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

Archive for April, 2011

Just one week to go!

Next week at this time, I’ll be on my way north for my annual fly fishing, hiking, kayaking, exploration week in and around the Pigeon River country. The one good thing that came out of the time I spent as an over the road truck driver is that almost everything I will be taking with me is already packed. All I have to do is load it in the explorer, which I will do a little at a time this week when I leave for work each day. Being so organized takes some of the anticipation away, but it also eliminates all the hassles. I found some huge duffel bags at Gander Mountain a few years ago, they are almost too large to be practical for most people, but they work well for me. I have one for all my kayaking gear, everything I need fits into that one huge duffel, except my kayak of course. My PDF, mud boots, packed dry bags and all fit, so that stuff is already packed. I have another one of the dufflels that holds my sleeping bag, foam mat to sleep on, and pillows, so that stuff is mostly packed, I just have to roll up the mat since I leave it unrolled when I store it.

I have a large plastic tote that holds all my fishing gear, both pairs of waders, my fishing vest, net and everything else except my rods, which are in their own case that fits on top of the tote very nicely. The beauty of the tote is that when I’m done fishing, I can throw my waders in the tote and keep the mud and water off from everything else in my explorer.

Another large plastic tote holds all the cooking and other camping items I need, and I have dedicated stuff for camping, so that stuff is all packed and ready to go. Dollar stores are great! I bought a cheap set of silverware for just a couple of bucks that work just fine for camping, along with dish cloths, towels, and other things. That stuff isn’t great by any means, and it wouldn’t hold up to everyday use, but for a few camping trips each year, it works very well. I can keep it all packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I have some stackable plastic storage containers that hold my coffee, sugar, and those kinds of things, I just need to fill them up for this trip. I also cheat, and steal, condiments from restaurants in those small individual sizes. Why take an entire bottle of ketchup or mustard along for one guy for one week? Those individual packs make packing and camping a lot easier, and less wasteful in the long run.

Basically, all I need to pack are some clothes and my food. I’ll buy the food that can be frozen this weekend, and that means most of the food. I even freeze the milk I’ll be taking, I buy the small individual serving sized containers of chocolate milk, pour a little out of each container to make room for expansion, then freeze them. I have it down to a science, I don’t even need ice in the cooler for a day or two, since everything is frozen to start with. I buy chocolate milk because it tastes better after it starts to warm up in the cooler, I hate warm milk. I know the individual serving sizes are wasteful and expensive, but what the heck, it is just for a week, and as I use them, I can throw the containers away to make room for the ice I need to keep the remaining stuff cool. The individual size also makes it easy for planning, one for each day I’ll be up there. Ballpark sells packages of individually wrapped hot dogs, I know, terribly expensive. But, I don’t want to live on hot dogs for the entire week, so I’ll buy a pack and take a couple with me this trip, and the rest will stay frozen for my other trips this summer. I will be drinking well water from the campground this week, but I’ll start with my water bottles full, and frozen, since I have to take them with me, it works great to freeze them to start with. By starting with almost everything frozen, I don’t have to worry about my food keeping well for the week, and it cuts down on the amount of ice I have to buy. What food I bring that can’t be frozen goes in the same large tote as the cooking stuff, or in the cooler with the frozen stuff.

A couple of other things about the tote, my camp stove fits perfectly in the recess in the lid of the tote, which is cool for storing the stove. Keeping everything in the tote also works for critter control. There are bears in the Pigeon River Country, but I am more likely to have raccoons, squirrels, and chipmunks try to raid my food. By keeping everything in the tote, it makes it easy to keep it in my vehicle except for when I’m actually cooking, and that keeps the critters out of my food. That also comes in handy when I am off fishing or exploring, I can stop where ever and when ever I want and have lunch. My base will be Round Lake State Forest campground for the week, but that’s just my base for the week. I could be fishing or exploring 10 or 20 miles from there on any given day, and having everything with me saves a lot of driving back and forth to the campground if I get hungry.

My clothes are easy as well, since my outdoor clothes are all just for outdoor use, I just have to pack what I am going to take with me for the week. That’s easy too, everything, or just about. You never know what the weather is going to be like up there. A couple of years ago, I woke up to frost on the ground, ice in the coffee pot, and the high temperature that day was 85 degrees. I pack my clothes in two small duffels, for a reason. One duffel holds just one change of clothes, as an emergency change in case I get wet or something. That duffel also holds a power inverter, which changes a vehicle’s 12 volts DC to 120 volts AC so I can power my laptop and battery chargers and such. It also holds all the chargers one needs these days, cell phone, GPS unit, cameras, etc. That duffel stays in the vehicle so that if I am out fishing or hiking and need a change of clothes for some reason, I will have one when I get back. When I run into town, I’ll have the power inverter so I can power up my laptop and download my pictures from my cameras to the computer, check my Email, and all that modern stuff. The other duffel holds most of my clothes, my personal stuff, and a flashlight for use in the tent. That duffel goes in the tent once I have it set up.

OK, I have to throw in a shameless plug here. It has now been many years that I have had it, and I still think it is one of the best things I have, and that is a L L Bean Personal organizer for toiletries, it is excellent. I saw them in the Bean catalog and pointed it out to Larri when we were together and planning an order to Bean, and told her I was going to add one to the order for myself, and suggested she do the same. When I got back home from after my next week over the road, she had surprised me by ordering them separately from what we were going to order, and I have loved it since she gave it to me. Why get excited over a toiletries bag? Because it is the most well thought out product I have ever used. It works well for camping, or any other type of travelling. It has pockets for different size containers, a removable shower caddy, a hook for hanging it on a shower head if you are in a motel, or a tree branch if you are camping. The stuff in it stays put and organized, there’s tons of room, it’s water-resistant, cleans easily, you name it, this thing does what it is supposed to do, and it stands up to wear and tear. I know Larri gave them as gifts to her kids and some of her friends, and I used to get comments about mine from other drivers when I was still over the road. I mean, it is just a nylon bag with pockets for your stuff, but it is one product I have bought that has actually worked better than I expected, when most things you buy turn out not to be so good.

Getting back to packing, or should I say unpacking now, the best part of the system I have developed means that when I get home on the Sunday night at the end of my vacation, I don’t have to do any unpacking if I don’t want to. I will do some, I will bring the expensive stuff in, like my cameras, laptop, and fly rods, but the rest could stay in my vehicle if I am too tired to unload in one night. I am sure I will also unload the food, and maybe a trip or two more, but the rest of the stuff I will unpack the same way I pack, a little bit every day.

The only downside is that it was expensive to get set up in the first place. I essentially have at least two of most of the household things that one uses on a daily basis. I have two sets of cookware, my good stuff for at home, and a smaller, cheaper set for camping. Same with most things, like silverware, food containers and things like those. I took it even farther, not settling for duplicates, but having triplicate of some things. Like rain gear for example. I have a full rain suit packed in my kayaking bag, a full rain suit in my day pack, and a rain jacket packed in my fly vest. Why, you ask? When I was an over the road driver, the company I worked for “guaranteed” 48 hours off for weekends, hah! Seldom did I get the full 48 hours off, a lot of weeks it was closer to 36 hours, and that was only because I was willing to break the law and drive over my hours as allowed by the law in order to get home at all. There were a number of times I never made it home at all, and I would stay in a motel to take the break the law requires a driver to take. Time was at a premium, much more so than money, as the one good thing about being over the road is that I was making a lot of money, and didn’t have any time to spend any of it. So, I started to get things set up so that everything I needed for each type of trip was already packed up so I could get home, take a shower, grab a bite to eat, throw the right duffel bag or tote into the vehicle, and take off for the weekend. Let’s say I was going fishing, all I had to do is put the plastic tote that holds my fishing gear in the car and I was ready to go. No searching around for the stuff I needed, it was all packed and ready to go, just add water. And, I never forgot anything that way, no having to remember to pack a rain jacket, or insect repellent, or any of the other things I keep in my vest. Same with my daypack, it has the essentials in it all the time, grab it and go.

While it was expensive to get the system set up, I am finding that it saves me money now. By having dedicated outdoor clothing, I am finding that it lasts a lot longer than when you wear it often as casual clothing. I am not tearing up my good outdoor gear wearing it to work, and that saves me money, as I can buy cheap stuff for work. Another way it has saved money is that there haven’t been any trips into town to pick up something I have forgotten, and who hasn’t had that happen? I don’t go camping with other people very often, but it seems like every time I do, some one has forgotten something, that doesn’t happen to me anymore. It does take some of the anticipation and excitement out of getting ready for a trip, but that’s minor compared to knowing that I have everything ready and won’t have forgotten anything.

It’s looking like it could be a great week as well. We’ve had a lot of rain here in April, nearly record amounts. Lake Michigan rose 6 inches in April, that’s several trillion gallons of water, and that’s a good thing. It looks like the monsoon is about over, things will dry out nicely, and the fishing should be great. I feel sorry for all those guys hitting the traditional opening day today, the rivers are way too high for the fishing to be any good, I hope no one drowns in the floods. We’re not suppose to get much rain at all this next week, which means the rivers will be just right when I get there. If the rain does return, doesn’t bother me a bit, I like fishing in the rain, as long as it isn’t a downpour. If there is a downpour, then that will be time to go exploring, but I am looking forward to a mostly dry, warmer week than the past few weeks have been.

