I’ve been drawn to rivers since that day as a young boy my father gave me my own spinning outfit and took me to a little creek where I caught my first trout. I find it hard to pass a river without stopping to check it out. Why go all the way to Upper Michigan, you might ask. Why not stay home and fish the Credit or the Grand up the road? Part of the reason is simply the adventure of the roadtrip. Then there is the special literary lore of UP rivers, thanks to Robert Traver and Ernest Hemmingway. As well, on the Upper Peninsula you can fish two, three, four streams all within an hour or so of driving. Parts of the mountain west are like that too, where some fishermen give themselves challenges such as catching three different species of trout in a day. (in the mountain west they also like to combine fishing and hunting in an extravaganza known as a “cast & blast”).
UP Rivers mostly have a brown tinge from tannins in the water. This makes it difficult to discern how deep some of the runs are without getting in there for a look. Most of the rivers are lined with deadfalls and tag alders. Some are difficult to wade. Bottoms are mostly sandy but there are holes and there are spots where you take a step and sink down, down, down, spots where you get mired in the muck and can barely move.
The Indian in the campground stretch is difficult fishing but it is a stream that boasts outstanding growth rates and big trout. There is a lot of wood in the river to snag your fly, and there are many trees across the stream, forming deep pools and making it very hard to move about without getting out of the river and negotiating around through the bush. In the absence of bug hatches, this is streamer water. I hooked a very large brown trout in the pool featured in the top photo. I only glimpsed it before it wrapped itself around a log and shed the hook, but I would say it was a brown of 20+ inches. In the bigger water featured in the lower photo above, I caught a very nice brook trout of about 13 inches. The lower water was way easier to fish than the campground stretch. First, the mosquitoes were not nearly so bad. Second, rather than a jumble of logs, the stream was defined by pools and runs and bank cover. I tried to access the Indian at another spot, in which I drove along a two-track to a primitive campsite. A trail then led toward the river. I checked out the trail prior to gearing up and came across these mushrooms growing out of moss.
I don’t know what these are. They are among the few mushrooms I came across all trip. Their caps were about 2.5 inches across. I found them where the trail became mossy and spongy and wet. At this point, well along the trail, and knowing the river couldn’t be far away, I got the sudden feeling that I might get lost deep in these woods, never to be found. There was a time when I would not have even considered my safety in a situation like this. I would have sallied forth without a worry. But these days I think about it, and I decided the river was just too far from the car and the car was just too far from the road and the river was difficult….and I turned back.
The Little Indian is beaver water. It’s slow and meandering. When you try to wade it, the bottom is spongy and silty and you need to have a care you don’t sink into a hole or trip on a hidden branch and go for a spill. It’s beautiful water. I found it to be like a hatchery for small trout, 6 and 7 inchers. And then surprisingly, a fat 9 incher came up for my tiny dry fly. There will be big brook trout in this stream but I think the only time to get them would be late evening, just before dark. In the heat of the afternoon when I visited, a 9 inchers was about the best I could expect.
Deadfalls, tag alders and deep runs make parts of the Driggs a challenge to fish. The river has great access with a two-track that runs along much of its length. It features many S-curves, some surprisingly deep pools and runs and a very health population of brook trout. I didn’t catch any larger than 11 inches in this river but when it was hot, as it was all day Tuesday, I lost count of the the trout I caught and released. (what is this strange compulsion to chase after trout, anyway?…I can’t explain it. Robert Traver took a shot at it with this famous quote: “I fish because I love to. Because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly. Because of all the television commercials, cocktail parties, and assorted social posturing I thus escape. Because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing what they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion. Because trout do not lie or cheat and cannot be bought or bribed, or impressed by power, but respond only to quietude and humility, and endless patience. Because I suspect that men are going this way for the last time and I for one don’t want to waste the trip. Because mercifully there are no telephones on trout waters. Because in the woods I can find solitude without loneliness. … And finally, not because I regard fishing as being so terribly important, but because I suspect that so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant and not nearly so much fun.”). The Driggs seems inaccessable until you get in the water. It looks deep and tangled. How do you cast with all those trees and tag alders? Once you are in the water, it is as if you have been enveloped by the river. You find the rhythm of casting to avoid the alders on the backcast and on the landing. When you move, it is a wee step at a time, slowly and gently.
I pulled off on one of the two-tracks that follow the river, and as many of them do, the trail ended beside the river at a primitive campsite. But this one was special. I found a memorial there.
Was this a favourite camping place, a spot where a group of guys met and camped and fished together? Are there remains buried there or is this simply a memorial recognizing the importance of this remote pinprick in the universe to a few people who cared about it? I decided not to fish the river at this memorial. It was their spot, and I left it for them.
The Fox is among the most famous trout rivers in Upper Michigan. There is a lot of water and many accesses. Wading a stretch like this one, I tie a bandana in an obvious spot on some tag alders so I can find my way out again later. Once you wade a half mile upstream or downstream it become very difficult to find the trail that took you to the river. Years ago I fished this river and almost got myself badly lost. Now I leave a marker.
Many of the locals float the Fox, usually in 12 or 14 foot aluminum car top boats, occasionally in canoes. Tourist fly fishermen often float the river too, in bellow boats or one-man pontoon boats. The local guys I talked to are somewhat bemused by fly fishermen. “Ya, some of those fly fishermen are mighty fancy, but if you really want trout, you’ll use a minnow (dead or alive, apparently it matters not) with an inline spinner tied about 10 inches from the hook.” One fellow I talked to complained that they lowered the possession limit from 10 to 5 trout in the Fox to better manage the pressure on the river. “It ain’t right. We deserve to take 10 trout.”