Day two, the U. P.
Saturday, April 30, the Michigan Trout Opener. We now had an entire state of legal fishing available to us without exceptions due to misprints or confused public employees. The place we were staying, Lake Bootiesuckin is only a few short miles across the Wisconsin border from Michigan. Like all good fisherman we spent part of the evening before planning, pouring over maps, figuring out where we’d be fishing, what rivers and streams to hit, trying to remember what Bill at We Tie It had told us.
The anticipation of fishing can be as much fun as the actual fishing sometimes. Of course, until you actually get out and fish you just never know.
Like all good fishermen we looked at sunrise times for Saturday. In the part of Wisconsin where we were staying we were looking at about a 5:30 sunrise. Perfect. Bill had mentioned that if the weather held we might find some bugs hatching on the river early on. “Best to get out there early”. Hmm. “How bad would it be if we didn’t get out there early” I wondered. After noting the time and weather we went to bed. 8:30 comes early on Saturday, which was about when the last of us rolled out of the rack.
Can’t fish on an empty stomach, stopped at a diner for some morning grease. Next stop the gas station. Nothing more depressing this trip than filling a truck with premium gas a$135.00 later we were on our way to the town of Watersmeet Michigan, where the plan was to buy licenses and check out the middle fork of the Ontanogan. The butterscotch looking branch was the south; we figured we’d be OK on the middle. Driving around Watersmeet we found ourselves on what I thought looked like an Indian Reservation. Tribal Police confirmed it, also confirmed that this wasn’t the place to get a fishing license. Only one place ’round here for that, the Amaco.
I didn’t remember seeing an Amaco in town. Fact is I don’t remember seeing an Amaco anywhere in a long time. “They’re BP now stupid”, a helpful hint from my fishing friends. Back in town we had a Citgo and a BP to choose from. So… Support Hugo Chavez or Gulf polluting Brits. Being something of an Anglophile I picked the Brits. The BP in Watersmeet is a combo place. Gas, Grocery Store, Diner, Bar, Truck Stop, Sports Shop, and uh.. adult bookstore. everything you could want or need in a town of 600.
In we went. Big dude, behind the counter “Hmm what have we here? I’m guessing I’m about to sell 4 fishing licensees, dat right boyz?” Ah the U.P. Gotta love it up dere. All over the shop they were selling Finnish flags and a local flag with a map of the U.P. with a tag line; “American by choice, Yooper by’da grace a God”.
I had a response “Why, no sir, we’re an advance team for Chicago Pride and we’re scouting Gay friendly places for our summer backwoods pride outing, any ideas?”
Yoopers don’t have that great of a sense of humor. “ya got a Michigan sportsman card?” he asked? Yup. As we were lined up purchase two of the ugliest mullet headed thumbs of men came in and asked, loudly “where the wigglers were at”. I don’t know what a wiggler is. Next trick, go to the counter, ignoring us and tell teh guy “we been here for a while you gotta sell us some licenses.” I looked at the Hulk Hogan looking dude and gave him my most stern but non threatening stare, the one that says in no uncertain terms “How RUDE” . They got their stuff and headed out and got in their modified hummer.. with GASP Illinois plates. The Yooper dude laughed, “better ta get the damn FIBS outta da store faster”. “What’s a fib?”
The explanation of FIB and the relationship between Eastern WI and the UP with Chicagoland tourists is a complicated and takes longer to explain than I wanted to invest.
10:30- we now had licenses but no map. Across the street from the station was the US Forest Service Visitor Center for the Ottawa National Forest. Forest service has maps. Off we went.
The visitor center was completely devoid of visitors, but it did have a nice ranger who appeared to be rather bored. He was very pleased to have someone to talk to and was happy to whip out a boatload of maps, show us a few “secret’ places to access the many rivers and streams in the area, and tell us a lot about himself and the area. Bottom line, he was happy to talk to anyone, I don’t think they get many folks there. The one impression the visitors center leaves you with, this is wolf country. I counted no less than 5 mounted wolves and pelts around. According to the ranger they thing the population in the forest is about 400 animals.
Handy information, but doesn’t help us get out on the river, and by now it was getting on 11:30.
We headed out and up the road he mentioned, $10.00 lighter thanks to a new “better” map that actually had road names on it. First stop, the Ontanogan. There were three different places where I had circled river access. Every one had two or three cars parked at them and really high water making for crappy access. “Keep driving”.
We came up on a fish hatchery and did entertain the idea of wading into their holding ponds and trying there. Probably frowned upon.
