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November 6 : Au Sable & Manistee River Report

Oh boy!  It’s definitely late Fall now.

On my drive to bow hunting camp this past week the low lying areas, ditches, and swales held wisps of snow.   And the rain-like precipitation hitting my windshield splattered in miniature crystal explosions on the glass as quickly as the wipers could sweep them away.

I unlocked the camp door with a bundle of kindling in one arm and made quick work of a fire even before shutting the cabin door.  There’s just no messing around this time of year. Next it was flop the duffle on the raw, sheetless mattress, pull and lay out the my layers and try to figure out how to dress both light enough and warm enough to bow hunt–always a tricky proposition.  It was going to be difficult to peel off the sleeping bag in the morning and head pre-dawn into the forecast cold, wet weather.

At least I was going to have a partner to push me into action.  Determination in this sort of weather is better severed as team play.  Well, he didn’t show . . . life gets in the way sometimes, and I slept like a baby until 9 a.m. and the deer were safe for another morning.

Which brings me to my somewhat belabored point.  Good hunting and fishing partners are the most valuable tool a Northern Michigan sportsman can have at any time of the year and especially in the inclement early Spring, late Fall, and Winter months.

Good hunting and fishing partners do more than just hold up an end of the conversation and split the gas.  I mean we’re not sixteen years old anymore and you can hang on to that 5 bucks.  Good partners bring more than that to the table.  Good partners bounce around trip ideas; some big some small and some a little crazy until something sticks for at least one of the group.  Occasionally, everyone involved in the “you know what would be cool to do” brainstorming session gets riled up by an idea or two, but there is always somebody that latches on to an idea, no matter how big or small, and makes it happen.

That’s what good partners do—they make things happen.  It’s easy to look out the window at a rainy day and talk yourself out of an outdoor life and back into slippers and a hot cup of coffee.  An enthusiastic friend can push you to pull those boots on and motivate you with infectious enthusiasm while rolling down the road to the next outdoor adventure.

Something just like that happened with me last week.

My advice all year has been to get out of your routine and have as many adventures as possible.  I’ve been doing my best to take that advice, which is why I was truly excited and jumped at the chance when Scott and Jamie invited me on a downstate, Michigan pheasant hunt.  Now, I’ve known these guys as fly shop regulars for years and though we’ve shared stories and last night’s results, we’ve never shared spots or an actual experience.  I tend to keep to myself in the outdoors.  I guess when you live a public life, solitude in the field makes a lot of sense.

But this gave me the chance to practice what I preach; a chance to make new friends, see new country, and to do something I’ve never done—possibly harvest a wild Michigan Pheasant.  Saying “yes” was a no-brainer.  These guys had been hunting these properties for 20 years and now they had invited me.  You just don’t turn that down.  I was honored and I gotta admit that as the date approached I was getting ever more excited.

Then November showed up with all its spitting nastiness.  The forecast was 40 mph winds, all day rain, and probable snow.  The day was going to start out cold and wet and windy and then it was going to get worse.  Plus I had a 3 hour drive each way.  I’d have to leave the house at 4:30 a.m. And I had to go to Southern Michigan.  Once the weather turns foul, excuses sprout easily.

I texted Scott the night before, “Still on for tomorrow?  Weather looks rough.”

You don’t want to look too soft here.  This is the first time we’ve hunted together and I sure as hell can’t wimp out because of a little rain.

“I’ll be there,” comes back.  Crap.  He’s gonna be a good hunting partner.  Other than my Dad, I don’t have one hunting partner that would’ve kept that appointment.

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So I pointed the headlights over the pavement at 4 a.m. to allow time for the elements.  I rolled South as easily as going downhill, got excited again, and made great time.  I’d never been to this part of the State before and after a certain point the entire trip, even though it was in the dark, was new to me.  That meant the trip home in the daylight would be new too.  It had been so long since I’d been somewhere new that I had forgotten the feeling.  It is eagerness and elation.  It is anticipation and attentiveness.  It’s cool.

By lunchtime we’d put up two hens and zero rosters despite the fine cover, great dog work, and continual downpour.  It was some of the most perfect and absolutely beautiful cover I had ever seen.  It was as pretty a piece of land that I ever seen anywhere in the country.  It was only three hours away and I’d never seen it.

I peeled off my soaked top layers (I wore a cheap raincoat that morning) in the bathroom at the tavern and put on dry gear.  My socks sloshing around in my boots were as hopeless as my dripping waxed-cotton pants.  Back on the barstool, I bellied up to one of the finest and biggest burgers that I’ve had in the longest time and it was cheap!  Like twenty years ago kind of cheap.   My hands shook from the deep-set cold as I hoisted the warm burger.  Man it was good.