There are two non-fishing things I want to do that week, one is to check out the sinkhole area again. It has been years since I have been there, and I’d like to get some better pictures than the ones I do have. I’ll do that if there is a bright sunny day, but there is a lot of wind. Wind makes fly fishing difficult, much more so than rain. The other thing is to hike more of the trails up there, especially the northern end of the Shinglemill Pathway. I have done the southern end a lot, along both sides of the Pigeon River, a lot of it in waders. They’re not the most comfortable footwear for hiking, but they get the job done when you’re hiking in and out of your favorite fishing holes. That reminds me of something else I want to do, check out the Little Traverse conservancy preserves farther downstream on the Pigeon River. They’re not in the Pigeon River Country, but close enough for me. I would also like to do some kayaking on some of the lakes up there, like Dog or Osmun Lake. I have done the Pigeon and the Sturgeon Rivers, but I have never paddled any of the lakes. I see my list just keeps getting longer, I need to win the lottery and spend the rest of my life there.

One more thing, I am working on the photography tips that I promised a couple of weeks ago, that is turning into quite the project, almost like writing a book, which it really is. The more I write, the more I realize that I am just scratching the surface, but I’ll keep plugging away at it. As I go, I am also figuring out how I want to put it all together in a coherent form that flows and builds as it goes. It isn’t going to be as easy or as quick as I thought it would be. Sorry about that.

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Howard Christensen Nature Center re-opened

Just a quicky here, I just read that the Howard Christensen Nature Center is being re-opened! Here’s a link to the Mlive story, which I am sure is incomplete, but better than nothing. http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/04/re-opening_of_howard_christens.html

At least the nature center is open again.


Two more weeks

Just two more weeks, a long 14 days, and I will be spending a week of vacation in God’s country. I mounted the kayak carrier on my vehicle this afternoon, and I am taking a break from making a list and rounding things up that I want to be sure not to forget. Little things, like the brochure from the Little Traverse Conservancy that lists some of their major reserves, so if the fly fishing isn’t good, I’ll go exploring. Heck, I’m going to do that anyway, I always do, and the LTC has several preserves on the Pigeon River, so at least one or two days will be spent fishing the Pigeon in those preserves. That’s farther downstream than I normally go, but it is still God’s country, and I’ll be worshiping at the Church of the Clear Flowing Water.

I hope that no one is offended by that, because I am not trying to be funny or disrespectful, it is the way I truly feel. There is no time that I feel closer to God than when I am in and part of this wonderful world that He created for us. As Tony Blake said, “Some go to church and think about fishing, others go fishing and think about God.”, you can put me in the latter. The Church of the Clear Flowing Water has no walls, no ceiling. That’s part of the beauty of it, it has no boundaries, it is limitless, it is everywhere I go. The Church of the Clear Flowing Water does have a choir, hundreds of birds singing from the trees and bushes on the river banks. And, they are accompanied by the wind in the leaves, and the gurgling of the river itself, the most beautiful music one could ever wish to hear. And the minister at the Church of the Clear Flowing Water is God Himself, ably assisted by His son, Jesus Christ.

Despite that, it will be a bittersweet week for me, I will be staying at Round Lake State Forest Campground, the week before it is scheduled to close. I sure hope that the closing is temporary, it is my favorite campground in the state of Michigan. It’s funny, the state can spend $50 million on the Pure Michigan ad campaign, but they can’t spend $300,000 to keep the campgrounds open that are being closed, so there will be a place for people to camp if they’re drawn here by the ads.

Enough with the negativity, I am getting pumped! Packing will be fairly easy, everything for camping, kayaking, and fishing is stored in the closet of the 2nd bedroom in my apartment, and the gear is all packed for the most part. All I have to do is lug it down three flights of stairs. I’ll start that the week after next, taking some of the stuff down with me everyday when I go to work. All I really have to pack is food, and this time I am going to do it right. I say that every time, and end up with too much food. When I’m up there, I don’t have time to cook or do dishes, so many places to go, so many things to see, so many fish to catch, and release.

That may be the most remarkable thing about the time I spend up there, I am always on the go doing something, but I never feel rushed, never feel pressure. I do what I want, when I want, and at my own pace. I’ll be up at first light, fire up the stove to make coffee, and while it’s brewing, I’ll begin to get a feel for the day. While I’m drinking my coffee, I’ll decide what I am going to do that day, depending on my mood, and the weather. While I am finishing the second cup of coffee, I’ll clean the coffee pot and get it ready for the next morning, and then I am off. If the fish aren’t biting at the first place I try, I’ll try somewhere else. If the wind is making fly fishing impossible, I’ll go exploring parts of the Pigeon River Country I’ve never been to yet. If I feel like a nap on a warm, sunny, spring afternoon, I’ll find a nice mossy spot and snooze for a while. I normally get back to the campground just as it is getting too dark to see anymore, and I’ll make a sandwich and listen to the owls, coyotes, and whippoorwills as I drift off to sleep. That’s what I call living.

I may not see another human being for the entire week, but I will probably run in to the town of Wolverine one or two evenings to grab something to eat at Muldoon’s Saloon, check my Email and voice mail, and download all the pictures I have taken onto my computer. I have to go into town, there is no electricity, and no cell phone service, anywhere in the Pigeon River Country. That way I can keep track of time at least somewhat. One year I came home a day early because I had completely lost track of what day it was, and I was worried I would miss a day of work.

This year will be a little different anyway, as I will stay in a motel the last night I am up there. Some friends are going to meet me on the last Sunday to kayak the south branch of the Au Sable, so I will stay in a motel where there is a shower, I am sure my friends will appreciate that. The kayaking trip will be the perfect way to close out a perfect week.


Slow motion spring, or is that no motion

I just got back from my daily walk around the apartment complex, wearing one of my winter parkas, again. It seems that spring refuses to make a sustained appearance this year. It’s been two months since I posted “The Season of the Black Snow“, when I thought spring was just around the corner. There have been just a couple of days when I have been able to wear my lighter jacket, and only one day that I have gone with no jacket. It has been a cold spring. Since I posted The Season of the Black Snow, we’ve had two major snowstorms, and many, many, smaller snowfalls. Sunday night into Monday morning, we got another two to three inches, some of which was still on the ground last night when I got home from work, in a thunderstorm. That sort of sums up this spring, 35 degrees with a thunderstorm and snow on the ground.

If I sound depressed, I’m not, it has been a good spring for me, but I am ready for some warmer temps. I have been kayaking three times so far this year, Muskegon Lake twice, and once on the only warm day so far this year, in a swamp near Cascade, in the burbs. Or should I say hot day, we went from 50 degrees on a Saturday, to a record high of 85 degrees on Sunday, back down into the forties for highs most of the time since then. Hiking has gone well, as did the kayaking trips, and my trip to photograph some of the lighthouses along Lake Michigan. I am still sorting through the 200 or so pictures I took that day to decide which ones to post in the photo gallery.

It dawned on me as I was walking this morning that it has been such bad weather that I have yet to clip my little camera to the strap of my backpack while I’ve been hiking. It has been either too cold, or raining when I have been hiking. I have a beiner (carabiner) attached to the chest strap of my backpack, and when the weather is nice, I hook the camera strap to the beiner so the camera is right at hand. I can even shoot pictures without unclasping the strap. I can reach down and turn the camera on as I am lifting it into position to shoot in less than a second, comes in handy for shooting quickly when a critter makes an appearance. But, I keep the camera in my pocket in cold or wet weather, to keep the batteries warm so they don’t go dead from the cold, and to protect the camera from the rain.

It would be nice to have a few days with highs in the upper 50’s or maybe even the 60’s for a few days, to get the grass to green up and the tree leaves to start opening up. The grass is trying to turn green, and the leaf buds on the trees are set to open, we just need some warmer temperatures. I am taking my vacation in just a couple of weeks, and I would like it to look like spring while I’m there. “There” is going to be Round Lake State Forest Campground, the state has it slated to be closed the week after my vacation. That’s in the Pigeon River Country, my favorite part of Michigan. It will be a bittersweet week for me, knowing my favorite campground is going to close, and it may be the last time I am able to camp there. I know I will be packing at least one winter parka for my vacation, that’s a given up there, even in the summer, as nights can be chilly up there any time of the year. That doesn’t mean I want to have to wear one while I am fishing though.

The second weekend I am up there, some friends are going to join me to kayak the south branch of the Au Sable, I hope. I am not sure how many people are going to show, it seems more than a few of the kayaking group are ticked off at me. Oh well, that’s the price I pay for being me. That reminds me of a couple of things I need to do, send out a reminder about that trip to the group, and to stop fooling around at work, risking an injury just before my vacation. Two weeks ago I pulled a muscle in my leg which has just healed up nicely, and last night I lifted a couple of the 300 pound empty carts on top of some full ones, just to prove to myself that I could do it. That was dumb! Trying to get back in shape is one thing, but not just before a vacation. The last thing I need to do is injure myself to put a crimp on my one week of vacation per year.

I was trying to quit smoking, and I have managed to get down to a pack a day and stay there, but I also want to lose some of the extra weight I accumulated while driving over the road. Actually, I was down to half a pack a day, but the cravings were driving me to eat more, so I have leveled off at a pack a day until I shed some weight, which I think is finally starting to happen. I stepped on the scale at work last night, and I think I have lost 5 pounds in the last few weeks. I changed my diet, again, a little over a month ago, it looks like it is working this time. We shall see. If I am losing weight, then I’ll start cutting back on my smoking again. I hate those days as an over the road driver, smoking two and a half to three packs of smokes a day, and looking like a beached whale, I hope I never have to go back to that again!

