gotten hooked on a log or something, when the Bigstick made one huge bounce, and the reel started screaming as the fish finally took off.

I yelled back to Spud, “Yup, it’s a log alright”.

He yelled back, “Look at your watch, this is one big fish!” so I checked the time as he held on as the fish ran, and ran, and ran some more.

Then, he asked me how much line I had put on the reel, as it was starting to get low, and he thought it would be a good idea if I started following it in the boat so that we didn’t lose the fish. So I put the boat in reverse, and started after the fish, that was still running, but at least we weren’t losing as much line as fast. The fish finally slowed down, and we caught up with it for a minute or so, only to have it take off at a 90 degree angle to the direction it had been running before. When the line started getting low on the reel a second time, I again followed it until it finally stopped a second time. By now he had been playing the fish on for 20 minutes from the first time I looked at my watch, and we were nearly a mile from where we had hooked the fish. For the next hour, the fish pulled the boat slowly and steadily almost another mile, and by then, Spud’s arms were giving out, and he told me to take over. I said “You know this won’t count as a record then if the fish turns out to be that big?”, and his reply was, “We’ll lie. My arms ache too much to pull on this thing anymore”. Every once in a while we would be able to feel the fish shaking its head, trying to dislodge the hook, and it was getting tired as well. We would be able to pull the fish up off the bottom a few feet, then it would zip back down and sulk some more, but the times we were able to move it were getting closer together, so we thought we were going to land it, or at least get a look at it.

That was the worst part, we had no idea what we had hooked, it was definitely a fish, but what kind? There are some huge, over a hundred pound sturgeon in Lake Michigan, but they are bottom feeders, not likely to be hitting a flatfish highlined in 80 feet of water. By then, we just wanted a look at it, to see what it was, but that was not to be. I had handed the Bigstick back to Spud, and a few minutes later, he was able to lift the fish up off from the bottom again, but that time, the fish didn’t just zip back to the bottom, it took off on what we thought would be its last run. It was headed full steam towards Milwaukee, and suddenly, the line went limp. The hook had pulled loose, that often happens when you play a fish for a long time, the pulling on the hook opens up a slot in the fish’s jaw, and the hook just falls out. If only we would have gotten a look at that fish.

That was one of the few fish that escaped the Bigstick. From that first day I used it and landed the very first steelhead I ever hooked, it was known for bringing in fish. Spud gave me a hard time that first day, telling me no one hooks and lands a steelie their first time out, but the Bigstick and I did. He would often hook more fish than I did, but when we looked at the number of fish landed, we were pretty close to being even. When we would talk about that, I would chalk it up to “Killer”, what I was calling the Bigstick back then. It got to the point where it was the only rod I used, for everything. From fishing for panfish, to surf casting or fishing from the piers in Lake Michigan, to trolling, to fishing cedar swamps for brook trout. Its length was a bit of a problem fishing in tight spots in those cedar swamps, you were “supposed” to use a short ultra-light rod, around 5 feet long. I made up for that by staying farther from the banks, and spooking fewer fish in the process, or by sticking the Bigstick through small openings in the trees to reach places a short rod couldn’t.

I guess the St. Croix rod I had must have had its feelings hurt, since I never used it any more, it committed suicide. I had made a built-in rod box in my truck, and one night on my way home from the Traverse City area, the tip section of the St. Croix rod managed to escape the rod holders in the box, open the box, then open the tailgate of the truck, and jump out somewhere along M 37.

When I took up fly fishing, I started with a rod I borrowed from my dad, but it wasn’t quite right for the kinds of fishing a was into. It was too light for salmon and steelhead, and too heavy for trout. I figured that if Doug and others could build rods, I could too, so I built two, one was a 7 foot 6 inch rod made for a 5 weight fly line for trout, the other was a 9 footer for a 9 weight line, almost identical to the Bigstick. Both of them worked well, and even though the 9 footer was almost an exact duplicate of the Bigstick, I never had as much success with it as I had with the Bigstick.

That’s when I started to think there was something extra special, almost supernatural about the Bigstick. Spud used rods Doug built for him, yet the Bigstick managed to out fish Doug’s other creations. The rod I made was almost identical to the Bigstick, but the Bigstick out fished it, and by a wide margin.

One thing I do every year in January is to go through all my outdoor gear, clean and inspect it, and do any maintenance needed. It was around 1980 that I was doing this, and I was checking out the Bigstick to see if the varnish needed to be touched up any place, and I saw that there were small stress cracks starting to form in the fiberglass from the hundreds of fish it had fought. And, the line guides had deep grooves worn into them from miles of fishing line being pulled in and out over them. I decided that it was time to retire the Bigstick, I sure didn’t want it to break, that would have been very sad to me, like losing a friend.

Two things had happened in the tackle industry since I had asked Doug to build the Bigstick, one was that graphite rods had been perfected, and the other was that the rod makers had seen that there was a market for long rods made to use light line, so I was able to buy a replacement for the Bigstick right off the shelf. In fact, I bought two, the exact same rods, but I marked them once I had them home so I could tell them apart. Both of those rods have served me well over the years, both catch fish, but the one does have a slight edge in the number of fish caught compared to its twin.

