***If you’re planning a trip understand that there are other Sturgeon rivers in Michigan, this article is about the Sturgeon of Delta County in Michigan’s upper peninsula. The others look to be more challenging and dangerous for the canoer.
Located in central portion of the upper peninsula is one of the Sturgeon Rivers (Delta County). As I usually do planning for such trips I narrow down four or five locations and just pick one. This adventure ended up on top of my list of beautiful places. The river’s main branch begins at Sixteenmile Lake in Alger County and meanders it’s way 64 miles to big Bay De Noc. This trip was a trip of two tales.
We had two options for the float, we could put in at 442 and take out at the 13 bridge or put in at the latter and sail all the way to Flowing Well Campground. Not knowing much we decided to take 13 to Flowing Well. I dropped dad and the gear off at the bridge and returned to camp to bike my way 4 miles up the road to the put in. The excitement of the coming float got me there in twenty minutes. The river is gorgeous cascading under this bridge. It flows in a deeper cut to the right and provides seams and small islands that break the current and provide perfect trout habitat. Mucho caddis near this bridge, those olive green slender nymphs in a size 16. I walked up on a little trout resting in a pool before I could even rig my gear up.
The first spot didn’t provide any fish to net so we started our paddle down river. The river is abound by tall pines and large ferns. The flow is moderately fast here but open enough you don’t have to be an expert to navigate it. There comes a sharp left turn that opens to a berm of cobble breaking the current which spills out into a long slow pool fed by this tailwater. The inside of this turn provide big downed trees in deep water. I swung nymphs and took my shot at a riser sipping and splashing in the shade with no luck, so I went big; Black bugger above split shot to ride in near the bottom. Like many fish tales it ends badly, I feel a strike then set the hook on a mammoth brownie. This would have been my PB trout. Spits the hook only offering me a small glance at his size. I let out that long sigh and stared at the water, knowing I was about to waste the next ten minutes hoping the fish would fall for it again. Big fish give you one shot if you’re lucky during the afternoon.
Paddling on through the sound of turbid waters and wind chalked pines the river is quick here. No paddling required other than back paddles to navigate the rock thumbs jaggin up from the bottom. This is fun canoeing in absolute nature. The large bedrock formation that covers the first 2 miles or so of this float provide the most “trouty” water you’re probably hoping for. The bottom of my old canoe is bright red from the new scars of this section. We didn’t have to get out and carry any but the river keeps you guessing during this stretch. This type of water doesn’t last.
The next section of river could be considered the “middle third” of our trip, it’s the meandering section that you can see on google maps. The river turns left, then right, then left, then right constantly here. The water is deep and much slower. This means LOG JAMS. We had to pick the canoe up and over about 15 jams that were unsurpassable along the middle third. Not just small jams either, some of the jams wore us out. If you’re going to travel this section be sure to have a lighter canoe and restrict the amount of stuff you put in it. We didn’t flip the boat during this trip but I would say we were lucky not too while trying to get through this section. A word of experience about the jams; go over them don’t try to navigate the steep banks and thick vegetation. It’s much easier to allow the front passenger to climb onto the jam and stabilize the boat while you both climb it than go through the bush with your canoe. But if you weather the storm the river changes back to “trouty” again around a half mile upstream from Ten Mile creek.
This float is absolutely beautiful once you reach the Ten Mile Rapids area. The river riffles and speedens to a pleasant cruise through the tall pines. I believe we only had to navigate one more log jam the last third of the trip. We ended the trip by showing up at our take out and enjoying dinner during the evening. The trip was a blast but the log jams will wear you down. I would advise you to be sure you can lift your boat and balance on logs before trying this stretch. The log jams are not cleared out but the river is unspoiled. I would do it again, my 55 year old dad probably wouldn’t.
Total Trip Time: 6 hrs (including time spent fishing)
Put in: 13 bridge
Take out: Flowing well campground spring
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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