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

Posts tagged “Fly fishing

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Peaceful

I received the Email letting me know that this week’s photo challenge was “Peaceful” on the same day as we had a significant snowfall, only our second of the year. Freshly fallen snow is something most people find peaceful, as long as they are looking at it from someplace warm. 😉 So, I rushed out to take a few photos, like this one.

Fresh snow and a winter creek

Of course my favorite out of the bunch would be one that included a stream in it. Then it dawned on me, the times I find that are the most peaceful to me are times when I am fly fishing for trout on one of the beautiful streams we have here in Michigan. So I am going to cheat again, and rather than post just one photo, I am going to post several, interspersed with some quotes about fly fishing that help to illustrate why I love it, and find it so peaceful.

“Often I have been exhausted on trout streams, uncomfortable, wet, cold, briar scarred, sunburned, mosquito bitten, but never, with a fly rod in my hand have I been unhappy”~ Charles Kuralt

The Jordan River in May

“They say you forget your troubles on a trout stream, but that’s not quite it. What happens is that you begin to see where your troubles fit into the grand scheme of things, and suddenly they’re just not such a big deal anymore.” ~John Gierach

The Jordan River in May

“Be patient and calm – for no one can catch fish in anger.” – Herbert Hoover

The Pigeon River in May

“The angler forgets most of the fish he catches, but he does not forget the streams and lakes in which they are caught.” – Charles K. Fox

The Pigeon River, mid-summer

“If I fished only to capture fish, my fishing trips would have ended long ago.” Zane Grey

The Pigeon River, mid-summer

“To go fishing is the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of sun on blue water. It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle-makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week. And it is discipline in the equality of men – for all men are equal before fish.”- Herbert Hoover

The Manistee River, mid-summer

“I have never seen a river that I could not love. Moving water has a fascinating vitality. It has power and grace and associations. It has a thousand colors and a thousand shapes, yet it follows laws so definite that the tiniest streamlet is an exact replica of a great river”- Roderick Haig-Brown

Manistee River, mid-summer

“For the supreme test of a fisherman is not how many fish he has caught, not even how he has caught them, but what he has caught when he has caught no fish.” – John H. Bradley

Daisies along the Manistee River

“Some go to church and think about fishing, others go fishing and think about God.” – Tony Blake

The Manistee River

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

Me, fishing the Pere Marquette in early autumn

“More than half the intense enjoyment of fly-fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life secured thereby, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard and done.” – Charles F. Orvis

Iris along the Pere Marquette River

“There will be days when the fishing is better than one’s most optimistic forecast, others when it is far worse. Either is a gain over just staying home.” Roderick Haig-Brown

Mute swan on the Jordan River

It doesn’t get any more peaceful than that!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!


Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan – Sacramento Bee

This is a story from the Sacramento Bee that I am posting in its entirety, since not every one reads the Bee.

Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan

By Denny Walsh

Published: Saturday, Sep. 10, 2011 – 12:00 am | Page 1B

A Sacramento federal judge has quashed a joint federal-state plan to improve conditions for a rare High Sierra fish, ruling that an auger driven by a gasoline-powered generator cannot be used in designated wilderness areas.

For more than 25 years, government agencies have sought by various means to increase the population of the Paiute cutthroat trout and restore this rare creature to its historical range.

Six years ago, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ordered a halt to the state’s plan to poison one stretch of a High Sierra creek and a lake as part of the recovery project.

This week it was Damrell again stepping in to block the latest plan with a permanent injunction based on the federal Wilderness Act.

Spokespersons for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Fish and Game vowed Friday that the agencies will continue to work together to find a way to accomplish the recovery and restoration of the Paiute cutthroat trout.

“Our team of lawyers are currently reviewing the order to see what we can do to move forward,” said Fish and Game spokesman Kevin Thomas.

Critical to this analysis, he said, is the Forest Service’s decision to employ the auger.

“We can retool the project to address the court’s concerns, we can appeal, that’s two of our options,” he noted.

The plan was to poison with rotenone 11 miles of Silver King Creek to kill non-native fish that crossbreed with the Paiute cutthroat and then to stock the stretch with pure Paiute cutthroat from established populations in the upper portions of the watershed.

The creek is in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness section of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Alpine County. The 11 miles includes six miles of the main stem of the creek downstream of Llewellyn Falls to Silver King Canyon and five miles of tributaries.

The auger would be used to distribute potassium permanganate to neutralize the toxicity of the rotenone further downstream.

The action was proposed to prevent extinction of the Paiute cutthroat, as required by the federal Endangered Species Act, the agencies say. The Paiute cutthroat is native only to Silver King Creek and is listed under the ESA as a threatened species.

The goal is 2,500 pure Paiute cutthroat greater than 3 inches in length in the pristine watershed.

The agencies recently announced they planned to begin the project in the late summer or early fall of next year. Rotenone was to be applied twice a year over two to three years; each application would take seven days.

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Wilderness Watch, and Friends of Silver King Creek, all nonprofit corporations, sued to stop the project.

They claim that the use of the auger does not qualify as an exception to the Wilderness Act’s prohibition of motorized equipment, that the project elevates recreational fishing over preserving wilderness character, and that the agencies failed to prove the project is necessary to meet the act’s minimum requirements for administering wilderness areas.

The agencies countered that using the auger is the most effective method of applying potassium permanganate compared to the drip system, and would minimize the human and ecological effects.

In his 63-page opinion issued Tuesday, Damrell agreed with the plaintiffs that, in choosing the conservation of the Paiute cutthroat over preservation of the wilderness character, “the agencies left native invertebrates species (such as stoneflies, caddisflies and mayflies) out of the balance, and thus improperly concluded that authorization of motorized equipment will comply with the act.”

The plaintiffs are entitled to a permanent injunction barring the project, the judge declared, because “they have demonstrated that rotenone treatment will kill sensitive macro-invertebrate species and that re-colonization will not occur for some species because they cannot adapt to the project area” once the plan has been carried out.

He said the facts tip in favor of the plaintiff “as no exigency exists to begin the project now,” and “the public interest favors preservation of the unimpaired wilderness.”

via Federal judge halts Paiute cutthroat trout recovery plan – Sacramento Sports – Kings, 49ers, Raiders, High School Sports | Sacramento Bee.

Pigeon River Country weekend, day one

I got a late start, due to sleeping in later than I had planned, but still managed to make it to Round Lake State Forest campground at around 2:30 PM. I was quite surprised to see that the campground was almost full. I know that it was the Labor Day weekend, but last year, there were only a couple of people camping there over Labor Day. I guess the publicity about it almost being shut down this spring helped to bring more people to the campground. I did notice that most of the campers there were younger people, I’ll have a lot more to say about that later on, in my post about the third day up there.

It didn’t take me long to set up camp, but I did work up a pretty good sweat while I was doing so. Lesson one this weekend, despite computer models, radar, and satellites, weather forecasters today are less accurate than they used to be. What they forecast played out more or less, but at a completely different time frame than they forecast. I should know by now, going by forecasts has messed with my plans the last couple of years, time to go old school and bring clothes for all types of weather, then go with the flow.

Anyway, I sat at the picnic table to cool off, and enjoy the surroundings. Even with the campground near capacity, it was still quiet and peaceful, and the scent of pine, maples and oaks helped to rejuvenate me. That didn’t last long though, I was in the Pigeon River Country, and that meant there were places to go, things to see, photos to take, and fish to catch! I couldn’t help myself, I couldn’t sit still and relax, I found myself pacing the campsite, so I went for a walk around the southern end of the lake, and down the cut-off from the High Country pathway for a way, then turned around and retraced my path back to my campsite.

Looking across Round Lake to my campsite

Here’s a closer look at my campsite, you can make out the picnic table and my tent.

My campsite on Round Lake

People sometimes ask me why I don’t go in for backpacking when I do so much hiking. There are several reasons. One is that the super lightweight gear for backpacking is too expensive for my budget, too many other things to spend money on, like more fishing gear. Another reason is that I have found that I miss way too many things if I go from point A to point B. I find that when I walk the same path backward, that it puts a completely different perspective on the trail, and I notice many things that I missed on my way down the trail the first time, even though I try to remember to look behind me often. When I do trails that loop, I do the loops in the opposite direction every time that I hike them, that way I get to see everything along the trail sooner or later.

When I got back to my campsite, I decided that since it was warm and muggy, it was a good afternoon to do some fly fishing. In weighing where to go, I kept in mind that one of my objectives for the weekend was pictures of a bull elk with a rack. What better place to try to catch fish and pictures of elk at the same time than the Black River at the Blue Lakes Road bridge? None that I could think of, so that’s where I went.

Technically, that isn’t in the Pigeon River Country, it is right on the edge. The land north of Blue Lakes Road is owned by the Black River Ranch, but no one has ever kicked me off the river when I fish there. I managed one small brookie, and one other hit while fishing on Saturday. I don’t know what I do wrong when I fish the Black. It looks like great trout water, the river has a reputation for big brook trout, but I have never done well fishing it.

While I was fishing, I was listening for the sound of bull elk bugling, but I never heard one. I did hear that there were suddenly a few cars driving down the road, which meant it was time for elk watching.

That’s one of the things you can rely on while in or near the Pigeon River Country, every evening, cars come out of nowhere with people driving slowly along the roads and two tracks looking for elk. I have learned that driving isn’t the best way to see elk, finding a spot where they are likely to feed in the evening, and waiting for them to show up is.

I went back to my explorer, put my fishing gear away, got out my cameras, and sat on the guard rail to the bridge to wait for the elk to show up, and they did.

Elk in the distance

There is a bull elk in that picture, but you can’t really tell, even if you click on it for a large view. As always, they came out of the woods just at dusk when the light was fading, and as always, they stayed in the back corner of the field about as far from the road as they can be.

Every so often a car full of people would drive up slowly, look at the elk for a few minutes, then continue on down the road. At some point, a couple about my age drove up on ATV’s, and we talked at length about places to see elk herds. Since ATV’s are not allowed in the Pigeon River Country proper, they stay on the edges on the southeast side of the PRC, the one area I have never explored fully. They told me of several places the DNR is doing plantings of fields of crops to attract the elk and deer that I wasn’t aware of. I know of a couple of fields planted by the DNR closer to where I normally stay, but I haven’t had great success at them, either. But, since I have heard that the elk herds are larger towards the southeast corner of the PRC, I think they may be worth checking out. In fact, I did, on my second day up there, I’ll get to that story in my next post.

As it was, the field where I was watching the elk was full of wildflowers, like this.


It was getting too dark for any photos, so it was time to head back to camp. I ate supper, then was sitting at the picnic table when this guy hopped up to me.

Bullfrog in camp

If I couldn’t get a photo of a bull elk, at least I could get one of a bullfrog. 🙂

I wasn’t really tired, since I had slept in so late in the morning, but I went in my tent and laid down on my sleeping bag anyway, hoping I would be able to sleep and get an early start in the morning. It was way too warm and humid to sleep though, and it wasn’t long after I laid down that the tent lit up from lightning, and then I heard the thunder off in the distance. I was hoping the storm would cool it off, but the storm missed us for the most part, all we got at the campground was rain.

I eventually drifted off to sleep, and at some point during the night, it cooled off enough that I crawled into my sleeping bag rather than on it.

There is still hope

I just got back from my Labor Day weekend in the Pigeon River Country. I don’t have the time to do a full post about it right now, I am sorting through the nearly 500 pictures I took this weekend. But, I met three of the nicest people I have ever met this weekend. I was going to say the nicest young people, but that would make me sound like an old codger, and I am not quite ready for codgerhood, yet.

I was up early this morning, drinking my coffee, when I noticed waves on Round Lake. Huh? Waves on Round Lake? It is so small and sheltered that there are seldom any more than ripples on the water from the wind, I had to check out where the waves are coming from. They were coming from a pair of trumpeter swans that had landed on Round Lake!

Trumpeter swans

I chased them around the lake for a little while until I had a few fair pictures taken in the early morning light, and I went back to my coffee to let them relax and enjoy their breakfast, while I finished my coffee.

About that time, one of the people staying in the campsite next to mine walked by, so I pointed the swans out to him. He took some photos as well, then as he was returning to his campsite, the two of us started talking, first about the swans and how rare they were in Michigan, and then one thing led to another. We introduced ourselves to each other, his name is Ryan and the conversation continued. Soon, his friends Meagan and Andy joined us and our conversation.

A couple of things struck me about them, they are all very intelligent, all very well spoken, all very soft-spoken, all love nature, and we all share a love of the Pigeon River Country. I told them about my blog, and I hope that they do read it. The best part of talking to them is that I learned from them, not just about nature and places to go, but they also made me realize a couple of other things as well. One is that I spend too much time on the go up there, which I’ll explain when I do the full length post on this weekend, but also that maybe always going it alone isn’t so great after all. So, Ryan, Andy, or Meagan, if any or all of you read this, I would go camping, hiking, or kayaking with any of any of you, any time. That may not mean much to you guys, but it isn’t often I meet any one that I would make the same offer to. I am pretty darned particular who I spend my outdoor time with, very few people qualify, but all three of you do.

I know you won’t take me up on that, I probably seem like a weird old codger to you, that’s OK, I understand completely. I have been losing faith in the entire human race these last few years, meeting you guys renewed my spirits more than you know. I always enjoy my time outdoors, but it seems as if I have been running into more than my fair share of jerks lately, from drunken mushroomers, campers who party all night, slobs who think it is their duty to kill anything that has hair, and, well, you guys know what I mean. Thank you for proving that not every one is like that, and that there are people who do love nature for nature’s sake.

Heading to the Pigeon River Country this weekend!

Well, all my scrimping and saving has paid off! It will be tight, but I have enough money so that I will be able to go camping in the Pigeon River Country this Labor Day weekend!

I have two major goals for this weekend, one is good pictures of Michigan elk with antlers, and the other, if money allows, is to check out a few places for later trips along the Lake Huron shoreline. On my trip last year, I saw male elk with racks, but they were either too far away, or it was too dark for good photos. But, I did get to hear them bugling! Now there’s a sound you never forget! I have photos of western elk with racks, but for all the times I have been to the Pigeon River Country, no “native” elk.

Of course I’ll do some fly fishing, at least for a few hours or so. The weather is supposed to be crappy according to the forecasts, a strong cold front is going to move across the area sometime on Saturday, and cool us off from the 90’s to the 60’s. I’ll love the 60’s, maybe even some frost at night, but I’m sure it will turn the trout off. Oh well, I don’t fish to catch fish anyway. That kind of change in the weather always affects the fish, and it will mean scattered showers over the weekend as well. It may not be great for photography either, but I am going to be enjoying myself no matter what the weather brings.

I don’t have much time to write more about my trip, I’m taking a break from packing as it is. But one other note as well, when I get back, I will be cancelling my Internet service, or I should say non-service. I have Verizon wireless Internet service, and it is the pits. It is terribly slow and unreliable, and when I complain, they give me updated hardware and software that works great for a short time, then it is back to the same old, same old. I have had it with paying for products and services that do not perform, and I’m going to go to another Internet provider, but there will likely be a gap as far as a time when I don’t have service at home. I do have access to a couple of wi-fi networks at times, I will be writing my posts ahead of time, then posting them when I can get to one of the wi-fi networks. I may not be able to post as often for a while, but that may give me more time for writing and photography until I do get hooked back up to the web!

I will be doing a long post, or maybe several short posts about this weekend when I get back, if I get back. I may run out of gas money and have to stay up there, no wouldn’t that be a shame?

Oh, and I’ll throw in a picture just so it looks good on Facebook and twitter.

Green and brown dragonfly

OK, I’ll make it two for those of you not into bugs.

Hostas in bloom

Until next week, bye.

The stench lingers on, the Pigeon River Part III

Just so that there are no misunderstanding, most of this post is going to be my recollections and my opinions about the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch and the dam that they operate on the Pigeon River.

First of all, I have to correct an error in my previous post “Victory for the Pigeon River! Part II” concerning the history of the dam. It has been widely reported that the dam was originally built by the owners of the Lansing Club, however, further research has shown that the dam actually precedes the hunt club days and was built by the Cornwall Lumber Company to make it easier to float logs down the Pigeon during the lumber era. That’s what I get for trusting newspaper articles, but I wasn’t alive at the turn of the last century to know that.

Anyway, you can read the previous post for a history of the dam, or I’ll do a short one here. It was originally an earthen and log dam built to float logs downstream. After the Lansing Club purchased the property they maintained the dam and the pond above it. In May of 1957, a heavy rainfall washed part of the earthen dam out, releasing sediment from behind the dam and resulted in a minor fish-kill down river from the dam. The dam was reconstructed using concrete to repair the damage. In 1970, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the land and the dam and set up a yoga retreat on the property. In 1984, and again in 2008, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning  erred in their operation of the dam, causing two more massive fish-kills in the Pigeon River.

Which was worse? It’s hard to say. The reason for the 1984 incident was that there had been an inspection of the dam, and it was found that work needed to be done on the floodgates to prevent a failure of the dam. The Michigan DNR issued a permit along with a schedule for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to slowly release water from behind the dam in a controlled manner as not to cause a release of the sediment trapped above the dam, so that the floodgates could be repaired. As the drawdown began, the lowered water levels in the impoundment exposed acres of the black, organic silt that is the major portion of the sediment to view, and to air. Instead of the idyllic pond that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning was used to, there were acres of rotting organic silt mudflats that offended senses of the guests that had paid to stay at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning Ranch.

“Humans need as much consideration as some little goofy fish” J. Oliver Black, the founder of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning once said while overlooking the dam that has caused so much destruction. “If it weren’t for the DNR, we wouldn’t have had this trouble in the first place”. Taken from the book “Pigeon River Country: a Michigan forest”  By Dale Clarke Franz

Richard Armour, the maintenance man for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning told the real story in the court proceedings that resulted from the 1984 incident. He acted under the orders of J. Oliver Black, otherwise know as Yogacharya Black, and raised the floodgates high enough to perform the repairs, then quickly shut them as soon as he was finished, all under the cover of darkness. This was confirmed by an automated flow gauge operated by the United States Geological Survey just a few miles downstream of the dam.

Fearing a loss of income, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning opened the floodgates all the way, drained the impoundment way too quickly, and released tons of the rotting organic silt downstream that resulted in the first stage of the fish-killing process. After quickly repairing the floodgates, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning then closed them to refill the impoundment as quickly as possible to restore the pond to its normal level. That’s the second part of the fish-killing equation, because then, the sediment that is being transported downstream settles out, coating the river bottom with the sediment, and the reduced flow of water leaves most of any surviving fish stranded high and dry.

If Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning had followed the DNR’s orders, none of that would have happened. As it was, when the DNR investigated the fish-kill, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning tried to deny they were responsible. Of course that didn’t hold up, as the floodgates had been repaired, and the only way that could have taken place is if the impoundment had been drained.

Fast forward to June 22nd of 2008. The river was just getting completely healthy again, when Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning chose to ignore the fact that the automated system for the dam’s operation was malfunctioning, and needed to be repaired. The floodgates were opened all the way, releasing another torrent of sediment downstream, and rather than respond to the alarms going off, the operators of the dam ignored them until morning, when once again, they shut off the flow of water almost completely. Once again, they tried to deny that they were responsible for the resulting fish-kill. Once again, the denials from Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning didn’t hold up.

I was up there for the 4th of July weekend in 2008, and there was no one camping at the Pigeon Bridge State Forest Campground. No one could stand to camp there, it is just over a mile downstream of the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning dam, and the stench of rotting fish and the organic silt released from behind the dam were overwhelming. Even as far downstream as the Pigeon River State Forest Campground, several more miles downstream, the smell was more than people could stand.

Maybe I should explain what the organic silt is. Some of it comes from the normal life functions of aquatic animals, some of it is the decomposing bodies of animals that have died in the river, but the majority of it is plant matter. Either aquatic plants that die, or the leaves, trees, and grasses that fall into the river. In a normal, free-flowing river, it is transported downstream and only accumulates in a few places in slow sections of a river.

 When a river is dammed, that plant matter begins to build up behind the dam and rot slowly over time, producing methane gas as it does. The methane builds up in the silt until there is enough of it to break free and bubble up to the surface. Go to almost any lake and watch the surface, you’ll occasionally see bubbles coming up from the lake bottom, that’s methane gas rising to the surface. Methane gas smells like rotten eggs, not at all a pleasant odor.

The rotting fish were gone in a few weeks, but the silt remains in the river, and the stench lingers on. There are once again, large pockets of the silt deposited in the slower waters of the river, it will take years for the river to flush itself clean again. Every time one of those pockets is disturbed, more of the methane escapes to offend the nose.

If it were just the smell, it would be bad enough, but the smell is just a small part of the problem. The silt is clogging up the gravel that fish need to be able to spawn successfully. Trout and other fish drop their eggs in gravel, the eggs fall down in between the rocks that make up the gravel, and water flowing through the gravel transports oxygen to the eggs. With silt clogging up the flow of water through the gravel, the fish eggs die.