Even after I made the switch from trout to bass fishing, I would still always bring the Bigstick along with me. The only times I used it were on the really tough days, when after hours of no fish, I would get it out of the rod box, ask it to do its stuff one more time, and start catching fish, at least a few so I never went home after being shut out. It was those times I would use it and catch fish when none of my other rods could that earned the Bigstick the alternate name of Ole Faithful. You may think that I am making this up, I’m not, the Bigstick catches fish when all other rods have failed me. You may think I am trying to send some more business Doug’s way, but I haven’t seen or heard from Doug in decades, besides, I learned the Bigstick isn’t the only rod with that power.

When I made the switch back to fly fishing for trout, I went back to using the rod that I had built myself many years before, but it was an old fiberglass rod, and the graphite rods I had used since I built it had spoiled me. During the time Larri and I were together, she wanted to take up fly fishing, something she always wanted to try. So I was putting together an order to Orvis to purchase the things she needed. As we were discussing the order, I was telling her how much I had always wanted one of the Orvis “Superfine” rods, the “Far and Fine” model. It is an 8 foot 6 inch long rod for a 5 weight fly line, I had been drooling over them since I first tried one behind Dick Pobst’s Orvis shop in Ada 30 years before. She said “You’ve told me that the Orvis tackle you bought then is worth more today than you paid for it, and you have the money, so quit being a tightwad and buy one!”. That was one time she was right. I love that rod, and it catches fish! I was worried for a couple of outings, but then, we weren’t really fishing as much as I was teaching her how to cast. The first time we went trout fishing on the Rogue, I was catching fish with the new rod.

Just like the Bigstick, it catches fish when others fail. A couple of years ago, I pulled up to one of my favorite spots on the Rogue to fish, but there was some one there already. He was just getting ready to fish, and not wanting to crowd him, I fooled around checking out some other spots to fish to give him a chance to work his way downstream a ways before I started fishing the same water as he was going to fish. The conditions weren’t the best, we had a heavy rain a few days before, and the river was still high and a little muddy. I hadn’t found any good places to fish upstream, and I had given the other fisherman plenty of time, so I went to where I had intended to start, and began fishing. I had only made a couple casts before landing a small brown, and about that time, the other fisherman was coming back towards me already. He was complaining about the water, and told me he had fished the best water with out even a hit, so he was going to go down below the Rockford dam and fish there. I didn’t tell him I had just landed a fish from the water he couldn’t get a hit in, why rub it in, and I hadn’t even gotten to the good water yet.

When I did get to the good water, I caught even more fish. I won’t say I had a spectacular day, just a good one, landing a half a dozen or so nice rainbows, and a couple of small browns as well, from water the other guy couldn’t get a hit in. That got me to thinking again, maybe the new rod had something special just like the Bigstick, so I thought I would test that idea. Usually when Larri and I went fishing together, I caught way more fish than she did, we had always chalked that up to her being a rookie, but I wondered, could it be the rod? So on our next outing together, I told her to use my rod, and that I would use hers, under the guise of helping her with her casting. It did do that, she was able to cast mine better than her own, but not only that, for the first time ever, she caught more fish than I did.

It was the next spring, when she and I attended the Trout Unlimited banquet together, and one of the rods being raffled off was a smaller version of the one I had just bought a couple of years before. I was going down the line of rods that they were going to raffle off that night trying them out to see if I would make a try for any of them, and one of them just came alive in my hand. It was if the rod and my arm became one, along with a jolt of electricity. I called Larri over and told her she had to try it, and as she picked it up, she said “ooo, this is light”, and after giving it a twitch or two, she added, “and it’s like it’s alive!”.

I looked down at the card with it and saw that it was an Orvis “Superfine” 7 foot 6 inch rod for a 3 weight line, one of their “Trout Bum” models. I wanted that rod bad, I could feel it when I picked it up. I put all my raffle tickets in on that one rod, but lost out to a woman Larri and I had been talking to earlier. I offered to buy it from her, but she wouldn’t sell. I wanted one so bad, I ordered one up that very week. The one I got is a great rod, but it doesn’t have the same feel as the one at the banquet, and doesn’t catch fish as well as its bigger brother. It casts well, fishes well, even attracts a lot of hits, but I miss a lot more of the hits with the 3 weight rod than I do with its big brother, that may be me.

The next year at the TU banquet, we ran into that same woman again, and I asked her if she would be willing to sell the rod then, and her reply was “Are you kidding me? That rod has improved my fishing so much that I outfish my hubby most of the time now. I love that rod!”, no kidding, I love it too.

That year I did win an R. L. Winston 9 foot rod for a 5 weight line, by all accounts, one of the best fly rods ever made. Before I used it, I had a hard time imagining that any rod would be superior to the two Orvis rods I have, but I was wrong. The Winston rod casts effortlessly, and the accuracy of my casts are unbelievable with the Winston. It will punch out casts into a strong wind easier than I can cast either of the Orvis rods in a dead calm, but it doesn’t catch fish as well as either of them do, especially not the Far and Fine. That I don’t quite understand, with the Winston, I can place the fly exactly where I want it, not just with in a couple of inches like the Orvis. Mending line, which I won’t explain here, but is a big part of fly fishing, probably as or more important than the cast, is a dream with the Winston, much easier and more precise than with either on my Orvis rods.

Building a fishing rod is actually quite an intricate process, from building the blank to attaching the hardware to get the balance and action just right. You could argue that some rods seem to work better simply because some rods are built closer to being perfect than others. The blank came out perfect, the reel seat, handle, and line guides were set perfectly to turn out one in a thousand, where the rest of them were put together with some part of the process off just a little, but enough to make a difference. But, that doesn’t explain it all. I have never used any rod that fished as well as the Winston rod I won from Trout Unlimited, but it doesn’t catch as many fish as the first Orvis rod.

