We lived in Michigan for about 15 years before we discovered the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula three years ago. Since that discovery, we’ve made it a summer tradition to spend at least a week camping, kayaking, fishing, and exploring the beautiful wilds of northern Michigan.
While previous years emphasized the hiking and camping, this year we decided to focus on the fishing. (Read about our two prior trips to the UP). I’d purchased fly fishing equipment for Carrie and the boys last winter – including waders for all of us and vests for the boys. Primarily we were after trout, but any fish on a fly rod is a good fish.
Our first stop on our way north was the fly shop at Gates Au Sable Lodge, where we picked up a few flies and an excellent book about fly fishing Michigan. Last summer, with the acquisition of a pop up trailer, we began the tradition of collecting bumper stickers, so we added a trout sticker to the pop up before leaving Gates and heading north across the Mighty Mac.
We’d planned to camp at a site we found last summer, but we arrived late in the afternoon and drove from campground to campground before finally finding a (semi) vacant site six miles down a dirt road. I say a “semi-vacant” site because, although the site was empty, there was a reservation tag attached to the site post, indicating that someone had paid their fees and “set up” camp. It was the absence of ANY gear or sign of occupation that prompted me to ignore the tag, set up camp, and see what happened. Admittedly, Carrie and I were a bit apprehensive, hoping that 1) no one would show up to claim the site (on a motorcycle or some self-contained camper), and 2) if they did, they would be nice and not like Sea Bass on Dumb and Dumber. Afternoon turned into evening before we heard vehicles coming down the road toward the camp. Two scruffy looking dudes in a pickup pulled up in front of our site and gave me a weird look. I approached the truck and was relieved to find that they were very polite and had accidentally put their tag on the wrong post – they were occupying sites 1 and 2, but had mistakenly placed their tags on 2 and 3. Phew! Only after I knew the site was ours could I really relax and enjoy the up north beauty.
We spent a day simply lounging around the site, kayaking, fishing, relaxing in the hammock, and cooking over the campfire – s’mores, too, of course! Jake and Josh waded along the shore and caught a fair number of pumpkinseeds, bluegill, and the occasional perch and bass.
After a lazy day at camp, we decided we needed to head to Pictured Rocks and do some hiking, so we loaded in the car and headed to Chapel Rock. The trail out to Chapel Rock is an easy hike that passes Chapel Falls on the way to Lake Superior. Just above the falls there’s a little spot in the creek that I fished last year. I had to try my luck there again, and fortunately Carrie and the boys humored me. Like last year, I pulled a little brook trout out of a loggy area.
Since we hadn’t made any real itinerary, we made up each day as it came. Following a lazy breakfast, we headed back out to do some more hiking/sightseeing. We particularly wanted to visit a few places that we’d missed during our earlier trips, so we stopped by Miners Falls and Castle, and a silly little place called Horeshoe Falls where you can feed trout in a pond.
My cool guidebook to fly fishing Michigan offered some tantalizing information about places elsewhere in the UP, and, eager to do more fishing, we broke camp and headed east toward Hemingway’s Two-Hearted River (yeah, I know Hemingway was really describing the Fox River, but this sounded like better fishing). After hours on washboard dirt roads, we arrived at a campground right on the bank of the Two-Hearted River. What I had hoped would be a pleasantly quiet and remote campground turned out to be occupied by several large RVs and their raucous, disrespectful, foul-mouthed owners, a fact we didn’t learn until evening when they all returned from canoeing and began speaking in ways that prompted Josh to call our remote piece of paradise an “R-rated campground.”
Eager to get away from the yahoos, we donned our fishing gear and headed for the river where it was peaceful, natural, and a whole lot more Hemingway-esque, I thought. The river is gorgeous and gave us plenty of time to relax and concentrate on our fishing. Jake and I hooked fish, but in both cases they broke our leader. It wasn’t until our second day on the river that I finally landed a pretty little rainbow. And it was on the morning of our second day, when the local-yokels broke camp and headed back to their cave, that we enjoyed the site’s true beauty, serenity, and a refreshing, cleansing dip in the river.
The Two-Hearted River, despite the local “wildlife,” was good to us (I just hope the boys forget some of the language they learned that day), but we (well, Carrie was) were ready to try fly fishing the wide-open waters of the Au Sable River, so we loaded up and headed south, hitting one of our favorites, Tahquamenon Falls, on our way out before crossing the Mackinac Bridge.
It’s always tough to say goodbye to the beauty up north.
Grayling has plenty of her own beauty too, however, and gave us a proper welcome our first evening.
The boys spent the evening learning how to shoot their newly-acquired slingshots – something every boy must have/do.
The following morning, we stopped by Gates Fly Lodge again to get a little local information about fishing spots (and a few more flies!) and headed out to some fishing on the South Branch of the Au Sable. This portion of the river is wide and easily waded, perfect for beginning and little fly fishers. I was hopeful that Carrie and the boys would experience the thrill of catching their first trout. As it turned out, Carrie and Jake got lucky, but poor Josh struck out. Poor little guy.
We stopped by Cabela’s on our way home and stocked up on a few more flies and some great gear. Once again, the memories just keep getting sweeter. What a blessing to be able to do so much with the people I love SO much. Until next summer, Michigan.