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Outdoors North

Fishing trip is adventure

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Journal columnist

“I can still hear her whisper, let’s go down to the waterline.” — Mark Knopfler

When I stopped and stepped out, the dust was clouded and billowing down the dirt road behind me. It was dry.

At my boot tips, I noticed a trail in the sand made by the dragging of a turtle’s tail. The soft pink of wild roses met my eyes from just a few inches up off the gravel at the side of the road.

This was another warm day and one I had needed to get outside on to put behind the usual concerns and the daily complications clogging up my mind.

I needed that soothing balm, the relative quiet and isolation I can only find in any real significant quantity “out there” along, or at the end of, some old dirt two-track road.

Where I was now, the beavers had backed up the water behind one of their dams, quieting the usual chatter from the creek water tumbling over rocks and gravel.

I stood at the rusted rail of a bridge a good distance up off the water. The pooled water looked like a tremendous place to cast a line for trout. In a few minutes, I had made my way down to the waterline through thick and tangled brush.

A small trout struck my lure on my first cast. It was a little fish that didn’t stay on the line long. A few more casts revealed that along with the trout, these waters were teeming with chubs.

Learning this, I lost interest in fishing this first leg in an L-bend of the creek. I made my way back up to where my vehicle was parked next to some blooming blackberry bushes.

This was a nice patch. I filed that location away in the bottom drawer of my mind.

I moved on down the road through this sprawling backcountry scene. The shaded areas felt comforting and forgiving. The warm areas were hot and baking.

The farther I drove, the more blooming blackberry brambles I saw. They seemed to be everywhere. Raspberries grow in even larger quantities here, though this territory is short on blueberries and thimbleberries.

In the road, a handful of mourning cloaks were getting salts and amino acids from the moisture contained within a gooey pile of black bear dung.

The butterflies, with their brownish and cream-outlined wings, fluttered up as I approached. The British call these butterflies “Camberwell beauties.” I’ve seen this behavior with other butterflies too.

Around a bend, my approaching vehicle hurries a doe and her new fawn across the road. They disappear quickly into a patch of thick woods. Though I stopped to see if I could get a better look at the deer, they did not show themselves again.

While trying to find the deer, I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully green the bracken ferns were. Standing tall, with fronds spread wide, they appeared to be at the height of their powers. So green. So beautiful.

There were also blooming honeysuckle plants here. It’s not even the first day of summer yet and the forest blooms seem to be peaking. The road narrows and gets rockier as it takes me under a green canopy of northern hardwoods. I feel the Jeep jump and jerk over some of the bigger rocks and tree roots in the road.

In a few minutes more of riding, the forest growth changes to pines. I come into a clearing emerging from the shade of the hardwood trees.

Around another tight bend and I arrive at another country bridge over a creek.

This crossing has been here since before I was a kid. There used to be an old wooden bridge, a mill pond and dam here before my time.

Now, there’s a culvert under the road, running the water from one side to the other, though some of the large timbers remain in place along both sides of the stream.

The water here seems to be flowing at its regular height, not backed up, flooded or drawn down by the recent sweltering temperatures.

I next arrive at an intersection I scarcely recognize. There has been a massive timber cut here, which has left a dramatic slice cut through the thick trees.

Several snags have been left standing as homes for cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers, bluebirds, tree swallows and kestrels.

I drove through the cut slowly looking at the new scene along both sides of the road, wishing I had remembered to bring my camera with me. It’s shocking to see an area cut over where you have always known there to be trees.

It’s like seeing the work of a river after a big flood, a volcano or the desert ground after a shift on the San Andreas faultline.

I always like to think about what these kinds of changes will bring to the natural ecosystem. It’s usually disadvantages for some species and advantages and opportunities for others, often shifting the plant and animal residents of an area.

I have been running these old backroads for more than half a century now.

I struggle to put into words the way these lands, woods and waters make me feel. I feel so much at home here. That’s probably the best way to describe it.

Still, there are missing pieces in my memory. There are roads I’ve been down so long ago, but I can’t recall today where they go. In other instances, there are places I’ve been, but can’t remember exactly how to get there.

Even after all these years, there remains a lifetime left of exploring to do.

As I walk along another river, the temperature has really shot up with the bright sun shining overhead. The fish here are not biting at all. An indigo bunting is singing from one of the trees on the other side of the river.

We keep a whistling conversation going back and forth for a few minutes, with neither one of us knowing what the other is saying. By the end of the days, I would see four more of these blue singers.

A broad-winged hawk dropped off a tree limb at the side of the road and flew off in my opposite direction.

All along the streams today, the air is buzzing with bugs. Sure, there’s a few mosquitoes, but most of these pilots flying air assaults today are horseflies and deer flies.

The horseflies get in through the open windows as I drive, sputter across the bottom of the windshield from one end to the other before they drop out the window on the other side of the vehicle.

The deer flies, with their fluorescent green and orange eyes, like to bite. For me, they are like mosquitoes, I largely ignore them. I know I’ll return home with a few bites, maybe more than a few, but I don’t care.

I approach another intersection and wonder about which way to go. I know if I go this way, I’ll be headed back home again. The other directions could lead me down more roads into the backwoods.

With the fish not biting, the hottest part of the day remaining and the clock nudging me to head back, I decide to go home. I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do.

I was able to get outside and unwind, wear some of the rough edges off, exhale and hear myself think. The flowering plants and shrubs did send me a wake-up call though, reminding me that nature is on the move and so is the clock.

Summertime is already here. I need to make the most of my days and nights. I have a list long as my arm of things I want to do.

I need to make time to make time to do those things.

I trust myself to do so, but at the same time, I worry I’ll run out of days too quickly. I need to keep my head up, my eyes pointed ahead of me and my mind concentrating on what’s important.

Editor’s note: 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.

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