The silt also clogs the gills of the insects that live in the river, so there isn’t the food available that the young fish would feed on even if the eggs did manage to hatch. It will take years for the river to flush itself clean and for it to return to a healthy state once again, that is if there are no more “mistakes” by Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning before that happens.

I was still a teenager when Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning bought the Lansing club, it was no big deal to me. I didn’t agree with their ideas as far as them being vegans or their religious views, but I wasn’t going to walk into their retreat and tell them how wrong they were, to each their own is my motto. Too bad it didn’t work the other way.

Over the years I have had a few run ins with some of the guests from Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning , they are opposed to fishing, and don’t mind telling you what a horrible person you are if you do fish. Back in the early years, I would just let them vent and ignore them, but after the fish-kill of 1984, I would tell them to ask the management of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning how many fish they had killed, just to shut up the people accosting me. If you don’t want to fish, fine, don’t fish. Don’t lecture me about fish and fishing when you know nothing about the environment, or what the company you are a client of has done to the environment.

I guess that’s what really irks me, the air of moral superiority that these people come at me with. They don’t know me, or anything about me, other than I have a fish pole in my hands, and therefore I need to be taught the error of my ways. I’ve tried to hold a civil conversation with them, but that never works. It doesn’t take long for me to figure out that they have no clue as to how the environment actually functions, they just think its pretty and that they want to commune with nature. They don’t know a may fly from a caddis fly from a stone fly, and if I point one to them, all they want to know is if it will bite them or not. (Insert maniacal laugh here) I can appreciate that they love nature and think that it is beautiful, I do too, it’s just that I commune best with nature with a fly rod in my hand, standing in the river, learning as much as I can about the way nature works, as I catch a fish or two.

I would cut Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning some slack, if the fish-kills hadn’t been deliberate. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning claims they were accidents, BS!

When they received the permit from the Michigan DNR to draw down the impoundment and repair the floodgates, they were warned what the consequences would be if the opened the floodgates too far, too fast, but they did it anyway. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning decided to put expediency over the safety and health of the river, and they wiped out 10 years of river life. When Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning ignored the alarm system for the dam, they once again put expediency over the safety and health of the river, and killed another 10 years of river life. Those are not the actions of a group that promotes itself as a friend to the environment. Or a friend to people.

Each time that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has caused these fish-kills, they have also impacted the local economy in a negative way. Vanderbilt is a poor area to begin with, and many of the locals depend on the tourist industry to make a living. When the fish have been killed, the fishermen don’t come, business suffers, and the people of Vanderbilt suffer. But then there’s that moral superiority thing again. The people at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning don’t like the town folk, most of them are hunters and fishermen, and therefore the people at Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning don’t want to associate with the townspeople, and don’t really care what happens to them.

That air of moral superiority comes in handy when dealing with the media as well. When Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning does these things and is caught, they always fall back on the story that they are a non-profit group of Vegan yoga enthusiasts who just want to live in harmony with nature. That plays well with the media, who run a story or two about the events, then lets the story drop out of sight. If it was a for profit business that was ignoring DNR orders, sidestepping Federal Regulation, failing to maintain a dam, and killing thousands of fish, do you really believe the media would let the story drop?

Another thing that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning does every time they are caught is to plead poverty. They can’t afford to pay the fines levied by the DNR, or afford to maintain the dam in good condition, or to remove the dam, according to them. Yogacharya Black, who founded Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning, was a multimillionaire who made his fortune in the auto industry. I don’t know what happened to those millions of dollars, but I have often wondered about a few things. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning owns 800 acres of land, yet the yoga retreat only occupies a few acres very close to the dam and pond, the rest is all undeveloped. I have thought to myself, why don’t they sell off some of the land they aren’t using if they can’t afford to continue to own it. Well, that’s kind of tricky subject.

You see, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning still owns the land, but control of the land is now in the hands of the Clear Light Community Management Company. That’s a for profit subsidiary of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning that is acting as a real estate developer for the undeveloped portions of the 800 acres that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning owns. The vision is for a stand alone community, complete with housing and business owned by members of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning. Not too long ago, they announced that they were getting close to a ground breaking ceremony to build their own fire station. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Carol Armour, the current head of Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning shares many of the same notions as her mentor, Yogacharya Black. She claims any study done that calls for the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning dam to be removed is biased, and that the dam doesn’t harm the ecosystem of the river. OK, I guess she’s entitled to her opinion, even if it does fly in the face of science.

All I have to say is that the stench lingers on.

Victory for the Pigeon River! Part II

Paddle the pristine, nature-filled Pigeon River, stretch and rejuvenate your body with yoga, and dine like royalty as the kitchen staff pampers you with wonderful, gourmet vegetarian meals. Sound like a relaxing weekend? You deserve it! Treat yourself to all of the above and try some meditation, bring a good book, or hike the nature trails in your spare time. Led by yoga instructor, outdoor lover, and Song of the Morning staff member (name hidden to protect the guilty).”

Ahhhh, yeah, right. That was taken from the website for Song of the Morning Ranch, the yoga retreat on the banks of the Pigeon River, just outside the Pigeon River Country. That’s their advertising anyway, here’s the reality.

The dam, owned by the yoga retreat off Sturgeon Valley Road, has been in the spotlight since June 2008 when a release of water and sediment from the impoundment upstream of the dam caused a massive fish kill for miles downstream. After that incident, the DNR and PRCA filed a lawsuit against Golden Lotus, with TU signing on as an intervening plaintiff.”

That’s from a newspaper article online from the Petoskey News, you can read the entire story here.

The massive fish kill in June 2008 was the third such incident involving the old Lansing Club dam. First, a little history.

Song of the Morning Dam

The Lansing Club was a sportsman club that purchased 800 acres of land just east of Vanderbilt, Michigan, when that happened, I am not exactly sure. The Lansing Club built the dam on the Pigeon River over 100 years ago as a source for electricity back before there were any power lines in the area. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning continues to use the dam to generate electricity, even though they admit it would be cheaper for them to buy electricity from a utility company. But that wouldn’t let them claim they are “off the grid”.

There was a major Fishkill before Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the land and the dam, back on May 15, 1957, a 1.09 inch rainfall washed out the dam and produced a 12-foot head of water that roared down the Pigeon River. The earthworks were replaced with concrete and the dam became known as the Song of the Morning Ranch dam after Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning purchased the old Lansing Club.

Since Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has owned and operated the dam, there have been two major fish kills on the Pigeon River.

On July 3, 1984, the Song of the Morning Ranch dam operators ignored a DNR order to gradually draw down the impoundment to make critical repairs and released large quantities of water and silt from the 65 acre impoundment in their rush to get access to the bottom of the dam’s gates. The result was another silt spill into the Pigeon with the destruction of an estimated 22,000 fish! 

The second accident resulted in a four-year long court case that resulted in a Consent Order that required, among other things, “implementing an approved dam safety and management program” by the Song of the Morning Ranch so that there would never be another disaster on the Pigeon.

It was after that incident that a court ordered that if there were another such incident because of the dam in the future, the dam would have to be removed.

In April 2005 the State of Michigan petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees 99 hydroelectric dams in Michigan, to regulate the dam at Song of the Morning. FERC denied the request, as well as a request for rehearing, saying the dam did not meet the requirements for federal jurisdiction.

The fact that Song of the Morning operates off the grid was a major reason its dam escaped FERC regulation. Bryan Burroughs, executive director of Trout Unlimited in Michigan claimed the retreat, which occasionally drew electricity from the grid but now uses a diesel generator for backup power, “didn’t disconnect until they smelled that people were trying to get FERC to regulate them.”

Indeed, just four months after the state’s initial request to FERC, Golden Lotus wrote the commission, stating its intention to disconnect from the grid. “Everybody we talked to said ‘Don’t be FERC regulated,’ Song of the Morning staff  general manager Ian Wylie said. “It’s a nightmare. The cost to do that would be outrageous.”

The June 2008 fish kill was due to operator error, and resulted in thousands of dead trout lining the banks of the Pigeon River for several miles below the dam.

Dead trout on the Pigeon River, from the Detroit Free Press

Sometime during the night of June 22 or small hours of June 23, 2008, a mechanical problem caused the dam gates to open completely, or nearly so. Tons of sediment rose from the pond’s bottom, churned in the sudden torrent, and rushed through the gates into the river.

An alarm sounded, indicating a low water level in the pond, but was ignored by Song of the Morning staff, said general manager Ian Wylie. In weeks prior, the dam’s monitoring system had fallen out of calibration, causing repeated false alarms and leading the staff to switch to a backup system. When the alarm sounded in earnest, Wylie said, it got the boy- who-cried-wolf treatment.

By morning, few fish survived immediately downstream. The rush of warm pond water and organic sediment lowered the river’s oxygen levels until trout, suckers and other species suffocated, said Dave Borgeson, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources who investigated the fish kill.

After they were smothered in a warm slurry of muck, things got even worse for the fish. When Song of the Morning staff realized the pond’s level had dropped significantly, Wylie said, “a decision had to be made.” They opted to shut the dam gates completely to stop the sediment flow, and to refill the pond. For a time, the river downstream all but disappeared.

Normal flow of the Pigeon River is 60 cfs. The operators of the dam released 185 cfs (more than three times its normal flow) on June 22. Then, on the morning of June 23, they essentially shut the flow off to a water flow of 6 cfs. Even without the release of sediment, just the fluctuation in flow alone would have had a devastating effect on aquatic life. The  dissolved oxygen (DO) levels were at or close to zero. This has a fatal outcome for fish. At DO levels of 5, stress on fish is greatly heightened; and at DO level of 6 or greater fish actively thrive.

Dave Borgeson, a fisheries biologist with the Department of Natural Resources and others conducted a survey of the affected stretch of river using a mild electric shock to stun fish so they could be counted. For two miles downstream from the dam they saw a grim parade of belly up trout, but couldn’t find enough live fish to estimate the population.

“It will be five to 10 years before the river comes back to the condition it was in the week before this happened,” said John Walters, president of the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Aside from the fish kill, organisms that serve as food were also killed by the sediments. Following the 1984 incident, fish were planted in the now depleted section of the river below the dam.

“They all died,” Walters said. “There is no food. They starved. We prefer to see the river make a natural recovery.”

The same scenario has played out after both of the fish kills they have been responsible for. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning has been sued in court, fined by the Michigan DNR, and the resulting negative publicity has hurt the bottom line of Golden Lotus, which claims to be a non-profit entity. Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning quickly signs off on a deal with the state and other litigants to get the story out of the news, and as soon as that happens, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning just as quickly tries to go back on the deals they have signed off on, claiming that they can’t afford to live up to the terms of the agreements they have signed.

After the last fish kill in June 2008, the DNR fined Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning $1.3 million for the environmental disaster they caused. In addition, the State of Michigan and the public entity that oversees the Pigeon River Country, the Pigeon River Country Association, sued Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning for full removal of the dam under the terms of the court order from 1984. Trout Unlimited was allowed to join the suit as an interested party.

The parties involved negotiated a settlement that reduced the fine from the original $1.5 million to $150,000 to be paid in annual payments of $15,000 per year for ten years, with the understanding that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning would use the money they no longer had to pay in fines to remove the dam once and for all. The PRCA and TU agreed to assist Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning in developing a plan to remove the dam. The judge assigned to the case and all interested parties, including Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning signed off on the negotiated settlement. That got the story out of the press, and ended the bad publicity for Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning at least at the time.

Before the ink was barely dry on the settlement they signed, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning was back trying to renegotiate the terms of the settlement, asking the state to allow them to only remove the mechanical parts of the dam that have been the cause of the fish kills, but allowing Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to leave the impoundment itself in place.

What Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning is trying to do is escape their legal responsibilities as far as the dam is concerned. They hope that in removing the floodgates and power generating equipment that they will no longer be legally responsible for any future environmental damage that the remaining part of the impoundment may cause. I think they are acting on poor legal advice and are only concerned with their bottom line. As it is right now, they are legally responsible for any environmental damage the dam causes, even if that environmental damage was triggered by an act of nature, such as a heavy rainfall that would wash silt downstream.

Whatever their motivation is, Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning is once again trying to weasel out of a deal they signed off on. That led the PRCA and TU to file suit again to force Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning to live up to the agreement that had been worked out before. Just this week, 46th Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy ruled that removal really does mean removal, and that Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning must remove the entire dam, not just the mechanical portions of it.

For the Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning side of the story, here’s a link to a document they have posted on the web.

William Schlecte, attorney for Golden Lotus, said he will “vigorously appeal” Judge Murphy’s decision and continue to support the ranch’s two-phase approach.

Schlecte said the appeal could first go back to Judge Murphy, then eventually the Michigan Supreme Court, potentially taking years to resolve. He also said Golden Lotus is a nonprofit organization that does not have enough money to do an all-out removal right away. He characterized his client as being devoted to a lifestyle that is harmonious with nature.

Harmonious with nature? That may be how Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning promotes itself to the well-heeled clientelle they hope to attract to their retreat, but their actions tell a different story. Paddle the pristine, nature-filled Pigeon River? Not after your client gets finished with it Mr. Schlecte, while most of the emphasis has been on the trout and other fish killed by your client, the truth is almost the entire aquatic ecosystem was wiped out for miles downstream of the dam your client controls. Not only were the fish killed, but also the insects, amphibians, and other lifeforms the fish eat, right down to the plankton that supports the entire ecosystem. Instead of the clear cool water that used to be the Pigeon, there is now the remnants of the silt lining the river bottom making it almost unrecognizable.

So your client is threatening to drag this out for years? Is that to give them more time to finish off the destruction they seem bent on inflicting on the river, Mr. Schlecte? Your client’s own document paints the dam and the associated pond as an ecological time bomb just waiting to explode for a fourth time.

Golden Lotus/Song of the Morning have proven they have no respect for the river or the environment. They have ignored DNR recommendations and orders in the past. They have ignored the warning systems they were ordered to install to prevent these events from happening. They have proven that they are incapable of operating the dam in a safe manner. They have compounded their mistakes in pathetic attempts to cover their tracks by closing the floodgates completely, hoping that they can refill the pond before any one notices the destruction they have wrought. It is time for the dam to go, NOW!

Court orders are all well and good, but we really can’t declare a victory for the Pigeon River until the dam is gone once and for all!

Victory for the Pigeon River!

I’m going to do something I don’t normally do, post an Email I just received from the Michigan Chapter of Trout Unlimited verbatim. I’ll add a few thoughts of my own at the end.

Court sides with Michigan Trout Unlimited and Pigeon River Country Association in Golden Lotus Dam case motion.

A recent opinion from the courts just validated what we at TU already knew, that an agreement for a “dam removal” means the physical removal of all of the parts of the dam. It does not mean partial dam removal, dam modification, or dam drawdown as alleged by Golden Lotus and the State of Michigan! With the judge’s ruling today, Golden Lotus is required to completely remove all of its dam on the Pigeon River – the same dam that has caused three large fish kills in the past.

Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association (PRCA) filed motions in the case earlier this year when the dam owners, Golden Lotus, Inc., put forward a plan for dam drawdown that would not remove all of the dam, and would continue blocking fish passage. They stated their responsibilities stopped there, despite the Court Ordered settlement calling for “dam removal” (these documents can be found and read at ). The State of Michigan (the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Quality) represented by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office surprisingly sided with Golden Lotus in their reinterpretation of the Court Order, and began processing a permit application for the project despite MITU and PRCA objections. Both Golden Lotus and the State argued that despite leaving the base and sides of the dam in the river and blocking fish passage, that the project should be considered “dam removal”.

In an Opinion and Order issued by the Honorable Judge Murphy of the Otsego County Circuit Court, on July 22, 2011, the Court sided in favor of Michigan Trout Unlimited and the Pigeon River Country Association. Judge Murphy stated “In other words, ‘dam removal’ means dam removal.” The court also found that “the meaning of ‘dam removal’ is clear and statutorily defined”, and “the Interim Order is not ambiguous.”

“We are very pleased with the opinion and its affirmation of our understanding of the settlement agreement we signed onto and of Michigan law,” states Bryan Burroughs, Executive Director for Michigan Trout Unlimited. “This required significant resources for us compared with that of the State of Michigan and an insurance company-paid Golden Lotus defense. But we knew what was right, and what the Pigeon River deserved, and standing up for that at all costs is what we do and why we exist.”

“It’s frustrating that the dam removal was so seriously side-tracked during this dispute,” states Dave Smith, Chair of Michigan Trout Unlimited. “We’re anxious to get back into a productive planning mode to see this project is done and done right, and get the Pigeon River healing from over 100 years of this dam’s impacts to it.”

The parties will now have to work together to develop a new plan for completely removing the dam.


Dr. Bryan Burroughs
Executive Director, Michigan Trout Unlimited

The Pigeon River

I fell in love with the Pigeon River Country and the Pigeon River when I was just a kid, but my love for the area and the river hasn’t faded through the years, it has only grown stronger. I have written about that before, so I won’t bore you by repeating myself here.

In the years since Golden Lotus purchased the old Lansing Hunting Club, they have been responsible for three major fish kills on the Pigeon. They raise the flood gates, releasing too much water along with sediment trapped behind the dam. Then they realize their mistake, close the flood gates, and reduce the flow of the river to almost nothing. All that sediment fouls the water and suffocates the trout downstream by clogging the trouts’ gills.

That’s my river they’re messing with, and my trout that they are killing, I will be so glad when the dam is finally removed and the river is allowed to repair itself and revert completely wild again!

As in the past, the trout are rebounding from the last major incident a few years ago. But they shouldn’t have to rebound every few years as they have the last couple of decades. Since Golden Lotus loves conning people into believing they are all about peace, love, and harmony with the environment, I hope they stop fighting this now, and remove the dam once and for all, since they obviously care about nothing more than their bottom line.

Today, I’m going to be lazy

I’m sitting here after my morning walk around the apartment complex listening to the rain falling outside. The rain was just a very heavy mist while I was walking, which made it a great day for a walk. The temperature is cool for summer, which makes it just right for me. It’s nice sitting here with the windows open with not much to do. I know I should be working on another nature photography page, or organizing pictures on my computer, or something, but I’m not going to do much more than enjoy the day and think.

Day lilys in the mist

It’s only a little over a week until the long 4th of July weekend, and I still haven’t made any plans on where to go or what to do. I would like to kayak out to Saint Helena Island, near the Mackinac Bridge, and check out the historic lighthouse and island. The island is a nature preserve held by the Little Traverse Conservancy and open to the public. The problem is the weather, paddling 3 miles across Lake Michigan in anything less than perfect weather isn’t for me. By perfect, I am talking mostly about light winds. I don’t want to get out to the island and have to deal with 6 foot breakers while trying to get back to the mainland. That, and it is such a long way up there, and I’m not sure what else I would do in that area if the weather wasn’t good for kayaking. I’m sure I could find something to do, but then, it will be the 4th of July weekend, and the area will be crawling with “fudgies”. Maybe I better rethink that one.

There are other places I could easily go, I could do the last part of the Mason Tract Trail I haven’t completed yet, or wander around in the DeWard Tract. There is always the Pigeon River Country, so much of it I haven’t explored yet. I have all those nature preserves held by the Little Traverse Conservancy to explore, including some newer ones along the Pigeon River that I missed the last time I was there.

Mist on a spruce

Mike would like me to start another blog and focus solely on kayaking, I am mulling that one over. I do need to add a lot more to the kayaking information I have started on here on this blog, but there are only so many hours in the day. I would like to include a GPS developed map and track for any rivers that I write about from now on. I have done nearly every river in the lower peninsula outside the southeast part of the state, and even then, I’ve done the Huron and a few others there. To tell you the truth, they all begin to run together after a while, and that’s a project that I couldn’t do from memory alone. I have to refresh my memory when I am going to run some of the rivers, even ones I have run many times in the past. For one thing, many of the access sites share the same names on different rivers. I’ll keep plugging away at it, a little at a time. I need to win the lottery, devote all my time to my outdoor pursuits, and hire an assistant to help me take notes.

And part of the problem with that would be the same one I have trouble with when writing up hiking places. I mean, a hiking trail is a hiking trail, they are all pretty much the same, and how much can you write about them other than where they are, how long the trails are, and give people a general idea of the lay of the land. I thought about adding lots of pictures of either trails or rivers, but that would get boring to any readers in a hurry, because so many of the pictures would be very much alike. I think I could do more with pictures than I have, but that I should focus on put in and take out sites, along with a couple of pictures of the rivers and trails themselves.

I know that I am getting more hits on this blog all the time from people looking for information on all things outdoors, and I will continue to add more to this site as time permits. I should have started this blog years and years ago, before there were even blogs. I don’t want it to sound like I am bragging, but what I know about the outdoors in Michigan would fill a small encyclopedia of several volumes, and I really don’t know that much about the state compared to what there is to learn and do. There are places I used to go to often that I haven’t been back to in a couple of decades, and when I do go back, I find things are completely different than from when I used to go there. Most of the changes have been for the better, but not all, I think the state crams people in too close together in the camping areas in state parks nowadays. That’s why I’ll stick to the state forest campgrounds, I like my space. But when I was at Ludington State Park a few months ago, I was surprised to see how much nicer it was than when I used to go there regularly, other than the shoe horn camping areas.

