Didn’t take too long for us to figure out that the mouth of the river wasn’t the place to be. For one thing, the section that was wadeable was limited to the first 100 yards or so of the river. The Presque Isle, as opposed to the other rivers we’d seen flowing into Lake Superior at some point had to carve itself a little canyon out of basalt, and when you take a wide river and squeeze it down to a few tens of yards across you get a situation that doesn’t lend itself to great wading. The river was really deep and moving fast. At the actual mouth of the river, because of the strength of the current didn’t have the big sand bar that the other rivers had. This river had a deep channel going directly into the lake. Good news, fish from the lake, steelies, salmon and big brown trout could easily move into and out of the river. Bad news… there was no crossing river on foot here. The State Park had built a suspension bridge over the canyon so you could pick the side you wanted to be on, but once you picked, you were done unless you wanted to walk back up stream to the bridge, climb up the bank and cross over.
A set of circumstances that a fat lazy guy like me would easily talk myself out off. Most importantly, there weren’t any fish there that we could see. My old fly fishing mentor, Paul once told me that “if you can see ‘um, you probably can’t catch ‘um, if you can’t see them, and you know they should be there, they probably are and that’s where you should fish.” Sometimes Paul could be full of advice, but I think he actually was on to something in this case. Trout you can see are often the most difficult to catch. However, no one else with me really felt like putting on waders and climbing down the steep embankment to a place where we could barley stand in the water. My son, who gets a bit wiser and smarter every day made the comment, “I say we go get skunked somewhere else”. Good plan.
I think all of us had visions in our head cooked up by the descriptions the Park Ranger of a secret access to the river via hidden roads and private gates. “Lets go find the gate she was talking about and try there.” And, like all flyfisherman we did what we do, passed on one good spot in hopes of a better. We piled back in the truck and headed south. At this point in the day we’d been in the car 2 hours and fished 0 hours.
With the late start thanks to the lazy sleeping habits of the guys I was with we weren’t exactly on the river with the sun, more like with the noon. I was getting a bit frustrated and also a bit uncomfortable in the car. I think it was a combination of the butt time driving and the entire bag of Wal-Mart trail mix I’d munched on on the way over. Well, in for a penny in for a pound I say..
“Dude” I called to the back seat, “What’s in the cooler to drink?” All that looking at flowing water was making me thirsty. “Nothing Dad.. “ Nothing? I thought there was water and some pops in there?” “Nope, just 12 Pabst Blue Ribbons”. AH.. l looked over at Steve who instantly turned his head to look out the window trying to pretend that he didn’t hear a word of this. Still I could just make out his little grin. Steve apparently had reorganized the cooler a bit. “Well, fuck it” I said, “pass up a Pabst”.
I could feel the kids horror. “Dad.. you can’t open a beer when you’re driving.” It’s not like I’d seen another car in the last 3 hours. Steve looked back “Don’t be a puss kid.. EVERYONE is doing it.” He looked back at me, “of course you know as soon as you pop the top on that thing you’ll get pulled over for expired tags or a citizenship test or something.” FIne. I stopped the car in the middle of the highway, got out, opened the back, popped open a beer and sat there on the gate drinking it. The kid thought I’d gone crazy and was starting to have a little panic attack. Steve got out of the passenger seat and walked to the back of the truck.
“What the hell are we doing?”
“I’m having a beer and enjoying G-d’s country out here.”
“Probably not a good idea to park in the middle of the street.”
“I’ll bet you $100.00 bucks that I can sit here, drink this beer and still not see another car. BUT if I do, I reckon the fine for shitty parking is less than the open container.”
Steve looked at me, squinted up his eyes like he does when he’s thinking, reached int the cooler grabbed himself a Pabst, popped it open and joined me on the gate. “Hell, let’s see what happens.”
My son, in the car, could not even begin to process the information that was coming into his head. He’d really never seen the old man in this middle aged rebel mode. “Dad, WHAT ARE WE DOING?” “I’m having a beer and thinking about fishing.” “why don’t we try some real fishing?” “You won’t let me drive and drink a beer so I’m trying set a good example for you.” “Well that opportunity passed like 10 years ago.. Shees”.