As I have been writing this, I received a note from the Little Traverse Conservancy that their Earth Day cleanups are postponed for a week, due to snow. That’s the story of the spring of 2011, postponed due to snow.


Mid-April weekend

Just like last weekend, when we were in the mid-fifties on Saturday and 85 on Sunday, the weather was a big story this weekend.

Saturday was one of those days when few sane people venture out. It was around 50 degrees, raining most of the time, and the wind was blowing around 30 MPH out of the east with much higher gusts. The wind was so bad that thousands of people lost power due to power lines being knocked down. Did that stop me? Of course not, only sane people stay indoors on days like Saturday. To me, bad weather is a bonus, I have the outdoors all to myself.

I walked a park close to home, and other than some golfers, who are even crazier than I, I didn’t see any other people I saw outside. What I did see, which surprised me, were quite a few birds and squirrels, I would have thought that they would have been taking shelter somewhere out of the rain, but they were out feeding as if it were just another day. I tried getting a few pictures, but the birds wouldn’t sit still, they were focused on finding food, hopping from branch to branch looking for something to eat. With the clouds and the rain, any pictures would have been just so-so anyway.

I was about a third of my way into my walk when I spotted a small herd of deer off in the distance. Two or three were standing, but the rest were still lying down. I snapped a couple of pictures, but gave them a wide berth, as I didn’t want to frighten them off. That’s one of the things I love about walking or hiking in the rain, I can sneak along as quietly as a mouse. The dampness takes all the crunch out of the leaves, and even though I know how to walk quietly, the softer ground helps out even more.

Most people walk so that their heels land first, with a thump, or whatever you want to call it. I can hear it, and even feel it, and I am sure wildlife can not only hear that, but feel it as well. Watch a doe that thinks that she may have seen you, but isn’t sure, and you’ll see her stomp the ground with one of her forelegs every once in a while. Not only can you hear it, but the vibrations travel through the ground and you can feel it as well.

The woods are seldom truly quiet, if you listen closely, you’ll hear leaves rustling as birds and squirrel dig through the leaf litter on the forest floor while searching for food. Any breeze will have the trees swaying, and branches rubbing on each other. Squirrels and other animals break an occasional twig, as will the wind. So, you don’t have to be perfectly quiet in the woods. What you don’t want to do is not make any human sounds, like slamming your heels into the ground with each step you take, or talking, or having things in your pockets rattle.

After seeing the first herd of deer, I was in a much better frame of mind, continuing on my way, watching the birds, and noting the huge piles of trash left in the woods from when Buck Creek flooded a couple of weeks ago. That’s always a downside to suburban hiking or kayaking, seeing all the trash we humans leave behind. Buck Creek is particularly bad in that respect, because it flows almost entirely through developed areas. Everytime it floods, it picks up all the trash from along the edges, moves it downstream, and then deposits all the trash in log jams in and along the creek as the flood waters recede. If I were really gung-ho, I would try to organize a clean up of the creek, but I don’t have any idea on where to even start such a campaign, there is so much trash in the floodplain that it overwhelms me. There are some place where the trash is stuck in fallen logs and you could easily fill one or two giant trash bags from just that one spot, but if you did, I don’t know how to carry it all out.

 The trash was depressing me, luckily I came up on two more herds of deer as I was walking the boardwalk along the creek, putting me back into a good mood. That continued as I walked along the eastern edge of the park, part of the time I was walking in a flock of geese as they walked ahead of me on the bank of the creek. There was no honking like last week, these geese just moved along as if I were one of them. I have no idea why, but it was cool.

Goose

You can see this one was feeding as we went along. I was also seeing deer on the other side of the creek, so all was well. I crossed back over the creek at the next little bridge there in the park, and went looking for the deer I had seen from the east side, and I found them. I even shot a video of one laying down, chewing her cud. I wish I cold post it here, but I can’t. I can post a picture though.

Whitetail Deer

This isn’t the one chewing its cud, but is one that I was able to take a clearer picture of. So that was my day Saturday, I saw more deer in one day than I have in a long time. I don’t know how many in total, as I wasn’t counting. When I got home, I checked the weather forecast, and Sunday was supposed to be partly sunny, and the stiff east wind we had on Saturday was forecast to swing around to the west, and increase in strength.  That sounded like the perfect forecast to head for the Lake Michigan shore for the day.

I have been wanting to get over to the lake to take some more pictures of the lighthouses along the shore, and it sounded as if Sunday would be the perfect day for that. I got up early, had breakfast, and headed for the lake. I had planned to stay on the expressway until I got as least as far north as the Little Sable Light, then head for the shoreline. Things didn’t work out that way. It was cloudy as I started from home, but I could see breaks in the clouds off to the west, towards the lake. The farther I went, the more sunshine there was, until I got to Muskegon and turned north on the US 31 expressway. By the time I was to the north end of Muskegon, the clouds had rolled in, and it started to snow, hard. I didn’t want to photograph the lights in bad weather, and the farther north I went, the harder it snowed.

I cut over to the lake, if the snow continued I figured I would hike Muskegon State Park, or if the snow let up, I would take the back roads north to kill some time before I made it to the first of the lighthouses. As it was, I just made it to the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and the snow ended, and I could see clearing off to the west over the lake. I hadn’t planned on stopping at the White River Light, but since it was now on my way, I did. I first went there in the 70’s, when it was shuttered. It is now open as a museum during the summer months, and a family lives there in the light keeper’s quarters to maintain the light and the grounds. If you do go there, have some courtesy for the residents please.

White River Lighthouse

 

 Then, I headed down the breakwater to get some shots of the waves crashing into the pier, but the waves weren’t all that impressive, despite the wind. I did snap a few.

Wave crashing into the White River Pier

When I got back to my explorer, I was almost numb from the wind, not cold except my hands, but the roar of the wind had been so loud out there that it took me a couple of minutes to recover. I continued on up the coast, I stopped at Meinert Park, I had read an article in the press about the park, and how it had just doubled in size due to a gift from a land trust.

That’s the problem with my taking the back roads, I see so many places and things I want to stop and check out. Meinert Park is a place I know I will go back to and spend a day exploring it, but as I continued up the coast, I saw more signs for more parks, and little dead end roads that could lead to nothing, or could lead to some hidden treasure of a place to go. I was on a mission to photograph the lights, so I didn’t check out any of those other places, but went on to the next light, Little Sable Point, with just a quick stop at Pentwater to see if there was a light, or waves, worth photographing. There wasn’t, so I made it to Little Sable Point.

I had noted when I was photographing the White River Lighthouse that the 70 to 360 mm lens I have for my Nikon wasn’t the greatest for trying to get the entire lighthouse in the picture. I could have really used a shorter lens, but there is a very long story to why I have only one lens for the Nikon, which I won’t bore you with here. It turned out to be a problem with every light except the one at Ludington. I also learned that what I see through the viewfinder of the Nikon is not what the finished picture looks like. I made sure I had the entire light in view in the viewfinder, but in the pictures, the bottom was cut off in every picture from the Nikon. The photo above was taken with my Canon, sure glad I did use both.  But as you can see, the weather had turned out great for photography, even if the waves were no where near the 10 to 15 feet that they had been predicting for Sunday. I think it was because we had the strong east winds the day before, and the wind didn’t have the time to build up the really big waves you would expect with winds gusting into the 40 MPH range.

With Little Sable Point done, the next stop was Ludington, and as before, I saw many places to explore further on trips when I have more time. I avoid the Lake Michigan shore in the summer, it is far too crowded for my tastes. But, I haven’t been there as much in the off-season as I should have, too many great places here in Michigan. When I got to Ludington, there was a steady stream of cars entering the city park on the north shore. People would drive in, park where they could see the waves breaking on the breakwater for a few minutes, then leave. I was one of only a few people who actually got out of their vehicle and walked the short way to the breakwater.

Ludington Light

 With the winds as high as they were, the waves breaking on the breakwater should have been a lot more impressive than they were. There were three foot rollers inside the breakwater, that’s pretty impressive, but such is life, you don’t always get what you want.

 The next scheduled stop was the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which is in Ludington State Park, just to the north of Ludington itself. It’s been a long time since I have been in the Ludington area, and I have to say I was totally amazed! The city used to be a run down, dumpy looking industrial city, but that has changed. The outskirts are not pretty, but downtown itself looks like a very nice, well kept place, with lots of things to do and see. I am not a big tourist type, but I do like it on occasion, and Ludington is a place I may well go on one of those occasions. Part of that is because of what the DNR has done with Ludington State Park as well. Just like I have “re-discovered” Muskegon State Park, I did the same with Ludington on Sunday.

We used to go to that area a lot when I was a kid, my parents and my aunt and uncle even rented a cottage on Hamlin Lake for a week when I was young. I know my uncle Ted had a trailer there for years, as he loved fishing Hamlin Lake, and Lake Michigan on occasion. Over the years, I have turned to less developed areas, like the Pigeon River Country, and it was very surprising to see how much the entire Ludington area has changed over the years. I really need to win the lottery so I can devote all my time to exploring Michigan, weekends just aren’t enough time.