And as much as I have travelled around the state, and spent as much time hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking, and exploring this state, I continually hear about places I have never been to yet, but would love to go.

I know that I don’t want to turn my blog into what most of the outdoor blogs I’ve seen are, a place to sell advertising space on, with meaningless gear reviews to attract advertisers, and very little information. I know when I go searching for information on the web, most of what I run into is ads, with little or no useful information at all. I do find the Michigan DNR’s website to be fairly useful, but horrible as far as navigating it. I hate to say it, but as far as for information, the state’s Pure Michigan website is worthless, nothing but ads, and often from businesses far from the area I am looking for information on. I would love to get hooked up with the Pure Michigan ad campaign and be able to provide useful information to people who are thinking about exploring this great state. I would also like to pitch the idea for a Pure Michigan coffee table book and other merchandise, stuff people would actually find helpful. Not much chance of that ever happening though, money trumps help every time.

I wouldn’t mind earning a few bucks off from my website, but money isn’t my main motive here. I love the outdoors, I love Michigan’s natural beauty, and I like being able to share what I know with others. If you’d like information on something but don’t see it here yet, feel free to ask! I may not be able to answer your questions, but even if I can’t, I may be able to point you in the right direction about what ever it is you are looking for.

As far as what I’ll do over the 4th, I know I’ll end up doing what I always do, watch the weather this coming week, and what they are predicting for the weekend, then I’ll make my decision a day or two before I leave. It will depend on how much rain we get, whether the rivers in an area will be too high for fishing, and if the weather will be good for photography, exploring, or for fishing. As long as it isn’t too hot. If it is, then I know I’ll be standing in a nice cool trout stream somewhere, even if I’m not going to catch any fish.

This weekend, I think Mike and I are going to do the lower Rogue below Rockford, Michigan again. It was a blast a few weeks ago, and should be again with all the rain this week.

A great day fishing

I just got home from an afternoon and evening fishing for trout on the upper Rogue River, and what a great day it has been. It’s hard to believe that it is almost the middle of June and it was my first fly fishing day on the Rogue, most years I start in April, or even March. This has been one cold and wet spring, with the river too high for fly fishing whenever I’ve had time to go. Even today the river was still high and somewhat muddy, but at least it was fishable, and fish I did. Well, sort of, you can call it fishing, as I did catch fish, but it was almost too nice out there today.

To start with, I chose to use my Far and Fine 5 wt. rod rather than the Trout Bum 3 wt. rod I normally would have used. Since I got shut out during my week of vacation in the Pigeon River Country, I wanted to catch fish, and I know the Far and Fine will when other rods fail. Sure enough, about my fourth or fifth cast, I hooked a small brown, about 8 inches. Nothing to brag about, but it was a good start. I’m rather surprised I hooked it, because I really wasn’t paying attention to fishing. On the way from my vehicle to the river I had noticed that there were wildflowers blooming all over. Most of them I can’t identify, but here’s one I can, an iris.


 From the time I first waded out into the river, the trees along the banks were full of birds doing their thing. Rose breasted grosbeak, cedar waxwings, catbirds, woodpeckers, robins, and a lot more. The real story today is that I caught any fish at all. Most of the time I was looking at wildflowers and watching birds. I don’t think that I have ever had a day when I’ve missed as many hits as I did today, and I didn’t even care. It was such a nice day, and I was too busy with the flowers and birds, I didn’t care if I landed any fish or not. Most of the hits were small fish anyway, I could tell that by the way they hit, and since I don’t keep any fish, they were almost an interruption when they did hit. I did land a few nice ones, not bragging fish, but it was the upper Rogue I was fishing, and bragging fish are few and far between on it. Here’s one of the better ones, it doesn’t look like it in the picture, but it’s about 14 inches.

Rogue River brown trout

Do you know how hard it is to land a fish while fumbling for your camera without dropping it in the river, and take a picture of a fish that you are holding while you snap the picture? And, want to return the fish to the water as soon as possible so it lives to fight another day?

 As I wrote in my post Confessions of a Fly Fishing Snob, I fish for beauty, and there was plenty of that today, what with the lush green of spring, the flowers, the birds, the fish and the river, but one thing that wasn’t beautiful was the flotilla of drunken rowdys that passed me towards the end of the day. The flotilla consisted of a canoe, a couple of kayaks, and many inner tubes and air mattresses. I heard them coming long before I could see them round the bend above me. When they got close, I just reeled in my line, walked to shore, and started photographing the wildflowers on the banks.

Small blue wildflowers

 It took me a while after they passed to get back into the rhythm of fishing again, but I did, and I did manage to land a few more fish before evening set in. I thought as good as the afternoon had been that things would get even better towards sunset, but just the opposite happened, the fishing slowed down to next to nothing. At least I caught fish, some jerk cut in the river just ahead of me while I was fishing, and he never landed a fish, justice prevails! I took great delight in every fish I caught from the water he had already fished through without landing a thing. I know, that’s an evil laugh you’re hearing from me, and two wrongs don’t make a right….LOL. It really wasn’t any big deal, it didn’t even bother me that much when he did cut in front of me, I knew that I was about done for the day anyway.

The other notable thing about today was how much the stretch of river I fished today has changed since last fall. A tangle of tree limbs that used to be at the head of a pool are now at the tail. A submerged sandbar has been washed away completely, leaving a deeper, rocky bottom where the sandbar used to be. A large tree fell over, and was washed around a bend, and stuck on the opposite bank, diverting water to the side of the river it came from, and turning it into water deep enough to hold fish. It is an almost completely different stretch of water than what it has been the last few years. Fish no longer hold where there always used to be fish, and there are now fish where there wasn’t enough water for them before. That’s one reason I love rivers, they’re always changing, there’s always new things to learn, new things to try.

 So overall, it doesn’t get much better than today was. There was the drunken flotilla, but that’s normal, and there was only the one. The other kayakers who passed me were friendly and courteous. Some jerk cut ahead of me, no big deal, I was about fished out anyway, and I caught fish he couldn’t, so it all worked out in the end, the end of a beautiful day of fishing.

Round Lake Campground to stay open and other news

To begin with, lots of good news lately, I am going to be selfish and start with one that affects me the most, Round Lake State Forest Campground and the other 22 that were scheduled to close are all going to remain open! Michigan was going to close 23 “underperforming” rustic campgrounds, that isn’t going to happen now. I’m thrilled about that, since I thought that when I took my vacation in the Pigeon River Country last month that it would be my last stay at Round Lake. Round Lake is one of the prettiest campgrounds you’ll ever see, it would have been a shame for it to close.

Round Lake State Forest Campground

In other news, there was a forest fire just south of Goose Creek State Forest Campground this week. That is on the upper Manistee River just a few miles west of Grayling, Michigan. Goose Creek is another of my favorite campgrounds, it is actually three campgrounds in one. There is a small state forest campground, a large equestrian area, then a small and very beautiful camping area set aside for kayakers and canoeists. According to the news reports, the fire started on the west side of the Manistee, jumped the river, and burned its way to the northeast. The firefighters were able to contain the fire to around 800 acres or so, between M 72 and CR 612, and along Manistee River Road. I wonder if it has changed the river at all, that is one of the premier areas for fly fishing as far as I am concerned. I love that stretch of river, lots of fish, easy to wade, and very picturesque. I may have to change my plans for the summer around to fit a weekend there into my schedule just to see it for myself.

A little side note about Goose Creek State Forest Campground. When I was the organizer for the large kayaking group, I scheduled one of our outings on the Manistee, planning for us to stay at the small area reserved for river users in the campground overnight. To be sure that was OK and that we didn’t need to make reservations, I called the DNR field office in Grayling to check. The people there had no idea what I was talking about, they didn’t know that there was the small campground there for kayakers and canoeists, they had to research it, and call me back later. The reason I knew it existed was that I had found a very old, very weathered sign about it on the river. There is nothing to denote it from the side people normally see when they drive into the main campground. Maybe I should have kept it my little secret.

In more good news, the state has budgeted 6 million dollars to continue the clean up of the old Zephyr Oil refinery site near Muskegon. You can read a news article about it here. The problem there is contaminated ground water from oil, gasoline, and other petroleum products that leached into the ground. The Michigan DEQ had shut down around half the wells that were pumping the contaminated water out, and was threatening to completely shut down all cleanup operations there because of a lack of funding. That would have been very bad. The site is between the Muskegon river to the south, Bear Creek to the north, and Muskegon Lake to the west. Of course both the Muskegon River and Bear Creek flow into Muskegon Lake, and eventually, Lake Michigan. With the new budget, not only will the pumping of contaminated ground water continue, but there are also plans being drawn up to remove the contaminated soil as well, and fix the problem once and for all. In fact, this isn’t good news, it is fantastic news!

Also announced this spring is a $12 million cleanup for Muskegon Lake itself, removing tons of contaminated sludge from the lake bottom, and restoring shoreline habitat.

I know the Muskegon area isn’t thought of as an outdoorsman’s paradise, since it is an industrial area, or at least used to be. I am sorry for all the people who have lost their jobs as company after company has closed, but it could turn out for the best. The industries that have closed down were not exactly environmentally friendly, from this old refinery to the paper mill that closed a couple of years ago. The Muskegon area has the potential to rebound from over a century of being used as a dumping ground for all kinds of things we shouldn’t have dumped there, but we didn’t know any better back then. We do now, or at least I hope we do. It will take some time, but the area’s economy will rebound, and the quality of life will be so much better for every one once we do get the area cleaned up. Not only that, but cleaning up the mess we made in the past will make it easier to attract new industries to the area to help grow the economy again.

The Muskegon River is Michigan’s second longest river, after the Grand. It starts near Houghton Lake in an area of large marshes and flows southwest to Muskegon Lake. It is completely different from the Grand in character, the Muskegon is classified as a cool waters river. I could go on at length about why it is important to clean up the river and Muskegon Lake, but I won’t. I will just say that cleaning up the old Zephyr refinery is another very good step in repairing the damage we have done. That goes right along with another recent story, a group is surveying the lower Muskegon River area and hopes to restore the Maple River.

 The Maple River was diverted more than a century ago to add more flow to the Muskegon River to make it easier to float logs down the Muskegon to the sawmills in Muskegon. It is nothing more than a stagnant slough now. Restoring the Maple will be a good thing.

All this leads me to another point. I try to keep politics out of this blog as much as I can, but I have to tell you, our new governor, Rick Snyder, is impressing the heck out of me! I know he has a lot of people up in arms to the point they are trying to recall him already, but he gets things done whether you like what he does or not. It’s still early in his term, but from what I can see, he may be the best friend to the environment this state has seen as governor since Bill Milliken.

Our last Governor, Jennifer Granholm, received high marks from the media and the so-called environmental leaders, mostly because she mandated “green” energy sources, such as wind, solar and bio-mass. I don’t think any of the alternative energy sources are all that environmentally friendly, in fact, in many cases they are a step backwards. Under her mandate, we now have 6 so-called bio-mass electrical generating plants that are nothing more than wood fired generating plants. That’s right, saw down our forests to burn the trees to produce electricity, that’s not environmentally friendly to me. At least a couple of these plants are lobbying for more permits to log more land, as they can’t get enough wood to keep the plants in operation. Do we really want to log off the entire state again as we did in the late 1800’s? I think not!

Building solar farms in Michigan makes about as much sense as trying to build igloos in the desert, it doesn’t work. Because of the Great Lakes, we are one of the cloudiest regions of the country, and besides, solar farms only produce 50% of the time, you get nothing from then at all at night. I don’t want to see vast amounts of land cleared to build solar farms that don’t work. There was another news story about one here in Michigan just a few weeks ago. Despite the fact that the utility company has to pay the operators of the solar farm 10 times the going rate for electricity, the operators can not produce enough electricity to pay their property tax bill. And we’re going to pay to build more? I hope not!

 Then there’s wind. Another winner, not. There are proposals to build hundreds of wind turbines in and/or near Lake Michigan. In the first place, as other countries are learning, wind turbines are very inefficient and never produce the output that is claimed for them. I don’t want to see those ugly monstrosities out in Lake Michigan, any more than I want to see oil derricks out there. The environmentalists don’t want to see oil derricks either, but they seem to be OK with wind turbines, which are just as ugly as oil derricks. I have yet to see the problem of ice in the lake addressed at all in any of these proposed wind farms in the lakes. There’s too much not to like about them to put it all in this post now, so I will leave it for now.

Proponents of solar and wind energies claim they will reduce our reliance on coal-fired power plants, but the truth is that they won’t, not one iota. Neither wind or solar are reliable, steady sources of power that we can depend on to deliver when energy is needed, so the coal-fired plants have to remain online all the time anyway. Think about it, the sun only shines during the day, it is at night that we need the electricity to light our homes. Winds are usually light to calm at night as well. For an alternative energy source to be feasible, it needs to be able to operate and produce on demand, not just every once in a while when conditions are right.

I am not opposed to alternative energies that work, and are truly green. For example, they are building a bio-digestion plant in Fremont that will take waste food from the Gerber Baby Food plant and other sources, extract the methane for fuel, and what’s left afterwards will be used as fertilizer by area farmers. Now that makes sense. The methane can be stored and used on demand, and is much cleaner than coal.

I am all for ending all coal mining, if we can. There is no such thing as clean coal, burning it pollutes the air no matter how many scrubbers are installed on the stacks. And, coal mining is one of the worst things that we still do to the environment. Chewing up entire mountains and reducing them to nothing more than a pile of rubble can’t end soon enough for me, when we come up with a viable alternative. Spending billions of dollars to build wind and solar farms that don’t work makes no sense, as we will have to live with their legacy for years to come, and pay to remove them when it becomes clear to every one what a boondoggle they are now. That money would be better spent either perfecting the technology behind them, or, developing other sources of energy that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Building boondoggles now will make it that much tougher to build power plants that do make sense later on when they are developed because every one will remember how much money was thrown down the drain building the boondoggles.

Getting back to Jennifer Granholm, under her administration there was ever enough money to do the cleanups that need to be done. Her administration was going to shut down the cleanup of the Zephyr oil refiner due to a lack of money. Not only that, but her administration seemed to be willing to destroy this state’s natural resources in order to get more money coming into the treasury. There was the infamous Merit Energy deal, where her administration was not only going to permit Merit Energy to dump questionably treated water into Kolke Creek, the headwaters of the Au Sable, they were going to let Merit Energy destroy the creek by doubling its flow, and awarded Merit Energy a special easement to do so.

 Her administration also issued permits to allow logging in the Mason Tract, among other places. In fact, her administration seemed intent on logging off the entire state again, just to get the money from the permits required. I’m done bashing her now, she’s gone, hopefully never to return.

On the other hand, Gov. Snyder impressed me before he even took the oath of office by announcing Rodney Stokes to take over the Michigan DNR. If you’re not familiar with his name, Mr. Stoke’s background is in parks and recreation, and he is not a political person. He stands up for what’s right, and is willing to take a tough stand when needed, a great choice to head the DNR. Now if Gov. Snyder really wanted to impress me, he would undo the executive order signed by his predecessor and return the appointment of the Director of the DNR to the Natural Resources Commission like it was before Ms. Granholm made one of her many power grabs.

Gov. Snyder also named Dennis Muchmore, the former director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, as his chief of staff, that tells you something about where the guy’s head is at.

Since Gov. Snyder took office, I have read more and more stories about funding being found to do the cleanup work that had been put on the back burner for way too long. I have included a few here, but there have been many more that I have read from around the state as well. I guess that’s not surprising, since he was a member of the board of trustees of the Michigan Chapter of the Nature Conservancy. I may have issues with the way the Nature Conservancy is run and their priorities, but I still believe it is one of the better environmental groups that there is.

Not all those cleanups are being done with state funds alone, many rely on Federal dollars for the majority of the funding, but the state had to come up with its “share” of the funding in order to receive the Federal dollars, and Gov. Snyder and his team are finding the funds to get these cleanups started.

And if you think I am a Republican shill, think again. I would love to take Rep. Dave Agema back behind the woodshed and teach him a lesson or two about the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. In case you haven’t heard, this idiot wants to raid the NRTF for other purposes than what it was constitutionally protected to do, which is to fund parks, boat launches, natural areas and state parks. Then’s there’s the backdoor approach being used by state Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who wants to limit the amount of land the state can own, as I posted about before.

In case you’re not familiar with what the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund is, this is from the Michigan DNR website.

What is the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF)? 
The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) began as the “Kammer Recreational Land Trust Fund Act of 1976” via P.A. 204 of 1976. Act 204 created the Michigan Land Trust Fund (MLTF) program to provide a source of funding for the public acquisition of lands for resource protection and public outdoor recreation. Funding was derived from royalties on the sale and lease of State-owned mineral rights.
 On November 6, 1984, Michigan residents voted in favor of Proposal B, which amended the State Constitution and created the MNRTF. The constitutional amendment required that oil, gas, and other mineral lease and royalty payments be placed into the Trust Fund, with proceeds used to both acquire and develop public recreation lands.

The MNRTF is currently capped at 500 million dollars, if more money than that is taken in, then the next $200 million is to be spent on our state parks. The MNRTF is one of the best things to ever happen to this state, but when you put a pile of money in front of a politician, they will try to find a way to spend it on their own pet projects.

There have been proposals to raid the fund in the past, and fortunately, the voters in Michigan have had enough sense to vote them down, let’s hope that continues. Because the trust fund is constitutionally protected, any change to the way the funds are used has to be approved by the voters.

You know, maybe I spend too much time reading the news. Maybe not, for if one doesn’t know what’s going on, then one can not make an informed decision, and I prefer informed decisions rather than knee jerk gut reactions.

So I will continue to read the news, real news that is, not the fluff and celebrity gossip that passes for news these days. I will continue to monitor what our new governor is doing, as well as the legislature, the DNR, the DEQ, and the Natural Resources Communion, and I will continue to make informed decisions, I hope those that read this will as well. As of right now, I give Gov. Snyder two thumbs up, the legislature two thumbs down (even though they passed the budget that is providing the funding for all the environmental cleanups I’ve been reading about. It was Gov. Snyder’s budget, and I don’t think the legislature would have funded those projects otherwise), the DNR two thumbs up, the DEQ two thumbs up, and the NRC, one thumb up (They voted to allow deer baiting again, which I disagree with).

What happened to spring?

I just got back from my daily walk, and I am soaked. No, it isn’t raining, there’s bright blue skies and light winds, but it is very hot already this morning. The high temperature yesterday was close to 90 degrees, and we are forecast to be in the 90’s the next two days.

It was just two weekends ago when I was at Muskegon and it was in the low 60’s, with a cold fog. Also that weekend, Mike and I went kayaking, and it was cool and cloudy that day as well. We have had a very cool, very rainy spring, until June, and now we are having a summertime heat wave. I don’t do well in the heat no matter what, but to jump from 60 to 90 in a day or two is even worse. As Mark Twain said, “Every one complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it”. I’m not complaining about it too much, there’s nothing you can do but to dress accordingly and plan for what the weather will be. It would have been nice to have a week or two of weather with temperatures in the 70’s before the heat rolled in though.

The weather and the season do play a huge part in my plans for my outdoor adventures. I love spring, it is my favorite season! With the weather that we’ve had, it has taken a while, but the trees, bushes and grasses are all growing strong in the thick, vivid, green of spring, and I truly love that. It does make photography more difficult though. I hear birds singing, but it is hard to see them in the trees now, unlike a few weeks ago when there weren’t any leaves yet. The same holds true of mammals, it’s a lot easier for them to hide in the summer. Even when I do see them, it is harder to get a good photo when they are in the shade. Just this last weekend I was hiking through the Cooper Creek/Spencer Forest County parks, and while I saw some birds and animals close enough to photograph, the shade was so deep that I doubted if the subjects would even be visible in a photo.

 But, while some things become harder to photograph, other subjects emerge to fill in the void, such as flowers and insects.

Damsel fly

I know, insects aren’t every one’s favorite subject for a photo, so here’s a flower.


Although if you look closely, there’s a spider in the flower.

I would like to be doing more kayaking now that summer has arrived, but it looks like I’ll be doing either more hiking, or kayaking lakes and large rivers by myself this year. I have been trying to put kayaking trips together, very few people in the group even bother to reply, and even fewer can make it when I do plan something. Then there are issues as far as transportation and the spotting of vehicles. It is getting very frustrating. A couple of years ago I was organizing a group of close to 200 paddlers, and we would have 20 to 30 people show up each trip. That became a problem as far as finding access sites that could accommodate that many vehicles and boats. It would be nice to hit a happy medium, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

I don’t mind paddling by myself, I don’t even mind paddling lakes and large rivers, but then, I would rather start at dawn, and that’s hard to do since I work second shift. I haven’t won the lottery yet, so I’m still a working stiff. Evenings are OK, as long as I can find places where I’m not getting run over by power boats. I love dawns, the quiet, the wildlife, the start of a new day.