We finished the beer and got in the car.
“You weren’t serious about the hundo were you?” Steve asked.
We continued south for a while, at one point Steve scared the crap out of me, “STOP THE CAR, STOP IT HERE…” “WTF Dude” He was staring at his phone.. “back up a few feet.. HERE”. He had cell coverage in that one little spot. We hadn’t had cell coverage in two days, most of Ontonagon being off the grid. Fucking modern age man, all the phones came out and every one checked email and messages. Steve made an appointment for his tractor to be repaired, I said hi to the misses and the kid sent 3,405 texts to all his friends who were worried that they hadn’t heard from him in 18 hours.
Feeling reenergized after our reconnection to the world we continued our quest.
We continued south as per the directions and found the hill, looked left, saw the road and left the highway. This is all very exciting, getting into the back country with the 4WD and all. About a half mile down the road we came to the gate, but found it to be quite closed.
“Now what’r we supposed to do?” I asked. Steve wondered out loud if we were on the right road. I was worried about trespassing, and backing down the one lane track for a half mile. My son, thank goodness, energized by the scene he’d witnessed on the road took over.
“You weren’t worried about driving with an open container, blocking a highway or any of a number of other offenses and now you’re worried about a little trespassing, there WAS NO OTHER ROAD, this has to be it.” With that he got out of the car. We all got out and looked over the gate, it was locked in someway, but we couldn’t figure out how. Steve and I headed back to the car, Nate however, being the clear head at this point, again took charge. “Dad, wait”, he climbed on the gate bounced once and just like an opensesame the gate swung wide open.
Things were looking up.
We drove through and stopped. “Nate, get out and close the gate” “why” “Feels like the right thing to do, in case someone comes down here.. I don’t know.”
Gate closed behind us we proceeded down the track deeper in the woods. After about a mile the road widened a bit. There was an old log cabin, complete with a deer rack over the front door, a mother-in-law cabin, and three outhouses built in the clearing. Now I was a bit worried, having lost confidence that we were on state property.
I know I’ve watched way to much TNT aka the Deliverance channel in my life. I was pretty sure that at some point there was going to be some Michigan Militia folks, or worse hillbilly types would appear out the woods. In my mind I started rehearsing my speech about how much I hate the Federal Government and how we were just chasing a revenue agent down here… Steve had walked around and found a sign on the cabin.. “Porcupine State Park Property”..
Relief. Sort of . “We’re fine Dad, we’re on state land”. “Son I’m only half relieved, I’m pretty sure alot of these folks don’t recognize the right of the state to own land and might just think we’re still trespassing on family plots or something.
About then Steve called us over to a bench by cabin. The lot was on a high bluff overlooking the river valley. This was one of the finest spots for a cabin I’d ever seen, the view from the bench was extensive and amazing. Of course you were miles from another human being or a store. But still there was a small problem.
The problem?, The river, it was waaaaayyy down in the valley which BTW, was a long way down and maybe a half mile or so in the distance. “How in the hell are we going to get down there?” We piled back into the car and hoped like hell the road got us closer. We followed the trail another half mile or so to a hairpin curve. At that point the track started a steep decent. The trail ahead of us had MUCH less wear than the one we were on, looked very muddy and frankly, looked very much like a place where the truck would get stuck. “Don’t do it, getting stuck here would not be good” Steve said. Excellent point.
We parked and put on the gear; waders, vests, hats, sunscreen, grabbed rods and psyched up for the walk, A process that included one more Pabst by the way. Reenergized we started the walk down the hill. A guy as old, fat and out of shape as I am is always hesitant to start any walk that starts off with a loooong down hill jaunt. Experience tells me that at some point I’m going to have climb back UP that hill and that’s just not fun.
I had the good presence to bring the GPS with me in the fly vest, but not the good presence to actually enter the location of the car as a waypoint, a fact I realized after I was far enough down the hill be to far… I was interested in how far we were walking so I turned on the pedometer feature. After walking about a half mile we could hear the river.. continuing on through the woods we burst out onto the spot.