There is something to be said for having confidence about the outcome when you are fishing. Maybe you fish a little better, or are more focused when you use a rod you have faith in, I don’t know about that explaining the differences between rods though. I don’t know what the answer is, I just know that if I were to be thrown into a survival situation and could take just one fishing rod with me to help me survive, it would be the Orvis Far and Fine. I know that I wouldn’t starve if I had that rod with me. I would say the Bigstick, but as old as it is, with all the stress cracks it has developed over the years, I am just afraid it would hook some monstor fish and end up breaking on me. In fact, I am sure it would hook some monster fish, it always does, but it deserves to be retired after all the fish it has landed over the years. I just hope that it passes its power on to my other rods.

A long strange trip, the journey continues

Let’s see, where did I leave off? My girlfriend had just left me, my best friend and fishing buddy had moved out of the area, and I was fed up with the lengths some people would go to in order to take home fish. If you think I am exaggerating about what people will do for a fish or two, ponder how many people fall through the ice every year at both ends of the ice fishing season, some people will risk their live’s for a few measly fish.

Actually, I lost track of several friends during that period of time, some just drifted out of my life, like my best buddy in high school. Dave had joined the Marines after we graduated, and we started losing touch while he was in, but after he finished his stint in the corp, he moved back to his original hometown near Chicago to take advantage of his GI Bill benefits to attend college. I cut off contact with some people I had considered to be friends for reasons I won’t go into here, other than to say that they did things I don’t think any one should do, ever.

But, there was even more. I had only been fly fishing for a few years, and I knew that fly fishermen tended to be an arrogant bunch, but I didn’t fully understand why, I am not sure I totally understand it now, but I do have a better idea of why they are the way they are. Spud and I used to joke about their arrogance, even though we were just as arrogant in our own way. I’ll explain that in a later post. There were big changes taking place in the sport of fly fishing as well, or maybe because I was fairly new to the sport I was just becoming aware of the changes. When I started, I picked up a copy of the book “Trout” by Ray Bergman, which I think is still the best book for a beginner to read if they want to fish for trout. I say that, even though the book is getting close to 100 years old now, and it isn’t a fly fishing only book, he covers every lawful method of catching trout. After reading that book, I was able to go out and catch fish, and have a good time doing so.

Always wanting to be better at everything I do, I read more books, and subscribed to several magazines as well. There was a revolution of sorts going on in the world of fly fishing, it was becoming more scientific, which I thought was a good thing at first. Being new to the sport, I knew the common names for most of the mayflies, and when they hatched. For example, one of the first hatches in the spring are the Hendricksons, followed by the Brown Drakes, and so on. But, the common names that had been in place for hundreds of years suddenly weren’t good enough any more, the new books and articles coming out called them by their “proper” latin scientific names, like Ephemerella subvaria followed by the Ephemera simulans. I was reading books that detailed how trout see, including charts on their field of vision, depth perception, and the way water reflects and refracts light so that trout can see above the water’s surface. It was more like a college biology course than fishing, and what I needed at the time was simple fun to pull me out of the funk that I was in due to the things happening in my personal life, not trying to cram for the next exam. The new scientific approach to fly fishing fueled the already existing arrogance common to way too many fly fishermen, and I spent so much time on the river trying recall my last “lesson” that I didn’t fish the same way anymore, and I didn’t catch as many fish.

I loved trout, and I loved fly fishing. For one thing, fly fishing made it easy to practice catch and release. 99.9% of the trout you catch on a fly are hooked in the lip, all it takes is a quick flip of the hook, and the trout is free to fight another day. Fishing with spinners or other artificial lures was OK, but the survival rates for trout hooked with them is much less, although still better than when bait fishing, where nearly all the trout you catch are hooked deep, and will likely die if try to release them. Since I had already decided that I had killed enough fish in my life, catch and release was, and still is, very important to me.  In short, it just wasn’t fun anymore. I was devoting more time to studying fish than catching them.

I didn’t fish much at all for a couple of years, I needed a break. It was talking to my youngest brother that got me back into fishing big time, only this time it was for bass. He is several years younger than I am, so we didn’t fish together a lot when he was a kid. By then, he was all grown up, and tired of going along with my dad in search of the big ones, and had begun fishing with his buddies. I had fallen in love with trout, and forgotten all about bass. Of course most trout fishermen look down their noses at bass and bass fishermen anyway, part of that arrogance I am talking about.

I started going with my brother Jim, and his buddy Donnie, and had a great time, fishing was fun again. No need to learn latin, no fish eye charts, no snobs, no snaggers, just fun. I went out and bought myself one of those big shiny bass boats with all the goodies, including the over-sized engine. I didn’t really need it, but it made fishing a lot more comfortable than sitting in a rowboat. Besides, I needed lots of room for all the tackle I bought. Trout fishing is a world apart from bass fishing. For trout fishing I used two rods, “Bigstick”, a custom-built spinning rod Doug made for me, and a fly rod for fly fishing. I could carry all the tackle I needed to bait fish, flyfish, and the few spinners and other lures for trout fishing in just a fishing vest, and be ready for anything. Bass fishing however, requires many different rod and reel combos, and boxes and boxes of tackle, or at least it seems like it.