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The wind picked up and you could hear the sideways rain pound the tavern windows.  It took all three of us pushing each other to get the gang out the door in and back into the field.  The day ended wetter and colder and with empty game bags, but I didn’t leave empty handed.  I saw a new piece of the world.  I found a killer burger.  I made new friends and thanks to them I didn’t wimp out.  It was a great day and a great adventure.

Do your best to have an adventure.

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Fish & Game Report

There’s lots to do this month.  The streamer bite is revved up with post-spawn trout sharking big baits.  And next week is Michigan’s Firearms Deer Season, so you’ll have the water to yourself.  Get out there and enjoy the outdoors.  It’s actually not bad if you layer properly and force yourself out the door.   Or better yet, force your hunting or fishing buddy out the door.

One thing I didn’t get to in the pheasant story is that even though the afternoon weather was worse than the morning hunt’s, I was largely comfortable because I geared up better.  I’m not usually a tech story type of guy but real is real and the truth is that I layered up with a fancy Simms shirt and covered up with a really fancy Simms rain parka and I was relatively comfortable.

(Note from Web Guy: You can find those and many other Simms products in our store. Ok, back to the good stuff...)

I certainly wasn’t hypothermic like I was at lunch.  I don’t like lots of extra bulk when I’m in the field—got plenty of natural extra already, so I usually pay close attention to layering.  It works.  I start with thin, tight fitting layers and add increasingly heavier, comfortable layers until I get to where I think I need to be.  I’m constantly changing the recipe for any number of different scenarios and when it’s right, it’s great.   If you’re unsure err on the side of a layer too many.  If you have to, you can always take it off.  Most importantly, use only synthetic or wool base layers (no cotton) and spend up for good stuff.  This is not the place to gear skimp, you’ll have a good piece for 20 years and you’ll be broken-hearted when it gets threadbare because it’s been so good to you.  We talked about this at the car when the hunt ended and Scott said that the wool shirt he had on had been with him for over twenty and it kept him warm again on another wet day.

Get out there and have some fun,

Andy

Comments

  • Pete Treboldi

    Good story

    Reply
  • Rob Woodland

    Surely, you are saving these for publication in book form, Andy. Thanks for another great essay.

    Reply
  • Leroy

    I got to get outside! That got me motivated

    Reply
  • john o'neil

    Great report Andy. Where (roughly) were you?

    Reply
  • Cid

    Good read, great job, excellent subject! A good partner will push you around that next bend, even when you are spent. That's when the really good stories start. "We were just getting ready to call it a day when"........ Thanks Andrew

    Reply
  • Andy, I've recently self-published a book about hiking and fishing in the Smoky Mts. I will try to sell it around town and to local folks who I have some contact with. I used CreateSpace (part of Amazon). It was really easy to trudge through the process of creating a cover, etc. The good part is that there's no big up-front investment. The process is free. You could do the whole thing and print only one copy of the book and would cost to less than $10. You ought to think about saving, combining, revising, whatever your reports and create a self-published book. You could sell it in your fly shop -- that's the hardest part about self-publishing... where/how will I advertise and sell it, other than online? Putting it on the front desk would be a great spot (if the owners will let you do it) -- could even make it a fund-raiser for AA, like the movie.

    Reply
  • Tim Cronk

    Hi Andy, another fun, interesting read. I look forward to your river report and always enjoy the subject. Looking forward to my return soon and getting outdoors. See you in the spring!

    Reply
  • Rick

    Andy - Great writing, and another great story! As I was reading, and being from Berrien County as I am, the Southwestern-ish most county touching the shores of Lake Michigan, and knowing well of a three hour drive from here up to Grayling, I was imagining, maybe hoping - was it perhaps our bit of the woods from where your tale hails? We used to have excellent pheasant hunting and cover, but now only intermittent pockets can be found here or there. No need to give it all away, I guess that would be too much to expect, but it would at least be good to know where a great, cheap burger can be got - even if it's not over here.

    Thx !

    Reply
  • Helms

    Glad to hear that you are finally getting away from the shop, even if the weather has been challenging. I am numb from all the cold wet outings this year - broke down and got cold weather Gortex.

    The Gransfors Bruks splitting maul worked great on the old and the wet logs we gathered for camp. Maul end came in handy,too. Will be pining for the small hatchet next fall.

    Reply
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