Anyway, to get to the Big Sable Lighthouse, you have to park in Ludington State Park and walk to the light. I grabbed a trail map a the entrance, and discovered what may be a set of trails I’ll like even better than Muskegon. I parked at the lot that was open as close to the light as I could get, as it was already getting late in the afternoon and it was a two mile walk to the light. The dunes there are low and much more open than other dune areas I hike, it was like being in a sea of sand, like a desert. I loved it!

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

I got to the light, took some pics, and headed back, stopping at the shipwreck on my way. I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? As I was walking to the light, there was a sign there explaining a shipwreck found on the beach there a few years ago. It had been covered in sand, and with lower lake levels, and the shifting of the sand, part of a wrecked ship was exposed. There wasn’t much there to see, except another sign, and a few pieces of weathered wood that you could tell were very old and had been worked with very old tools. Also on the way back, I met two young couples on their way to camp at the walk-in campground there in the park. Those four kids were loaded down with more stuff and bigger packs than I have ever seen in my life. I swear, the way the one girl rattled as she went by me, she was even packing the kitchen sink, luckily it is only a mile from the parking lot to the camp.

So, the weekend turned out great, lots of deer and wildlife on Saturday, and I got pictures of the lighthouses Sunday. If it were a perfect world, the waves would have been more impressive on Sunday, but nothing ever goes 100% as planned. As it was, I found even more places to explore another day, especially the trails at Ludington State Park. I want to do the Island Trail, if you looked at the map I linked to above. I found out that I need at least one more lens for my Nikon to get shots of large scale subjects like the lighthouses. I found out carrying two cameras is a really good thing. I found I don’t have as much time or money as I would like, as if that just dawned on me this weekend.


How to take good nature photos

Several people have asked me for help, tricks, tips and/or pointer on how to take good nature photos, and the answer is easy. Win the lottery, break into Fort Knox, or otherwise gain access to large sums of money. Buy a large format camera and a range of lenses and all the other accessories you’ll need, hire a couple of people to help you tote it around in the outdoors, and quit your job and spend all your waking hours out-of-doors.

Seriously, I am going to set up a series of pages to answer questions people have asked me, and to serve as a reference they can return to. I will break it down into several sub sections, and there may be people interested in some of the sub sections even if they are not photographers, such as finding and viewing wildlife.

It will take me some time to pull it all together, so please bear with me as I go along. I will add the main page with the topics I’ll cover today, but the topics will be empty for now. I hope to do at least one, maybe two this weekend, we’ll see, the weather is supposed to be crappy here this weekend, so I know I won’t be kayaking. I will be walking, and if I don’t get killed by a tree blown over in the wind, I should get a good start at least.


Gear restricted water

I was going to include this in my post on fly fishing snobs, but that one got too long to include this, and besides, the issue is important enough to warrant its own post on the subject, so here goes.

First of all, what is gear restricted water, also known as quality fishing regulations? Well, it is kind of self-explanatory at first, the Michigan DNR imposes restrictions on the type of tackle that can be used while fishing for trout in hopes of improving the quality of the fishery. On some sections of some rivers, you are limited to using flies only, on other sections, you are limited to using artificial lures only, in both cases, no live bait is allowed. But these regulations become more convoluted as they often go hand in hand with special size and creel limits for each species of trout, some sections are no kill, other sections are reduced numbers of trout that can be kept. If all this sounds confusing, it is, very confusing at times. So how did this all come about?

 There are several reasons why gear restricted water regulations came into being. Supporters will tell you that they are all about improving the numbers and size of the trout in the rivers, opponents will tell you it is all about fly fishing snobs wanting their own special sections of rivers all to themselves’. Who’s right? Both sides. I am not trying to straddle the fence here, but to take an objective look at the subject.

Up until the mid-sixties, the idea was that the state DNR could raise enough trout in hatcheries to keep all fishermen happy. The state was flush with cash, and spent millions updating their existing hatcheries, and building new ones as well. But, by the seventies, problems with that idea began to expose themselves. The biggest was diseases, like Whirling Disease. Whirling Disease is caused by parasites that attack the skeleton and nervous systems of trout, causing the trout to become deformed to the point where then can no longer swim normally, but “whirl” forward in an awkward corkscrew-like pattern instead of swimming normally. The disease has a 90% mortality rate. The parasite that causes Whirling Disease is native to Europe, and the fish there have some immunity built up to the disease, not so for North American trout. The parasite was imported to North America along with trout that were being used as breeding stock for the hatcheries. And Whirling Disease was soon followed by other diseases as well, such as the viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus, or VHS.

Some years, the entire production for a hatchery for a year had to be destroyed to prevent the spread of these diseases, and we were lucky here in Michigan. For the most part, the fish stocks in the rivers were relatively unaffected by those diseases compared to many other states, particularly, Colorado, where they are still trying to fight the diseases and maintain the fishery there. The mortality rate for trout in some Colorado rivers is close to 90%, due to planting infected fish from hatcheries. Putting millions of trout fry together into small tanks is asking for the spread of what could be devastating disease outbreaks, so hatcheries began to lose flavor with fish biologists. Hatchery fish also began to lose flavor among some trout fishermen who longed to catch more wild trout, which are typically better fighters, and more brightly colored than their hatchery counterparts.

It costs millions to operate the hatcheries, it costs millions more to track down new diseases and their causes when they hit, and it costs even more millions to come up with ways to prevent the newer diseases, and what do we get in return? Put and take fishing for small, weak, dumb trout. Hatchery trout are as dumb as rocks, they don’t even know what to eat when they get dumped into a river, so they try to eat anything that doesn’t eat them. They don’t know there are larger trout and other critters that love to eat small trout, so the hatchery fish are easy pickings for fishermen, other trout, kingfishers, otters, herons, cranes, and so on and so on. Luckily, very few of the hatchery fish survive more than a few days. I say luckily because of the way they are planted. The trucks from the hatcheries are limited as to where they can get to in order to dump off the fish, so where they do get dumped, the hatchery fish overwhelm the rivers. You have thousands of small fish that are used to being packed in like sardines, eating anything and everything that is edible in the river, taking food away from the native fish. There is no automatic feeder that kicks on every so often to release the scientifically determined amount of food into the river like there is at the hatchery.

For full disclosure, I used to be one of those who fished the put and take trout. The first plantings in the Rogue River every year took place about the time that steelhead fishing was winding down. On the days when the steelhead were slow, I would often switch over to my fly rod and catch the hatchery trout that had just been planted. Every fish seemed to be identical to the one before it and the one after it, cookie cutter fish mass-produced at the hatchery. Spud would sit on the bank making fun of my fly fishing abilities, and the hatchery fish. Even though Spud didn’t fly fish, he was certainly a fish snob. Thinking back, those were the only times when Spud would sit and watch me fish, most of the time it was the other way around, but he couldn’t lower himself to fish the put and take trout. It didn’t help that the most productive fly on most days was the “kibble” fly, tied to resemble the fish chow that the hatchery fish had been fed at the factory, I mean hatchery. What I didn’t know at the time was that fishing for the put and take trout was ruining me as a fly fisherman. In between plants, I couldn’t catch a trout.

 To Regular Joe Fisherman, those put and take trout are just fine. He gets to go to the river, catch a mess of trout for dinner, and he has a good time. Sure, he’ll complain about the lack of any big fish, but he’ll blame the DNR for that. There’s really nothing wrong with that I suppose, but some of us want more. I learned that lesson from fishing the Pigeon River Country, when I finally learned how to catch real trout on a fly that didn’t look like fish chow. Catching wild trout is something special, each fish is different, each one has its own personality, its own color, and I learned they come in different sizes than barely legal. Some of them get big, really big! That is, if they are given the chance to survive long enough to get big.

 Yet when the DNR first announced its quality fishing regulations for gear restricted waters, I wasn’t fully convinced they were a good thing. My transformation into a fly fishing snob wasn’t complete yet. The catch and release part was no problem for me, I was already letting all the fish I caught go back, and there was a part of me that thought “Yes! Stretches of some of my favorite rivers to fish are going to be open to only fly fishermen. There will be less fishing pressure on those rivers, I’ll catch even more and even larger trout than before!”. But then I thought, “Hey, wait a minute here, that means I have to use only flies, and there are still some days I use bait or spinning tackle. Oh well, I can live it the new regulations, they only cover a few miles of a few rivers. No big deal.”

I could understand how many fishermen would be upset over the new rules, there was a part of me that was as well. Even though I was on my way to becoming one of them, I thought the new rules were the work of the fly fishing snobs to keep us heathens off from their “holy” water. That’s when I learned the difference between real fly fishing snobs and the poser fly fishing snob slobs. The poser snobs do use those regulations to keep the heathens off from their “holy” water, except to the poser snobs, it is only holy water because it is famous, and they don’t want to share the water with any one, not even other fly fishermen.