I had more rods and reels than I can remember, and they all served a purpose. One minute I would be throwing a unweighted rubber crawler that weighed next to nothing, and the next minute, a 3/4 ounce monstrosity that was as large as many of the trout I had been used to catching. That was one of my biggest adjustments when I switched to bass fishing, how big the lures were that you used. When it came to trout, even salmon and steelhead, I used light tackle and small spinners mostly, like size 0 and 2 Mepps. The flies are tiny, seldom more than 1/2 an inch long, unless you are fishing with streamers, even then, 2 inches is big. But for bass, it seems like the bigger the better, on most days. There are times when smaller works better, and I would often fish for bass with what were to be panfish lures, but for the most part, lures 4 to 8 inches long worked best.

Then there is color, sure, the late Dr. Carl Richards from Rockford, Michigan wrote the book “Selective Trout“, along with Doug Swisher, and trout can be selective in the way they feed, but bass seem to be more color sensitive, at least to me. I carried rubber worms in just about every color there is, and thought it was a joke at first. But the more I fished for bass, the more I learned there was a reason they came in all those colors. There was a day on Gun Lake when I had been shut out, not a single fish. I was willing to try anything, and tried a green crawler just for the heck of it, and I started catching fish. After that, I found green was a good color to use on Gun Lake, even though it didn’t seem to work that well anywhere else I fished. Some colors seem to work almost everywhere, like white and yellow, but they never worked well for me on Gun Lake. I don’t know why that is, it doesn’t seem like the forage fish would be that different from one lake to the next, and Gun Lake has about the same clarity of water as my favorite bass lake, which will go un-named, and green never worked in that lake. Color doesn’t apply just to rubber crawlers, but to everything for bass fishing. Often switching to a different color of the same lure drew strikes that hadn’t happened before.

Bass may not be as big as a salmon, and nothing compares to a steelhead, but bass fishing can be very, very exciting. I learned that when I learned to “walk the dog” with a Zara Spook. Any kind of topwater fishing where you can see the fish hit is exciting to me, but there is something about walking the dog with a spook that sends bass into a frenzy if they’re of a mind to feed at all. This is where a bass boat helps as well, because to walk the dog well, you should be standing with the rod pointed down at the water. There are plenty of places on the web that describe the exact way to walk the dog, I’ll just say that it seems to be like a dinner bell to hungry bass. It isn’t unusual to see a wake from a fish forming 20 yards away from a spook, as the fish gains speed to attack it, that is, if a fish from below doesn’t rocket straight up from below and hit it first. Or try to anyway, walking the dog imparts such an erratic movement to a spook that bass have a hard time hitting it, maybe that’s what drives them into such a frenzy. You’ll often have a fish come straight up out of the water where the spook had just been, then the fish will turn and hit the spook on the way down, or not. And it isn’t unusual to have 2 or 3 bass fighting for a spook, I have landed two bass at a time more than a few times when fishing a spook. Either they both hit about the same time, or one takes the spook, and another one tries to take it away from the first fish. The hardest thing about walking the dog is not setting the hook until you actually feel the fish. With all the commotion going on, between the action of the spook and fish trying to hit it, it is easy to set the hook too soon. If a fish misses, or you miss the fish, you let the spook rest a few seconds, if no hit, you start walking the dog again, if you still don’t get a hit, grab another rod rigged up with something like a unweighted crawler, and throw it to the spot where the fish missed the spook, and 90% of the time you’ll hook a fish.

That’s why it paid to have more than one rod rigged up and ready to go at all times. That’s the way with bass fishing, it often takes a combination of approaches to catch them. Bass fishing is almost like hunting, bass school up a lot more that trout do in a river, so to catch bass, you need to keep moving if you’re not catching fish, using a lure that lets you cover a lot of water in a hurry. Then when you do catch one, or at least get a strike, you switch over to something slower to catch as many fish in the school as you can.

There were many things I liked about bass fishing, one was that the weather was more pleasant. It is summer fishing here in Michigan. Trout fishing is OK as far as the weather, but salmon fishing in the fall can be chilly, steelhead fishing in the winter and early spring is usually darn right cold! Spud and I always took a thermos of hot coffee along while we were steelheading, if just to thaw our frozen fingers out holding the cup while we drank the coffee. And we fished in some pretty miserable weather. There was one time on the Betsie when we spent an entire day fishing in freezing rain. We would have to stop fishing on a regular basis to break the ice off from our rods, and stick the line guides in our mouth’s to get rid of the ice build up that prevented the line from playing out through the guides. Then there was the day I’ll never forget, going in over my waders while fishing the Platte River in January. Doug had given us a call to tell us that their were steelhead in the river, so of course Spud and I went up there Friday night after work. We fished the area near the M 22 bridge on Saturday morning, as that’s where Doug had seen the fish. The fish often held under the bridge in the deep water there, and the bridge itself blocked the sunlight, making it even more inviting to the fish. The water is too deep under the bridge to wade, except that there is a ledge on the bridge abutments that you can walk on to stay dry. But, your back is right up against the abutment, and it is hard or impossible to cast. The old wooden pilings for the old bridge are still there in the water, just over a step away from the abutment. So we would wade out to the abutment, work our way under the bridge, then sort of jump out to one of the old pilings and stand on it to fish, if one can be said to jump while wearing waders. So it was that day in January, it was cold, like in the teens, and there were chunks of ice floating down the river that made it that much harder to fish. I worked my way along the ledge of the abutment, and as I made my leap to the piling, a chunk of that ice hit me just hard enough so I missed landing on the piling, and went into water 6 inches deeper than the top of my waders. The water flowing into my waders didn’t even have time to make it all the way to my feet before I had turned around and started running the best that I could towards the bank. I was moving! Leaving a wake behind me as I made for shore. Of course Doug and Spud thought the whole episode to be hilarious, and Spud nearly went in from laughing so hard. By that time there was a good deal of water in my waders, and I spent the next hour sitting in the truck with the heater on high the entire time trying to get warmed back up.