Since it looks like I won’t be kayaking again this weekend, it will give me a chance to do some fly fishing. Darn!  I’ll have to see what the weather is like the rest of this week before I decide where, and then there are the gas prices as well. I think I need a trip to the Pere Marquette. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll be on the Rogue for sure.

I’m still working on the photography pages, a little at a time. It seems like there is something that comes up when I think I will have time to work on them that limits how much I am able to write. problems at work, or my mother’s health, or something out of the blue. Two weeks ago it was having to do a random DOT drug test for work, that my boss had forgotten about until after it was due. Last week, it was the staff at the apartment complex trying to tell me I was late with last months rent, when I wasn’t. Both of those things took a while to resolve, and took time away from my work here. The heat wave doesn’t help either. It takes me more time at work to finish my run each night, and more time to cool off after work, and after my morning walk.

I’ll keep plugging away at it, it may take me a while to finish the project, but I will eventually finish it.

Preserving for the future

I read an article online at about a state senator who wants to cap the amount of land the State of Michigan can own. The gist of it is that local units of government are suffering because the state doesn’t pay property taxes like a private entity does, and therefore, state ownership of land is hurting local units of government. I understand the problem, but the solution is not to cap the amount of land the state owns. For the article, click here.

Here is my reply.

I am opposed to any cap on the amount of land the state owns for many reasons. First, I think that a cap is a backdoor way of eventually raiding, and possibly ending, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. If state ownership of land is capped, then there is no reason for the trust fund to exist any more, and politicians would love to get their hands on the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund to use for purposes other than what the citizens of Michigan intended it to be used for.

I understand the plight of communities surrounded by state land as far as the reduced funding because of the state’s lower payments in lieu of property taxes. However, does Sen. Tom Casperson believe that there are buyers waiting to purchase any of the state’s land holdings? Wishing something doesn’t make it happen. In fact, what we’ve seen over the last 30 plus years is just the opposite, owners of large parcels of land in Michigan have been selling, even at very reduced prices, or donating their land holdings, to the state to get out from under the property tax burden here in Michigan. I don’t think that Sen. Casperson or David Bertram, legislative team leader for the Michigan Townships Association, would be too happy if the state were to try and sell off some of its land holdings. With property values already depressed, if the state were to put even more land on the market, prices, and assessed values would plummet even further, and local governments would be no better of financially than they are now.

That’s what a cap on the amount of land the state can own would do, because as pointed out in the article, the state owns very little land in the lower third of the lower peninsula, where we need more recreational opportunities, not less. A cap would force the state to try and sell off some of its existing land holdings in order to purchase more land close to the population centers where state ownership of land is lower. It makes sense for the state to develop more recreational opportunities down state, so that the citizens of Michigan don’t have to drive “up north” to enjoy our great state. 

Mr. Bertram complained that “Michigan owns more land than any other state east of the Mississippi”, which is what makes us the envy of all the other states east of the Mississippi. That’s why every weekend we see droves of cars with license plates from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other states heading into Michigan. That’s why I choose to live in Michigan rather than any other state east of the Mississippi, as do many others in this state.

At a time when the state is pouring millions of dollars into the “Pure Michigan” ad campaigns every year, this is no time to cap the amount of land the state owns. The money spent on those ads will be money poured down the drain if people from out of state get here to find the campgrounds full, the beaches crowded, and the woods so full of people that the visitors never want to return. Tourism can play a huge role in turning our state’s economy around, as we are finally starting to learn. But tourism won’t continue to grow if we don’t continue to grow our recreational opportunities for the visitors we seek to attract.

Capping the amount of land the state owns is a shortsighted attempt to solve a funding problem that probably won’t work even if it is tried, for reasons I pointed out earlier. Instead of capping the state’s land ownership, we should be increasing the amount of land the state owns. It is the second best investment we can make, after education, in the lives’ of our children, grand children, and beyond.

Michigan is a unique state, two peninsulas surrounded by the Great Lakes, with vast tracts of forests, and clean, free flowing rivers. We have some of the world’s finest beaches, rocky coastlines, and we have some of just about everything natural that people could want. We have the choice to preserve our state as an oasis of nature in the middle of an industrialized world, or destroy what nature has given us. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to preserve what we have. We owe it to the world as well.

There were people who complained when our Nation Park system was created, and those who continue to complain to this day. However, I think history has proven the complainers to be wrong. Yellowstone National Park wasn’t just the first National Park in the United States, it was the first National Park in the world. We started something which is now called “America’s best idea”, preserving natural areas for future generations. We were the leaders in something that the rest of the world is still trying to catch up to us in doing.

Michigan has always been a leader in preserving our natural areas, this is not the time to change that. Our system of parks and recreational areas is one of the finest in the country. Looking forward with a vision towards the future, we should expand on that even as the rest of the country continues to industrialize. That will make Michigan an oasis of nature that millions of people from neighboring states and even the from around the world, will want to come to in order to enjoy what we can offer that no other state can. People two hundred years from now may not know who we were, but they will thank us for having the foresight to preserve the natural areas in this state. The time to do that is now.

Surprise, surprise, surprise, I didn’t win.

Today Trout Unlimited announced the winners of the photo contest they ran, and needless to say, I wasn’t one of the winners. It really isn’t surprising, I knew I was at a disadvantage when I entered my photos. I live in Michigan, and while it is a very beautiful state, we don’t have mountains here to add that dramatic background to any photos taken here the way they do in the Rockies or even the Appalachians. Nearly all the winners and honorable mentions were photos taken in the mountains, I can understand that. There was another group that all included kids in the pictures, I guess I can understand that as well, people love kiddies. That one leaves me out too, as I never had any children.

What surprised me the most was that it was quite obvious that most of the pictures had been tweaked considerably using computer software to enhance the colors and contrast in the winning photos. I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me either. After all, Ansel Adams set the standards for landscape photography, and he used a number of tricks to improve on mother nature, most notably, a Wratten #25 red filter to increase contrast. But that was with early black and white film. While his photos are very dramatic, it is my opinion that they were rather easy to take since they were shot on black and white film. It is much more difficult to achieve superlative pictures of landscapes in color than it is black and white. Which explains why so many of the winners of not just Trout Unlimited’s contest, but most nature photo contests are digitally enhanced for color. That one leaves me out also, for I am a stubborn cuss, I refuse to alter my pictures from what I am able to capture on my cameras.

I know I am in the minority on that, photographers have always used a number of tricks in their darkrooms to produce a higher quality print than the negative would have produced without those tricks. With today’s software, people have even more tricks at their disposal to make even average shots look like contest winners.

In my opinion, nature is beautiful enough on its own that we shouldn’t have to resort to image manipulation in order to make it look good in our prints. I don’t think most photo contests are really photo contests, they are image manipulation contests.

For the record, the pictures that were picked as winners in the Trout Unlimited contest weren’t altered very much, just tweaked a bit. Not like the winners in some of the other nature photo contests that I have seen where the winning photo looks like nothing you actually see in nature. The photos that did win the TU contest are very, very good, and I am not saying they didn’t deserve to win, but I thought I had a real shot at getting at least an honorable mention. I do think that two of the pictures I submitted are better than similar photos chosen by the judges, but that’s an honest difference of opinion.

By picking winners that have been manipulated in the darkroom or on a computer, the judges of these contests are overlooking how hard it is to put yourself in the right place at the right time to get the best true rendition of what nature actually looks like, and instead, the kudos go to experts in photo manipulation, not necessarily expert photographers.

Granted, many expert photographers are also expert at photo manipulation. But, if the contest is a nature photo contest, shouldn’t the winners be natural nature, not the best output from computer software? Shouldn’t such contests be called computer output contests and not photo contests?

You may blame some of my rant on sour grapes on my part because I didn’t win, and I suppose some of that is motivating me, but I have felt this way about nature photography since I began taking pictures with an old Kodak Instamatic camera back in the 60’s. As far as I’m concerned, nearly any one can take a so-so picture and turn it into a dramatic picture by manipulating the image, but the real skill is taking a picture so good that it doesn’t need to be manipulated in the first place.

But then, I have a lot of funny ideas when it comes to nature photography anyway. I don’t think it is true nature photography when you bait animals to come into an area where you have the equivalent of a photo studio set up ready for the animal to make an appearance when it comes to the bait. But that’s the way many nature photographers get the pictures they do. To me, that’s taking the easy way out. It’s a lot harder to stalk an animal and catch it in action than it is to bait it in. But, that’s just my opinion, and that doesn’t count for much.

If you read the how-to books and magazines on photography, you may have to read between the lines, but you will learn the following.

It is hard to take truly great color shots in any medium due to the narrow exposure latitude for color. Black and white photography is much easier, there is a much wider exposure latitude in black and white mediums. It is much harder to manipulate and/or add effects to color images than it is black and white images. It is easier to print black and white pictures on an alternative media than it is with color.

So you go to a gallery where they are holding a photo contest, and there are two prints side by side. One is a straight up color print taken by a photographer who was in the right place at the right time to take a perfectly exposed picture of a beautiful landscape capturing every nuance of color and lighting nature has to offer. Print 2 started as an above average but nothing special black and white negative that the photographer digitized, added a couple of canned effects from computer software, and printed as a sepia print. And the winner is….print 2, gimmicks always seem to win.

If you talk to the judges, they picked print 2 because print 1 is just a snapshot, an excellent one, but just a snapshot, and any one can do that, or at least that’s what they say. Wrong! By the experts’ own words it is harder to take a perfect color picture than it is to gimmick up a black and white picture. Print 1 required much more skill on the part of the photographer, and probably more work to capture than print 2. Print 2 involved more work after the photographer actually took the picture, but adding the gimmicks doesn’t take all that much skill. Those gimmicks were created to turn so-so or even bad photographs into something worth looking at, yet the gimmicks win. At least that’s the way I see it.

Not only that, but the winning print seldom looks like anything you see in nature, while print 1 is an excellent representation of the beauty of nature. It’s beyond me.

Enough of that rant, at least for now. In other news, Lake Michigan rose another inch last week alone, that’s a lot of water! The first half of the year has been the third wettest on record here, while Lansing, just east of here, did set a record for the most precipitation so far. That and the above average cloud cover has meant less evaporation, so the rivers, lakes, and especially the Great Lakes are returning to their normal levels. It will be great for kayaking, and eventually for fly fishing. I say eventually, because the rivers just start to go down a little, the water clears up, we get another 2 inches of rain in three days, and the rivers are right back up to the tops of the banks, and too muddy for fishing. Every time I go to check the weather, there is a list of rivers with flood advisories, watches, and warnings.

 All the rain and clouds, not to mention the wind that goes with them, has been interfering with my photography to some degree as well. In the long run though it is a good thing, so I won’t complain too much. Having enough water to paddle in will be a good thing, not like when I tried to paddle up Green Creek and the water was so shallow I couldn’t make it.

In the meantime, here’s a recent photo of goslings in the grass.

Goslings in the grass

 Needless to say that mom and dad were keeping a close eye on them, and me. It’s kind of surprising, I haven’t been attacked this year by anything other than a swallow….so far. I try not to get so close as to bother animals and their young any more than I have to in order to get a good picture. If the adults, or the young for that matter, seem to be getting agitated, I back off until they know I mean them no harm. With the geese from the picture, when I first approached the they began to move towards the water, so I stopped, and waited for a few minutes. They turned around and actually came back towards me when they saw I wasn’t going to chase them, and as you can see, the young laid back down to resume their nap that I had interrupted. The adults were still on guard, but they didn’t give off any of the warning signs that they were about to attack.

When I was attacked by the swallow, it was an accident. I walk the same route around the apartment complex everyday, and I pass by the carports here. On the day the swallows came after me, it was raining, and I ducked under one of the carports to avoid the rain, but I didn’t know the swallows had a nest in the carport. Being by the carport had been OK, but stepping under it was getting too close for them. Now I know, and give them a wide berth.

Sometimes it just happens, especially when kayaking or canoeing. Swans in particular will attack when you get too close to their nest or young, but you may not have any other choice. It all depends on how territorial the adults are, there may not be enough room for you to avoid their wrath. In that case, you paddle as fast as you can and hope that they don’t get close enough to bite you, or beat on you with their wings, either of which can be painful.

My survival kit and why I carry one

As some one who was more or less raised in the great outdoors, I have always felt at ease there, even when things weren’t going well. It has only been the last few years that I have put together a survival kit of any kind and carry it with me. That’s mostly because of what I have seen and heard has happened to others who weren’t prepared, and from watching the Survivorman show on TV. If you’re not familiar with the show, it is about one man surviving in the wilderness for a week at a time. Survivorman is Les Stroud, some one who taught survival and outdoorsmanship for a living before he began his television career. He would set up a very typical scenario about how some one could be stranded in a wilderness area, and then he would spend the next week there showing the rest of the world how to survive if something like that were to happen to us.

What brought his point home to me was that many times the scenario he used to set up how he could become stranded were similar to things that had almost happened to me. I began to realize that I have been darned lucky my entire life, and that there was the possibility my luck could run out one of these days.

We’ve all read stories of fishermen who have drowned while fishing, or a hunter dying in the woods when they became lost, and like most people I thought it only happened to others. I even pulled a friend out of the water once when he was overcome by the current of the Rogue River and was real close to being swept off his feet and downstream where he could have drowned. But, we were young then and just laughed it off. Maybe age plays a part of my new concern for safety, I would rather think that it is that I have made to the point were wisdom over-rides the bravado of youth. In the last few years a number of things have happened that made me decide to put a survival kit together. One was kayaking with Larri and some of her friends who have a tendency to tip their kayaks over in the winter. Since we were prepared, those times became something to laugh about rather than a tragedy. I was already putting my kit together when I had a close call of my own, stepping in quicksand while fishing on the Boardman River a few years ago. Quicksand isn’t like you see in the movies, not at all, but it can still kill you if you panic. I was wading along and my left leg sunk into the quicksand where a spring apparently fed into the river. My right foot was still on somewhat solid bottom, but my leg was twisted in an awkward position while I was holding myself up with it. This all happened after I had been fishing for several hours in the very cold early spring water, and my right leg started to cramp up.

For a split second there I thought I was going to be one of those news headlines about a decomposed body being found floating in a river, then I used my head. I threw my fly rod up towards shore to free my hands and using all the strength remaining in my right leg, lunged forward as if I were swimming. I reached down to the bottom with my hands to help pull my left leg out of the quicksand. It helped that I lunged across the current, as the water pushing against me helped pull my leg out of the quicksand. I was wet and chilled, but alive. I retrieve my rod, wrung as much water out of my clothes as I could, then took the long walk back to my vehicle. Fortunately it was a nice day, and I was wearing clothes that not only dried quickly, but also kept me fairly warm while they were drying.

This hit close to home, but then to drive that point home, a guy who used to be my boss and was friend of mine, died while kayaking in Canada just a year or two later. If there was any one who went by the book and would have had all the right gear and taken all the right precautions, it was him.

 I don’t intend this to be a full lesson in survival, so I’ll just hit a few of the major points, and list what I now carry with me whenever I am outdoors. I am writing this from the perspective of some one who lives in Michigan, where you are never more than a few miles from a road, or other means of reaching safety. If you are venturing into more remote areas, you should take even more precautions than I am going to list here.

The first one is to let some one know where you are going and when you’ll be back, so if you don’t check in with them, they can alert the authorities that you are missing and may need help. If you don’t know of any one who you trust to do that for you, there is a new online service you can use for free called Their system isn’t perfect, but it is rather new, and a lot better than being stranded in the wilderness for days with no one knowing that you are. I use it, as do some of my online friends.

Point two, take some time to look over a map of the area you are venturing into so that you will have an idea of the shortest route out when and where trouble may occur. Let’s say you are kayaking a river and your boat gets damaged on a rock, and you have to walk out. You could follow the river, but that’s usually pretty rough going through wetlands and tangled brush. You’d be much better off if you knew where the closest road was to your location and walked out that way, most of the time. You should know if there is a large swamp or high cliff between you and safety and have a plan in your mind of what you would do if your boat were to be damaged at some point on the river. And, if you are part of a group, don’t leave that all to one person. What if they are the one that is injured and no one else in the group knows where they are? At least a few members of the group, if not every one, should know where they are going, and the quickest routes to safety.

Here’s what I carry with me and why. Remember, I live in Michigan where you are never more than a few miles from a road, so my kit is put together to keep me alive for one night, two at the most. If I get lost, I know I’m not going to starve to death before I make it out or I am rescued, and I know I won’t die of thirst. Michigan’s official nickname used to be water wonderland, one is never more than 6 miles from a lake here in Michigan, so water isn’t a problem. What does kill people in Michigan, and all places for that matter is panic, panic and hypothermia.

 If you are prepared, there should be no reason for you to suffer from hypothermia, and if you are prepared, there is a lot less chance that you will panic and do something foolish. As soon as most people realize they missed a turn on a trail or in some other way are lost, they go crashing through the brush because they just know the trail is just “over there”, and end up getting themselves even more lost. Stop and think, and if you are off the trail, backtrack to where you pick it up again unless you are very good with a map and compass.

 If you are kayaking and a thunderstorm delays you long enough so you may not make it to your take out site before dark, or your boat is damaged, don’t paddle on into the darkness in a blind panic unless you know you are very close to the take out.

The first thing to do if something happens and you may think you’ll be stuck out overnight is to sit down, try to relax, and consider your situation. Can you make it to the end before dark? Is there a chance that some one else may come along shortly? If you do have to walk out, do you know which direction to go, and can you make to a road or other place of safety before dark?

If you do have to spend the night, find a sheltered area up from the river so you will be dry. Don’t waste all your time looking for a perfect spot, find a good spot and gather firewood with the remaining sunlight. A fire will keep you warm, and increase the chance of rescuers seeing you, and make you feel a lot better about your situation.

Here is what I always bring with me and why….

•A compass..Every one has a tendency to walk in circles in the woods, even I do, and I am different from most experienced outdoorsmen, I’ll admit it. You don’t have to be an expert with a compass, but know how to use it well enough to travel in a straight line. You may think you can follow the river, but that is tough hiking through swamps, thickets, and more twists and turns than you knew there were. Don’t rely on one of those pin on your clothes types of compasses, or the cheap ones that come in the prepackaged survival kits. Buy one that works and it could save your life! A GPS unit is a great thing to have, but batteries go dead or the unit could fail at the time you need it most.

•Salt..I carry a 35mm film container with plain old table salt in it in case of leeches. Yes, there are leeches in some of the rivers we kayak, and salt is the best way to remove them.

•A first aid kit… it doesn’t have to be fancy, but being able to clean and dress a wound can be a life saver, get one! Since I have been carrying a first aid kit I have used it several times, but never for myself. I have cleaned and dressed a wounded dog that got tangled up in barbed wire, and did the same for a kid that had fallen and scraped his knee up badly.

•A throw rope…one long enough to be able to pull a person to safety or retrieve a boat stuck in a logjam. I have a commercially made one, but a good rope of 25 to 50 feet long will work. Rope is too handy not to carry. You can unravel some of the rope to make string if you need it. I won’t hike or kayak without a good rope with me anymore.

•A multitool…a multitool is like a Swiss Army knife on steroids, buy a quality one that will hold up to use. Mine has a knife, saw, screwdrivers, file, etc. They can be used to make repairs to your equipment or in survival mode.

•A bailing sponge..used to soak up the water in your boat. I have never tried it, but I’ll bet I could use it and other things I carry to make repairs to my kayak to the point I could float my way out by jamming it into a hole or gash. This is for kayakers only.

•Two heavy duty trash survival mode, there are tons of uses for these. Use them as a ground cover to sleep on, or as covering if it rains, just make sure you don’t suffocate yourself! You may also be able to use these with the bailing sponge to make a temporary patch to your boat if you are kayaking and your boat is damaged.

•An extra water bottle..a lot of my kit is stored in my extra water bottle as added protection to keep it dry. In Michigan, you are never far from water, but an extra bottle to carry it in is a good idea

•Water purification pills…yes, there are filters, but they take up more room, drop a couple of the pills into your bottle of water, and you know you will have safe drinking water.

•An emergency whistle…mine doubles as a holder for waterproof matches, more on those later, but the whistle can be heard at a longer distance than your voice. Remember that three blasts on a whistle is an internationally recognized distress signal. So if you hear some one using a whistle and giving three short blasts at a time, you should investigate why. It will probably turn out to be a kid, but you never know unless you check.

•Waterproof matches..I carry them, not sure if I trust them, but hypothermia is the most important thing to worry about, so I carry these and several other ways to start a fire to stay warm. Make sure you carry the strikers too, since you can no longer purchase strike anywhere matches. You can make your own by dipping the heavy kitchen type matches in wax to within a quarter of an inch or so from the head, leaving the head unwaxed.

