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January 15 : Au Sable & Manistee River Report

Here in Grayling we've settled in to a full blown Michigan winter.  You could measure it by the ten inches or so of snow on the ground or by the cold, sub-zero temperatures, but in the North you know you've really arrived when the schools are closed for a snow day and last week we had two!

I hear lots of folks bemoan the idea that there’s nothing to do in the winter.  That it’s sort of a time to hibernate.  While that may be true for bears and the like, it’s just not true for the fisherman.  If anything, this time of year, with the shorter hours of daylight, is more frenzied than summertime.

Not only are you trying to hit the stream when it’s above freezing out there (a task that has not occurred much so far this winter but is still one that you have to be prepared to jump at in a moment’s notice), but you are always trying to get your chores done so you can hit the ice for, at least, the evening bite.

Part of being a Michigan sportsman is always preparing for the next season and, for us, there’s always one around the corner.  For the fly fisher that means hours at the fly tying bench spinning up patterns for spring.  It’s a task that is as big as you want it to be.

Getting ready for spring also means getting house projects done.  So far this winter, I've put an attic in my garage, worked on a bathroom remodel, and installed a new dishwasher.  Just pick the last thing you want to do when the fish are rising and that’s your top priority during the winter months.  And, of course, all of this is constantly interrupted by shoveling snow.

It works out alright, though.  You get something accomplished then you can head to the ice with a clear conscience.

There’s good ice everywhere now.  You've got to pay attention for thin ice and open water on the bigger lakes like Houghton and Higgins and on any lake that has a stream inlet or outlet, but other than those caveats, you can pretty much pick your water.

Fishing is good right now.  I've seen pictures of huge messes of perch and some giant pike from Higgins Lake and I hear the panfish, pike, and walleye are tripping flags and bending rods on Houghton Lake just in time for Tip-Up Town.

I've been fishing the smaller pothole lakes around the area all week for panfish with mixed results.  I like those isolated little lakes.  Even though they don’t always produce the best, you are often alone and you've got a good chunk of the world to yourself for a while.

They can be tough to get to, though.  You've got to be prepared and up to the task.  I went to one the other day that no one had driven into since the latest snow storms and had to think a few times before I turned off the good decision making part of my brain and turned onto the unplowed two track.  When you do something like that, it’s a commitment and you just keep the truck moving.  It was pretty borderline but I had a full tank of gas and a shovel and a new fish finder that I was dying to use, so I dove into trail.

It was dicey—better suited for a snowmobile than a four wheel drive.  When I got next to the lake it was either park at the top of the hill and drag the shanty down to the lake or risk driving a long hill to the parking lot.  I was just happy to get as far as I did and surely didn't want to risk trying to drive up a big hill with all that snow, so I opted to park in the safest spot and hoof it to the ice.

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In retrospect, there really was no good decision left after I had burned that ticket when I plowed onto the trail in the first place.  But at least I wasn't stuck and had tracks to follow on the way out.  So down the ridge I went easily pulling the sled to the ice.  It was just as billed . . . not a track on the whole lake.  It was mine alone.  I augured holes and used my fancy new Vexilar to find just the right depth.  For bluegills, I’m looking for 15 to 19 feet of water on these small lakes and expect the fish to start biting for the last hour of daylight and the first hour of darkness.

I pulled the shanty over the holes and set up camp.  It was great.  Coyotes howled from leafless ridges at dusk, and I caught enough fish to keep things interesting and had a fine time.

That was until it was time to leave.  As I broke down camp it was obvious that my shanty had frozen to the hard water.  The slush and snow created a blanket of jagged ice on the bottom of my sled that made it nearly impossible to drag.  At first I could make it about 30 feet across the lake before I had to take a break.  Then it was 20 and then I was at the base of the long hill.  I could only move the shanty about ten feet at a tug.  It took me a half hour to get off the lake and back to the truck.  My heart pounded and my hands were frozen.  I've never been more relieved to see my car.

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The drive out was tricky.  The tracks I had laid on the way in had turned into sugary ruts that wanted to pull and push the wheels off trail.  When I finally hit the plowed road, I stopped and breathed heavily for a while.  It was nearly an adventure you just don’t want.  From now on it’s plowed roads or snowmobiles for me.

Well, we’ll see.  I have a tendency to forget near misses.

Have fun out there and be smarter than me,

Andy

Audio Report

OrsonWells

Click here for the audio report.

Comments

  • Gene

    We're all glad to hear your voice again, Andy! Keep 'em coming!

    Reply
  • George

    Great voice Andy. You could be a radio broadcaster.

    Reply
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