Compared to that, bass fishing is luxurious. My boat had a built-in cooler, and I’d throw in a bag of ice, some soft drinks, and sandwiches for lunch and be set to go for the day. If it started to rain, I had a rain jacket stored under the seat, no big deal, unless there was lightning. If an unexpected thunderstorm rolled in, I could blast across the lake and be in a sheltered place in no time. That probably explains why it is a lot easier to find friends to go bass fishing with than it is to find some one hardcore enough to spend a day in the river freezing while fishing for steelhead. I’d hook my boat to the truck and take it to work with me, and leave right from work to spend the evening fishing. There were a lot of guys I worked with that would vie to go along with me. Greg, Kevin, Jeff, and Duane went with me the most, they were all pretty good fishermen, and it was Greg who showed me how to fish the bayous of the Grand River well. But the people who went along with me the most were my wife, Shirl, and stepson, David.

By then, several years had passed since the break up with my last girlfriend, and I had met Shirl at work. I didn’t even know she liked to fish until we had dated for a while. She was a good fisherman, very good in fact. She loved it, even if the fish weren’t biting. At such times, she would nap on the back of the boat, just enjoying the peace and quiet. If she heard me catching fish, then she’d start fishing again too. Speaking of peace and quiet, she was good at interrupting it as well. It was an early spring morning, a Sunday, and we went to Gun Lake to fish. We were working the shallow water in one of the channels that had been dredged out so more people had a place to dock their boats on the water. We were using the lightest tackle I had, casting tiny spinner baits alongside the docks, when a pike, close to 36 inches long hit her spinner bait. She set the hook, and that pike went berserk! I had never seen a pike fight like that before, it was all over the place. Shirl was good, but she had never hooked a fish anywhere near as big as that one, so she was screaming for help. I don’t know if the people who lived in the cottages thought I was trying to kill her or what, but several of them came out to see what all the fuss was about. They saw the fish she had on, and soon there were half a dozen or so people on the bank shouting instructions to Shirl on how to play the fish. By then, I was laughing till I was in tears, the fish was still going nuts, with Shirl still yelling for help, and the audience on the bank trying to help her. It is a shame she didn’t land that fish, it was no fault of hers, pike have lots of razor-sharp teeth, and that one eventually bit through the line as they often do, and she lost it. I know, I should have been using wire leaders, but we weren’t fishing for pike, until then. I did tie on wire leaders after that, but we never even saw another pike.

Her son David liked to go fishing as well, sometimes the three of us went together, but that made for a crowded boat, so it was usually one or another. Once in a great while one of the girls would come along, but they weren’t into fishing at all. Mary, maybe a little bit, but not Amy, the beauty queen. And I don’t say that to put her down, Amy is a beauty, even more beautiful than her mother, and is a girly girl through and through.

David became a very good fishermen as well, we had many great days on the water together, and caught lots of fish. Once in a while if the weather was just right, we would take my bass boat out on Lake Michigan and troll for some big fish. It may sound shallow, even silly to some, but I think the day that I stopped thinking of David as a kid and starting thinking of him as a young man was the day he landed a 10 pound steelhead with no help from me, other than running the net. It wasn’t the species or the size of the fish that mattered, it was the fact that he did something difficult to do by himself, he didn’t need me any more, which is sad in a way. On the other hand, I felt very proud of him that day, it was the turning point in our live’s were he was growing up to be a fine young man, who didn’t need me, but wanted to hang out with me anyway. I don’t think women understand that at a time in a young man’s life, he needs to strike out on his own, to find his own way in the world. It was from that point on that I started giving David the room he needed to become his own man. Like any young man, he made some wrong turns, and we had some rough times, but I would like to think that all those days fishing together gave him the solid foundation for life that every man needs. I know I couldn’t be more proud of him if he were my own flesh and blood.

Looking back, those were without a doubt some of the happiest times in my life. My years together with Shirl and the kids I wouldn’t trade for anything, even knowing as I do now, that it was all about to come apart in the worst of ways. For that story, you’ll have to tune in to part 3, coming soon!

One selfish jerk is all it takes

I don’t know how many people are aware of it, but the United States Forest Service is being forced by the Sixth Court of Appeals to re-examine the plan in place for hunting and snowmobiling in some sections of the Huron-Manistee National Forest. If you would like to read an article from the Grand Rapids Press about this story, here’s the link.

If you don’t read the article, here’s my summary. A lawyer from Novi, Michigan filed suit in Federal Court because he was out walking with his daughters, and they were scared by the gunfire of some hunters while in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. With in the 987,000 acres that make up the Huron-Manistee National Forests, there are several smaller areas known as semi-primitive non-motorized areas where some types of outdoor activities, such as riding trail bikes, are banned. These smaller semi-primitive non-motorized areas are the point of contention in the lawsuit filed by Kurt Meister, the lawyer from Novi. The Forest Service has always allowed hunting and snowmobiling in these smaller areas, on the grounds that they were more or less grandfathered in, since they had been allowed before the smaller semi-primitive non-motorized areas were created.