•Magnesium flint stick..another way to start a fire, shave some of the magnesium off the stick with your multi-tool, and strike the flint into the pile of shavings with the knife blade and you’ll get a good fire going in no time. Magnesium burns easily and with a very hot flame and will dry out damp tinder.

•A Bic lighter.. another way to start a fire.

•A rain poncho.. I always carry rain gear when I kayak or hike, but the more waterproof gear you have, the better, and it can be used in ways other than a poncho, such as a tarp over your head by tying it to some bushes, or to catch rain water to refill your water bottle.

•A Space blanket..Note, these are intended to be used next to your skin, I am not sure if they work, I hope to never find out, but better safe than sorry. I am sure I’ll find a use for them if the need ever arises.

•Insect repellent…nuff said, unless you like spending a night in the woods as food for mosquitoes.

•Toilet paper…nuff said there too, well, maybe not, I carry the end of a roll so it doesn’t take up much space, can also be used as tinder for a fire.

•A survival Candle..can be used for light, but also puts off more heat than you would think. If you have a pop or beer can, a little work on it with your multi-tool and add in the candle, and it will turn it into a nice lantern/handwarmer.

•Chemical handwarmers..I have a couple of these, I have never used them, but they don’t take up much space and if they put out any heat at all, they are worth it to carry.

One more thing, for trips to more remote ares, like the UP or Canada, add an axe. I know people who never leave home without them, and if you are in a true wilderness area, neither should you..

So that’s it, a few notes, you can add and subtract from this list, but I think it is a good one, based on my experience and also too much time spent watching Les Stroud, Survivorman, on TV. Stay away from the cheap survival stuff most places sell, except as the base for your kit. Remember that fire is probably the most important thing you will need if stranded. Make use of anything you have and can find, and don’t be afraid to make use of things in ways they were never intended to be used for.

I carry almost the exact same things in my daypack, and in my fishing vest, that way I always have it with me. None of these things are going to help you if you forget them at home.

One last thing, none of this is any good unless you check your kit at least once a year, especially if you include battery-powered devices in your kit. I have a tradition, the first weekend after New Years Day, I go through all my outdoor stuff, fishing gear, backpacks, kayaking gear, etc. I clean and inspect everything, lubricate what needs it, check any expiration dates, like on the water purification pills, and REPLACE any batteries! You should too, maybe not the same day, but pick a day and do it!

A wild, wooly, wonderful week (almost) in the Pigeon River Country

I’m back, a couple of days early due to the weather, but it has still been a great vacation. I could have titled this post The week of Lost Opportunities, but that would imply that I didn’t have a great time, when I did. But, there were some opportunities I missed which I will point out as I go. I am going to break the week down by days, so that I can remember everything that I did this week.

Day one, the arrival

For some one that works second shift, I got a fairly early start last Saturday, and the trip up there was the typical almost 4 hour drive, with a stop for lunch in Cadillac. I arrived at Round Lake State Forest Campground, which may or may not close. It was scheduled to be closed on the 23rd of May, but that has now been delayed as the state looks for ways to keep all 23 campgrounds they were going to close open. This morning I read that Lime Island is being shifted to a state park rather than a state forest campground, and that the legislature is working on an emergency funding source to keep the other 22 open.

It didn’t take long to set up camp, as for the first time in several camping trips, there wasn’t a gale blowing as I put the tent up. I guess I’ve had enough practice at that for the time being. Round Lake was the same as it has always been, the prettiest little campground in Michigan. With lots of light left, I went looking for new access sites to use for fishing on the Black and Pigeon Rivers, which both flow very close to Round Lake. I drove over to some possible sites I had marked on my GPS unit on the Black River, I swear, the Black flows through the worlds largest tag alder swamp! I keep telling myself to fish the Black more often, but every place I find access to the upper sections, it looks the same. The river is 20 to 25 feet wide, with tag alders overhanging the banks so far as to leave only a few feet of the river open enough to even walk in right down the middle. I would love it if I still fished with bait, but I’m not sure how any one can successfully fly fish that stretch of the Black. Farther downstream, near Clark’s Bridge, it looks wide, deep, and slow, with many fallen trees in the water. I think that I am prejudiced since the Black lives up to its name, the river runs almost black due to the tannins in the water, and I’m spoiled by the clearer water I normally fish. Farther yet downstream, near Crockett’s Rapids, the Black looks to be more inviting, next trip!

I cut back over to the Pigeon, above the Song of the Morning yoga club, the group that has been responsible for several fish kills on the Pigeon. I found 2 good spots, both involved fairly long hikes back in to the river, and they are close enough together that I could fish from one to the other, and walk back to my vehicle. But, I wasn’t wearing waders for my exploration trip, I did take my rod and make a few casts at each site just to try them, no hits, no fish, but that wasn’t surprising. The river was still quite high and stained from earlier rain, and I thought that with the weather forecast, that the river would be just right by the middle of the week. I thought it best to not wear waders for exploring, I didn’t know what I was going to run into, and waders aren’t the easiest footwear for hiking if you have to climb through fallen trees or things like that. I marked the spots on my GPS and headed back to camp for the night. As the sun was setting over the lake, I took this picture.

Willow blossoms

Since I had been up early, I was dead tired by sunset, and while I didn’t hear any coyotes, the spring peepers and owls were in full song as I drifted off to sleep.

Day two, the nature preserves

One of my goals for the week was to visit some of the nature preserves that the Little Traverse Conservancy holds and maintains along the Pigeon River, just north of the PRC. I learned of this group last year, and over the winter, I became a member. While I am most interested in the lands they hold along the Pigeon, many of their other preserves are on my list of places to go. If you’re looking for wild places in northern Michigan to explore, I suggest you start with some of their preserves.

First up for the day was the Agnes S. Andreae Nature Preserve only because like an idiot, I forgot my brochure that has the list of major preserves and maps, so I had to find them from memory. That brings up another point, I had marked the preserves with waypoints in the software that works with my DeLorme GPS unit, but since the upgrade to the software and the unit firmware, waypoints don’t always transfer like they should.

I am going to go off on a little rant here about my DeLorme GPS unit. While I love the capabilities it has, the functionality sucks. I had looked up the locations of the preserves I planned to visit in the software that goes with the unit, and saved that with other information I wanted to take with me on this trip, but very little of it transferred to the unit itself when I synched it with the handheld unit. It ticks me off, because the same thing happened in reverse when I got home yesterday, things I had marked while I was up there didn’t transfer to the software when I synched everything last night. I may have won the DeLorme Challenge back in November, but if I had to do it all over again, I think I would go with a Garmin unit instead. I get more frustrated with the unit and the software every time I use it, and the rechargeable battery pack I picked as part of my winning the challenge is about useless. On the day I hiked Green Timbers, which I will get to later, the rechargeable battery went dead in less than three miles, you can not depend on it at all. Battery life with any type of batteries is poor at best, and the rechargeable lithium that I won is the worst. I even had problems keeping it charged with it plugged into the charger all the time I was driving to and from these places, I had to play with the unit and the charger by turning the unit off, unplugging the charger, then plugging it back in, and turning the unit back on, or it wouldn’t charge. It took me a couple of attempts to figure out the correct procedure to get it all to work. That wouldn’t be so bad, but when you are recording a track and have to do that, then the track gets broken up every time, and also when you stop to change batteries.

Other pet peeves about the unit is that I can’t hear the  audio signals it sends when it errors for some reason unless the unit is right next to my ear, and it errors often, either due to low batteries or that it has lost its fix, which also ruins the track I am recording. I was in an Email conversation with DeLorme’s technical help, but after I sent them detailed information about all my complaints, they stopped responding, not a good thing. I guess it is all part of the learning curve, I wouldn’t be without a GPS unit now that I have used one, but from everything I have learned, and heard from others, is that the manufacturers still have a lot of work to do to perfect everything. As it is, I have several hours of work ahead of me getting all the information that I want into both the handheld unit and the software that goes with it.

Now, back to the good stuff. I set off from camp taking the back roads towards the preserves, stopping first at a huge bog and lake along Osmun Road. I could hear dozens of Sandhill Cranes all over in the bog, but couldn’t see them. A portion of the High Country Pathway runs along the bog, so off I went looking for the cranes. The bog is at least ten acres, I would say it is closer to twenty acres, not counting the lake in the middle. I hiked the path all the way across the north end of the bog and back, and never saw a crane, but I could hear them the entire time. The cranes and dozens of other birds who were all in full song, just like in the campground that morning as I was drinking my coffee. The problem is, that when the males are singing, they tend to perch in the tops of trees, making it difficult to take pictures of them.

I stopped again at Osmun Lake, there was a pair of loons there, too far away for a good picture, so I crashed through the brush on the shore to try to get closer, but they are too shy to let any one get close. I thought about launching my kayak, which I had with me, and chasing them around the lake, but I knew they wouldn’t sit still for that. I did see schools of bass, good-sized ones a that, swimming in the shallows along the shoreline, that was cool. I thought about breaking out a rod and catching a few, but I wasn’t sure about the fishing regulations, and I had preserves to explore.

The Andreae preserve was all it was cracked up to be and more! I parked at the gate, put my backpack on, and spent several hours exploring the preserve. You start down a two-track that goes to the area near the cabin that is there. The cabin is available for free to non-profit groups like the scouts to use for camping. There’s a very nice picnic area near the cabin, which I made use of after my hike. You cross a footbridge over the river, then there is a one mile marked trail that loops to the north, which I did. Then I went exploring on my own, using a picture I took of the map they have posted on site as a guide. That’s another little pointer for hikers, if you don’t have a map but there is one at the place you are hiking, take a close up picture of the map, then you can view it on your camera for reference. The Pigeon is always a beautiful river, but especially so in the preserve. I am so glad it has been protected forever! The forest is typical of the region, a little of everything, from some magnificent old growth pines to mixed hardwoods, all growing along the high banks of the Pigeon as if flows north to Mullett Lake.

The Pigeon River in the Andreae Preserve

After a light lunch at the picnic area, I hiked back up the two-track to my vehicle and headed to the Helmer’s Dam/Robert D. VanCampen Preserve a few miles upstream. There is just a two-track back to the river at this preserve, and hundreds of wildflowers along the way. I found some of these near where I live, but the woods here had thousands of them, yellow Trout Lilys.

Yellow Trout Lily

Using my GPS unit, I poked around in the preserve until I thought I had covered most of it’s 200 acres, but I was wrong. I’ll have to go back again to explore the rest of it, like I needed an excuse to go back. As I was poking around the preserve, I found the remains of what used to be an old house or cabin of some type, I’m not sure what it was. I saw what turned out to be a metal fireplace insert off in the woods, and a large pile of rocks. When I got close enough to recognize what it was, I realized it used to be a large stone chimney for a dwelling, but there were no signs of the dwelling left, and the trees had grown up to be a large size where it had once stood. I run into these kinds of ruins all over up there, and I often wonder about the stories of these places and the people who used to live and work there, but more on that later.

I thought there was a third preserve in that area, which there is, the Vivian VanCampen Preserve, and I must have driven right past it, or there is no sign. But I couldn’t remember the details, and since my GPS unit had let me down, I didn’t explore that one. Yet another reason to go back! The Andreae Preserve is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and that’s saying a lot. I am sure I will go back many times in the future.

One thing I try not to do up there is travel the same road twice in one day, although that can be tough since there are so few roads. I decided to take a different route than the one I had used to get there to go back to the PRC proper, and I got lost, really lost. That’s part of what I like about the area, it is big enough and wild enough you can get lost, and you never know what you’ll find when you’re lost. On this day, I swear the roads spiraled in slowly until they finally ended at a gate to private property, that happens some times. The maps on the GPS unit are just a guideline, there are no good maps of the roads and trails, you can’t even trust the ones the DNR gives out.

I finally got on a two-track that seemed to be going somewhere, where I wasn’t sure, when I found this.

Impoundment on the Little Pigeon River

It isn’t marked, named, or anything else from what I can tell, but it is an impoundment on the Little Pigeon River, and a pretty little spot, which I ended up coming back to later in the week, and I’ll go into more detail then.

I continued down the two-track until it intersected another, and remarkably, there was a road sign there, and I knew where I was again. It was the intersection of the Grass Lake and Pickerel Lake Trails, so I took the Pickerel Lake Trail back through the campground on the lake to Sturgeon Valley Road. By now it was evening, and I was near the pipeline, so I thought it would be a good chance to try for a good picture of an elk. There are actually many pipelines that crisscross the PRC, but if some one mentions the pipeline, they mean the one that is open to vehicles between the Sturgeon and Pigeon Rivers, where many people go to see elk. The DNR plants several fields along the pipeline for “habitat improvement” but it is more like baiting the elk and deer so people can view them. I parked, and walked back along the edge of the woods until I found a spot I thought would give me the best chance of getting a good picture, and sat down against a tree to wait, and promptly dozed off in the warm evening sun. I fought to stay awake, but couldn’t, I kept dozing off, so it seemed like a good idea to go back to camp, eat supper, and turn in for the night, which is what I did.

Day three, the sinkholes and missed opportunities

As I was drinking my morning coffee and thinking about getting lost the day before, I thought it would be a good idea to stop at the PRC headquarters and pick up copies of the latest maps, which is what I did. I also went inside and talked to Scott Whitcomb, the unit manager for the PRC for a few minutes. I let him know how displeased I was about Round Lake closing, and he told me it wasn’t certain yet, but he also said that it was his favorite campground too. He filled me in to why it was selected for closure, and part of the problem is theft if you can believe it. People have been stealing the fire rings, picnic tables, even the trash cans in the park. That and so many people stay there and don’t pay. Come on people, I know the campgrounds are overpriced, something the DNR admits, but stealing the trash cans? We had a good conversation, I don’t agree with all the decisions he makes, but overall, Scott does a great job of managing the PRC, and there’s no way to please every one.

With my maps, I headed off for the sinkholes. They aren’t in the PRC proper, they are east of there just a few miles east of M 33. I took the long way around to the north to save time, at least I was driving on paved roads rather than two-tracks. On the road to the sinkholes I passed a swamp on the side of the road, and saw two beautiful male wood ducks take off from within 20 feet of the road. There was no way I could get the camera out in time, darn. I made note of where the swamp was for later in the day. I got to the sinkholes, put on my backpack, and did the long loop around them. To tell you the truth, they didn’t seem like all that big of a deal, other than there are so many so close together, and that these have remained dry. The PRC is full of little sinkhole lakes, Lost Lake, the Twin Lakes, Ford Lake, Section Four Lake, etc. All those lakes and more were formed in the same way as the sinkholes, water has dissolved the limestone rock formations deep underground, which causes the ground above to collapse down into the void left where the limestone used to be.

Sinkhole map and diagram of how they formed

It was a nice enough trail though, well worth the hike. I think another thing that I didn’t like about the sinkholes is that you never have a clear view of them, they are filled with trees that block your view for the most part. There is a set of stairs going down into one, and coming back up them is a work out, you’ll need a break when you get to the top. The stairway is about the equivalent of a 10 story building, if that gives you some idea how deep the sinkholes are.

After my hike around the sinkholes, I went across the road to check out the campground at Shoepac Lake, then drove down to the campground on Tomahawk Lake. They are both nice campgrounds, a little too built up for my taste though.

Now that a few hours had passed, I thought that maybe the wood ducks would have returned to the swamp where I had seen them earlier, so that was my next stop. I parked along the road a good distance from the swamp, and walked to where I had seen them on the north side of the road. As I was sneaking along, fixated on the north side of the road, I heard a cluck from the south side and turned to see a ruffed grouse not 20 feet from me in a grassy clearing on the edge of the swamp there. Of course it flew off before I could even get a picture. That’s when the idea of lost or missed opportunities began to really take hold. If I hadn’t been so fixed on seeing a wood duck, I probably would have noticed the grouse in time to get a picture. Sort of the same thing had already happened a couple of times this week, once when I was looking for a woodpecker I heard very near me and spooked a deer that was also close by. Part of that is due to the nature of the PRC itself, for a photographer, it is a “target-rich environment”. There is abundant wildlife to photograph, and it is easy to spook one critter when you are after another. It doesn’t help that the animals are more skittish there than they are downstate where I live. There are two reasons for that, one is poaching, there are a lot of people who live almost a subsistent life in the area since jobs are few and far between, and the other reason is the number of predators there. It is like a wilderness with a true predator-prey relationship going on there. The predators aren’t suppressed the way they are here in lower Michigan. The prey species have to be more alert or they end up as a meal for either humans or predators.

Anyway, another portion of the High Country Pathway runs right past the swamp I was at, so I thought I would follow it for a little ways to see where it led. I only went a short way until I came to a boardwalk of sorts, I took just a few steps on it and decided it was no place for some one my size to be walking, which brings me to another point, who laid out the High Country Pathway? OK, so that’s a rhetorical question, sort of. It seems like every time I run into a section of it, it is near a swamp, bog, or some other type of wetland. Just as I used part of it to search for the cranes in the bog earlier in the week, it went through wetlands here where I was looking for wood ducks. Either the people who laid it out love wetlands, or they chose to follow the wetlands to reduce the amount of up and down hiking people would have to do if the trail was laid out differently. The boardwalk I came to here was old and severely rotted, I could see boards missing or loose, and during the few steps I did take on it several of the boards that looked sound turned out not to be. I know I’m not a little guy, but there is no way any one should be using that section of trail. I am not sure, but I think there is an alternate trail now, but I would be prepared for some detours and bushwhacking if you were to decide to hike the entire trail. Here’s a blog by some one else who did hike the entire High Country Pathway.

Since I couldn’t go that way, I went the other way instead, and found a series of small swamps connected by very small streams. I would guess that in the summer the streams become seepages and bogs more than streams, but it was a nice area. I’m glad I was there before the mosquitoes were out though, I doubt if I would have found it so nice in the dead of summer. I know, I am almost as strange as who ever laid out the High Country Pathway next to and through all those wetlands in the first place. I like swamps, bogs, and wetlands, in the spring, fall, and winter when there are no bugs. I avoid them in the summer.

I decided to take the back way, albeit shorter way, back towards the campground, and I am glad I did. My first “discovery” was Canada Creek, which I have read about but never been to before. Canada Creek is one of the major tributaries of the Black River, and at least the part I checked out this day looks to be as big and more open than the Black itself. I didn’t suit up and get serious, but I did make a few casts here and there, and I will be back to get serious about it soon.

The next discovery was Bear Den Lake, a small lake out in the middle of nowhere that has a DNR access site. It looks like a good fishing lake, not that I do any lake fishing any more, but the osprey must find it to be good for fishing, for as I was looking over the lake, I saw one perched near me.


After he flew off, I drove off, stopping on the way for a snack in a nice shaded area right next to the road. I guess I should mention the weather. In the morning it was cold, not freezing, but close enough that the propane tank on the Coleman stove became frost covered. In the afternoons, it was warming up to be shirt sleeve weather, then as the sun set, it would cool off rapidly.

My last stop of note was Inspiration Point, at the intersection of Osmun and Clark’s Bridge Roads. There is a scenic overview there that requires a short walk, less than half a mile. I have been there before, several times, and sometimes in May, the apple trees along the trail are in bloom, and gorgeous, I wasn’t so lucky this time. As cold as it has been, the buds were still closed. The view from Inspiration Point is well worth the short walk, although I was there the wrong time of the day for the best lighting for this picture.

View from Inspiration Point

One other thing about Inspiration Point is the old building foundations there. Just like the fallen Chimney at Helmer’s Dam, there are a number of ruins of old buildings scattered about the Inspiration Point area. What they all were, I am not sure. Given the number of apple trees there I would assume it was once an apple orchard, but there seems to be a lot of foundations and other ruins for just an orchard. There is a book out about the history of the PRC, and I suppose I should break down and buy a copy, even though I doubt it tells the stories that I am wanting to hear. But I spent some time up on the ridge finding more and more old foundations and other old ruins there, and trying to figure out what they used to be. I was also hanging out there because the DNR had done a controlled burn of what I call wildflower valley just to the east. I call it wildflower valley since it is usually filled with the flowers of the open fields. I was somewhat disappointed to see it had been burned, but I know the flowers will be back better than ever later on. The other thing is that I thought maybe the deer or elk would come out of the forests to feed on the new growth taking hold there, since the new growth has a higher protein content and apparently tastes better to the critters, but it didn’t happen while I was there. So I headed back to camp for the night.