Being the curious type, I wondered why The DNR and fishery biologists across the country were coming up with these new regulations. A lot of my information I got from Spud, since he was going to school to become a wildlife biologist of some type, he was up on all these things. But, I also read countless articles in magazines and newspapers as well, and still do. There are many reasons behind the gear restricted regulations, and back then, even though they may not have admitted it, fishery biologists didn’t really know very much about the fish, or what effects fishing had on the populations of fish in the rivers. One thing they had learned was that minimum only size limits weren’t enough to sustain a healthy, viable fish population in our rivers. The idea behind the minimum size limits was to allow the trout to get old enough to reproduce, so there would be less reliance on hatcheries, and more natural reproduction. But it didn’t work out that way. What biologists found out was happening is that in many rivers, as soon as a trout reached the minimum size, it was caught and removed from the gene pool. Biologists also found that just as with people, trout vary in size. There are trout with genes that tend to cause them to grow larger, and there are trout with genes that tend to cause them to remain small. What was happening in our rivers, and lakes as well, was that minimum only limits were producing a population of stunted fish. For example, here in Michigan, the minimum size for trout was 10 inches. But, there were trout that began to reproduce when they were 6 to 8 inches long, and their offspring tended to reproduce at 6 to 8 inches long, so our rivers were becoming filled with smaller fish that seldom grew large enough to be kept under the minimum size rules.

One thing is certain, each mile of trout stream can feed “X” number of pounds of trout. That isn’t the number of trout a stream can feed, but the total number of pounds of trout. What that number is depends on the river and the food supply available for the trout to eat, and the size of the trout in the stream. If that number is made up of large numbers of trout too small to keep, then there won’t be food available for larger trout there for fishermen to catch and keep. Conversely, you could have a river where there were very few trout, but all of them being very large to make up the total number of pounds. Ideally, you would have a mix of sizes, which is what there was before man came along to mess things up. You would have some large trout to reproduce and pass on their genes to future generations, and the large trout would prey on the smaller trout, keeping their numbers in check to prevent them from dominating the trout populations, but there would be some small trout left to grow to be large trout. You can change the number “X”, but I won’t go into that here, I’ll save that one for a later post.

Fishery biologists came up with several ideas on how to overcome the problems they were having at the hatcheries, and the problems caused by the minimum size limits. One was what are known as “slot” limits. I hate to even try to tackle them here, as they are very confusing, but the basic idea was to limit the numbers of fish kept by fisherman within certain size ranges, while at the same time, lowering the minimum size limit, so fishermen would keep more of the smaller fish. In theory, a great idea, but not very practical in my opinion. There were different regulations for different rivers, even different stretches of the same river, and it was hard to keep track of what you were allowed to keep where. To tell you the truth, I didn’t keep up on those regulations, since I release all fish, they didn’t apply to me, and I didn’t want to waste my time reading and learning the regulations when I could be fishing instead.

Which brings us to the gear restricted waters, quality fishing regulations. The regulations limit you to artificial lures or flies only, and also have very restrictive creel limits, much of the water covered is no kill, you have to release all fish caught. I have to apologize for not being more specific, but my copy of the fishing regulations is in my vehicle so I have it when I need it, rather than here in the apartment where it does me no good. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I support these regulations, only because there isn’t a better way of accomplishing what these regulations attempt to do.

The idea is that if you limit the number of fish taken from one stretch of a river, that the entire river will benefit eventually. That is because if you give the largest fish a chance to reproduce, they will, and the trout they produce will be large as well. Since each stretch of river can only hold so many fish, eventually, these larger trout will spread out through the entire river system for every one to catch. that’s the idea anyway.

The idea behind artificial lures and flies only is that the mortality rate for fish hooked on bait is so high, it isn’t worthwhile releasing such fish back into the river, they will die anyway. And the point to these regulations is to have more trout living in the rivers, and more trout to reproduce on their own to repopulate the rivers, rather than relying on hatcheries. If you let a river return to the most natural state it can, we won’t have to rely on hatcheries to produce trout.

Anything that moves us away from our reliance on hatcheries is a good thing in my opinion. They are in some ways, an ecological disaster in the making. Not only is the possibility of spreading diseases a huge threat, but there are other problems with them as well. This doesn’t apply so much to Michigan, but out west, where they have many more species and sub-species of trout than we do, hatchery fish are wiping out populations of the native species that once made certain rivers extra special. And, no matter how you cut it, hatchery fish are inferior to wild fish. A wild fish has to fight for survival from the moment of its birth. Learning to escape predators, fighting river currents, doing all the things that make wild trout stronger and smarter than their hatchery raised cousins that mill around in a tank waiting for the automatic feeder to drop fish chow. A hatchery fish is protected and coddled from birth, it costs a small fortune to raise them to legal size, and it’s cost prohibitive to raise them to trophy size. That money would be better spent on improving the rivers so that they can hold and produce more wild trout.

 There are those that call for the DNR to build more hatcheries to produce more fish, but the hatcheries cost millions of dollars to build, maintain, and operate, and the same people who call for more hatchery fish scream bloody murder if the DNR raises the fees for a fishing license to pay for those hatcheries. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. It wouldn’t do any good to plant more fish anyway, the rivers can’t support more fish, so why plant more than the rivers can sustain?

There’s no way the DNR can please every one, from those who don’t want any gear restricted water at all, to those who want to see every hatchery shut down and every inch of every river to be flies only, catch and release. We just went through the entire debate again here in Michigan, as the DNR added another 70 odd miles of rivers to the list of gear restricted waters, including two of my favorite stretches of rivers to fish. I should be over joyed, right? After all, the DNR just added my favorite stretch of the Pigeon River in the Pigeon River Country, and the upper Manistee from CR 612 to M 72 bridge to the list.

I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I know fishing will get even better on both rivers, and if there was ever a stretch of river that should be managed for wild trout, it is the Pigeon in the Pigeon River Country. On the other hand, as I wrote in my post “Confessions of a Fly Fishing Snob“, I fish for beauty, and those are two of Michigan’s most beautiful stretches of trout streams. I hate to see them being put off-limits to some people based solely on how they choose to fish, for I don’t mind sharing their beauty, and I know there are bait fishermen who appreciate the beauty of those rivers as much as I do, even if it may not be in exactly the same way. After all, I started fishing both with bait as a youngster, and now, with the new regulations, I would never be able to do that. Those two stretches of rivers are what started me on the journey that has led to my becoming a fly fishing snob, I am not sure I want to see others banned from taking their first steps on that same journey.

The stretch of the Manistee from CR 612 to M 72 bridge points out something else in the debate as well, business. The designation of that stretch of river is conditional, on campground revenue to the DNR. The DNR operates 3 or 4 campgrounds on that one stretch of river, depending on how you look at it. The DNR considers the equestrian campground at Goosecreek to be a separate entity from the Goosecreek State Forest campground, I tend to lump them both together, since they adjoin one another. If campground revenues fall too much at the campgrounds on that stretch of river, the regulations will be rescinded. We would like to think that regulations are about the fish and rivers, but the truth is, money drives many of the regulations.

 I, for one, don’t want to see Michigan become like England, where they have to pay the landowners along the rivers huge sums of money for the privilege of fishing the rivers, and to only fish in certain ways. For example, if you were to try to fish the fabled Test or Chalk Rivers in England, you would have to pony up thousands of dollars to set foot in them, and you are only allowed to fish dry flies, casting upstream to rising fish. If you spend your money and don’t see a fish rise, you don’t even make a cast, but to some, it’s worth it. Not me.

That is beginning to happen in the western United States as well, where you have to pay to fish, that is pay the landowners for access to the rivers. As I said, I fish for beauty, and I hate to see access to that beauty denied to others, and I am afraid that’s where we are headed. Some of the things said by “my side” in the restricted gear debate worry me profoundly, like “Fishing isn’t a right, it’s a privilege”. Statements like that raise my hackles immediately, for I worry that we will restrict access to the beauty of rivers to only those that are “worthy”, with “worthiness” being determined by the size of some one’s bank account.

If there is a sport that is a right, it is fishing, for fishing is a basic way of feeding one’s self, and family. I don’t think we should ever start down the slippery slope of determining that a basic means of survival is a privilege, and any fisherman who says otherwise better be careful, because there are far too many people who would like to see your “privileges” taken away as well. There are those extremists in the environmental and animal rights movements that would like to see all fishing banned, especially catch and release, which they consider to be torturing fish for the sake of torturing them. When fly fishermen start calling fishing a privilege rather than a right, they are opening the door to have the right to fish taken away from all of us.

Mr. Regular Joe Fisherman, now that I have defended your right to fish, I have a favor to ask of you. Please stop abusing that right! There are far too many of you who think you’re Robin Hood putting one over on the Sheriff of Nottingham when you violate fish and game laws, and I think we all know what I am talking about here. I’ve talked to far too many of you who brag about catching so many fish that you ended up throwing a bunch of them away because you couldn’t clean them all, or I should say, didn’t want to bother cleaning them all. The DNR is not the sheriff of Nottingham, and those aren’t the King’s fish you’re killing for no reason, they are OUR fish! Those fish belong to all of us who love to fish, and the DNR is there to protect them so they will be there for all of us. Every fish you kill for no reason is a fish that won’t be there for myself, or you, to catch the next time. Are you really so dense that you can’t see that? I hate to be so blunt, but I’ll be on a river talking to a Regular Joe Fisherman, and he’ll be complaining about the fishing that day, when he tells me about how many he caught, kept, and threw away, on an earlier day. You can blame the DNR for not planting enough, or for the fishing regulations you hate, or the Indians, but until you clean up your act and stop destroying fish for no reason other than you think you’re getting away with something,which is childish in the first place, there won’t be fish for you to catch! I’ve tried explaining that to those of you that I’ve met, but you always find some one else to blame, it is you who are to blame.