“The district court judges found we didn’t do a sufficient analysis of what Mr. Meister requested in the 2006 forest (plan) revision,” Arbogast said. “He asked for more semi-primitive non-motorized areas and to consider a ban on gun hunting because of the noise and snowmobiles. We did increase the acreage, but it was not as much as he wanted and didn’t ban hunting or snowmobiles.”

Arbogast said forest officials opted to leave snowmobiles alone because the trails were there before the plan was developed. Hunting, he explained, had never been challenged before. Forest officials have historically deferred to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources which has the authority to manage wildlife in the state.

These stories always tick me off. You have one selfish jerk that wants to impose his way on every one else and uses the court to do so. The problem is that he doesn’t want to share the outdoors with others, and is teaching his daughters to be just as selfish. I prefer quiet in the woods, that’s why this blog is named “Quiet Solo Pursuits”. But it hasn’t always been that way. I used to ride dirt bikes and would go 4 wheeling off-road. I used to have one of those shiny bass boats with the way oversized motors and could blast across a lake at 70+ MPH. That’s where the “Solo” comes in, I do things my way, and every one else is free to do their own thing.

Michigan is a big state, there are lots of places he could introduce his daughters to nature with out the sounds of gunfire or snowmobiles, it is just that he choses not to go to those places. I am in the woods almost every weekend, either walking or kayaking, and other than the two weeks of gun deer season, I seldom hear gunfire. I have no problem finding places to hike or kayak during gun season, most state parks are off-limits to hunting, as are many nature preserves owned by land conservancies.

At a time when the state is losing hunters and the money from license sales, putting more land off-limits to hunters is not the answer. In case you don’t know, nearly all the money for State and Federal wildlife management, even non-game species, comes from two sources, hunting and fishing license fees, and an 11% Federal Excise Tax on hunting and fishing gear. Without that money, almost all wildlife programs would come to an end. Besides, even if the Feds put more land off-limits to hunting, guys like Mr. Meister would probably go somewhere right on the edge of the hunting ban, then complain that he is still hearing gunfire on the other side of the boundary, and file another suit to expand the no hunting areas.

The Huron-Manistee National Forest is not one contiguous piece of land. There are families that purchased property decades ago with in the over all boundaries of the forest, specifically for hunting purposes. Now some of them will no longer be able to hunt the property their families have hunted for generations. It makes no sense for some one to have to drive far from their home to find new places to hunt, when their father, grandfather, or maybe even great-grandfather, bought the home with hunting in mind.

I am no fan of snowmobiles, I see no reason to own one, and if I had my way, they would have all been banned everywhere a long time ago. But, I am not going to tell those people who enjoy the sport that they are not allowed to ride them while I am out on a nature walk. The snowmobilers pay for those trails, they have to register their machines with the state, just like a car. The money from the registration fees pay to build the snowmobile trails, which are open to every one, whether they snowmobile or not. Maybe the snowmobilers should file suit to prevent people like myself who often walk their trails in the summer from doing so. Then there is the question of the money already spent to build the trails, are the Feds and the State going to reimburse the snowmobilers for paying for trails they are no longer allowed to use? There are many businesses that stay open in the winter just to cater to the snowmobilers, some of which will be forced to close if that revenue is lost. As much as I dislike snowmobiles, I don’t want to put an end to other’s enjoyment, close down more businesses, or put more people out of work. I find many places to go in the winter where the only time I see snowmobiles is on the road to and from those places, and I never hear one at all. Mr. Meister could do the same if he chose to, since he doesn’t, why should others suffer?

And that brings up something that really irks me, to no end. Snowmobilers have paid their own way, and hunters and fishermen have paid far more than their fair share to protect wilderness areas in this country. Now there is a new generation of outdoor “enthusiast” who want to come along and say ” I don’t like your outdoor activities, I am going to have them banned! I don’t like what you do, therefore you shouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore.” But they don’t want their equipment taxed, like cross-country skis, backpacks, and such. This new generation is all for using lands and facilities paid for by some one else, but don’t want to pay a cent themselves.

I say keep the rules just as they are, and send Mr. Meister a list of alternative places he could go where he wouldn’t hear gunfire or snowmobiles. I would think that he already knows about such places, but some people seem to like to be offended, just so they can complain about being offended, and maybe even file a law suit or two to put an end to what offends them.

New Years Day weekend

I am taking a break from my fly fishing story for a little while. I am not entirely happy with the first installment, and I have 3 drafts of the second installment started, and don’t like the way any of them are going, but I promise, I will get it done soon.

In the meantime, I have to tell you about the New Year’s Day weekend I had. I was hoping to go up north for the weekend, but between gas being $3.20 a gallon, and with my limited funds to stay at a motel, I thought it best to stick closer to home for the weekend. And, when you are a truck driver, as I am, and you drive 350 miles a day for work, driving isn’t how I like to spend my weekends.  Besides, they have had a lot more snow up north, and while I love my hiking boots, they are only 4 inches high and I hate getting snow in my boots. I need to find another pair, but taller. I do have snowshoes, but the snow has to be deeper than a foot to make it worth the effort of wearing them.

Finding good gear is the hardest part of staying comfy outdoors in all kinds of weather. I used to have a pair of Red Ball all rubber boots that came up to mid-calf, and I wore them for close to 30 years before they finally fell apart. I wonder how many miles I put on those boots, it would have to be in the thousands. They were completely waterproof and the rubber soles made for quiet walking in the woods. I wore them all the time for hunting of every type, and for cold weather fishing when I wasn’t wearing waders, like when fishing off the piers for salmon and steelhead. I also wore them every day in the fall, winter and early spring while I was running my hunting dog, or just out hiking or snowshoeing. When they finally came apart, I tried to find another pair just like them, but the closest thing I could find weren’t nearly as comfortable, and only lasted a couple of years before they fell apart. They don’t make things the way they used to, and the Red Ball name means nothing anymore. I found out afterwards that the original Red Ball company had gone out of business, and some other company bought the name.

