Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

The Ladyfisher

July 13th, 1998

Floating the Manistee River

Our recent trip back to our Michigan 'home water' held a special piece of magic for me. Our host, Steve Southard of the Grayling Fly Factory, and Ray's Canoe Livery didn't know. And if he had, there was no way he could have produced a finer evening on the water.

Many years ago I had the great pleasure to sit in the casting seat of Adam Wendlings river boat. Fishing with Adam was always an education, but just being in one of the old, traditional riverboats was a almost magical transformation to fishing as it once was. Being poled down the river by an expert, casting directed quietly by the master who had fished that water for some fourty years.

When Steve invited us to float the Manistee, JC and I really didn't expect it to happen. No, Steve's word has always been good - but this was at the height of their busy season. And it's more than we could ask to take a man away from his business at such a time.

But, somedays the sun shines, and all is well with the world. So it was that the night before we had to fly back home, we loaded up the riverboat, our gear, hooked onto Steves van and headed for the river.

Ready to Roll
With so much publicity on the Au Sable River, it is hard to realise the Manistee, with large tracts of home-free land is so near Graying. We drove less than 20 minutes, including spotting the car of the pickup driver.

Notice the Length
Once we arrived at the put-in point, we picked up the boat, and carried it down to the water. Steve instructed us to rig our rods, and get set for the evenings festivities.

Steve Rigging Up

We happily complied and loaded onto the boat. Gentlemen that Steve and JC are, I got the casting seat in the bow of the boat. I should mention that under normal 'guiding' conditions, more than one person in a John Boat can cast. It does take some organization to make that come off properly, tho. Steve didn't hit me in the head with his poling pole - but he did threaten. My fault entirely, was excited and forget about my two companions in the boat with me. I did get on track and became less of a disaster waiting to happen.

Note the Clarity of the Water
Part of the charm of the Manistee is the lack of cottages and homes. We floated a good distance without seeing any sign of civilization. Early evening brought a few smaller fish out to play, but we were hoping for the main event and heavyweights. But we needed two things, - mud flats, and reasonably warm night temperatures. Steve's choice of where to float was based on the exact location of some very productive mud flats. Home for the famous Hex hatches.

Fish On

Just a bit downstream we encountered a pair of fly fishers, who had just landed a very nice brown. We probably saw a total of 8 other anglers the entire evening. And we covered a lot of water.

Anglers of the Fly
Eventually we lost our light, and pulled in on the edge of a swampy area and waited. A sliver of light was all the illumination we had. There were a couple of small flashlights in vest pockets, but it really did get black. And the blacker it got, the colder it got.

Evening temperatures had been quite warm, not requiring more than a vest while fishing the evening hatch. It became obvious we were not going to have a hatch. Although we did get to hear the signature "pop" of three Hex's exiting the water.

The remainder of the evening was also exciting. Operating by night vision, sound, and glimmers reflecting off broken water, Steve poled over, around and through some areas I would have had trouble navigating in the daylight. He is a fine boatsman.

For me, it was interesting for another reason. I was not dressed for the cold. Temps plummeted to the mid-fourties. My light-weight jacket was just not enough. By the time we got to the take-out I had a good case of uncontrollable shivers and shakes. Some vigorous walking about warmed me back up, and I survived what I think was my first experience with hypothermia. A good lesson learned at not too much expense.

What a lovely trip, beautiful scenery, and the possibility of very big brown trout, in the hands of an expert guide. What more could one ask?~Deanna Birkholm

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