It actually was THE spot. In front of us was one of the best pools I’d ever seen in my life, bar none. The river came over a large mass of something the college kid, geology major mind you, identified as “Copper Harbor Conglomerate”, Looked to me like the bad cement my old man once tried to mix in his wheelbarrow before the days in instant set.
The water made a channel in the rock in dropped into a deep pool that was about 50 yards wide by 20 yards long. Steve fell to his knees and started weeping like Ponce De Leon finding the fountain of youth.. “This is what I’ve been waiting for” he murmured through the tears. I have to admit I had a little woody going as well, the old fish sense was tingling big time. My son, did the worlds fastest assessment of a trout stream figured out where the very best spot to cast from was, across the river BTW, and immediately ran to the spot. With in a few minutes we were all on the river hanging out and and casting into the pool. Steve had the winning combination, a soft hackle caddis emerger with a bead head prince nymph underneath that and all under a strike indicator. (bobber) Within two casts he caught a beautiful little native brook trout. We were on..
Apparently that was the only fish in the stream, at least that we saw. We walked up and down that river, climbing over escarpments of something the geology major called “Shale”. LIke the Big Iron, the shale was coming up out of the bedrock at about a 20 degree angle. Imagine walking on a slick slanted rooftops. The tops of the ridges were sticking out of the water, the spaces between them were holes that I couldn’t see into. Some of the spaces had been filled with gravel and sand by the river, some were empty and about 4’ deep. Some had pot holes gouged where the river has spun rocks in a whirlpool in higher water conditions and in the process created cool looking, but very deep holes that if you stepped into with out seeing them.. you’d be in up to your tits.
We fished for about 3 hours down there, moving up and down the river with out seeing another fish. My felt soled shoes had been nice, but on shale, nothing works really well, and I’d managed to fall on my ass, on rocks about 5 times and was sure feeling it. My son was pretty uptight about not catching anything, even the hardcore guy, Steve had enough..
The weather had been drizzling all day so I was felling damp and hungry, and sore. Time to come up with a new plan. We sat by the river contemplating. “probably need more weight to get the flies down into that hole”, could be. “Maybe the weather”, could be. Bad karma, definitely could be that. I suggested that we go back to the car and try a different river, the Carp river was in the park and might have promise.
Steve was hesitant, Nate was ready to go. While we were sitting there talking the sky got darker and the temperature felt like it dropped about 10 degrees in just a few seconds. “Thunderstorm coming” I said. “We should start walking back to the car, I’m guessing that we’re about to get dumped on and it’s going to take 30 minutes to get back.” My son, the college student replied “How do you know that?” He looked at Steve, “he smells thunderstorms its really weird. I don’t think there’s one coming Dad, if there was you’d feel a updraft”. On cue, every tree in the forrest immediately started rustling as a gust blew through. Steve looked up at the sky.. “I don’t know, I think it’s ok..” As the words left his lips there a bolt of lightening blazed across the sky to the south of us, followed a few seconds later by the crack of thunder.
Leaving, what a good idea.
No need to convince anyone now. We started the long walk back to the car as the first drops started coming down. As we walked there was more lightning and thunder, but thankfully not a lot of wind. Still, three guys walking through the woods carrying 9’ graphite lightning rods during a storm is sketchy. We made it back to the car with out incident and loaded up. Just about the time shut, heavens open up. We’d made it back just in time.
“Still want to go to the Carp?” I asked. Steve looked at me, looked back..”I think we’re done, Nate, pass us up a couple Pabsts” “Aren’t we going” he asked? “After a beer” “Shees I could lose my whole summer vacation waiting for you two to drink beers, besides I’m thirsty too and you didn’t bring any water” “have a beer Nate and lighten up Francis” I said to the kid. He stared at me..
“Son, I’ve just survived a lightening storm, trespassed, drank in a roadway, crapped in the woods and fallen on every kind of mineral the U.P. has to offer, I think I can handle serving a minor.” He was still staring at me. “You’re going to tell me with a straight face that you completed your entire first year of college and never once had a beer. Really?” He looked at me, looked at Steve, reached back and popped one for himself.
There we were, three guys, sitting in a Durango, deep in the wilds of the Michigan woods in a driving rain, fogging up the windows on the car, sipping a Pabst, and for that moment, I found myself completely content.