I have purchased, or been given, many pairs of leather boots over the years, and I haven’t found a pair that I really like. I still have a couple of pairs of expensive leather boots in my closet that I never wear. They are heavy, and no matter what I try to make them waterproof, my feet always end up wet in leather boots. A couple of years ago I found a pair of New Balance synthetic leather boots that I love. They are light, the pair together weigh less than any one of the leather boots I have, they are warm, and they are waterproof. I can walk down the Lake Michigan beach in the water, and my feet stay dry, unless I step in water too deep. They didn’t require any breaking in, and they don’t need to be treated all the time in order for them to remain waterproof, I love them!

As for snowshoes, those little things they sell now-days with the aluminum frames are a joke. I see people using them, but they aren’t really snowshoes. They don’t really keep any one using them on top of the snow, and when I see people struggling in deep snow while wearing them, I am glad I have the ones I do. I have an old pair I bought back in the early 70’s with wooden frames in the Michigan pattern. They aren’t as long as the Alaskan Pattern snowshoes, but they are longer than the bearpaw snowshoes. They work really well in deep snow, but they are a lot of work in just a few inches of snow.

Anyway, since I decided to stay close to home this weekend, I considered going kayaking on Friday. It was warm, in the 50’s, but as I was drinking my coffee on Friday morning, a line of thunderstorms moved through the area. I am hard-core, but I won’t paddle in thunderstorms, that’s asking to be killed. As it was, when ever I thought about heading out, another line of heavy rain would move through the area again. There wasn’t any more thunder and lightning, but I wasn’t taking any chances, and while I don’t mind a little rain, when it did rain, it poured. That’s good, we needed the rain around here, and I needed a day of doing nothing anyway.

Saturday morning when I got up the wind was already howling out of the west, pushing cold air into the area. Now wind I don’t mind, unless I am going fly fishing, so I headed off to Muskegon State Park for a day of hiking. As I wrote in an earlier post, about my weekend exploration trip over the Thanksgiving weekend, the trails they have there are some of the best I have ever hiked on, and I promised then to go back and explore more of the trials. So I checked out the map again, and planned for the day as I was drinking my coffee that morning. Since I am not completely familiar with the area, and the trails I took the first time were really good, and the map not quite 100% correct, I planned on doing the same trails again this time, but turning off on another loop near where I ended the first time.

It was a typical winter’s day here in Michigan, mostly cloudy, a few breaks in the clouds now and then, and intermittent snow showers, whether there were clouds or not. I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but here in Michigan, we can get snow from clear blue skies. The wind crossing the relatively warm water of Lake Michigan picks up enough moisture to create snowflakes that freeze out of the air to fall on us. I was glad I had chosen the trails I did, the dunes were blocking the worst of the wind. The parking lot I started from is about half a mile from Lake Michigan, but as I was starting out, I could hear the roar of the waves breaking on the beach off in the distance.

 I started up the Lost Lake trail, and I’ll tell you, there is nothing so desolate to me as a freshly frozen lake or pond.

Lost Lake

That reminds me, now that the holidays are over, I have to come up with a better way for all of you to view my pictures. WordPress is very generous with the amount of free space they provide, but if I were to upload the full-sized, high quality versions of my pictures, it wouldn’t be long before I had filled my quota of free space, and I plan on this blog being up and running for the rest of my life. The other thing is that I had problems at one of the social networking sites with some one “stealing” my pictures. I won’t go into detail other than to say some one tipped me off that they were seeing my pictures for sale on some one else’s website. Sure enough, some one had been copying my pictures to their website and trying to sell them as their own, so I am a lot more careful with my pictures these days, maybe too careful, but I am sure you can understand.

 Back to the hike, the trails were as pretty as I remembered from the first time, maybe pretty isn’t the right word, I am not sure what the right word is. Enjoyable works, but they are more than that, scenic works in places along the trails, but it isn’t as if there are grand vistas at every turn. If you are into all things nature as I am, then there is always something along the trails to capture your attention, even if it is a tree growing in an odd way.

A tree that had a hard time deciding which way is up

 I ran into a few other people out there, not many, but one couple I talked to bear mentioning. They had taken a wrong turn on one of the trails, gotten turned around, and were lost, with no compass or anything else. I don’t know how long they had been trying to find their way out, but it must have been a while. When I told them how to get back to their car, the guy asked how far was it, looked at his watch, and made a comment about how much daylight they had left, and she thanked me about a dozen times for pointing them in the right direction. I guess they were worried they weren’t going to make it out before nightfall. It can happen to any one, especially on a cloudy day with limited visibility like Saturday was. I asked them if they heard anything right then, and they both replied “no”, so I asked if they could hear the waves crashing on shore in the distance, and they said “yes”. I told them that the direction that sound was coming from was west, so they would have something to go by in order to tell what direction was which. The looks on their faces was the classic, “Wow, I never thought of that” type look.

