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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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