 Day four, small storms, big trees, bigger views, hiking Green Timbers

Sometime just before dawn, I was awakened by what I thought may have been thunder, but wasn’t sure. As I was lying there, the tent lit up from lightning, and then I knew it had been thunder that woke me up. I made a quick trip to the outhouse just in case I had to hunker down in the tent for an extended amount of time, then went back to sleep. I woke up hearing thunder a couple of times, never close, but all around me. When it got truly light out, I brewed coffee and listened as the storms continued to roll through the area. It was raining most of the time, it would rain hard for a minute or two, then let up to sprinkles, then pick up again. I don’t mind rain, I don’t even mind thunder showers, but I am a lot more selective about what I will do and where I will go when there is lightning in the area. Since I was still hearing thunder off in the distance, I thought it would be a good time to run into town, fill the gas tank of the explorer, pick up a bag of ice for the cooler, and check out the Elkhorn Grill for breakfast. A couple of mushroom hunters I ran into told me that the Elkhorn served good breakfasts, so it seem to be the thing to do. Sure enough, they do serve a good breakfast at the Elkhorn, and that gave me a chance to check the radar on my smart phone. I could see the thunderstorms were about over, but I had an extra cup of coffee just to be sure.

Why I didn’t decide to go fishing escapes me now, and all logic, but I didn’t, I decided to hike Green Timbers instead. I am not saying the hike was bad, far from it, but in hindsight, I should have gone fishing this day instead of hiking, another lost opportunity. I am going to write this next section somewhat differently, as I will also use it as part of my hiking places series of pages, so bear with me please, I don’t want to type the same thing twice.

Anyway, Green Timbers is a 6,388 acre tract that was adopted as part of the Pigeon River Country State Forest  in 1982, and is closed to all motor vehicles, including snowmobiles. Here’s a link to Detailed Map of Green Timbers.

Green Timbers, so named in 1942 by Don McLouth of McLouth Steel, was developed and used as a hunting and fishing resort. Prior to the McLouth ownership, the southeastern portion was used as a recreational retreat by Titus Glen Phillips, while the north portion was owned by Cornwall Lumber Company. The land was extensively logged, burned, and then grazed by both sheep and cattle prior to the 1958’s when McLouth purchased the property.

The first thing you should know about Green Timbers is nothing is marked, there are no signs, other than the ones that say no motorized vehicles along the borders. There isn’t even a sign for the parking lot at the trailhead. Fortunately I can remember back to the large arched sign that used to be there when it was still in private ownership. It is about seven miles east of Vanderbilt. If you are looking for it, it is on the west side of the Sturgeon River on the north side of Sturgeon Valley Road, right where it curves to go over the Sturgeon. The stone walls at the entrance are still there. Also still on the property are two of the cabins that were used when the it was still a hunting and fishing resort. For how long, I am not sure, for the local kids are obviously using both of the cabins as party places. The DNR is leaving them for now for use as shelters for people hiking, snow shoeing, or cross-country skiing.

The trail starts at the Sturgeon Valley Road trailhead and heads basically north for just less than 2 1/2 miles until you get to the first cabin, called the Green Timbers Cabin. The trail is an old two-track, easy to follow and easy to hike, with no hills at all to speak of. The forest is mixed second-growth pine for the most part along this section of the trail. You’ll know when you are about to get to the cabin when the trail makes a sharp turn to the right. If you go left for a few hundred feet, you’ll come to the Club Stream, so named because it flows through two of the old hunting clubs that used to be there, one of which is now Green Timbers. Club Stream is also an excellent trout stream.

When you make the turn to the right, you will see the bridge over the Sturgeon River just ahead of you.  The cabin will come into view as you cross the bridge, and it will be easy to see why they chose to build a cabin on this spot. it is surrounded by big red pines, I don’t know if they are old growth pines or second-growth that have gotten that large, but it is a very pretty setting right along the river.

Green Timbers Cabin

You are free to spend the night in the cabin, or anywhere with in Green Timbers, but you may want to obtain a free camping permit from the Pigeon River Country headquarters just in case. I can’t tell you if one is needed, but I would assume so, since they are required on all state forest lands.

After you leave the Green Timbers Cabin, the trail winds more, and climbs up and over a ridge on the east side of the Sturgeon River. After you go over the ridge, the walking is easy again, through more open scrub and Jack Pines. The trail still heads to the north, and when it “T”s, go to the left, which is west, and climb up over the ridge again, it will be well worth the climb! As you cross the top of the ridge, the Honeymoon Cabin will come into view, and the Sturgeon River Valley beyond it.

The Honeymoon Cabin

These were taken in May, before the trees had leafed out, but I’ll try to go back in the fall when the foliage should be as spectacular as the view is. The distance from the Green Timbers  cabin to the Honeymoon cabin is about 1 1/2 miles, making it 4 miles from the road, and about an 8 mile round trip. When I took the top of the ridge trail back, the distance that I came up with on my GPS unit was just over 7 miles total.

The view from the Honeymoon Cabin

For the return trip, there is a trail that runs right on top of the ridge and offers some great views on the way back. The trail isn’t marked, or shown on any maps that I have seen, but you’ll see it on the map I post at the end of this. It is easy to spot, it runs straight south along the top of the ridge. I wouldn’t suggest taking it up to the cabin, it isn’t as easy to find on the south end, and it would involve a very steep climb up the ridge.

Green Timbers Trail map

Don’t pay any attention to most of the roads on this map, as most of them aren’t there anymore. The DNR closed them long ago, and they are overgrown and impassable, and the DNR would fine you if they found you driving on them anyway. You can click on the map to get a larger, printable version.

When I started this hike it was raining steadily, but the rain ended, and the sun came out, after I had taken the pictures of course. I thought about going back, but I’ll do that in the fall when the foliage should be spectacular. It also warmed up, in a hurry. I was wearing my winter parka, a flannel shirt, and a heavy T-shirt, but I stopped and striped down to just the T-shirt on my way back and was still plenty warm!

After the hike, I went back to the campground for supper, then drove over to the Blue Lakes Road Bridge where it crosses the Black River. I had seen an elk herd there last fall, and had heard that they feed in the field there quite often. All the way over there I saw deer and elk crossing the road ahead of me, but at a good rate of speed. I lost count of how many. As I approached the bridge, sure enough, there were elk in the field where I expected them to be, but also on the south side of the road and a lot closer. I yanked the wheel to the left and hit the down button for the passenger side window to get a shot through that window, but I couldn’t get turned far enough to do that, so I shot this one of the last elk before it took off to follow the rest of the ones that had been there through the windshield.

Michigan elk

Not very good, but I tried. The herd out in the field on the north side of the road were too far away to get good pictures of them. I waited for a while to see if any came closer, but that didn’t happen. Then it was back to the campground and bed.

Day five, the Big Storms!

As I was drinking my morning coffee, I noticed the birds weren’t acting quite the same as they had been so far, and I had a funny feeling about the weather. Nothing I could put my finger on, I think it is something, an instinct, that I have developed from being outdoors so much. The forecast was for afternoon or evening storms, and no word about them being severe. I thought it best to check, I only had to drive a couple of miles to get cell phone service, so I did, and I am sure glad I did! There were two lines of storms headed right for where I was. No problem I thought, I’ll go into town for breakfast, and wait out the storms. The storms weren’t moving very fast, because I made it to town, and was just finishing my meal when some one came in and announced that it had just started to rain. I could see the storms on the radar on my phone, and as I finished my coffee, I thought that I would drive around north of Green Timbers and look for more access sites on the Sturgeon River.

That’s one thing I was a little disappointed in the day before when I hiked Green Timbers, other than at the first cabin, I didn’t find any good places to get to the river. My GPS unit and the maps I had from the DNR showed several roads north of there that either ended at the river, or came close enough to it that there could be access to it. So much for the well laid plans of mice and men, and maps as well. Almost as soon as I started into the area from the main road, I found that this was the area I had gotten lost in a couple of days before!

By now the first storm was hitting the area, making things even tougher. I found one of the places the maps showed there could have been access, but I didn’t dare venture out too far with lightning bolts filling the sky. I did go far enough on foot to see that any river access involved climbing a very steep, very high ridge, not fun in waders. At every turn, intersection, or even the appearance of an old road I would stop and consult the three maps I had and my GPS unit, none of them matched, and none were correct. None of those possible access site exist any more.

I was close to the impoundment on the Little Pigeon River I had found a couple of days before, so I went there and wandered around enough to find an old beaver pond, and some other interesting places to check out another time, but the second line of storms was approaching, and I didn’t want to be struck by lightning. When I had taken the top of the ridge trail the day before, I had noticed a number of trees that showed lightning damage, and more that had been destroyed by lightning.

Some one I talked to, either a mushroom hunter or some one in town had told me about a new road the DNR had built a few years before, so I thought I would find it and check it out as the storm passed. I found it OK, it is called Fisherman’s Road, and it used to be a dead-end road. The DNR has extended it out to Webb Road to the north. Cool, it runs along the Pigeon River, maybe I’ll find some access sites to it, rather than the Sturgeon, so I thought. I had only gone a short way when all hell broke loose! The winds picked up, the rain was coming down in buckets, and trees and limbs were falling all around me. I didn’t bother looking for any access sites, I just wanted to get out to a main road and some semblance of safety. I had to stop twice to remove small branches from my windshield wipers, and a couple of times small branches came crashing down on the explorer. As hard as it was raining I was worried that the road, really a two-track, would become impassable before I made it out to Webb Road, but eventually I did.

The strange thing about the storm is that the winds picked up even more after the lightning and thunder had passed by. It was getting worse rather than better, and even more tree limbs and trees were coming down. Now that I had made it to a real road, I was worried my tent would be blown away, but I had to go the long way around the outside of the PRC to get to the campground, or risk the two-tracks again. I opted for the main roads, even they were partially blocked in places by fallen trees. At one point I passed an opening in the trees for one of the many pipelines in the area, and the wind blew the explorer a couple of feet sideways, the wind was so strong. At another spot there was a lake with whitecaps, which wasn’t strange with that wind, but the whitecaps were being blown up in just a few feet of open water, not all the way downwind like they normally are. Then I came to a tree that did block the entire road. I had just started breaking off some of the smaller branches to make a way through, when some one drove up from the other side. We didn’t say much, just went to work clearing the road. He had a carpenter’s saw, and I got my bow saw out, and we sawed our way towards one another. We met in about the middle, but it was raining too hard to hold a conversation, we just thanked each other and headed back to the safety of our vehicles.

I came to one other small tree I had to saw through, then one old dead tree that had to be moved on the road to the campground, but the worst was over by then. I was both surprised and relieved to see my tent still standing and in one piece when I did finally make it to the campground. Columbia must make a good tent, and I know how to set it up, because that was the worst wind I have ever seen while camping, and I hope to never see it again. As I was checking everything at the campsite over, a small branch about an inch in diameter and maybe two feet long hit the ground with a loud thud not more than twenty feet from where I was standing. The last close call of the day.

What do you do after a storm like that? You go fishing, at least I did. If you catch it just right, the fishing can be great during the rising water after a rain, but I was too late. The Pigeon was already high and getting muddy from the rain. I fished hard until dusk and never had even a hit, and I never saw even a small fish rise, even though there was a hatch going on.

 Day six, decision day.

Part of my plans for this week was a kayaking trip with friends down the south branch of the Au Sable on this coming Sunday, but the weather forecast was not looking good for that trip. Added to the things I had to balance out was when I was going to pack up to come home. If we did the kayak trip, I was going to pack up on Saturday, get a motel for the night, do the kayak trip on Sunday, then drive home and unpack on Monday before work. With the weather forecast calling for rain all weekend, with falling temperatures and high winds Sunday, I decided to call off the kayak trip and come home early. I don’t mind hiking, fishing, kayaking, or even camping in the rain, but, I do mind having to pack up a tent and other camping gear in the rain, or when it is still wet from rain. No matter what you do, no matter how many towels you use, things are still damp when you pack them, and you have to then unpack and air everything out to dry as soon as you arrive home, or you will end up with mildew in your gear. I still have to unpack and air things out, but I don’t have to do it all right away, since everything was dry when I packed it this time.

Besides, most normal people don’t like paddling when it is 50 degrees, raining, and with the wind howling, my question would be which way is the wind coming from? A tailwind most of the time wouldn’t be too bad, but I wouldn’t paddle into a headwind under those conditions unless I had to. My kayaking friends aren’t so hardcore, they prefer normal weather for kayaking. And, I didn’t see a good window to pack up in unless I did it on this day.

I sent out an Email letting people know the trip was cancelled, then started getting my stuff dried and ready to be packed up. I thought that I would have time to do a short hike on the Shinglemill Pathway while things dried out, but that didn’t happen. The temperature was climbing rapidly, and there was a good breeze blowing, so everything was drying quickly. As each item dried, I packed it up, then went on to the next. Not even the tent or the tarp I put down under the tent took very long to dry, so I was done in a short time, and headed for home.

 The wrap up

While I missed a number of chances for good pictures, I took almost 300 good ones, and several really good ones. I didn’t catch any fish, but that happens. I spent too much time early in my vacation doing the side trips and taking photos rather than fishing, but the weather didn’t pan out the way I thought, or the way it was forecast to be. The fishing has been too good the last couple of years, so good that I was forgetting that I could be shut out completely, and now, that’s happened and it will make the next fish I do catch that much more special. I had a great time this week, saw many beautiful sights, saw lots of critters of all kinds, found some new spots to fish, and more new places to explore even further. I even got invited to go mushroom hunting with one of the locals up there, which doesn’t mean much to any one who doesn’t understand that most of the locals dislike and don’t trust flat-landers, which is what they call the residents of down state Michigan.

But, the best part of coming home early is that I will be able to attend a Trout Unlimited function tomorrow afternoon on the Rogue, hosted by Dick Pobst. Dick used to own the Orvis shop in Ada, and I spent a lot of time there drooling on his tackle and trying to learn all I could about fly fishing many, many years ago. It will be good to see Dick again, and learn more about the sport from a true master. Missed opportunities? When one door closes, another opens.

Roughing it?

In about 48 hours from now, I will be setting up my campsite in the Pigeon River Country for a week of fly fishing, hiking, exploring, and kayaking. As I was thinking about it, it dawned on me that most people refer to it as roughing it, not me. Sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag is second nature to me, I grew up camping, and if anything, I sleep better while camping than at home. Going with out electricity? No big deal to me, I’ll have a lantern and flashlights along, besides, I am up at first light and normally go to bed shortly after it gets dark anyway. No TV? Ha, I don’t even turn the one I have at home on, so I sure won’t be missing that. No stove? I do bring a Coleman stove, and between that and a campfire, I can cook most anything I care to eat anyway. On top of that, food tastes better cooked outdoors, or it is that being active in fresh air makes food taste better. Maybe it’s because I do so much camping that I don’t think of it as roughing it, and I’ll tell you, after 4 years of being an over the road truck driver, camping sure beats living in a truck!

I’ll be spending 24 hours a day in the great outdoors, in one of the most beautiful locations in the state of Michigan, what could be better? Instead of seeing endless traffic, parking lots, and houses on top of houses, I’ll be seeing blue skies, wildlife going about its business, trees, and flowers. Instead of hearing TV, stereos, voices, loud cars and bikes, I’ll be hearing birds singing, and the wind whispering in the pines. I’ll hear the loons, coyotes, owls, and whippoorwills serenade me to sleep at night. Instead of smelling what other people are cooking, cheap perfume, and car exhaust, I’ll be smelling crisp clean air slightly scented with the fragrances of pine and wildflowers. Roughing it? I think not!

OK, so there is one thing I will miss, a hot shower. I’ll check into a motel next Saturday so I can take a shower, and before I meet with friends for kayaking the Au Sable on Sunday. It will make things easier as far as packing up for the trip home as well.

I was talking to a friend the other night, and she had all kinds of questions about my adventures, similar to what many people ask. Are you going alone? Yep, except for next Sunday for kayaking. Don’t you get bored or lonely up there by yourself? Never, there never seems to be enough time when I’m up there, and I am never bored, even if I am just sitting in the woods somewhere taking in all of nature. I am always too busy to be bored, and there are too many critters around for me to get lonely. But what if it rains? I’ll put on a rain coat and stay dry. Don’t you get cold? No, I have an excellent sleeping bag, and good outdoor wear that keeps me snug as a bug in a rug. Doesn’t it get wet in the tent? Not if you know where and how to set up a tent. What about the wild animals, aren’t I afraid of being attacked? Hardly, I’ll be safer in the woods than driving down the road, and safer than in some neighborhoods. What about the bugs? OK, you got me there, most of the summertime bugs can be a pest, but that’s the reason I take my vacation in early May, the bugs aren’t out yet. I can’t say that I like having to wear insect repellent all the time in the summer, but it is a small price to pay in trade-off for all the other good things there are.

Truth be told, if  I were independently wealthy, or retired, I would live about the same as I am going to be doing this coming week anyway. The difference would be that I would have a structure rather than a tent, and the structure would have a shower and water heater. Don’t get me wrong, I love the culture that is available in the cities, but on my terms. I love a night at the symphony, or a day in a museum as much or more than any one, but as a visitor. As far as life, give me the great outdoors! Now that’s really living, and living well.

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.

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.

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.

Confessions of a Fly Fishing Snob

“Bass fishermen watch Monday night football, drink beer, drive pickup trucks and prefer noisy women with big breasts.  Trout fishermen watch MacNeil-Lehrer, drink white wine, drive foreign cars with passenger-side air bags and hardly think about women at all.  This last characteristic may have something to do with the fact that trout fishermen spend most of the time immersed up to the waist in ice-cold water.”  ~Author Unknown

Talk to a bass fisherman, and he’ll tell you all trout fishermen are snobs. Talk to those who fish for trout with bait, and they’ll tell you all fly fishermen are snobs. So I suppose that people who fly fish for trout are often thought to be the biggest snobs by others who fish. I guess I have to plead guilty on that count myself. I try not to be a fly fishing snob, in fact, I even rebel against what I think are attempts to take the snobbery to new levels all the time by those fly fishers who get so caught up in it that they can’t help themselves.

I will try to keep my superiority complex in check while I try to explain what that’s all about.

In the first place, not all fly fishermen are snobs, it just seems that way to others. It doesn’t help that fly fishermen have lobbied the state’s fisheries management divisions across the country successfully for what is known as gear restricted waters, stretches of rivers where the only fishing tackle that can be used are flies, and you have to release most, if not all, of the trout that you catch. But, more on that later.

Maybe I should start at the very beginning, the rivers themselves. You don’t have to be a fly fisherman to love rivers, many people do. I kayak with a group of people who aren’t fly fishermen, and they love rivers almost as much as I do. I think most people love the sounds of a babbling brook, that soothing sound that has been written about in untold numbers of books and poems, most having nothing to do with fishing at all. I think there is something primordial about those sounds that have been ingrained in the human brain for thousands of generations. Moving water is generally clean water, safe to drink. I can imagine the early humans hearing the sounds of moving water in the distance as they moved across the land from camp to camp. It would have been a welcome sound to hear the sounds of water dancing over rocks and trees, our ancestors would have been drawn to it,  for it would mean they could safely quench their thirst. Since all life on earth depends on water, the sounds of moving water would also mean food, in the form of game animals coming to the streams and rivers to drink. Our ancestors probably would have made their camps along streams when ever possible, for streams meant water, food, and even some shelter from the harshest weather, since rivers normally carve themselves a valley that shelters you from the strongest winds. And since rivers continue to flow during winter when lakes freeze over, they would have been even more important to our ancestors as a year round source of water.

But for whatever reason we began to love rivers, the human love affair with rivers continues to this day. Poets still wax poetic about their beauty, musicians still compose odes to their greatness, and we seek them out as a place of refuge from the pressures of the world we have created for ourselves.

“A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it.” –Arnold Gingrich

Then there are the trout, in my opinion, the most beautiful freshwater game fish there are. There are many species of trout, and they are all beautiful. They didn’t set out to be beautiful, their colorations are camouflage from predators. They aren’t brightly colored gaudy fish like you see living on coral reefs or in other places, a trout’s beauty is subtle, with nearly every color of the rainbow blended in such a manner to make them almost invisible when they are in the water. I could try to describe them all, but I’ll save you all the trouble of reading my feeble attempts to put the beauty of a trout into words, and post a picture instead.

A small brown trout

I have chosen a picture of a brown trout, not that they are my favorite or the most beautiful, but because browns are the trout most associated with fly fishing, and fly fishing snobs. No pictures I’ve seen or taken truly capture all the colors of any trout, for they seem to have other layers of very faint translucent iridescent colors over what you see here, that change as the light reflecting off from them changes.

There is another reason to admire trout on top of their physical beauty, and that is the spirit of the trout. They are well-known for their fighting ability, but what is seldom discussed is the spirit with in them that pushes them to fight the way they do. When you hook a trout, as far as they are concerned, it is a fight to the death, they never give up. Other species will fight until they are tired, then let you reel them in and once you remove the hook, they swim off to fight another day. Not trout, they so love life and freedom that they never surrender, and they will fight to their death if you let them. That is always something to keep in mind when fighting large trout on light line. You have to get them in the net before they kill themselves trying to get free, and once you have removed the hook, you have to hold them in the current and let them recover their strength until they can swim away safely again. With smaller trout, that isn’t so much of a problem, but, you can still feel their fight to regain their freedom right up until you release them, and that is especially true of wild trout. To me, hooking a trout is like engaging an honorable and worthy opponent whom I respect and admire, in a contest of wills, and even though I hope I win, I always feel a bit sad when I do, and I hope that some of the trout’s spirit rubs off on me.

