Tag Archives: ausable

Paddling Otsego’s chain lakes

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor to GaylordMichigan.net

There’s a body of water in southern Otsego County where a long-running commercial comes to mind when exploring its far corners.

You know the one, with a battery-powered bunny cruising around beating a drum? The pink rabbit with black sunglasses and blue flip flops? Of course you do, and chances are the slogan is pounding its way through your head right now.

On maps, the waterway marked as “Chub Lakes” and drawn as a tightly packed clump of separate water bodies is actually a network of seven interconnected lakes, narrows, creeks and culverts. With a canoe or kayak and a bit of time, a determined explorer can paddle forever here, muttering “it keeps going, and going, and going,” the whole way.

A few years had passed since I last ventured through the chain of lakes, so when Paige told me earlier this month she wanted to go for a canoe ride, I figured it was the perfect time to revisit the waterway.

Paige cruises in the front of the canoe. Photo by Chris Engle

We put in at the ramp on Chub Lake, a narrow public easement where Chub Lake Road comes off Old State and runs right into the water.

Just a few yards off shore, one of the lake’s defining qualities is revealed: steep drop-offs give way to tremendous depths. In an instant, the lake goes from a few feet deep to more than 60. It’s this deep, cold water that makes the lake a good candidate for stocked trout, and the Department of Natural Resources plants rainbows regularly.

There’s not much to see in the deep middle of the lake, but cruise quietly in a canoe or kayak along its shorelines and you’ll see deer, blue herons and ducks. When it’s calm, the clear shallows are prime for casting plugs to huge largemouth bass cruising the lily pads. Having a fishing rod is always a good motivator for exploration.

Just a few minutes into our float, I saw Paige settle into her spot in the front of the canoe. She held the bent shaft of a warped wooden canoe paddle in her little hands but didn’t use it.

“Ahh,” she sighed. “This is so peaceful.”

This is what had me coming back to Chub Lake often after discovering it 12 years ago. I never caught much for fish here, and it’s not very “wild” since about half its shoreline is developed with houses and cabins, but the surrounding hills and cedar-lined shore make it seem like a place plucked from the Pacific Northwest.

Photo by Chris Engle

This quality carries over to Bridge Lake, the easiest neighboring body to reach via a shallow, narrow canal at Chub Lake’s far end. It’s in this channel where you can see how the lake got it’s name: huge schools of creek chubs swarm in the gentle current of this bait-fish nursery. It’s common to see a heron or two hunting the channel, catching fish with its spear-like beak.

The channel opens up to Bridge Lake where Paige and I silently drifted past a solitary loon just as it rose up and stretched its wings. These curious birds generally don’t mind onlookers, so long as you don’t get too close with a motorboat.

A common loon rears up to stretch its wings on the surface of Bridge Lake in southern Otsego County. Photo by Chris Engle

After passing the loon, we cut across the deep middle of Bridge Lake to a hidden culvert on its western shore. What looks like little more than a drain pipe is actually the only way to continue exploring the lake chain by water.

Her head ducked low and fingers tucked safely inside the canoe, Paige was first to go into the corrugated steel pipe as I pushed our way through against the current. She giggled and brushed away spider webs – and spiders – as we made our through the 20-foot length of tube running beneath a dirt road.

Ducking through the tube. Photo by Chris Engle

We emerged into sunlight and another small lake, where we paddled around for a bit before turning back and shooting through the pipe again for Paige’s amusement.

Had we kept going, we would have ended up in Belmore Lake, the fourth and final public water body in the chain.

Three other lakes connect to the system but are fenced off by order of the state supreme court, which favored private landowners over public access in a ruling handed down decades ago. It’s my hope that, someday, these three lakes will be reopened, putting the entirety of Otsego County’s largest lake chain back in public trust. Only then will you be able to keep going, and going, and going.

A damselfly perches on a cattail stalk. Photo by Chris Engle

We coasted back to the boat ramp two hours after we’d left, and Paige piped up with her sentiment.

“That was a nice canoe ride,” she said.

Yes, yes it was.

Chris Engle is an outdoorsman, freelance writer and stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

‘Tie One On’ to beat winter blues

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor

***Please note: Due to poor road conditions, the ‘Tie One On’ event scheduled for the evening of March 2, has been canceled. The next event is still on for March 16.

Any indication that spring is near has literally gone out the window – I’m looking out one right now and the few patches of bare ground out there have disappeared under a blanket of heavy snow. The lion of March’s slogan, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” is tearing through Northern Michigan today.

Thankfully, a cure for the winter blues is coming up again on Thursday, March 2. It’s the next round of “Tie One On,” a free fly tying workshop hosted by the local Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. It takes place at 6 p.m. at BJ’s Restaurant & Catering on North Center Ave., just past Otsego Memorial Hospital.

Sofia Messinis, of Gaylord, wraps thread around a fly. "I have a kit at home but I haven't tied in a while," she said. Photo by Chris Engle

Sofia Messinis, of Gaylord, wraps thread around a fly. “I have a kit at home but I haven’t tied in a while,” she said. Photo by Chris Engle

The workshop is usually attended by a mix of young and old anglers learning new fly patterns or practicing old ones. The skill level is mixed too – tying equipment is provided to those who don’t have it, and fellow tyers are eager and willing to help those who need a hand. Nonmembers are welcome, and food and drink is available for purchase in an open and inviting atmosphere.