Next stop was Burnt Dam Campground. This spot featured Class 5 rapids. Not getting in that water. Back in the car. More dirt roads. More looks. The Ranger had recommended a spot off a forest road, “pass the old gravel pit, head down the “2″ road and you’ll come to grassy area. Park and walk a 1/2 mile east and you’ll hit the Paint river. We chased some guys out of there last week so it should be open.”
I had a couple questions. “What’s a ’2′ road?” Apparently that’s the local term for a road that is nothing more than two ruts heading into the woods. OK. Next question “are we at all concerned that the guys they kicked out will be back and be pissed now?” Won’t be pissed at us was the consensus. We ain’t “the man”.
Sketchy plan if you ask me.
Thanks to my excellent new map and fine navigation skills, and the fact that in Michigan they actually have road signs, even after the pavement ends we found the gravel pit, and the “2″ road, and the grass, and I suppose not too surprisingly, a truck. The road however ended in a bulldozed berm, the kind they put up to keep cars off a road. We got out and went on foot. Trekking through mud, snow and around several trees which had been felled across the road on purpose, we went quite a ways into the woods. No river. Matter of fact, no nothing except deer, squirrels, birds, and the biggest pile of dog crap I’ve ever seen. Closer look, the scat was filled with deer hair, and looking at the paw print, my estimate was a 300lb dog about 7′ tall at the shoulder. One of the other guys suggested that it was bear scat and we had a nice debate, wolf of bear. I’m pretty sure all the bear stool I’ve seen is more like a patty. Still I’m not crap expert, the debate was stopped by our hardcore fishing friend “you wanna debate shit or fish?”
Back to the car. Three more stops at bridges and a couple jags down roads with gates and it was about 1:00. “Fishing is pretty tiring isn’t it?” I could eat.. wanna stop for lunch somehwere? This got me some hurtful words from my buddies. A) we were, literally in the middle of nowhere. B) We had yet to actually be fishing.
Every spot we found had people on it. Apparently there are no secrets in Michigan, at least not on the Opener. The other thing, everyone we saw was fishing with spinning equipment, which makes them all instant enemies. Fly fisherman hate guys with spinning stuff, in the same way Hatfields hate McCoy’s. Spinfisherman on the other, don’t’ seem to care.
One of our party was particularly offended by guys with spinning rods standing on the bank dunking worms, I think I heard the word “douche” more in one day a Massingil Sales rep hears it in a year. And we didn’t even know these people.
Finally we found a spot. The confluence of the Paint River and the Ontanogan. Perfect. Got out of the car. No sooner had we gotten out of the car, the wind took one our hats and carried it down the road. That’s not a great sign when you’re fishing with feathers tied to a hook. As we were putting on all our crap, the rain started. After 3 hours of driving all over F’n Deliverance country looking for a G-dDamn stream I’m gonna fish G-dDamnIt.
That was the general sentiment anyway.
We all did. But I gotta tell ya, it sucked. The water was high, and cold. After a few minutes in the stream my knees were killing me. My hands were freezing, which made knot tying difficult. Casting was a bear, I had about 5 different wind knots which got me super pissed. Last straw was wrapping my muddler minnow around a branch on the other side of the river.
In the words of my pal Don “there’s going to be nicer days”.
I got out of the water and walked back to the car where, surprise, the Lad and my buddy Loren we talking about the beauty of the day.
Good news, the rain stopped. Still, “watch this”. Touch a rod.. rain starts. Take your hand off a rod, stops. Touch it, start, off stop.” Fuck it, lets go find a bar.
Hardcore angler Stevie however. .nowhere to be seen. He had worked his way far upstream and could not and would not be seen for another hour or so.
We less committed anglers sat in the car eating a lunch of beef jerky, M&M’s, Payday’s and Pabst Blue Ribbons and talked about how we approach this trip next year. 4-Wheelers came up. Later weekend also was floated.
But, despite the fishing conditions and the fact that we were catching fish at about a 1 fish a year, I think everyone wanted to try again in 2012. Nate only has a couple more years at Tech. Makes me sad to think we won’t have the excuse to do this in a few years.
Then again, he’s talking about grad school at Colorado School Of Mines in Boulder. I could see a Colorado fly trip, so who knows what the future will bring there.
The other thing about this trip, every year I have the same realization that I enjoy fly-fishing a lot more than I do other kinds of fishing I do, I just never do it. And for the life of me, I can’t really come up with a good reason as to why I never do it. Maybe I should take a year and put away all the conventional gear and just fly fish, do it for bass and pan fish in our lake. I’d certainly be a better fly guy if I did that and who knows.
On the other hand, if I sit down and let some time pass and put a cold compress on my head I’m sure I’ll come back to my senses and fish normal. What would I do with the $50,000 in gear my wife things I’ve invested in over the years?