THE CABIN ON THE RIVER
The Cabin on the River…..>
By Tom Deschaine
Back in 1984 a close friend of mine, by the name of Tim Corbin, invited me to go trout fishing at his cabin on the Au Sable River in Grayling, Michigan. I had already fished Michigan waters for over 20 years having fished for everything in the state accept for sturgeon and trout, so I decided to give it a try. Knowing nothing about trout fishing Tim suggested that I purchase a 'starter' outfit from L.L. Bean. So, for about $100 I got an outfit which included an 8', 5 wt., medium action rod with a reel, double taper floating line, a couple of leaders and the L.L. Bean Fly-Fishing Handbook, written by Dave Whitlock. How could I go wrong!
When my outfit arrived Tim spent a little time with me showing me a couple of basic knots and threw in a couple of fly casting lessons. With my education complete it was off to the cabin on river. Our first stop was a fly fishing shop where Tim gave me permission to select a few of what I thought would be some 'killer flies.' Then, one last stop at the corner store to stock up on grub and libations before reaching the cabin. We pulled in a little after noon, unpacked, donned the waders and headed for the banks. The cabin is situated at a location know as 'Trails End', on the mainstream of the Au Sable just downstream from Wakeley Bridge. I tied on what was to become one of my favorite flies; shot it across the river in the direction of the opposite bank and 'BAMB' a 10" brown trout. One shot, one kill! I just knew I was going to love this sport! I'll never forget that moment or the fly pattern I chose --- a Black Gnat, with a red tail. I think it was a size #12. I still carry and fish with that pattern.
Later, that evening Tim and I went out to dinner. I'm not exactly sure which restaurant but it's really not important. Over the course of the next many years we will have eaten in all of them. After dinner we returned to the cabin on the river. Tim pulled out the 'Cabin Log' and proceeded to write in an entry about the day's activities. Over all the years we fished the cabin on the river he never really shared with me the exact content of his ritualistic entries. One would only assume he was making comments on the weather, his cabin guests, and day's activities and the usual fish lies. Some small chitchat ensued, a couple of Manhattans and then it was lights out…..
At that time, Tim and I both resided in the same town where we worked, and were raising our young families. We attended the same church and shared many of the same friends and activities. Our initial meeting may have been chance but our love of the out-of-doors rapidly bonded our friendship. We found in each other new hunting and fishing partners.
Over the next few years Tim became my great mentor on trout fishing. Each time we ventured to the cabin on the river, there was always something new to do or see. Sometimes we'd wade and sometimes we'd canoe. He introduced me to all the access sites on the North Branch, the Mainstream and the South Branch. He took me around to all the fly shops and introduced me to people like Rusty Gates and Bob Smock. He turned me on to fishing with local patterns. He refined my casting and fly presentation, taught me how to fish at night, took me on float trips and even taught me how to 'pole' a canoe down the river. But, at the end of each day when all the activities were done, we'd seek asylum and rest at the cabin on the river.
I have many wonderful memories of our trips to the cabin. But, there is one trip in particular that stands out in my mind. In the summer of '99 I was hoping for and did receive an invite from Tim to attend the annual hex mania event. For those of you not familiar with hex mania, let me explain. In many parts of the country there is an exceptionally large May fly called the 'Hexagenia limbata', aka the Fish Fly, the Big Yellow May, the Hex, the Michigan Caddis, and the Giant Mayfly just to name a few. The conditions are such in Michigan that the hatch is more impressive then anywhere else in the world. In fact, fishermen do travel from all over the country and from all over the world to fish the great hex hatch here in Michigan. The hatch, on the Au Sable, usually takes place with some degree of regularity the last two weeks in June. Hotels and restaurants are filled to capacity. Parking is bumper to bumper at all access sites and the fishing is elbow to elbow. It's times like these when you really appreciate knowing someone, like Tim, who has a cabin on the river.
I have fished a few other hex hatches, some with Tim and some without; but he knows the waters better then most and has more experience night fishing then anyone I know. We were in the canoe and on the water at 9:30 PM, 200 to 300 yards downstream from the cabin. The shoreline was illuminated with one of the most spectacular displays of fire flies I have ever seen. A brief, but rather impressive Brown Drake Hatch came off around 10:00 PM, surrendering to us the only fish we'd catch that night. And then at 10:30 sharp, it happened, the major event! The hex spinners fell from the sky in massive numbers, completely blanketing the river in a matter of minutes. You could hear the trout slurping them down. With a hatch as heavy and as magnificent as this, the trout have no need to move. They just sit, and slurp; the bugs come to them. The chance of putting a fly directly over a trout in pitch blackness is remote as best, near impossible during a heavy hatch. Ten minutes later all was quiet. The slurping stopped and the trout returned to the deep pools, with full bellies. With the 'feed' off there was no reason to remain on the water. Tim and I canoed back to the cabin. The canoe was so littered with spinner carcasses, getting out of the aluminum canoe was a slippery challenge. Tim shared with me that in all his years on the river, this was the most impressive hex hatch he had ever witnessed. I'm glad I was invited to share this moment with Tim, at the cabin on the river.
Each time I traveled to the Grayling area to fish, I'd always stop by the cabin on the river in hopes of catching Tim there. The screen door to the porch was usually unlocked. I'd usually sit on the patio or the dock for a brief while and I'd always leave Tim a little reminder that I was there --- and empty beer can with a fly hooked onto the can's pop top.
Tim and his family eventually moved from our community. As we get older our priorities change, are responsibilities and obligations increase and, more often than not, take us away from those things we would rather be doing. Tim and I continue to plan fishing trips but something always seems to interfere with our plans. We seldom connect for fishing trips any more.
The cabin's getting pretty old now. Tim just recently surrendered the lease he held on the cabin and frontage to the local power company. The cabin was never in anyway mine, but I'll always feel some emotional ownership. No one knows what will happen to the old cabin, more than likely the power company will demolish it. They may be able to destroy the cabin, but they'll never be able to take away the fond memories I'll always have about the cabin on the river.
See you on the water…..