Story and photos by Alex Cerveniak
I can't remember who howled first, the wolves or us.
Myself and a couple friends made the last minute decision to head north across the Mackinac Bridge for the opening weekend of trout season. We were planning to skip trout to chase steelhead in the heart of the Hiawatha National Forest. Wild, forgotten fish decades removed from the stocking truck.
We crossed the mighty bridge spanning over the Straits in the dark after work on a Friday night, loaded up on provisions at the gas station in St. Ignace, and brainstormed on a place to camp. Someone threw out the idea, "Let's try the river mouth!"
When we got there, we couldn't believe what we saw. The smelt run was on, the parking lot was at capacity and both the north and south banks were lined with families and camp fires. Somehow, one of us had enough foresight to bring a smelt dipping net. If you've never seen a smelt dipping net, its a poor container for water, but the perfect tool to strain pasta-- if pasta could swim.
Ethan and I rebuilt an abandoned fire while Jason faced upstream in the waist deep, black water making paddling motions with the net. Every now and then he'd look inside and pull a smelt out. A few hours later we had already drank all our beer for the weekend, but had an empty Jack Links beef jerky bag full of smelt. Who brings a bucket on a fly fishing trip?
Since the river mouth was too populated to camp, we got in the car and drove upstream to another, more remote access. The only problem was, there was still several feet of snow on the road, unmelted because snowmobiles had packed it down through the winter. So there we were, speeding down a snowmobile trail, unable to stop or turn around, miles from pavement, out of cell range, in a Pontiac Grand Am.
Almost as soon as we realized how screwed we were, we were stuck. The three of us got out of the car to investigate, and almost immediately, Ethan's dog, Luna, hit the lock button and locked us out of the still running car. I can't remember what we used to break the window, but the glass shattered into a billion pieces. We killed the motor, grabbed all of our gear, and under the pasty light of the full moon, backpacked towards camp.
The low, deep, guttural moans of the wolf echoed through the cedar swamp we were staggering through. Without hesitation, one of us howled back. The howls volley'ed back and forth, only stopping after we started uncontrollably laughing at each other.
We built a fire, set up camp near the river and passed out almost immediately. We were covered in ticks when we woke the next morning. The river was blown out, several weeks away from being fishable. We cooked the smelt for breakfast on a single burner stove, dug that Grand Am out with sticks, and defeated, headed back south across the bridge to find fishable water.
Alex Cerveniak is a writer, photographer, fly tyer, and owner of Northern Michigan Fly Fishing guide service.