Friday was the big day, we made plans to fish all day. Well we sort of made plans, what we didn’t include in our plans was where we were going to fish. Our day on Thursday, on the Big Iron had been a bit of a bust. A combination of low water and bad weather had sort of ended that day, but not before we scrambled over a mile of river rock. That’s some big country up on the U.P. The river was pretty wide and for the most part just a few inches deep, but just to keep you honest, in-between the six inch sections were 4’ to 6’ holes.
Working our way downstream for two hours we came to the highway bridge at the rivers mouth into Lake Superior. I suggested that we go up on the highway and follow the road back to the car parking lot, about a mile or so as I could figure. My son agreed to join me, Steve, the guy we were fishing with decided to go back via the river. So, here’s the choices; a mile and half or so on flat pavement or a mile back up the rocky river picking my way across pools and balancing on narrow ridges of bedrock? The way the river flowed against the banks, there would be at least two complete crossing in my future if I went upstream. I picked the long walk.
The walk from the bridge back to the car took about 25 minutes. During that time, walking along a highway, we saw exactly two cars. The U.P., at least that part of it is a pretty deserted place. However, a long walkwith ones son is never wasted time, inspite of doing it in waders. We had a nice chat about how the first year in college went, great, Deans List both semesters, capped with a nice “A” in calculus. An “A”? in Math? Note to self that when I get home I’m “gonna slap yo’mama ‘cause there is no way you sprung from my loins”.
Along the way we were treated to a sighting of a fisher.. in case you don’t know what that is, a fisher is a large weasel that preys primarily on porcupines. Apparently, I learned later, the porcupine mountains, (named for their look not the population) at one time in the 80’s had so many actual porcupines living there that folks who spent the night in the park were advised to check the hoses and cables on their cars in the morning before departing as the porkies were famous for chewing on them. Introducing the formally extirpated fisher has significantly reduced the number of quill’d beasts to the point where this no longer a problem.
To see a fisher however is still somewhat unusual. The critter looks like the biggest cat you’ve ever seen, with brown fur and sort of cute little face. Belittles the fact that these are in the same family as wolverines and weasels, and as such would probably not appreciate a bath and a brushing, no matter how gentle.
We made it back to the car at about the same time as Steve, proving my point that the road was the way to go, even if I was wearing rubber pants which were now felling a little moist inside.
Like all fisherman after a bad day fishing we had a nice discussion about what went wrong during the day, why were there no fish to be seen in the river. No only were there no fish rising there were no fish in pools where we’d expect to spook them. Except for one little rise I had back at the mouth of the river, there was nothing to be had in there. she sure seemed fishless.
This conversation carried over into dinner and we decided that tomorrow, (Friday) we’d try somewhere else. Unfortunately my pasty came about that time and the meat and rutabagas wrapped in a pastry shell demanded my complete attention and fishing never came up again.
We had been in Ontonagon about 5 hours by that point and quite frankly were about done with it. The town is a bit depressing to be honest. Like so many mining towns where the major employer has shut down and moved out there was a feeling that the best days were behind. The grey clouds and constant wind didn’t help to make the place seem any cheerier. Even the berry pie I had because once you’ve had pastry crust for the main course, you might as well enjoy it with dessert as well.
Heading back to the hotel we planned to make plans but somehow never got to it. Instead we dug into the 12er of Pabst Blue Ribbon and that was that.
We had agreed to get up early on Friday, have breakfast and decide then where to go. Great plan when you have a college kid with you. Early and He aren’t synonymous, for that matter Steve and Early don’t really go together either. The two rolled out of bed closer to 9:00 than “early”. By 9:00 I’d written a blog, read part of the Nick Adams Stories, Hemingway’s autobiographical tale about a guy and his relationship with U.P. and it’s trout streams, had several cups of coffee and shat. Twice. In other words L E T S G O O O O O O O O.
We went back to the place were we had dinner for breakfast. In Ontonagon the choices are limited, limited to two actually, the bakery and Syls. Over breakfast I dragged out the map books and trout guides and started plowing through the information about where we could go. We had two options as I could tell., Actually the U.P. is so rich in trout streams that I think you could easily spend an entire summer up there and not get to them all.
The choices in front of us over coffee that morning, heading south to the upper branches of the Ontonagon River, where it’s several branches came together and trying the streams which according to the book were “loaded” with brook trout who “weren’t too discriminating”.. ah just like I like my women, or we could go to the east side of the Porcupine Wilderness area and fish the Presque Isle river. The fellow who owned the hotel we where we were staying had suggested that option. “Streams are loaded with trout up there”.
Fly fishing is a mobile sport. Unlike when you get in a boat and launch on the lake, spending the day in the boat on the same body of water, in fly fishing it seems that I spend at least the same amount of time I spend in the water, in the car looking at, over or into water trying to decide where to go. And, since this was my first time in that part of the world driving along looking out my window for streams was going to be an even bigger part of my day.
One of my mentors, a great guy who shared my love for trout streams and rural Wisconsin, once told me as we were driving all over the back roads of St Croix county. “I l like the driving and looking just about as much as I do the fishing, plus I get to know the area really well.” This is great to know, but I would have been handy information to have before I slipped in to rubber pants and boots and was now wondering just how funky my sweatyness was going to be when I pulled off the plast-i-drawers.
With Paul, we sure spent a lot of time looking out the windows of truck from the decks of decrepit old back road bridges examining riffles and pools trying to decide which ones were “fishy” and which were just drain tile run off. Paul had a good nose for fish and I’d like to think that I have the same gift. When we’d looked over the Big Iron the previous day, I was pretty sure we weren’t going to catch shit. Call it a gift.
I decided on the Presque Isle. It was closest to where we were and I was sort of sick of driving, plus you have to leave something for next time and we were here now. Lets do it. On the way we stopped at the ranger station in the park. The state park has 31,000 acres and the ranger was pretty sure that we had the entire expanse to ourselves. Really. Oh and don’t bother with the cell phones as there is no service here (here being most of the Western U.P. if you wanna know the truth) and look out for bears with cubs. They’re crabby.
We explained that we were there to fly fish, and for the first time since we’d arrived in Michigan three days earlier, we found someone who knew the answers to our questions. Not only did she fish, but she fly fished and was able to tell us a bit about what to use and where to go. We told that we had fished the Big Iron the day before.. “this time if year that river is pretty sterile” she remarked.
No shit. Where the hell were you yesterday honey?
She thought the Presque Isle was a great choice. “Start at the mouth and see what’s going on. There could be salmon and steelhead down there. If that doesn’t work skip the next few miles, nothing there. But.. above the highway.. well” she went on, “there’s a section of land we purchased a while back that you should try. From the mouth take the main road south past the falls, when you come to a rise in the road look for a dirt tack on the left, follow that.. there’s gate there, it’s open I think, go through it and you can get pretty close to the river on the track. Head down the river and you should find what you’re looking for.” Now, we had something to work with. We headed across the park, a 25 mile drive. The scenery there is fantastic. More deer than people I think. BTW, the whole way there, no other cars on the road.
We crossed the Presque Isle after about 40 minutes driving and for the first time in three days found a river with water in it. Plenty of water. Of course we fisherman are like farmers and rain, there’s either not enough or too much, and never “perfect”. “gonna be a bitch to wade” was my thought.We found the mouth of the river and checked it out. Not a thing going on down there except, not a chance that any of us were going wade it. Deep deep potholes in that part of the stream and the walk to the beach on the lake was treacherous. We did’t see anything anyway and piled back in car and headed up for the “secret” road.
Tomorrow- Deep into the backwoods. Deliverance II