Friday, January 28, 2011

Local Sausage

Most of my friends know that I make my own sausage.  I’m also known as a source of Local Knowledge as it pertains to fishing.  It turns out that Local Knowledge and Local Sausage have a lot in common.  As in, you can’t be too sure of what you’re getting.  (I’ll refer to Local Knowledge as LK in the rest of this because I'm lazy).  Conventional wisdom has always been that the locals know.  Well, maybe and maybe not.
Local flavor in Trout Country

I was on a fly fishing jaunt this last summer with a good friend to Michigan’s Central UP.  We had pulled stakes on our camp and were looking to fish some tributaries of a large and legendary system.  We hit one with mediocre results, found a public camp site and set our sights on town to see what we could find out.  Checking in at the DNR station was as useful as checking in at the local retirement home (she gave us stocking records).  We were looking for some hard intel, so we went to the local tackle shop, just like Field and Stream says to do.  The guy there tried to send us to the tourist park.  Really?  I grew up in a town with one of Michigan’s premiere trout streams flowing right through it.  I don’t fish the tourist park.  Having made some discreetish inquiries since I’ve been informed of the moral superiority of Yoopers- how, in the interest of preserving their precious heritage, they would never give away a fishing spot so that it doesn’t become the fishless cesspool that is the rest of the state.  Before you Yoopers and others get on my case I want to be clear on a couple of points-
a. my friend and I are catch-and-release fly anglers and
b. I don’t want to know your personal honey hole
But really- you can’t share the names of a couple of tributaries, a ten mile stretch of river, a nod in the right direction?  I won’t even ask for directions to the put ins- that’s what maps are for.  The message I took away was “Come visit and spend your money as long as you don’t catch any fish”.  Perhaps I’m being too harsh.  Could it be that I already know as much as the locals?  With several inches of rain on the way we pulled the plug on that trip, so I never got to find out.

I first began to question the value of LK in my home waters.  When fishing with a friend on Mullet and Burt lakes he would at times point us towards a group of boats, assuming that there was some reason they were clustered together.  Every time we would pull up and start fishing the area, only to find that not only were we not catching fish, neither was anyone else.  At least we had company. 

Canada turned out to be no exception.  On one trip we caught or turned multiple large Muskies within sight of the boat launch and a major bridge on a large Lake Superior tributary.  On mentioning this several times over the next few days to locals, the response was universal- “There’s no musky in that river”.  I guess that secret is safe.

On another trip to the same area, my father watched two men catching fish on a steady basis.  “Crappie” was the reply when he inquired as to the catch.  When they came to shore and hauled out their stringer it was loaded with suckers.
Local fauna

I’ll spare you the rest of my charming anecdotes; suffice it to say that I’m a little soured on the whole notion of LK.  In all these intervening years I’ve learned the following about it:
a. they don’t know or
b. they aren’t going to tell you.
 There's also the worst of both worlds- they don't know but are going to expound at length.
Either way you’re at square one.  What is an enterprising angler to do?  If you’re still green at this, cultivate a mentor.  And be a good mentee- listen, be respectful, helpful, don’t cut to the chase.  We like having our feet rubbed, our glass full and our lawn mowed.  Just a tip.
If you’re more experienced and trying to expand on your stream portfolio, do your homework.  For exploring Michigan I take full advantage of its helpful coloring book map of trout streams.  I have the published list of Blue Ribbon Trout streams.  I have both of Tom Hugglers books about fishing Michigan rivers.  Most importantly I have a DeLorme Atlas, which will show you all the roads to your stream including the ones that no longer exist.  My biggest asset is being willing to get out there and sweat a little, hike a few miles, put some time in. I’ve found that fish numbers go up inversely to the distance from the launch. I realize that I’m going to have bad days on good water. For you guides and other pros out there- I know you know, but I'm not about to ask you for trades secrets without paying for your services.

Whatever you do, don’t assume that the grizzled looking old guy with the flies in his hat brim and local plates knows any more about the fishing than you do.
And if I ever serve you sausage at my place, remember- there’s a reason for the sauce.
I'll never tell



  1. well done J~ keep the smart wit and we will read and laugh along.
    Tight Lines,

  2. Hey, I feel like a celebrity. Yes, that was a trip to remember. When it comes down to it, I think most of those guys that would not play ball took a look, realized we had not bathed in 5 days and decided we might pollute their best spots.

  3. As a Yooper by birth, Troll by residence I understand, but can't explain this behavior. Yoopers hate crowds, that's why they live there. And to them seeing one other person on a trout stream is a crowd. It's just a whole different threshhold than downstaters. They're SUPER protective. I've actually found the DNR helpful, but most of the bait shops are geared to lake fishing and don't know the streams. It's different, just like the UP.

  4. Hey FR, good post. I don't know about a lot of other places, but if you come to Colorado, I'd suggest you go with a guide or a good friend. I've had fly fisherman when asked what they were hitting on, say Nightcrawlers! I doubt it's much different most other places. Yoopers be your friend.

  5. "Whatever you do, don’t assume that the grizzled looking old guy with the flies in his hat brim and local plates knows any more about the fishing than you do."

    Great post. I'm enjoying reading through the ones I've missed...

  6. @ e.m.b.- Jeez, Tiny E, you are thorough aren't you? Thanks for caring enough to pore through the archives. This was the original that put me on the map, so to speak.