 “I salute the gallantry and uncompromising standards of wild trout, and their tastes in landscapes” John Madson

So, people love rivers, and people love trout, and even better, trout only make their home in the most beautiful of rivers. Trout need cool, clean, clear, fast-moving streams to survive in, which means they live in rivers that we humans find to be the most aesthetically pleasing to our eyes. But that still doesn’t explain why fly fishermen become snobs, maybe it is the fly fishing?

“Whether I caught fish or not, just the thrill of rolling out that line and watching my fly turn over has been good enough for me. That and the hundreds of treasured memories I have of this wonderful sport.” Curt Gowdy

 There is something about fly fishing that gets into your blood and can never be removed. I am not sure what it is about fly fishing that makes this so, maybe it is the accomplishing of something most people see as difficult. Fly casting isn’t as hard as it looks, but I think it is like any sport, when you learn to do it well, it does give you great pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. I am not a great fly caster, but I still love the way it feels when I hit one just right, and I can watch the line shoot out, the fly turnover at the end of the cast, and then land lightly on the water right where I meant it to. There is also something very relaxing in the rhythm of fly casting, even if you’re only roll casting, that is where you never take the line behind you, but roll it back out ahead of you. I am not sure how to put it into words, other than to say that there are days when I am so into the fly fishing itself, that getting a hit is an interruption of sorts. It isn’t as if I am concentrating on the mechanics of the fly casting, because I will still be listening to the birds singing, watching the wildlife along the banks, I cast, mend the line, let the fly drift, over and over and over again, and I find that rather than minutes, hours have gone by. I lose track of time no matter what type of fishing I am doing, but never so much as when I am fly fishing. However, that still doesn’t explain the snobbery part of the sport.

“Beginners may ask why one fishes if he is to release his catch. They fail to see that the live trout, sucking in the fly and fighting the rod is the entire point to our sport. Dead trout are just so much lifeless meat.” Ernest G. Schwiebert, Jr

OK, we may be on to something here, the beginning of the disconnect between Regular Joe Fishermen and the fly fishing snobs.

Regular Joe Fisherman hears that and says “Whoa, time out here. Hooking and fighting fish is fun, but the entire point to our sport is what you call the lifeless meat! Trout are good eating and considered to be gourmet food!, Don’t you understand that?”

Maybe I shouldn’t put words in the late Ernie Schwiebert’s mouth, but I can imagine his reply would be something on the order of “No! I don’t understand that, trout are too beautiful to kill for food! I find that notion to be repulsive and abhorrent! If you want a fish dinner, go to the store and buy a fish, it’s cheaper that way any how!”

 What happens to some of us that we fall so deeply in love with trout, where they live, and fishing for them that we go completely off our rocker’s and deny the basic reason that mankind started fishing in the first place, for food? I’ll let Ernie try to answer that one, as while many people have tried to explain it, I think he has said it as well as any one, and certainly better than I could ever hope to.

The following excerpt is from the closing speech at 2005 opening ceremonies at the American Museum of Fly Fishing that Ernie Schwiebert made.

“I will conclude with a story.

My obsession with fishing began in childhood, watching bluegills and pumpkinseeds and perch under a rickety dock, below a simple cedar-shingled cottage in southern Michigan. My obsession with trout began there too, when my mother drove north into town for groceries, and took me along with the promise of chocolate ice cream. We crossed a stream that was utterly unlike those near Chicago, fetid and foul-smelling, or choked with the silts of farm-country tillage. It flowed swift and crystalline over the bottom of ochre cobblestones and pebbles and like Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” it mysteriously disappeared into thickets of cedar sweepers downstream.

And a man was fishing there.

The current was smooth, but it tumbled swiftly around his legs. It was a different kind of fishing, utterly unlike watching a red-and-white bobber on a tepid childhood pond, with its lilypad and cattail margins, and its callings of redwinged blackbirds. His amber line worked back and forth in the sunlight, and he dropped his fly on the water briefly, only to tease it free of the current, and strip the moisture from its barbules with more casting. It seemed more like the grace of ballet than fishing.

And then the man hooked a fish.

My mother called to the angler, and gave me permission to run and see his prize. I remember getting my feet muddy and wet, with a Biblical plague of cockleburrs at my ankles, but it did not matter. The fish was still in the man’s landing met, and he raised it dripping and shining in his hand. It was a brook trout of six inches, its dorsal surfaces dark with blue and olive vermiculations, and its flanks clouded with dusky parr markings. Its belly and lower fins were a bright tangerine, with edgings of alabaster and ebony, and it glowed like a jeweler’s tray of opals and moonstones and rubies. I had witnessed something beautiful, and I wanted to be part of it.

People often ask why I fish, and after seventy-odd years, I am beginning to understand.

I fish because of Beauty.

Everything about our sport (and our cause in terms of TU) is beautiful. Its more than five centuries of manuscript and books and folios are beautiful. Its artifacts of rods and beautifully machined reels are beautiful. Its old wading staffs and split-willow creels, and the delicate artifice of its flies, are beautiful. Dressing such confections of fur, feathers and steel is beautiful, and our worktables are littered with gorgeous scraps of tragopan and golden pheasant and blue chattered and Coq de Leon. The best of sporting art is beautiful. The riverscapes that sustain the fish are beautiful. Our methods of seeking them are beautiful, and we find ourselves enthralled with the quicksilver poetry of the fish.

And in our contentious time of partisan hubris, selfishness, and outright mendacity, Beauty itself may prove the most endangered thing of all.”

Regular Joe Fisherman would probably say something on this order, “More of that fancy talk from another of you fly fishing snobs. You all sound like Frasier Crane and his brother Niles. Can’t you ever speak like a normal American?”

Not when it comes to fly fishing for trout.

I didn’t set out to be a fly fishing snob, or any other kind of snob, in fact, I considered myself to be the anti-snob for most of my life, and parts of me still do. I was raised by basically blue-collar parents who let us know their dislike for people who were snobs, pretentious, or “put on airs”. This was compounded when I went to school, the high school I graduated from was one of the two richest in the area.  If going to a school with the sons and daughters of millionaires, when you’re the son of a tool and die maker, doesn’t make you dislike snobs, nothing will. My parents did expose us to some of the finer things in life, my dad was a big fan of semi-classical music for example, and because I went to  a rich school, I was exposed to even more of the finer things in life, which I rejected as the anti-snob.

And even though I have found trout to be beautiful since an early age, that isn’t the reason I stopped keeping them. That was more of a practical and pragmatic decision, I caught so many of them that I was tired of hauling them home, cleaning them, and then trying to give them away, as you can only eat so much fish. I had read about catch and release, and it seemed like a good idea, if you want there to be fish forever, maybe you should turn most of them back to reproduce and make more fish to catch. I wasn’t even totally hooked on fly fishing at that point, when I started letting some the fish I caught go, and some of the fish I released were caught on (gasp!!!) bait.

 Looking back now, I think the thing that started me down the path to becoming a fly fishing snob was something as simple as buying an Orvis reel. I was going through cheap fly reels faster than one a year, they just didn’t hold up to the type of fish I was catching. I looked at the Orvis reels, and it took me almost a year, and another cheap reel, to decide that I could continue to buy cheap ones until I spent more for them than one Orvis reel, or I could break down and spend the big bucks for an Orvis reel, which I did. As the son of a tool and die maker, I could appreciate the craftsmanship that went into that reel, it was as smooth as silk, an absolute joy to fish with. As a fisherman, I could appreciate that I was no longer losing fish because a cheap reel had failed. I still have that reel, and I still use it all the time. It was a good investment, as it saved me from buying dozens of cheap reels over the years. It is a thing of beauty.

Over time, piece by piece, item by item, I replaced my cheap Regular Joe Fisherman tackle and ended up with the expensive stuff instead. They are things of beauty.

Now I have all the trappings of a fly fishing snob, I often wonder what the young me would think if he saw the present me. “Hmmm, another one of those rich fly fishing snobs who knows nothing about fishing or the fish!” is what the young me would think, but would I have been right? That’s the tricky part, for you see, there are really two kinds of fly fishing snobs.

There is one group of fly fishing snobs that are in the sport just to be fly fishing snobs. They are snobs in every aspect of their life, and they hear that fly fishermen are snobs, and they want to be part of the snobbery more than they want to be part of the fly fishing. They go out and buy the best gear money can buy, hire the best guides, read all the right books, sip the best liquor, and maybe even catch a fish every now and then. They are posers, snobs pretending to be fly fishing snobs.

 So, how do you tell a poser snob from a real fly fishing snob? Sometimes it is easy. If you see some one pull up to the river in an old, run down vehicle that has seen its better days, and the guy changes from street clothes to waders and vest faster than you can read this line, and then opens a rod case that hold two really fine rod and reel combinations, each of which is worth more than the vehicle he drove up in, it’s a real fly fishing snob. A poser snob would never let himself be seen driving an old, run down vehicle, he would have foregone the second fine rod and reel combo and used the money for a down payment on a better vehicle.

 You may then think that if you see some one pull up in a brand new Escalade and choose from the same two rod and reel combos that they have to be poser snobs, right? Not necessarily, for one thing I have learned over the years is not all the rich are snobs, and you don’t have to be extremely rich to be a poser snob, although it helps. So how do you tell the difference? It isn’t easy, but there are ways.

Let’s go back to Ernie Schwiebert’s eloquent speech, for a minute.

 “I fish because of Beauty.”

Any one can say that, even the poser snobs, they’ve read all the right books, so they are more than capable of repeating words like this, but they don’t really know what it means.

We’ve all heard the saying beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? And, what makes something beautiful to some one? Love. That’s something Ernie left out of his speech, love. We all know that love for a woman makes her more beautiful to the man who loves her, and can make him do irrational things, and so it is with fly fishing for trout. That’s what separates the poser snobs from the real fly fishing snobs, a love for trout that makes them even more beautiful than they really are, if that’s even possible, and our love for trout will make us do irrational things. Like spend money on a second rod and reel combination when we really need a better vehicle. Like quitting a good job in order to take a once in a lifetime fishing trip.

Our love for trout goes beyond the trout, to what the trout represent, something wild, something free, that makes its home in pristine rivers in the most pristine of wildernesses.

Poser snobs love too, they love being snobs.

So, how do you tell the real fly fishing snobs from the poser snobs? One way is this. We fly fishing snobs are river whores, we love all trout streams, but there is always one that we love more than all others. It may not be the biggest, the best, or the most widely known, but we love it as we do no other. For me, it is the Pigeon River in the Pigeon River Country. For Rusty Gates, it was the Au Sable. For Ernest Hemingway, it was the Fox. “Wait a minute here”, you say, “Didn’t Hemingway write about the Big Two-Hearted River?” Yes, that’s what he called it in his books, but it was actually the Fox River that he fished more than any others. He called it the Big Two-Hearted in his books because he didn’t want the crowds of fishermen he knew would come after reading his books to descend on his beloved Fox River and ruin it. That’s how much Hemingway loved the Fox, enough to lie in order to protect it. Get a fly fisherman to talk about his favorite stream, and if he doesn’t get that far away longing look, and maybe a little misty eyed as well, they’re a poser.

If you ask a fly fisherman you meet on the river how the fishing has been, and he says a few words about the fishing, but then goes on at length about the health status of the trout he’s caught and the river, he’s a fly fishing snob.

If he says a few words about the fishing that day and then starts talking about the big one he caught 3 years ago while fishing a big name river with a big name guide, he’s a poser snob.

But, probably the best way to tell is in the way he treats you and other fishermen he meets. If he offers to let you fish the best water first, he’s a fly fishing snob. If he races ahead of you to get to the best water before you do, he’s a poser snob. If he exits the river a long ways before he gets close to you so as not to spoil your fishing, no matter what kind of tackle you’re using, he’s a fly fishing snob. If he wades right through the water your fishing as if you didn’t exist, he’s a poser snob.

Let’s face it, a poser snob is a snob is a snob. They use the fact that they can afford the best of tackle as an excuse for their rude, boorish, inconsiderate, ill-mannered, and often times, ill-tempered, behavior. They have no respect for anything or any one, other than themselves, and if they don’t respect anything, they can’t respect the trout, and if they can’t respect the trout, they certainly can’t love the trout. Rather than calling them snobs, which feeds their snobbery, we should be calling them what they really are, fly fishing slobs.

Often when I get to a river, or getting ready to leave, there will be a group of fishermen there, who have tackle that looks like it comes straight from Wal-Mart, and they have set up lawn chairs, brought a cooler of beer, lots of food, a tub or two of crawlers, and they are fishing. I know they are never going to look at fishing or trout the same way I do, they are out there to soak up some sunshine and fresh air, and enjoy themselves. No big deal, they aren’t going to wipe out all the trout in the river. It does bother me that they are going to kill any trout they catch, but so do otters, mink, eagles, and osprey, and I love them almost as much as I do trout, and I can’t protect all the trout in the world no matter how hard I try. I would rather fish with a group like this than a fly fishing slob.

I also run into a lot of younger fishermen on the rivers who are in their twenties or thirties, casting spinners or those miniature floating Rapalas that can be so effective on trout, and I think to myself, that was me thirty tears ago, there is still hope for them. I am looking to make converts of them, over to my way of fishing, and I know if I act like an asshole, I’m sure not going to win any converts that way. So I have a pleasant conversation with them, and I hope I plant a seed that will grow as they get older. I would much rather fish with them than a fly fishing slob.

But that makes me ponder if age doesn’t have something to do with my conversion into a fly fishing snob. Coming face to face with my own mortality, knowing I probably have fewer fishing years ahead of me now than years behind me. Knowing that I want there to be trout left behind me so those young people I meet on the river will have the chance to fall in love with trout, and everything that goes with them, the way that I have.

There’s more in play than just facing my own mortality, for it seems to me that every year, both the trout and the rivers they live in become even more beautiful than before. You could chalk that up to my being helplessly in love with them, and that it is all a figment of my imagination, but you would be wrong. Our rivers are becoming more beautiful, or I should say their natural beauty is returning. Little by little, year after year, the wounds we inflicted on them during the logging days are healing. Little by little, year after year, they are purging themselves of the sewage and poisons we used to dump in them. And because our rivers are getting healthy again, more wild trout are born and survive to be caught, and hopefully, released.

Seeing this, I realize that I owe a huge debt to the fly fishing snobs who came before me that made this all happen. Even if you don’t fish, but love the rivers, we all owe the fly fishing snobs of past generations a huge debt of gratitude for saving the rivers from becoming nothing more than flowing cesspools devoid of life. That makes me realize I owe a huge debt to the trout and the rivers they live in for the many days of pleasure they have given me. I also realize that I owe a huge debt to generations to come, to continue the work of the fly fishing snobs who came before me, so the future generations will be able to have as many pleasurable days on the water as I have had.

So, to sum it all up, do I think trout are the most beautiful of game fish? Yes I do. Do I believe that trout streams are the most beautiful places to fish? Yes I do. Do I believe that fly fishing is of itself beautiful? Yes I do. Do I believe that fly fishing tackle is beautiful? Yes I do. Do I believe that the traditions of fly fishing are beautiful? Yes I do. Do I believe that many of the books written on the subject are beautiful? Yes I do. Do I believe that I have a duty to pass all of that on to others? Yes I do. I guess that makes me a fly fishing snob then, but please, don’t ever confuse me with one of the poser fly fishing snob slobs, because poor manners and snobbery for the sake of snobbery are never beautiful, and like Ernie Schwiebert, I fish because of beauty.

Would you like to fondle my rod?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me, with my first steelhead, many years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fishes are the craziest critters!

Fishes are the craziest critters, except for those of us who fish for them, we are even crazier, but it is the fish that make us that way!

We’ve all had them, any one who fishes has had those days when the fish refuse to bite no matter what we put in front of them or how we present it to them. Even worse are those times when you hit the river in the middle of a hatch, with trout feeding all around you, and they all refuse every fly you try. Then there are the days when the fish seem to line up waiting to commit suicide by devouring whatever hooked monstrosity you throw at them.

I have read dozens of books on fishing, and there are hundreds more out there that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet, and no one has it figured out from what I can tell, at least no one has shared that secret with me. We tell ourselves that is what makes fishing fun, the challenge, yeah, right. What makes fishing fun is catching fish! Being the curious type, I do enjoy trying to figure out why fish feed when they do, and why they don’t when they don’t, but catching them is why I fish, trying to figure them out is why I think and write about fishing.

For me, as with most fishermen I suspect, it started back when I was a kid fishing with worms for panfish. Most of the time you could catch fish, but there were days when even small panfish refuse to bite. Even worse is when you can see them refusing to bite. If you’ve fished, you know what I’m talking about. When you can see a bluegill or sunfish hanging out under a lily pad, and you drop a nice big, fat, juicy worm right in front of its nose, and it doesn’t even move. Maybe worse is when they slowly glide over and nudge the worm with their snout, but they never open their mouth, as if it were super glued shut or something. I have had that happen with nearly every species of game fish I have fished for. Like the 15 inch brook trout hanging under a log on the Sturgeon River, looking like it was in a feeding lane, only to have it refuse everything I drifted past it. Or bass back in the weeds in the bayous of the Grand River, that refuse everything I’ve tried. In fact, except for salmon and steelhead, I have never had much success fishing for fish I could see. Salmon and steelhead are a completely different story all together anyway, they aren’t actively feeding at any time they are in a river, you have to make them mad to get them to hit. Well, even that isn’t true all the time. I remember one female steelhead in particular, I made my first cast and missed the mark I was trying for in order to get a good drift right in front of her nose. Not wanting to spook her off, I was working my spinner as to have it go nowhere near her, but she spotted it, shot over to it and hit it like a freight train. Just one of those rare deals I suppose, as I am used to making dozens, maybe hundreds of drifts right in front of the nose of a steelhead or salmon to get it to strike.

She was a memorable fish for another reason as well, she’s the one that taught Tom to never try to net a green steelhead, that is, one that hasn’t been played out. She hit that spinner and took off downstream like a Ferrari, in one of those runs only steelhead and Atlantic salmon can make. Where the line cutting through the water leaves a wake, you can hear the vibrations from the line as it cuts through the water, and the drag of the reel screams as you hold on for dear life. Luckily, she stopped in the next pool downstream, and layed up there while I worked my way down below her. When you’re playing big fish on light line, you try to stay below the fish so they have to fight you and the current, if you let them stay below you, they usually win. I could feel her shaking her head, trying to dislodge my spinner from her jaw as I handed Tom my net. He hadn’t been steelheading before, so I told him I would tell him what to do when the time came. I pulled back on her as hard as I dared to trying to get her to run upstream to tire herself out, it worked, sort of. She took off upstream the same way she had come down, with the line and drag singing that song you love to hear if you’re a steelheader. She got as far upstream as the riffle above where I had hooked her, but she wanted no part of that shallow water, so she turned around and came back at us faster than ever! She was headed right for Tom, I yelled at him to get out of the way, but there was no time at the rate that fish was going, I tried to turn her, but I couldn’t reel fast enough to get any pressure on her. She decided that going between Tom’s legs was her best way of getting free, and at the last second, he stuck the net down in front of her. She hit it doing about 150 MPH, and she didn’t stop when she was in the net! Poor Tom was stumbling backward through the rocks, trying desperately to stay on his feet as she drove him downstream about 10 feet or so. I was afraid she was going to knock him over into that cold water, and I was deciding if I would save him, or the fish, but he finally managed to pull her up out of the water. He hoisted her as far out of the water as he could, as if the more distance there was between her and the water, the safer he was going to be, and as the look on his face changed from panic to total triumph, he said “I’m never going to do that again!”. I told him “Good Job”, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was considering letting him drown in order to land the fish, but, steelheading is like that.

Back to fishes feeding, just as curious, but a lot less frustrating than fish refusing to feed, are fish that continue to feed even after their gullets are full. There have been countless times that after I have landed a trout, and that when I am taking the hook out of its lip, I can look down their throats and see a slimy, brown/black mass of insect corpses slowly being converted into trout meat. Quite a disgusting sight actually, especially if the phrase “you are what you eat” happens to pop into your head at the time. I have never landed a brook trout like that, I am not a biologist, and I don’t play one on TV, but their metabolism must be different that of brown’s or rainbow’s. That may explain why they are easier to catch, they feed more often, but don’t feed as much at any one time. Maybe I’ve just never caught a brookie that was over stuffed. There have also been numerous bass that I have landed, that when I am removing the hook, I can see the tails of bait fish filling their gullets. Brown trout have a reputation for being finicky eaters, I’m not sure I hold that view. From what I see, they eat like pigs until that can’t hold any more, and then they have to wait until they can digest what they have already eaten before they can eat again.