Regular Joe Fisherman may say “What’s the big deal if I keep an extra fish or two now and then?”, what they have a hard time seeing is that there are millions of him thinking the same thing. If they each keep just one extra fish per year, it adds up to the entire output of a fish hatchery for a year. We’ve already lost, or almost lost, too many species of animals here in Michigan already. There used to be buffalo, elk, moose, grayling, sharptail grouse, and wild turkey throughout the state, just to name a few. Some have been re-introduced like elk, moose and turkey, and other than turkeys, the numbers are small and the ranges the animals live in is limited. It may surprise some of you to learn that turkeys were wiped out in Michigan, it wasn’t until the 70’s that they were re-introduced here. Some people even complain there aren’t enough deer here in Michigan for the hunters, you should have tried hunting back in the 50’s or 60’s, when the number of deer in the state was about half of what it is now.

What I am getting at is this, we all have a responsibility to protect the flora and fauna, here in Michigan and elsewhere. You may think there are so many of a particular species that it would be impossible to wipe it out, but history proves otherwise. We can, and have, wiped out entire species by overhunting and overfishing, and it’s time to put an end to it, NOW! You may ask what  those other species I mentioned have to do with trout fishing, and the answer is this, I fish for beauty. I may be fishing for trout, but I think it’s beautiful when I see deer and elk coming to the river to drink. I think it’s beautiful to see an eagle soaring over the river. I think it’s beautiful to see and listen to the birds singing in the trees and bushes along the river. I think the wildflowers in bloom along the river banks are beautiful, and I think trout are beautiful.

And speaking of cleaning up your act, that would help too. It surprised me to learn that the vast majority of land owners along the rivers with restrictive gear regulations support those regulations, and that property owners have pushed for more of those restrictions. I would have thought that they would be those most opposed to the DNR telling them how they could fish, after they spent the big bucks to buy property along the rivers, but they’re not. The reason doesn’t surprise me though, the property owners are tired of cleaning up after the Regular Joe Fishermen who think the river banks are one giant trash receptacle. I know that not all of you do that, but way too many do. I fish for beauty, that’s also why I kayak, and seeing your empty bait containers, bottles, cans, food wrappers, broken lawn chair, or whatever else you’ve left behind, strewn along the riverbanks is not a thing of beauty, and I’m tired of cleaning up after you, as are the property owners. I have met many property owners along rivers and the conversation with them started out badly, until they see that my net is filled with trash I have picked up while fishing. Ninety percent of the time, their attitude changes 18o degrees, when they see that, and I have even gotten invitations to use their property for access to the river, just because I was cleaning up other people’s trash.

So if I am a fly fishing snob, and I have confessed that I am, too many of you Regular Joe Fishermen are game hogs and/or outright pigs along the river. I know those are in the minority, but they spoil it for the rest of us. I may support gear restricted/quality fishing regulations, but only because there is no other way to accomplish the goal of protecting and preserving trout fishing for everyone. I don’t really like the idea of limiting who has access to the beauty of our rivers, based on their prefered method of fishing, but there is no other way that I know of.

 In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need precision measuring devices, a team of lawyers, and a team of surveyors to tell you if the fish you just caught is legal or not, where you caught it. In a perfect world, people would realize fish hatcheries and planting more fish is not the answer. In a perfect world, people would realize that the number of fish is limited, and would limit their own take with out the DNR telling them. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be game hogs who believe that they have the right to kill any and all the fish they catch. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be pigs who despoil our beautiful rivers with their trash that they are too lazy to pick up. And in a perfect world, there wouldn’t be this divide between fishermen based on their methods of fishing, because I don’t find that to be beautiful in the least.

But, we don’t live in perfect world, we live in a human would, far from perfect, and with human nature being what it is, I guess we’ll have to live with the gear restricted/quality fishing regulations until human nature changes. But hey, if any of you Regular Joe Fisherman would like to give fly fishing on some of the “holy” waters a try, I would be happy to take you along, let you borrow one of my rods, and introduce you to the beauty that is fly fishing. I am all about making converts.


Suburban swamping, or, Let me be your swamp snake

Too much, too soon, that would be the way to sum up todays weather. Yesterday when I kayaked Muskegon Lake, I wore two light layers under a spring/fall jacket, and was comfy all day. Today, the temperature and humidity have soared, it is in the low 80’s and muggy. I was sweating wearing nothing but a T-shirt.

Where did I go, well, since the rivers are high, and we had a gale blowing out of the south bringing in the heat, I didn’t want to try any open water in that wind. There’s a swamp that I drive past on most nights for work, and it is on the edge of the metropolitan area, near Cascade. It is a large swamp, I would guess about 20 to 30 acres, maybe more. It is hardly a wilderness setting, to the south is an industrial park, to the west is a large shopping center/commercial development. To the north is 28th Street, or M 11, one of the busiest streets in the area. And to the east is the expressway, I 96. So why did I go there? Like I said, I drive by it often for work, and there are always ducks, geese, swans, herons, etc. there as long as it isn’t frozen over. In fact, this year the geese started nesting there before the water was ice-free. With gas near $4 a gallon, I prefer to do something outdoors fairly close to home on at least one day on a weekend.

I also did something to my right leg Monday night at work, trying to get one of the heavy laundry carts I have to manhandle moving. It is getting much better, but I was limping a lot earlier in the week, I didn’t know for sure if I was going to be able to go the entire two miles a day I walk on Tuesday and Wednesday, but I gutted it out. But, I didn’t want to push it by hiking, so the swamp seemed like a good idea.

I was there last fall, but the water was too low to float my kayak, so I walked around as much of it as I could, and there is an incredible amount of wildlife making it their home. The idea of kayaking the swamp also goes right along with my hiking in some of the suburban parks near where I live as well, for a couple of reasons. One is the price of gas, and the other is that I think it is both interesting and a great thing that wildlife populations are expanding to the point where it is no longer rare to see animals that you had to travel far to see just a couple of decades ago.

I got a late start today, I was up early enough, but I spent all morning fighting the companion photo blog for this blog. I thought I had that all set up and looking and working the way I wanted it, but when I got home from kayaking yesterday, none of the pictures loaded on the home page, not a good thing. I fixed that last night, but I still had some captions to the pictures that weren’t loading correctly on some of the pages, so I thought I would fix them. I finished two pages, the third drove me nuts, I never did get it to display correctly, so I trashed it and will have to start over. More on that later.

When I did get to the swamp, I was happy to see there was enough water this time, so I unloaded the kayak while listening to dozens of geese in the reeds and rushes honking away at me. I could see some of them, on nests, I have no idea how many geese are nesting there, it has to be at least 50 pairs, they are everywhere. I was wondering if I would be attacked, but that didn’t happen. I set off from the northeast corner, which meant I was paddling into the brunt of the wind. It wasn’t that bad, except for the fact that I had to keep paddling, or at least hold my paddle. The wind was so strong that every time I set my paddle down to try to take a picture, the wind tried to blow the paddle away, and I didn’t want to be up the proverbial creek without a paddle. I was also paddling through narrow little channels of deeper water between the reeds and rushes growing out of the swamp, along with stumps and logs to navigate around.

The wind was a problem, but a minor one compared to the geese, apparently they are the early warning system for the other waterfowl. Every time I would be closing in on a duck or a heron, the geese would take flight, circling and honking at me. I should say the male geese, because most of the females stayed on the nest until I got very close, and I tried not to get too close to them if I could see them. As soon as the ganders took off, any and all nearby ducks and herons would as well.

I didn’t get pictures, but it was cool watching herons flying to their nesting sites with their beaks full of material to be used for their nests. There has to be at least half a dozen pair of heron nesting there. It surprised me in that they are nesting in the bushes that grow, or grew, in the water. I am not sure if the bushes are still living, it’s too early yet. The herons are building their nests less than 4 feet above the water, I thought they nested only in taller trees, wrong.

Another cool thing were the swallows, both barn and tree swallows, lots of them. The ones I saw today are the first of the year, and I love swallows. I also saw my first dragonflies of the year as well, spring is coming!

I worked my way all the way around the edge of the swamp until I got to the southwest corner, and out of the wind. There isn’t enough water straight through the center, I had to stay on the edge. When I did get to the corner, I pulled into a small cove there and took a break, not because I needed one, but to let things calm down. I was hoping for a wood duck, and I saw them, as the geese warned them about me, and they took flight, of course. I sat there in the cove for quite a while, soaking up the sunshine, listening to the birds singing, and watching the waterfowl out in the main body of the swamp.

I thought that after a break, and if I just drifted with the wind, that maybe I could get closer to some of the waterfowl, but it didn’t work out that way. I did one drift across, and there were hundreds of ducks of many species, I think I saw a small flock of blue winged teals, but it was hard to tell as they rocketed away. There were huge flocks of both bufflehead and coots, along with the ever-present, ever honking geese, and a pair of swans as well. I gave the swans a wide berth, I’ve had dealings with them during nesting season before, and don’t want to get attacked by one while I’m in a kayak.

 I did manage to snap the picture of a heron, not great, but pretty good. I took some others as well, nothing special though, no reason to use up my limited space displaying them

Great Blue Heron

 

 I paddled back up to the cove, took another, longer break, then repeated the same drift again, but the geese were always on alert. So I went all the way around to where I had parked and called it a day, good thing too, I was getting burned to a crisp by the sun and didn’t know it. On my way back to my vehicle, I had a tree swallow that I swear was going to try to land on my hat, or he was attacking me and I didn’t know it, but there wasn’t a nesting spot for it in that area so I don’t know why he wold have attacked. He was less than two feet from my face, I wish I could have gotten the camera out and snapped a pic, but it happened too quickly for that.

