From time to time I like to go off camping somewhere or another on my own. I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked, “why do you go alone?” and I have no explanation beyond that is it something I need to do once in a while. Usually these trips have a purpose, like chasing trout or watching birds or whatever, but I think it’s more about satisfying an occasional need for some solitude and silence.
A few years ago, I was on one of these trips, fly fishing on the Upper Michigan Peninsula. On the way back, I took a motel room for the night at Massey, a town west of Espanola. A fellow there struck up a conversation with me. When I told him where I’d been, he said, “Why’d you go there? We got trout.” I responded in the only reasonable way. “Where exactly you got trout?” I might have forgotten all about this, but I didn’t. Somehow I needed to know what the streams were like, I needed to meet those trout. I decided that one day I would go back there. I just wasn’t sure when it was going to happen.
There was a time I was way more serious about fly fishing than I am now. Over the past few years, it’s been something I’ve done a few times each season at most, but back in the day, I fished a lot of rivers. At the time it seemed important to me to travel far and wide and present fur and feather fly imitations to trout. Sometimes I’d be on my own. Other times I’d be with my friend East Texas Red. Even then, we mostly fished on our own. One of use would go upstream, the other down, and we would meet up at lunchtime or dinnertime and compare notes.
I can barely remember not fishing. That is to say, the first time my dad took me to a trout stream marks an important early memory for me. Dad gave me a big gift, a love for nature, for rivers, for trout, for the chase – which would serve me well throughout my life so far. Beyond telling you this, I can’t begin to explain why I fish. I rarely kill trout. I bend back the barbs on my flies and try to release them with as little harm done to them as possible. Sometimes I think it is a strange activity. Though I don’t fly fish with the same zeal I used to have for it, I still do get out and the activity gives me something I obviously need.
Back during the winter, when I wished it was spring already, I booked a few nights at a campground called The Chutes, right at Massey, and last Sunday I made the long drive. I arrived during the afternoon, set up camp and enjoyed a relaxing evening at my campsite. The next day I would go find those trout.
The Aux Sables River flows through town, below which it joins up with the Spanish. I was going to be going upstream quite a way. A road more or less follows the river, and my plan was to drive it, looking for places I thought might hold trout. This is not such a difficult thing. The trout are in and around the stretches of fast water, sometimes in the riffles, or in the pools below rapids or waterfalls.
It did not take me long to learn there was a problem. The river was still running at spring levels. By this time, it ought to have settled down a lot more than it had. We’ve seen the same high water all over this year. Practically speaking, this meant in many spots wading was out of the question simply because it was too dangerous. I learned that access to the best water was in many cases impossible.
By mid-afternoon Monday, the blackflies found me. Though I was only bitten a few times, the swarms of these little bugs were very irritating. I caught a brook trout. It was a lovely fish, maybe 11 inches long. I released it back into the river. It turned out to be my only trout of the trip.
At some point that night the rain started. It rained part of the night and all Tuesday. Sometimes it would stop and I would tell myself it was time to go fishing, and then the rain would start again, harder than before. Fortunately I brought along a screened in shelter, so I had a place which was both dry and bug-free. East Texas Red had sent me a long novel about a cattle drive, called Lonesome Dove, so at least I had some reading material.
Meanwhile, at some point my air mattress sprung a slow leak. This meant no matter how many times I refilled it, after a couple hours, enough air would leak out to create a hugely uncomfortable position, and so sleeping meant a sore back.
That was not the only technical problem. The washer on my camp stove, where the propane cylinder attaches to the stove, broke. This meant it was very difficult to get a proper seal. I used the stove a few times, but I was uneasy about it and afraid of a propane leak and a nasty explosion. That didn’t happen, but I’m on the hunt now for a new washer. I’m sure they are readily available.
Wednesday morning I awoke with a start. Something was different. Yes, the rain had stopped. I dragged myself up, walking somewhat crookedly after another night sleeping on a defective air mattress. I realized I had better pack up camp before the rain started again. This I did. I left the campground and stopped in town for a tasty breakfast. The rain began again as I was pulling away, and it continued off and on for much of my drive home.
I’m glad to be home. My peculiar need for some time camping on my own was met, my equally peculiar need for catching trout on a fly, less so. I’m still drying out my equipment. Tomorrow I should have everything packed away.
I drove a long way. I got rained on a lot. I only caught one trout. I endured some unfortunate equipment failure. Overall, a pretty good trip. I bet in lower water, it would be fun to fish those fast stretches again. I don’t know if it will happen, but it might.