One May, Doug and I went trolling on Lake Michigan near Leland. I hooked what turned out to be a nice Brown Trout. I was in the front of the boat, Doug was in the rear, so as I was bringing it up to the boat, it went past him as I was getting it into position for him to net. He said, “Look at that! Its mouth is full of alewifes”. Sure enough, I looked over the side and could see tails of alewifes sticking out of the brown’s mouth. About that time, the brown coughed, or puked, or what ever fish do when they have eaten too much, and about a half a dozed alewifes received a pardon from their death sentence and swam off to feed another trout another day. When we had the fish safely in the boat, we both looked, and the gullet of that fish was packed, and I mean packed, with alewifes, and remember, it had coughed up even more as we were landing it. That fish probably had close to a pound of food in it when I caught it, and it was a 5 to 6 pound trout. That’s a lot of food at one time! Oh, and I should warn you, fish digestion doesn’t smell any better than our digestion, so you may not want to hold a fish right under your nose as you look down its throat. Finicky is not the word that comes to mind when you see a brown trout literally stuffed to the gills, and beyond.

I said I have never caught a brook trout in that condition, however, back when I still used bait on occasion, I found a rather unique way of landing brookies. I would use an entire crawler, and run the hook through it just one time near the front, leaving lots of good trout food to dangle in the current. You could feel the brookies grab the crawler and start munching their way towards the front. When I would feel them pause, I knew they had as much of it in them as they could get, then I would pull them in. They seldom got to the hook, but, they didn’t want to let go of the gourmet boneless crawler that must have tasted so good to them, to the point where I could land them, pull the crawler back out of them, and reuse it many times, all without having to remove the hook from the fish. Spud didn’t believe me when I told him how I fished for brookies, until I showed him, then he started fishing them the same way. Timing is the key to it, you let the crawler drift back into the root tangles where brookies hide, and wait. You feel a tap, then munch, munch, munch, and a pause. If you feel another munch after the pause, you’ll have a gut hooked trout, and a gut hooked trout is a dead trout. When you feel the pause, you yank them out of the water before they have a chance to spit the crawler back out. If you try to play them, you’ll lose them, you feel the pause and rip them out of the water, works like a charm. Of course the larger brookies, the ones you want to keep, will make it to the hook. I guess brookies will feed to the point where they are more than full, since I was landing them with as much crawler still to be eaten as they were able to get into their stomachs.

Over the years I have tried to figure out what the keys were that turned fish on, and turned them off. I have learned a lot of the off keys, having to do with the time of day and the weather, but I still have no idea what turns fish on as far as when they are going to start feeding. Some of the off keys are so obvious it is hard to miss them. For example, one morning Spud and I were fishing the Sturgeon, and doing pretty well, catching a lot of both brown and brook trout. It was raining lightly that morning, and as long as it rained we caught fish after fish. When the rain let up, the fishing slowed down, and when the sun came out, we never had another hit. I have always had good luck fishing in the rain, as long as it isn’t a downpour. That holds for trout, bass, and panfish. Other keys are more subtle. Often I’ll be fishing in the spring or fall, fishing in the afternoon, going on evening. Evenings are great in the summer, but during the spring and fall, you’ll often notice a chilly breeze comes up just before evening. I have never done well after I feel that chilly breeze. Chilly is the best way to describe it, it isn’t cold, and even if there has been a breeze all day, it will feel differently than it has, and if you are really observant, you’ll notice a change to the scent in the air as well. Often I am not ready to quit fishing even when I feel that chilly breeze and continue on, also hoping to prove that I am wrong, and that it doesn’t end the fishing, but it always has. The same holds true for chilly mornings, if there is a mist coming off the water, I never do well, in the spring and fall that is. In the summer, that can be a good time to be on the water.

But what the switches are that turn fish on is beyond me. I don’t know how many times I have been fishing all morning when fishing was supposed to be good and not caught a thing, when, about the time you would normally quit, the fish start feeding as if some one threw a switch. One day Spud and I were up in the Pigeon River Country, we had fished hard all day with nothing to show for it. We had fished different rivers, and different places on those rivers, with no luck at all. Finally, I suggested that we move to one of the “secret honey holes” that I knew of. It seems every fisherman knows a few places that seem to always produce fish, the secret honey hole. Anyway, Spud and I were wading up towards the one I had in mind, and we could hear a fish jump every once in a while. We figured it was a sucker, which are known for that. When we got to the secret honey hole, I told Spud where to cast, and he was instantly on to a good fish, which turned out to be a 2 1/2 to 3 pound brown. Once he had landed it and gutted it, we found 3 dragon flies in that brown’s stomach. That was the fish we had heard jumping, that brown was jumping out of the water catching dragon flies out of the air! I had never heard of that before or since, browns feeding on dragon flies, and jumping out of the water for food is unheard of when it comes to large browns like that. And, there was nothing in that fish’s stomach except for the 3 dragon flies, so it must have been some time since it had been feeding.

Brown trout are supposed to be lazy feeders, “quietly sipping mayflies from the surface” according to all the books and magazines I have read. This fish hadn’t read all the books and magazines I guess, he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be eating dragon flies either. Many things to learn from that story, one is that trout must have a pretty good sense of vision as far as what is above the surface of the water they live in, in order for that fish to catch dragon flies out of the air. And, no one that I know of has ever been able to explain why fish will suddenly begin feeding on anything they can find when the mood strikes them. I don’t know the answer, if I did, I would have had a book published, made millions of dollars from it, and blown it all on more fishing gear by now.

I have to say a few words about the solar/lunar guides that are supposed to tell you the best time to hunt or fish, and those few words are, the guides are wrong. It would seem to make sense, given that so much of animal behavior is driven by the sun, moon, tides, etc, but as soon as the guides started coming into vogue, I noticed a major flaw, they’re all different. The ones in magazine “A” are completely different from the ones published in magazine “B”, and they are both different from the ones published in the newspaper. I know, I need a solar/lunar guide guide to tell me which one to go by that day. My GPS unit has that feature, and I don’t think it has ever been right yet. If you do a web search on solar lunar tables, you’ll come up with a lot of page listings from the publishers telling you their guide is right and all the others are wrong, which tells me that none of them are reliable.

I have saved the most frustrating situation in fishing for last, and that is when the fish are feeding, but not on what you’re offering. This happens mostly to those of us who fish for trout. You’ll be out there on a river, minding your own business, catching a fish every now and then, when suddenly the river seems to be alive with feeding fish. It is like the DNR truck just dumped a couple thousand fish in the river, and they’re all starved. The fly you have been using doesn’t draw any hits, so you look down on the water and see a reddish-brown may fly drift past you. You dig around in your flyboxes and come up with a reddish-brown may fly pattern, thinking that you’re going to clean up on the fish, but you get no hits what so ever. You’re getting slightly annoyed, when you swear you see the fish you’re fishing to take a small white caddis off the surface. Aha, they’re feeding on caddis, so you dig through your flyboxes and come up with a small white caddis pattern. “Now I’ve got you”, you think as you prepare to cast, only to find out a hundred casts later, that the fish still have you. You’re starting to get really annoyed by now, but about that time, you see a small stonefly flutter past you. Aha, once more you think, they’re feeding on stonefly nymphs on the way to the surface. So you dig through your flyboxes and dig out a small stonefly nymph pattern, thinking to yourself, “Now I have them for sure!”. Wrong, they still have you, and by now you’re almost frothing at the mouth. There’s a 5 pound brown feeding over by the stump, and another almost as big by the rock over there.

You tell yourself to stay cool, stay calm, and ask yourself, “What would (insert name of favorite fishing expert here) do?”. That’s it! He’d get out his nymph seine and check to see what insects are in the water. So that’s what you do, and sure enough, there’s a nymph that you’re not familiar with, so you get your hatch guide out of one of the pockets of your fishing vest to identify what it is. There it is, it is a piscatoria foolia, what ever that is. The next thing is, do you have a piscatoria foolia buried in one of your flyboxes somewhere? “Today’s your lucky day” you think to yourself as you find that you have one, in the section of a flybox reserved for flies you got as part of an assortment, but thought you would never use. You tie it on quickly, too quickly, the line snaps as you pull the knot up tight. You tell yourself to stay calm yet again, and the second knot holds. You pull some line through the rod guides so you’ll be able to cast, and toss the fly into the water in front of you, to give it time to soak up some water so that you will get a good drift when you do make the cast. It is getting dark, and you don’t have a lot of time left, so you’ll have to make every cast count. As you survey the situation, you feel a tug on the line, a little brown has taken your fly! Woo Hoo! That means you finally have the right fly on. You pull in the little brown……..

Now dear readers, one of two scenarios play out from here, neither good for the mental well-being of the poor fisherman in this story…..

Scenario one…

You carefully remove the hook from the little brown’s mouth, look up to pick a spot to cast to, you see it is now almost dark, and there’s not a feeding fish to be seen anywhere. You make a few casts just to be sure, but all the fish have finished gorging themselves on the real piscatoria foolias, and want nothing to do with your fake one. As you stumble back to your car in the dark, you have to fight back a strong urge to cry like a baby.

Scenario two…

You carefully remove the hook from the little brown’s mouth, look up to pick a spot to cast to, and make a couple false casts to get the range down. On the last false cast, you throw the one piscatoria foolia fly that you own into a tree branch 20 feet off the ground behind you. No amount of tugging and shaking will get it loose, and the branch is just high enough that you can’t reach it with your rod tip to try to knock the fly loose that way. So you pull on the line hoping for the best, but the line breaks at the knot you tied a little too quickly. You swear you can hear trout laughing at you behind your back. As you stumble back to your car in the dark, you vow to buy a gross of every fly in your hatch guide, even though your fishing vest already weighs as much as a 1964 Volkswagon Beetle.

And I call the fish crazy.

Salmon, snagging, and Big Fish Fever

Back in the mid sixties, the Michigan DNR was looking for a way to revitalize the fishing on the Great Lakes. The native populations of lake trout and other game species had just about been wiped out by the sea lamprey, an invasive species that had made its way into the great lakes through the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The lampreys are parasites that attach themselves to the fish, then feed on the fish by sucking out the fish’s blood. With the loss of predators like lake trout, the populations of bait fish like alewives, itself an invasive species, exploded to the point where there were massive die offs of the bait fish, as there were too many of them for the food available. This left piles of rotting fish on the beautiful beaches of Lake Michigan in particular, hurting the local tourism industry immensely. The efforts to control the lampreys were working to a large degree, but lake trout are a very slow-growing species, and hard to raise in fish hatcheries. So the DNR had the great idea of planting salmon native to the Pacific Ocean in the Great Lakes to feed on the bait fish, and to provide a fishery for sportsmen. It worked, or at least it seemed to.

Coho and chinook(kings) were the two most widely planted species, they grow fast, and are relatively easy to raise in a hatchery. The problem with Pacific salmon is that they only live a couple of years, then they swim up rivers to spawn, then die. They spawn in the fall, and late in the summer and early fall, they go on a feeding frenzy just before they enter the rivers to spawn. This made for great fishing, soon thousands of fishermen from all over the world were coming to Michigan and other Great Lakes States to take advantage of this new-found fishing opportunity. Then the trouble started. Instead of piles of rotting bait fish on the beaches, we had piles of rotting salmon in our rivers. The people who lived along the rivers were not pleased with the stench they had to endure every fall. While the fishing for salmon in the Great Lakes added to our tourism industry, the rotting fish in the rivers subtracted from it.

At the time, it was thought that you couldn’t catch salmon in the typical manner once the salmon had entered the rivers. Salmon don’t actively feed once they enter a river to spawn, so the DNR had another great idea, they would allow people to snag the salmon in the rivers. It seemed logical, the fish were going to die anyway, and the DNR didn’t think the salmon spawning in our rivers would be successful anyway, so why not let people harvest them like a crop? That was both a success and an epic fail. Yes, thousands of fishermen descended on the rivers like madmen, ripping the fish out of the water like there was no tomorrow. But, that in itself created an entirely new set of problems. The “standard” tackle for snagging was a huge treble hook with a large lead weight tied or molded to the bottom of the hook. This was cast out and allowed to sink to the bottom, then ripped back by the “fishermen” in a series of jerking motions. The fish schooled up in places there was an obsticle in the river, such as a dam, that prevented them from migrating any further upstream, and the fishermen schooled up in the same places. Soon, the river bottoms were covered in treble hooks, lead weights, and huge balls of fish line, to the point where it became dangerous to any one using the rivers in these places. The DNR also found out that if you allow snagging in some areas for some fish, fishermen would think it was OK to snag any fish, anywhere. The crowds of fishermen were destroying the riverbanks, and trespassing was a huge problem, like never before. There were even fistfights over fish and fouled fishing lines, in short, it was a mess. And, the old saying is true, once you let the Genie out of the bottle, it is darned hard to get it back in. It was the largest known mass outbreak of Big Fish Fever I have ever seen, or hope to see.

I don’t know if Big Fish Fever is a disease or an addiction, it has aspects of both, but it is a terrible thing to see when hundreds of people have it all at the same time. It does seem to affect different people in different ways, my dad had it, not to the point of becoming a snagger though, and I have to admit that I have a touch of it myself. After catching a few dozen salmon that weigh over 30 pounds, a 10 inch trout just doesn’t seem to be that big of a thrill anymore. When most fishermen are struck by it, they give up on trying to catch smaller fish, and only fish for the big ones. It takes most of the fun out of fishing, or it does for me. But for some people, it becomes almost a matter of life and death to them, they have to catch the big ones, no matter what it takes. It can be ugly, I have had groups of fishermen threaten me with physical harm when they see that I am fishing to a large fish, they run me off so they can go for it. I have seen guys in trees dropping large rocks in the river, trying to strike the fish with the rocks. People will risk life and limb for a large fish, in fact, many have drowned in their efforts to get a big fish.

As I said, my dad had it, I didn’t realize what it was or how badly he had it until I was much older. He used to take us kids out fishing with worms and bobbers for panfish like bluegills, but I knew he didn’t really enjoy it. As I got older, it dawned on me that he only fished in places and in ways as to try to catch the largest fish he could, and as a result, often caught nothing. That’s the way it is when some one has a really bad case of Big Fish Fever, it clouds their judgement, and often they are the most unhappy fishermen to be found.  And, just as often, they are fishermen that don’t catch anything, as it was with my dad. Some guys do get the Big Fish Fever and are successful at catching large fish on a regular basis, but they are few and far between. I have known guys to spend all their money and end up divorced because they spend every free minute they have chasing the big ones.

Maybe I was one of the lucky ones who only got a mild case of Big Fish Fever. To begin with, I found the thought of snagging fish to be repulsive in the first place. Growing up in a family of sportsmen, I was taught that it was the challenge and the chase that mattered, not the kill. Watching the snaggers in action only confirmed my belief that I wanted no part of it. Watching those guys standing shoulder to shoulder, yelling and cussing each other out when their lines got tangled together, and seeing that they were “hung up” on the bottom more than they were “fishing” all made it a big turn off to me. Another lucky thing happened about that time, Spud was hired in where I worked to be my assistant.

Spud doing what he does best

Spud and his girlfriend, later his wife, had just moved to Grand Rapids so that she could attend Kendall Art College. He was also going to school as well, but part-time, and working full-time until Chris finished at Kendall. Spud was one of the few fishermen in Michigan who seemed to know that you could catch salmon in the rivers without resorting to snagging. He and I started fishing together, we fished the rivers where snagging wasn’t allowed, or at least it wasn’t legal. We ran into many a snagger in those days, it was a huge mistake for the DNR to have ever allowed any snagging anywhere. We would often see the local CO (Conservation Officer) standing back in the woods along the Rogue River with a pair of binoculars, watching people fish. When he saw some one keep a foul hooked (Snagged) fish, he would pounce and write them a ticket. It didn’t stop the snaggers, some of whom would harvest the eggs from the female salmon so they could sell it as bait. They would gut the fish right there in the river, keep the eggs, and leave the rest of the fish to rot on the bank. A few people made a lot of money that way, and made conditions on and in the rivers that much worse for the rest of us.

What always befuddled me was, Spud and I caught fish, lots of fish, and the snaggers seldom connected.  We would be walking out with 2 or 3 fish apiece, and the snaggers would be all over us wanting to know where and how we got them, as they weren’t getting any. We never told them where, only how, but they still continued snagging rather than switch to legal methods that worked. Never could figure that out. I don’t think they believed us, but even when they saw us land legally hooked fish, they would claim it was all luck, and that you couldn’t catch salmon consistently like that. Even when they saw us add that fish to a stringer full of fish, they didn’t believe us. Big Fish Fever does cloud people’s mind.

Me, with my first steelhead, many years ago

For the record, Spud and I did foul hook a lot of salmon over the years, it comes from fishing schools of large fish packed into small areas, and the fish milling about all the time. 99% of the time, as soon as we knew the fish was foul hooked, we would break it off, often catching the same fish legally later on and retrieving the lure we had broken off earlier. Every once in a while we would land one we thought was fair hooked only to find we were wrong, those fish were released immediately. Even less often, we would land one that was fouled hooked just to get our lure back, but I can only think of one or two times we did that.

I did have a mild case of Big Fish Fever, I lived for Steelhead and salmon seasons, fishing for smaller fish, like trout, was only filling time until the “real” fishing started. I guess it is understandable, like I said earlier, after catching 30 pound salmon or 8 pound steelhead, catching panfish and small trout aren’t nearly as much of a thrill. Unlike my dad, and others, who had a much worse case than I did, I continued fishing for the little ones. For one thing, I caught enough big trout while trout fishing to satisfy my case of Big Fish Fever, and I like panfishing for reasons other than just the fish. Sitting in a boat on a lake with a buddy or two on a nice day is still a great way to spend a day in my opinion, and I catch a lot of them, maybe not big, but numbers make up for size.

Then a couple of things happened around the same time that I thought had cured me of Big Fish Fever forever. One was that Spud moved out of the area, and we seldom got the chance to fish together any more. Chris had finished her schooling and landed a job in Lansing, that also fit well with Spud continuing on for his degree at MSU. The state also finally got around to banning snagging, something it should never had allowed in the first place, it was like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Banning it didn’t stop it, and the DNR really cracked down on it where it had been most prevalent before. The snaggers didn’t stop snagging, they spread out over every river there were salmon or steelhead in.

The final straw, that I thought had cured me, was my annual fall salmon fishing trip. It was a disaster, everywhere I went, the snaggers were out in full force. I would start fishing, and gangs of 3 to 6 of them would crowd me out. I walked around a bend and saw 2 or 3 snaggers in action, with another of them up in a tree directing the ones doing the snagging. I walked around another bend, and there were two of them in a tree with large rocks, chucking the rocks at the fish in hopes of killing them, anything to be able to take home a big fish. The fish that were in the river were so spooky from being attacked everywhere they went that you couldn’t really fish for them. I walked back into the most remote place I knew of where there would be fish, and found a small school on the other side of the river. As I was making my first cast, the entire school took off for parts unknown, before my little spinner even hit the water. They were so spooked, the little number 2 Mepps I was using was enough to scare them off while it was still in the air.

I told myself that “that was it”, I was never going to be part of that zoo anymore. I took my rod apart, walked back to my truck, vowing never to go steelhead or salmon fishing again. Maybe I was spoiled, for years, Spud and I had large stretches of rivers almost to ourselves, with just a few other real fishermen that we saw once in a while. It was no fun anymore, so for years, I lived up to my vow, and I thought my case of Big Fish Fever had been cured.

That changed a couple of years ago. I took Larri trout fishing on the Pere Marquette towards the end of September. It had been so many years since I had done any salmon fishing, it didn’t dawn on me that we would run into salmon on our trip, but we did. I have to tell you that seeing dozens of big salmon swimming around brought it all back! I was going to tough it out, not fish for them, not give into Big Fish Fever, but after a couple of hours of not catching any trout, I caved. I cut off the little trout fly I had been fishing with, tied on a big gaudy streamer, added a couple of split shot to the line, and started in fishing for salmon. As soon as I had the first one on, there was no going back, I realized the addiction was as strong as ever! I didn’t land that fish, or any fish that day, my trout rod couldn’t handle fish the size of salmon, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

So, I have decided that Big Fish Fever is an addiction I am going to have for the rest of my life. I have been salmon fishing a couple of times since that day with Larri, and steelheading a couple of times as well. But this time, I am not going to let it run my life as it used to, for one thing, it is a lot of work, even more than I remembered. And, I don’t want it to interfere with how much I enjoy trout fishing like it did in the past. This fall when I was up in the Pigeon River Country, I fished a stretch of the Pigeon that I knew wasn’t going to produce any large trout because of a fish kill that happened a couple of years ago. It was still one of the most enjoyable days on the river I have had in some time, even though the largest fish I caught only went 12 inches or so. I picked that stretch of river to fish to reconnect with one of my favorite rivers, and to see how well the trout are coming back after the fish kill.

A lot has changed over the years, or I should say that I have changed a lot over the years, which will be the subject of a future blog. But anyway, I no longer fish to land the big fish, or the largest number of fish, I fish to get outside on a beautiful river, and if there happens to be salmon or steelhead in the river, I’ll try for them. I think I have a pretty good handle on my case of Big Fish Fever, I guess time will tell.