According to my GPS unit, I managed to cover almost 3 miles in that swamp, but only half of it was paddling. Whenever I was headed to the north, I never had to paddle because the wind was so strong, all I had to do was steer, which also slowed my drift down. I don’t know how strong the winds were, but I could tell by looking at the bank that I was moving along at a very good clip when the wind was driving me, faster than a fast walk. All in all, a very good day, despite not getting any great pics, but that brings me to another point that has hit me this weekend.

Since I started the photo blog, I have been trying for the perfect outdoor/nature shots, and I was beginning to judge how good a day was by my pictures, not the day itself. There’s a couple of reasons for that, one, I had several really good photographic days lumped together towards the end of winter. I was on a roll and wanted to keep it going. The other reason is that I am trying to sell my pictures through my photo blog. I started trying to sell them somewhat reluctantly, I know nature pictures aren’t big sellers, unless you’re Ansel Adams.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not bashing Ansel Adams, I am a great admirer of his work, but there isn’t that much special about it. His claim to fame is that he lugged a large format camera and gear to places no one else had the fortitude to do that before, and he screwed a #25 Wratten filter to the front of his lens and shot from where no one else had before. It helped in that he came from a wealthy family that could subsidize his extended trips, and promote his work as he was getting established. Coming from a wealthy family he was also able to hobnob with the “right” people to make a name for himself.

For the rest of us who aspire to be great nature photographers, it is a lot tougher. About the only place to sell nature photography is through stock photo companies. They keep your pictures on file, and if a client of the stock company sees one they like, the photographer may make a few cents on each photo used. You can’t make a living at it. Most of the time you can’t even make enough money that way to cover your expenses.

If you make a name for yourself, you may get hired as a staff photographer for a magazine, but there are about a million people vying for any openings that may occur, so the chances of landing one is pretty slim. Most staff photographers work differently than I do anyway. They are given an assignment, and most of the time the assignment involves setting up some where in a blind, excuse me, they aren’t called blinds anymore, they are now known as hides. Hunters use blinds, and no nature photographer wants to have anything to do with hunting, even the terminology. Anyway, they set up in hides and wait for the subject they are assigned to shoot shows up. I would go stark raving bonkers sitting in a hide waiting for something to happen. Not my style, my style is to catch nature as it happens, and sometimes that means the light isn’t perfect, or I may not have a perfectly clear view of the subject.

If you think I sound bitter about the situation, I’m not, it the way it is. Most of us who take nature photos do so because we love it, not because we plan to make a living at it. Then I heard about Fotomoto from a friend’s son. Fotomoto is a different web-based way for photographers to sell their pictures. They are really a printing and shipping service as much as anything. You display your photos on your web page, add a couple of lines of code from Fotomoto to your website, and if some one wants to purchase a photo, Fotomoto does the printing and shipping to the customer. There is no upfront costs from Fotomoto, they take a percentage from any sales they process. With much urging from friends and family, I took the plunge and set up my website to display, and to try to sell my pictures.

So, what does any of this have to do with paddling a swamp in Cascade? It is this, while I was sitting back in the little cove taking breaks, I had time to think. I was sitting back in the cove on a glorious early spring day, listening to the and watching birds singing, watching Great Blue Herons building their nests, with swallows flitting about over the water, there were waterfowl all around the area, and yet I was judging the day to be a failure since I hadn’t taken any really great pictures. If I wasn’t trying to sell my pictures, I would have been as happy as a clam, it was a great day!

I was hesitant about making the attempt to sell my pictures in the first place, I was afraid that what had happened would happen. This isn’t the first time I have tried to earn money doing something I love. Spud and I made a couple of attempts, one was guiding. Epic fail. I took one client out for a day of steelheading, and he was an absolute jerk. He couldn’t cast, couldn’t wade, and wouldn’t take advise, yet he had no trouble dressing me down at the end of the day when he hadn’t caught any fish. I had him on fish, it was his own incompetence as a fisherman that was the reason he didn’t catch any, but you couldn’t tell him that.

Spud and I also started building our own spinners for use for steelhead and salmon, and they worked great, as well as any store-bought brands. But ours weren’t fancy and didn’t come in attractive packaging, and the biggest surprise was that we were selling them too cheap. The store-bought brands were going for about two bucks, and we could make a profit selling ours for fifty cents. But, guys would hear what we were charging and think that ours couldn’t possibly work since we were selling so cheaply.

I had looked into selling my photographs before, and had dabbled in selling some of the things I made while woodworking, and I had come to the conclusion that the quickest way to ruin something that you love doing is to try to make a living doing it.

So maybe that swamp was the perfect place to go, not only did it give me time to think, but the location of it helped me put things in perspective. There I was, in a small oasis of nature, surrounded by the worst type of hustle and bustle development we humans build so that we’ll have something to complain about. If there is one thing we humans like to do it’s complain, as evidenced by the fact that I am complaining about complaining, the irony of it all! But, as hundreds of people and their vehicles sped all around me in their hurry to get nowhere, I was having about as perfect of a day as one can have. Yet the push to take nothing but great pictures was on the verge of letting me ruin it for myself.

So I have come to some conclusions, I’ll continue my website and trying to sell my photos. I have done sillier things with my money than keeping an unprofitable website up and running. However, I am not going to let it run my life as I was close to letting happen. I will tweak the pages that don’t display correctly, and I will replace the page I had to trash, with about 1/3 of the pictures on it. Uploading and trying to palm off good but not great pictures does nothing except cause more work for myself. I know great pictures will come, they always have, usually when I least expect them to happen. That’s why I always carry a camera when I am outdoors, you can’t predict when greatness will happen. I will no longer push only for greatness though, as it gets in the way of enjoying anything less than greatness, and I would rather not go there.

And no, I didn’t see any snakes, but I’ll bet that swamp is full of them when the weather is warmer.


Another day kayaking on Muskegon Lake

The weather has turned nice here, finally, so it was a great day to get the kayak out and head over to Muskegon Lake again. Even on the way over to Muskegon, I still hadn’t decided where I was going to go exactly. They had 3 inches of rain in the central section of Michigan early this week, and that’s the main area of the Muskegon River watershed. I was pretty sure the river would be running high and fast, and it was. I could see that I didn’t want to try paddling upstream against the current as I crossed the bridges over the river as I was coming into Muskegon, so that left the lake to be paddled. The wind was moderate from the south-east, not too bad, so I put in at Snug Harbor again, this time, there was no ice, but there were dozens of vehicles filling the boat ramp parking when I got there. It used to be that I could go to Muskegon Lake to fish in April and have almost the entire lake to myself, not anymore. I know it was a nice day and all, but almost all the parking spaces were filled already when I arrived.

I loaded my gear in my kayak and set out into the wind. It wasn’t bad, but there was a good chop on the water, and that was made worse by all of the boat traffic, kicking up wakes. There was a huge flock of at least 50 mute swans, but I have so many pictures of swans that I didn’t bother taking a picture of the flock. Instead, I headed up into the Devil’s Kitchen since the ice was gone. There were numerous flocks of ducks of just about every species native to Michigan that I could see from the entrance to the Kitchen. Once again though, they were on the skittish side. Some kept swimming farther back into the Kitchen, and some took to wing before I could get good pictures. My attempts at photography were further hampered by the waves from the wind, and the boat wakes. With both myself and the ducks bobbing up and down in the waves, half the time I couldn’t see them. When my kayak was at the bottom of a trough, and the ducks were too, they were completely hidden from view. When we were both on the crests of waves, I could see them fairly well, but it was really hard trying to time the movements of both my kayak and the ducks to get any kind of picture, the couple of pictures I did take came out fuzzy from the motion of my kayak bobbing and rolling in the waves. You can sort of see that in this picture, only one of the ducks in in full view, and one is almost hidden, except for its head.

Buffleheads

 

As I continued working my way back into the Devil’s Kitchen, flock after flock of ducks came flying out and into the main part of the lake. Mallards of course, but also bufflehead, canvasbacks, redheads, coots, mergansers, and some I couldn’t identify. I made it back about halfway into the Kitchen, and ran out of water, the lake is extremely low despite how much water is flowing into it from the river. It was all very cool, even though I didn’t get any great pictures. There was a pair of nesting geese that I shot, but they chose kind of ugly spot to nest in.

Female goose on the nest as the male stands guard

 

Here’s a close up of the female..

Female goose on the nest

 

I don’t know if she was upset with how close I was getting, or the smell from that old boot right next to where she chose to lay her eggs. While I was there, one of the many eagles in the area flew over, I got a shot of it, albeit a bad one.

