The sun is creeping over the tips of the pines and christening the near waters of the bank I’m standing on. We crept down the bank with the scarred canoe to the put-in making sure our presence doesn’t spook the first hole or more realistically; not spoil the moment’s beauty on this northern Michigan morning. There’s something about times like these that tends to shut people up when you’re walking to the river’s edge in a beautiful place. The canoe glided into the water and swayed in the current as we began rigging up. I chose a Hare’s ear because...well, who wouldn’t. The first hole looked as promising but we decided we needed to move on to keep on pace with the canoe route and take out point for the day.
The canoe we chose was a 13 foot yellow faded two seater, it had to of been 20 years old. The short canoe paired with a wide bottom was a homerun for Michigan’s Maple River. We maneuver the logs and cut banks without much effort, and more importantly stay dry and upright when we we’re supposed to. The boat had a wide belly with an inverted “tunnel keel”. Pretty slick design. Pulling the paddle up into the canoe we made the start of our day-trip pointed downstream. My sister chose a sit-in kayak to tag along with for the day, solid choice in maneuverability but also pretty fast. I’m in no rush to get out of the water so the slower clunkier canoe (plus the ability to store a ton of gear and food (beverages) appeals to me.
The section of the Maple river we floated is a tailwater of Lake Kathleen, just southeast a mile or so from Pellston. The small town surrounded by pines and beat up highways.
Below the dam you have all three species of trout so if you’re going for the grand slam; it’s a good place to start. Above Lake Kathleen the river is smaller with scattered holes and riffles spaced a bit but brook trout naturally swim here for the solitude-loving angler. The Maple is a blue ribbon stream through and through and usually isn’t one of the premier streams people think of when pondering Michigan locations, so get there before the crowd finds it.
I would call the fish in this river of average to above average education in the fly department. The bugs are everywhere with your usual suspects of caddis and mayflies ruling the roost with midge sprinkled about. Bug activity looks to be good from below the rocks but I didn’t see much going on during the time we floated, I’m terrible at finding dense hatches and always seem to float into a pod of already gorged fish well after the hatch is spent. (pretty good excuse huh?) The first bend in the stream gave up one stocker rainbow that took a little swung caddis pattern.
The bottom structure of cobbles and large pebbles with moderate pits in the 2-4 ft. range seemed to hold most of the fish I came upon (spooked). After this initial success I thought the day was going to be a numbers kind of day but that little stocker fish won the first and last fish awards of the day. I missed 4-5 fish throughout the day on parachute dries (adams and sulphur colored) as the desperation set in.
The float ends around 5 o’clock so we head off to dinner. I’m the “flyfisher” of our party so my determination to figure the river out ate away at my mind as I was crunching dinner. A couple beers lifted my spirits as I planned up for one more round. My family was more about the beauty of the float and re-assured me with sayings like “it’s ok we didn’t figure the fish out Rob the river was beautiful for me”. I’m sure that’s moderately true but setting up a trip and tying flies for a river kinda makes you invested in it. I needed one more swing before we move on, there’s still hours in the day and maybe Hex’s lined up for the night. I tell them Mackinaw sounds great but I’m on a mission and we part ways.
Rewards to Patience
The evening sun was changing into it’s “perty” evening self as I slowly watched and waiting alongside the big pool. I had several anglers that had come and gone. The oldtimer who pulled in behind me methodically lit a cigarette and walked out of sight down the trail, another pair of anglers walked back to their car defeated as they claimed the bite wasn’t there today. I didn’t buy too much into their outcome as they also carried their spinning outfit back with them. The newly purchased reel shining in the sun with no scratches or “wisdom” marks to attest to. Small and textbook didn’t get me much action earlier today so I reach for big and gaudy. That’s when the pictured brownie came up from the depths to retrieve my chernobyl ant. I went onto a tandem rig with a larger crackle back type dry with a small black zebra midge to finish off the day. The last hour of daylight ushered in 8 fish (3 browns) from the small stretch I waded into… carefully and slowly. The action of those last minute fish filled my expectation for a good day. As the daylight left the riparian I saw the old man sitting up on a log, line dry, watching me fish silently. I acknowledged him with a nod and he returned the gesture. I decide to quit while I’m ahead and not wade through the run of hex’s he’s waiting on. Well spent time.
Robbie is the creator of WF and loves to spend time in the outdoors chasing steelhead, upland birds, and the beauty of nature.
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