Outdoors North: Leaving a ‘Gone Fishing’ note may be good practice

John Pepin

“I wished I’d looked before I leaped, I didn’t know it was so deep. Been down so far I don’t get wet, I haven’t touched the bottom yet,” — Diane Hildebrand and The Monkees

With the deep purple shadows of evening starting to fall, the shiny teardrop-shaped spinner blade was visible, dangling like an earring, just beyond the reach of my outstretched fingers on my right hand.

The lure hung at the end of a line pulled taut and twisted through the branches of a tag alder, that leaned out over the swollen waters of this rippling backwoods stream.

Just a moment earlier, a trout had hit and then spit my lure, sending it flying out of the water into the tree branches. With my left hand, I had grabbed the trunk of another tree.

Holding on, I leaned closer to the lure, on tip toes, extending myself as far as I could. Just another eighth of an inch and I’d have it. Before the sound of the tree cracking hit my consciousness, I had plunged into the creek, gasping deeply as the chilly water quickly surrounded my mid-section.

In our fall, the cracked tree and I managed to snap my line, lose my spinner and knock several branches into the water, ruining any remaining chances of hooking that trout.

I had slipped down through the tree branches and low-hanging bushes, scraping against the muddy bank, into the river. It took a couple of minutes, but I grabbed plants growing out of the dirt and pulled myself back out of the water, having suffered a few scratches and a couple of bruises. I was lucky.

I had lost a shoe and torn my jeans. If the circumstances had been a little different, I might have drowned. Walking out of the trees, back out toward the dirt road where I had parked my vehicle, it had now suddenly gotten noticeably darker.

I started thinking about how I often fish alone, the farther out into the woods, the better. It seems like it’s only in hindsight of a creek fall or similar incident, that I really start to think about what might have happened.

Typically, trout anglers, blackberry pickers, grouse hunters and others like to keep their favorite locations a very tight secret. So much so, that it often seems to go against everything in your being to tell anyone else, even loved ones, where you are headed.

This, of course, is short-sighted.

The tremendous heartbreak of losing someone close to you is horrible enough without the added uncertainty of not knowing what exactly happened to them, whether they be dead or alive, or where they might have drowned, froze or fallen.

I can only imagine that kind of suffering to be unbearable.

As summer turns, like the leaves, to autumn a great many people besides me will be headed out into the Upper Peninsula’s backwoods and waterways to hunt grouse and deer, fish for steelhead and salmon, hike, camp and otherwise enjoy the outdoors.

A glance back through the annals of Michigan history, in just about any given year, there are at least some hunters, anglers or others reported missing while enjoying the outdoors.

Some of the tales end happily, while others don’t. All of these cautionary stories illustrate how quickly conditions can change and unexpected events can happen, even to those quite familiar with the outdoors.

In 1929, the Escanaba Daily Press reported that Gov. Fred Green had been asked to send an airplane to search for a fisherman who had been lost “when an ice field from which he was fishing drifted out into Lake Michigan in the blizzard which has been sweeping this region for more than 24 hours.”

The ice blew back in to land two days after the man went missing. The fisherman could not be found.

A Kansas City man was lost while hunting near the Silver River in Keweenaw County in November 1926.

The hunter “had wounded a deer late Wednesday and had tracked the animal several miles through the swamp, losing his way when darkness set in. He built fires to warm himself and when morning came, set out again, only to go deeper into the wilderness,” the Ironwood Daily Globe reported.

After two days, the man was found after dark, hungry and cold, by a search party led by a game warden.

“Heavy snows in this vicinity have made hunting difficult even for these seasoned hunters,” the newspaper reported.

In 1921, a $100 reward was offered to the finder of the body of a missing hunter who was believed accidentally killed while hunting near Raco in Chippewa County.

“The man, who is thought to have shot him is described as a large red-faced hunter from Lower Michigan,” the Ironwood Daily Globe reported. “This man was seen running through the woods shortly after the shot was heard.”

In June 1906, a strange tale made its way north of the Mackinac Straits, via the Detroit Free Press.

An Alliance, Ohio, man was battling a pickerel he’d hooked.

“Both disappeared beneath the waters of White Lake this morning and did not come to the surface,” the paper said.

The man had been spending a week at his summer home at the lake and had gone fishing that morning alone in his boat.

“The attention of an acquaintance, who sat in a boat some distance away, was attracted by the actions of (the fisherman) who was having great sport with the fish,” the newspaper reported. “The line whipped the water and there was a churning that rocked the boat.”

Suddenly, the fish darted under the boat, upsetting the craft and throwing the fisherman into the water. Grasping the line firmly in his hands, he was pulled down, the newspaper reported.

His friend rowed quickly to the scene, but could see nothing of the man or the fish.

“A search later failed to reveal any traces of the body of the missing fisherman,” the newspaper said.

The creek fall I took recently wasn’t my first, but it got me to reconsider some good advice. From now on, I’ll be sure to at least leave a note or a map the next time I’m headed for the Outdoors North.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.