Eagle hunting for fish

Since I couldn’t get all the way back into the Kitchen, and the waves on the main lake were making photography difficult, I decided to paddle up Green Creek, which is about a mile from the Snug Harbor ramp. I won’t say I was fighting the wind, but it wasn’t making paddling any easier, so I pulled into the little harbor for the North Shore Marina to take a break, and to watch the owner sink pilings into the lake bottom for boats to tie up to. I wish I would have taken a picture of it now, American ingenuity at work. They have an old pontoon boat to which they have mounted a home-made crane of sorts to the front to lift the larger pilings. They weren’t setting the larger ones when I was there, just smaller ones that the owner and his son could handle by hand. They have a gasoline powered pump that they use to “dig” the holes for the pilings, the inlet for the pump is allowed to hang over the side of the boat in the lake, and the discharge has a long pipe on the end of a hose. The son would hold the piling upright in place, while the owner would shove the discharge pipe down into the sand at the bottom of the lake right next to the piling. The water flow would out of the pipe and blast the sand away, just like putting a garden hose up against dirt, and you could watch the piling slowly sink into the bottom. Once they had it at the right level, they had a couple of very long-handled home-made implements that they used to push sand back in around the piling. I was surprised how quickly it went, less than five minutes to sink a piling seven or eight feet into the sand.

While they were working, their dog came down to the edge of the lake to check me out, and since it was the only critter that would sit still for me, I took its picture.

Bored dog

While I was taking that picture, I saw another eagle soaring above us, so I took another bad picture of it.

Eagle in flight

I talked to the owner and his son for a few minutes, while they were taking a break, and then, with my break over, I set out for Green Creek. I ran into the same problem there, no water. I tried to find a way up into the creek, but I ran aground every time I tried. I thought about getting out and dragging my kayak across the sand bars, but with the waves, that wouldn’t have been as easy as it sounds. When I ran aground, it wasn’t firmly, the waves would lift the boat, then drop me back onto the bottom again. I thought I could go with the waves, but it didn’t work. I was sure I would get thrown off-balance in the waves if I tried to make a graceful exit from my boat, and probably end up wetter than I was from the waves splashing me as it was. So I shoved off again, and looked for the entrance to Bear Creek, which I am sure would have been passable, but it was still well over a mile away from where I was. That doesn’t sound that far, but I had already been out there almost 3 hours, even if it doesn’t sound like it here, and Bear Creek and Bear Lake could be an entire day trip on their own. So I headed back to the ramp, it wasn’t a long day on the water, I only paddled a little over 3 miles, but it was a good day. Once again, there were waterfowl everywhere I looked, and eagles soaring over the lake hunting for fish.

Besides, ending early gave me a chance to check out the last river access site the Conservation Officer told me about on my last trip, at the end of Giles Road. It is on the north side of the river, the others he told me about were on the south side. I found it easy enough, and when I got there, I was sure glad that I hadn’t chose to try to paddle upstream on the Muskegon River, for it is running high and fast!

Muskegon River flooding

 The sign says it all…

Road Ends

I talked to some people there, a couple of guys had fished their way down stream in kayaks from the next access site up, it only took them 4 hours to cover just over 10 miles, while they were fishing, that’s moving right along. It also gives me an idea how long it would take to do the same trip, but checking out the delta as well. There was also a couple there with a pretty cool set up. Their boat wasn’t really a kayak, and it wasn’t really a canoe, I would call it a canyak, for lack of what it is really called. The guy had made his own mount for an electric trolling motor on the back, including a place to mount the battery for the trolling motor. Again, I wish I would have snapped a picture, because he had done a really good job of it, and he even had it so the motor wouldn’t hang down too far in the water, and it had a way for him to tilt it up in really shallow water. More good old American ingenuity on display.

Well, that’s about it for this trip, it doesn’t sound like much here, but it was a glorious day on the water, sunshine, comfortable temperatures, lots of waterfowl and eagles to watch, a good day to take it a bit easier than normal and enjoy our real first taste of spring.


Noooo, not Round Lake!!!!!!

I have just read that the Michigan DNR is asking the Michigan Natural Resources Commission for permission to shut down 23 “underperforming” state forest campgrounds. Among those 23 are three that I have stayed at, and two I visit often. I am not going to list all 23, but the ones I use are Round Lake, Pigeon Bridge, and the Manistee River Bridge State Forest Campgrounds.

My family has been going to the Round Lake State Forest Campground since the mid 60’s, almost 50 years. It is still my first choice as far as a campground when I visit the Pigeon River Country, and the reason I use that campground is the reason the DNR wants to shut it down, few people camp there. Well, there are some of us who camp to get away from it all, especially the crowds, and Round Lake was perfect for that. I was there twice last year, both times on busy long holiday weekends, when other campgrounds tend to fill up. It was nice to know that when I pulled into Round Lake that I would be able to find a spot to set up camp, and wouldn’t have to drive around, looking for a campground with an opening. As I wrote about here, and here, I love that place, where you go to sleep at night listening to the coyotes and the owls, not some group of drunks partying the night away. Closing Round Lake and Pigeon Bridge is going to put even more pressure on the other campgrounds in the Pigeon River Country that remain open, like Pickerel Lake and Pigeon River. I will not stay at either of them, especially Pickerel Lake, as it is way too crowded for my tastes.

Round Lake Campground

 

Round Lake

 

While Round Lake is my first choice, my second choice has always been Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. It is right on the Pigeon River where the Sturgeon Valley Road crosses the river. On short weekends when my plans were for some hardcore trout fishing, I would stay there, and still would, if it remains open. It was already closed down for a while a few years ago, supposedly the well had gone bad, but it has been open again for a couple of years now. I think that it would get enough use to justify its remaining open, as a number of people use it as a base camp when they hike the Shingle Mill Pathway. It is a great little campground, tucked in between the Pigeon River and the base of one of the many large hills in the area. I would use it more often, if I didn’t love Round Lake so much.

As far as the Manistee River Bridge State Forest Campground, I admit that I have only stayed there twice, once, when the equestrian campground at Goosecreek was so full that it was bothersome to me, and once when the state forest campground at Goosecreek was full . Goosecreek is my first choice when I camp near the Manistee River, but it was great knowing there was another campground close by in the event that Goosecreek was full, or there was a group of rowdies staying in the equestrian camping area.

 I understand the budgetary pressures the DNR faces, they have been all but cut off from any general fund monies over the years, which is a shame. Because now it seems, every recreational opportunity has to not only offer access to the great outdoors, but must also generate revenues for the state. Some things can’t be measured by money alone, especially not a wilderness experience. I would think this would be more true than ever, as many people are beginning to get back into the wilderness way of camping and backpacking. I think that’s one of the great ironies in all of this, the Pigeon River Country is being managed as to make it as much of a wilderness as possible, and now, the DNR is going to close down two of the campgrounds there because they are wilderness settings, and don’t get much use.

But how do you measure the “performance” of a campground? Is it only by the revenue it generates? I don’t think so, there is much more to a campground, and people’s experiences there, and their enjoyment that can’t be measured in dollars.

All of this points out a major flaw in the way most of our outdoor resources are funded in this state, mostly with user fees. I am not opposed to user fees, but they shouldn’t be the only source of funding, because not every one who uses recreational facilities pay the user fees. The Pigeon River Country is a good example. There are many people who take advantage of the fact that you can camp for free in most of the Pigeon River Country, and all state forests for that matter, as long as you camp outside of an established campground. I see more of this all the time, people who camp out in the sticks, and pay nothing towards the maintenance of the state forests. They will often drive into one of the campgrounds to use the outhouses, or to replenish their water supply from the wells there. And, you have the hikers and backpackers who never pay any of the user fees, even though they are hiking on trails the DNR paid to build, and continues to pay to maintain. That isn’t fair. But, I really don’t want to see a “trail fee” either, where you have to pay for access to the trails.

It used to be that camping in any state forest campground was free, then the state instituted a $3 per night fee at the campgrounds. Then the fee was raised to $10, and now it stands at $15, which the DNR admits is so high that it is driving some people away from using the state forest campgrounds. I don’t much care for the fact that it costs me $45 to spend a long weekend at a state forest campground, but I know I have to pay to keep the campgrounds open. Those who camp out in the sticks pay nothing, yet they’re hiking the same trails I do, fishing the same waters I do, and enjoying the same beauty I do, I guess that means I’m the stupid one.

How do you put a price tag on a campground as remote, quiet, peaceful, beautiful, and rustic as the Round Lake Campground is? I can’t, it is priceless to me, both because of my memories spanning 40 plus years, and plans to continue to make more memories there. When I take my vacation this May, my plan is to stay at the Round Lake Campground at least most of the week. I may well stay one or two nights someplace else, but Round Lake was my planned destination. I don’t want to see the campground closed, but neither do I want to see it become as crowded as many of the other  campgrounds are either.

 There has to be a way to fund the more rustic campgrounds that get little use, just for the fact that they are rustic and get little use. We need those kinds of places, for what good is a wilderness if we have to close access to it because it is a wilderness?

The new Recreational Passport will eventually trickle some money down to the state forests, but that may take a few years with the huge backlog of maintenance that needs to be done at the state parks in Michigan. And who knows if it will ever generate enough revenue to re-open the campgrounds that are being considered for closure?

This is what I would like to see happen. I would like to see that it is made mandatory that every one camping in a state forest, whether in a campground or not, to have a Recreational Passport. I don’t think that $10 per year is too much to ask of those who make use of our state lands. I would then like to see the price per night for camping in a designated campground dropped to say $5 or $10 per night, so that more people would consider using them, rather than camping in the sticks. I am not an economist, and I don’t have access to the numbers to crunch to do the math, but I would be willing to bet that my proposal would fund not only our state parks, but our state forest campgrounds as well.

I think that my proposal would require the approval of our state legislature, and the signature of our Governor, but until then, I hope the Michigan Natural Resources Commission votes the proposal to close the 23 campgrounds down, and that the DNR finds a way to fund them for now.