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

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

The Ladyfisher

July 6th, 1998

Can You Go Home Again?

There is an old phrase to the effect "You Can't Go Back." Castwell and I just did that this past week. And yes you can!

I did not set up unrealistic expectations. I did not expect every building, road, twig and tree to be the same as it was some twenty-five years ago. The town of Grayling Michigan has grown, the American mark of progress, strip malls are there along with the required number of fast food places. New homes and cottages have appeared, along with several new motels. All told, Grayling looks prosperous and well-fed.

There were major changes on the rivers though. We were married at Keystone Landing on the Main Stream of the Au Sable River. The campground has been moved a hundred yards away from the river banks, with a real road and camping facilities. Perhaps not as picturesque as years ago, but certainly better for the river. We were able to stand on the exact spot we stood to say the magic words. It wasn't necessary to say the words again, just holding hands completed the circle.

Later that day we also made a run to the South Branch of the Au Sable. The old campground there, Canoe Harbor also has been relocated back away from the stream. I can't swear to it, but the current canoe campground seems to be upstream a bit from the old one. The canoe campground is accessable only from the river, giving a sense of wilderness at least to those using it. Very nicely done.

We spent a little time hiking the Mason Tract trail, which begins just off Highway 72 (called the South Down River Road) locally. There is a large parking area with a map of the Tract. The trail is well marked, and easy walking. Again, a great deal of work has been done to close off over-used trails leading to the water, which caused bank errosion and siltation of the river. Obviously those who accept the responsibility for river keepers on the Main Steam and South Branch do so very seriously. A tip of my hat to all involved!

It may be a figment of my mind, but there did seem to be less canoe traffic on the South Branch. We encountered more canoes on the Main Stream, but did not see some of the things that used to make us furious. Canoes tied together, (rafted) with an on-going party of people who already had too much to drink.

We asked Steve Southard, owner of the Fly Factory and Ray's Canoe Livery about the difference. He explained the livery operators had gotten together and set up rules - most could be enforced from a safety point - which include limiting the amount of alcohol that could be taken per canoe, and outlawing rafting. While I did not check out what the other livery operators were doing, Ray's does have a mandatory video their customers watch before setting out on the river. The video includes safety, paddling instruction, what to take with you, alcohol regulations, information about the local Marine Patrol, and respecting wildlife and fly fishers. Good job folks!

Let's face it. We have a growing population, and limited resources. That boils down to sharing the resources in a responsible manner. There is no reason canoeing and fishing cannot be compatible - if the word responsible is the prime order of business.

While we are on the subject of responsibility, I want to mention a group called the Anglers of the Au Sable, also very involved with preservation and restoration of the Au Sable river system. Rusty Gates of the famed Gates Lodge on the Au Sable shared some of the recent projects the 'Anglers' have worked on. Look for another "Good News" story here soon on one of those projects.

JC and I are very proud to be associated with the 'Anglers' and suggest if the Au Sable river system is your "home water" too, (even if you are far removed as we are), check out the Anglers of the Au Sable website and join.

Anglers of the Au Sable

Perhaps having a connection with our home waters through old friends over the years has allowed us to feel we are still part of our 'home water'. In many ways the connection has been strengthened through the many folks we have met on FAOL. We got to meet some of them in person on this trip.

Even though our only contact with our web friends usually is via our Chat Room, the connection is stronger than that. The connection is we are all fly fishers. Fly fishers traditionally have been part of a community. Not exactly one for all and all for one as in the Three Musketeers, but then again if I am catching fish and you aren't I'm likely to share my flies with you. Well at least if you promise not to catch a bigger fish.

What pleased me most on 'going back' was the bamboo rodmakers (Gray Rock) have been very successful in establishing a community, a tradition. And that the anglers we have met via the world wide web are also re-establishing a sense of community. Renewing the traditions, and becoming once again a fraternity. What a joy!

A sincere thank you to those of you we got to meet in Grayling - and to those who have kept our home waters alive and well. Not just mechanics of keeping the rivers alive and well, but the process of maintaining the traditions of fly fishing.

It is those traditions, the brotherhood of fly angling that made it possible for us to go home.~Deanna Birkholm

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