Thursday, May 30, 2013

Home Waters


We all have our home waters. It's that place where we grew up in the context of fishing, and eventually fly fishing. They could be the great waters like the Au Sable, the Madison, or the Beaverkill, or it could be a local pond, some random creek, or some fantastic unsung system that birthed your love of the outdoors and love of all things wild.

I have home waters. They are the Maple and Sturgeon rivers in Northern Michigan.

My grandfather retired from GM and moved to northern Michigan. A local land owner wanted someone to keep poachers out of his back forty and made them an offer they couldn't refuse, with exclusive access to over a mile of the Maple river.

I learned to fly fish there.

My father bought a homestead east of Wolverine Michigan when the road got widened and the power poles and party line went in. It was a four mile bike ride to the Sturgeon river.

I learned to spinner fish there.

The idea of home waters is so much deeper than my experience. We all have that notion of the waters we call "home". It is innate, natural, and deep. It is a profound sense of place and context. We know those lies, those fish, these flies, and the nuances of weather, water level and insects.

So my home waters are the Maple and Sturgeon rivers. Both are tributaries to Burt Lake, home to the Sturgeon River strain of brown trout. These fish are special, and should be named Burt Lake strain brown trout, as they range throughout all the streams in this system. They are equally at home in lakes or rivers, bounce in and out of both, and are more like steelhead than browns in that they jump repeatedly and have more endurance than most browns. They regularly reach 10 to 15 pounds, and will break your spirit.

Sturgeon River brown


In case you're going to come here and fish for these fish- these are mean, narrow, choked, fast, unpredictable mean bitches of streams. Hatches are spotty, access is spottier, and catches are lean. Good luck with the hex hatch, it already happened or won't happen at all.


But let me get to my point. I love my home waters, but what do I know about them? I have often claimed that there are over 300 miles of trout stream within an hour of where I live. Is this true? When I look at Michigan's coloring book map of trout streams I see that there is a lot of water I've overlooked.

Here's what I'm proposing. I live in Emmet County. It is the far north-western-most county in lower Michigan. According to Michigan's Coloring Book 'o' Trout Streams there are 21 different trout streams. I want to find out what my home waters are all about.

 I'm going to fish them all.



Mind you that this won't be easy. Some of the streams are marginal at best. Some can only be accessed by kayak. I'll have to seek scarce permission to fish some. Most I will have to fish from culverts. There are only two fishable rivers- the Bear and the Maple. The rest are creeks. I do not plan to fish every branch of every stream, but to treat streams as systems. The Maple is a system. I won't fish the East Branch, West Branch and Main stream to count, plus all its creeks. Once I've fished the Maple at any point it's done. Minnehaha and Silver Creeks are a system. There are seven creeks that feed Crooked River, but since Crooked isn't a trout stream I'll have to fish them all separately. Some creeks dump directly into Lake Michigan, and I'm especially excited to see what fish I can pull from them.

The end result is that I want to get know my home waters, truly, honestly bull-headedly, and the only way I know how- as a Northern Michigan boy who is used to breaking brush, swatting bugs, enduring the sun and catching fish. I want to crash 5 Mile creek and catch some 'bows; I want to fish Wycamp creek and understand what it is like to stand there as a native, spear in hand, and land some non-native steelhead. I want to catch a Coaster in the Straits.

In short, I want to fish my home water.

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