That reminds me, I should do an entry here about the emergency stuff I carry with me all the time now, but I will save it for the time being. I left the lost couple and continued down the trail, which crosses one of the two main roads in the park. I could see all the way to the beach when I was crossing the road, so I walked towards the beach, planning to come back to the trail. It was not the most pleasant part of the day. The wind-blown snow and sand from the beach stung as it hit my face, and it was even worse when it got in my eyes. I was squinting the entire time, and walking backward when I could. I know the “lost couple” made it out, as they drove past me and honked the horn on their way by. I got to the beach expecting some huge waves since you could hear them breaking from so far away, and how strong the wind was, but they weren’t as big as I expected. It could be that the wind hadn’t been blowing strong enough long enough. It was certainly strong enough, but the wind had just come up that morning, and it takes some time for the waves to reach maximum size.

Lake Michigan waves at Muskegon

I headed back to the trail, it was a lot nicer with the wind at my back and with out the snow and sand getting in my eyes. The rest of the hike was pleasant, sheltered from the wind by the dunes.

I didn’t plan on going back there on Sunday, but I lost the “track” on my GPS unit when I went to transfer it to my computer. I am not sure how I did that, but it happened. As I wrote about earlier, I won the November DeLorme Challenge, and my winnings were updated software and a lithium battery set up for my GPS unit. Overall, I am very happy with the software and firmware updates, but I am still learning the new system as time goes on. The memory management on the device itself is much easier, as far as how it handles both the internal RAM and the SD card. Exchanging data between the handheld and the computer is a little trickier, there isn’t room for, nor do I want everything I have stored on my computer to be transferred to the handheld unit every time I exchange any data, which is the default. For some one who doesn’t use it much, it is probably a good thing. I’ll get it figured out, and not lose any more tracks. The Lithium battery is a different story. I am sure glad I got it for free, as it only lasts a couple of hours at most. It won’t hold a charge long enough to complete a five-mile walk, not a good thing if you forget to carry spare batteries. Since my camera and the GPS unit use the same batteries, that isn’t a problem for me, I always carry spares. I am sure the lithium battery pack will get lots of use, I carry that as a spare to the regular batteries I use, and it will work very well on my driving/walking explorations where I can keep the lithium battery charged up with the car charger between my short walks to check out the sights. On the other hand, my new camera is great! The battery life is at least twice what it was with the older model. I finally got around to reading the manual between Christmas and New Years, some of the controls have changed and I couldn’t figure out how to do some of the things I did with the older model. Now that I know how to set it the way I want, I am happier than ever with it. If you are looking for a good compact digital camera to use for nature photography, I highly recommend the Canon Powershot SX 130! It fits in a jacket pocket, has a 48X zoom, and takes really good pictures.

So, since I lost Saturday’s track, I went back Sunday to do the same walk over again. That actually worked out very well, as the sun came out on Sunday, it was a beautiful day, even if it was on the windy side yet. I don’t normally walk the same trails two days in a row, but I am glad I did. One of the first things I saw on the trail was a fallen log, not usually all that interesting, but, with all the rain we had on Friday, and the quick cold snap, the water flowing through the log came out of the log here and there where there were woodpecker or insect holes, and it froze. 

Water escaped from a fallen log, and how it froze

 It also worked out well in that I had missed a planned turn off on Saturday when I was there, as I said, the map isn’t 100% correct. On Sunday, I found the turn off, and continued on along the Muskegon Lake shoreline almost to the channel to Lake Michigan. It is another beautiful trail, even if you can see the industrial section of the city of Muskegon from time to time. I stopped at the site of what was the Bay Mills Indian Village along the shore of Muskegon Lake, of course there is nothing left but memories, but it was still an interesting point on my walk. The Natives sure knew how to pick a great site for a village! As I was hiking along the trail, I could look out over Muskegon Lake and see large flocks of waterfowl of many kinds. One flock I saw I thought was a couple of families of loons, but I don’t think they were loons after looking at the pictures more. Now I am thinking they were either mergansers or a duck I am not familiar with. The one male had a white throat band, which is what led me to think they were loons, anyway, here’s a picture for what it’s worth.

The unknown waterfowl

As I was walking, I ran into a couple of people and talked at length with them about the park. One of the guys lives near the park and walks there often, so it was nice to get the local perspective and some hints about what times of the year are best for each section of the many trails there. He also told me about an eagle’s nest, and watching the young eagles grow up the year before. I made sure I swung past the place he told me about, and sure enough, there was an eagle nest there. As I was looking up at it, an eagle flew right overhead! It landed in a nearby tree, and as I was working my way around some deadfalls in hopes of getting a picture, I saw that there were two eagles! I never got a good shot of the second one, but here’s a picture of the one that I could get a clear view of.

An eagle on a bright sunny day

I had seen an eagle on Saturday evening, just before I got back to my vehicle. It was being chased across Muskegon Lake by a flock of gulls, which I thought was interesting since it is winter. It isn’t as if the eagle had been preying on young gulls, so I am not sure why the gulls were chasing it. The eagle wasn’t carrying a fish or anything that I could see. I tried for a picture, but they were too far away for any one to make out that it is an eagle, and I didn’t get any of the gulls in the frame either. It was nearly dark, and hard to see them on the display when I snapped the pictures.

This was my third time hiking in Muskegon State Park, and I have still to cover less than half the trails. I am glad I have taken a map with me each time I have walked there, and even more glad I am saving the tracks on my GPS unit. With the number of trails, and the way they are laid out, it will take me many more trips to cover them all. In fact, if I wasn’t trying to get this entry to my blog finished, I would be walking there again today.