Alex Cerveniak sits at his tying station with a completed fly. He aims a camera at his vise as he works and projects the feed on a screen so others can follow his steps. Photo by Chris Engle

Alex Cerveniak sits at his tying station with a completed fly. He aims a camera at his vise as he works and projects the feed on a screen so others can follow his steps. Photo by Chris Engle

At the workshop two weeks ago, Gaylord’s Alex Cerveniak, president of the TU chapter and owner of Northern Michigan Fly Fishing, used a camera and projector to demonstrate how to tie a rubber-legged stonefly. A live video feed of his fingers and tools at work was projected on the big screen for all others to follow. The pattern was fairly simple, taking only a few minutes to complete, and covered several of the basic techniques needed on any given fly.

Prior to Cerveniak’s demonstration, Gates AuSable Lodge owner and fly-fishing celebrity Josh Greenberg gave a presentation about fishing the AuSable and Manistee rivers in wintertime. Each workshop hosts a speaker and unique fly tying demostration – on Thursday it’s Russ Maddon, fly innovator and guide with Hawkins Outfitters, followed by demonstrations on tying a glo bug and San Juan worm. See the entire series schedule here.

All the flies you tie there are free to take home and, if spring ever comes, you can even try to catch something on them!

Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited is hosting their annual banquet at Ellison Place in Gaylord April 22. Tickets and more information are available here.

Chris Engle is an outdoorsman, freelance writer and stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.

Paddle the Jordan or 5 other rivers

Out See Go by Chris Engle, contributor

Have you seen the new fountain on the lawn of the Otsego County Courthouse? It’s been a busy spot this summer as a gathering place for Alpenfest revelers and as a place where teenagers chase virtual Pokemon characters with their cell phones. A prophecy made during a push to make Gaylord more friendly to pedestrians proclaimed that a water feature in an otherwise dry downtown area will draw people in – and the prophecy has been fulfilled.

But there’s something you may have overlooked about the fountain which consists of a granite boulder set over a circular pool. Five streams of water occasionally leap from the pool and splash onto the rock, sending rivulets trickling down the giant stone in all directions.

That’s the key: Five streams.

The design phase of the courthouse lawn project took input from the people of Gaylord and a recurring suggestion was for a fountain which would, in some shape or form, represent the waterways that originate in Otsego County. Five streams – the AuSable, Black, Manistee, Pigeon and Sturgeon rivers – all start here. It’s something we’re proud of and the new fountain is a way for us to spread the word to visitors to our town. So far the message has been well received.

There’s one stream that’s not represented by the fountain because it is just slightly outside the borders of our county. Even so, I still consider the Jordan River as one of ours – maybe even moreso than the AuSable which is rightfully claimed by the trout-centric town of Grayling to the south.

I’ve written about the Jordan River before so I won’t go into detail about how it is born from ice-cold springs near Elmira, winds through 18,000 acres of wild forests, feeds a federal hatchery’s 3 million lake trout with fresh water and empties into one of Michigan’s largest inland lakes – Lake Charlevoix, with 62 miles of coastline – at East Jordan.

Wide enough to float in a canoe or kayak, the Jordan River still has plenty of obstacles to maneuver around. Photo by Chelsea Engle

Wide enough to float in a canoe or kayak, the Jordan River still has plenty of obstacles to maneuver around. Photo by Chelsea Engle

Instead, I’ll take you on a short float of its midsection by canoe, which my wife and I did last weekend to beat the heat and you should too as long as this hot weather persists.

We dropped the canoe at Webster Bridge, about six miles south of East Jordan as the crow flies, then spotted my car about four miles downstream at Rogers Road. Unless you want to hitchhike back upstream to your starting point – thumbing for a ride in the midday sun on the shoulder of M-66 is not my idea of fun – then you’ll need to take two cars and park (spot) one at your planned end point.

Webster Bridge, a popular put-in spot on the Jordan River. Photo by Chris Engle

Webster Bridge, a popular put-in spot on the Jordan River. Photo by Chris Engle

There were about a dozen people either putting in or taking out at Webster Bridge when we got there and loaded our canoe with fishing rods, snacks and sunscreen. The blazing noontime sun had no apparent effect on the spring-fueled river which stays somewhere around 50 degrees throughout the summer and stings with your first step in.

“Don’t worry, your feet get numb after a few minutes,” a man joked from his canoe pulled up at the bank.

With a light shove from the bank we were immediately carried away in our canoe. Just 20 feet wide and two feet deep, the Jordan is deceivingly swift. We drifted at a fast walking pace without paddling and often had to steer around deadfalls or under overhanging cedar trees. Snagging on one of these obstacles could easily cause the canoe to roll over and that’s why our camera, phone and keys were locked in a water-tight dry box in the middle of the boat.

In an instant I saw Chels relax in her seat and start to take in the sights and sounds of her first ever river canoe trip. This was only my third time floating a small river – and the second time on the Jordan – and I was falling right into relaxation mode with her.

The Jordan River flows under a canopy of overhanging cedars but plenty of sunshine still makes it through in the middle of the day. Photo by Chelsea Engle

The Jordan River flows under a canopy of overhanging cedars but plenty of sunshine still makes it through in the middle of the day. Photo by Chelsea Engle

It’s hard not to get caught up in the scenery of wildflowers, dancing damsel flies and singing blue jays. Every so often a submerged log slams the keel and jars your attention back on where the current is taking you. There’s a lot to take in because, thanks to the current carrying you swiftly along, the scenery is ever changing.

The only fish photo we managed to get the whole trip -- the small but spunky trout like to jump and throw the hook. Photo by Chelsea Engle

The only fish photo we managed to get the whole trip — the small but spunky trout like to jump and throw the hook. Photo by Chelsea Engle

Fishing from the canoe is difficult as I could only get one or two casts in under the low-hanging branches before I had to change our course with my paddle. If you’re in to trout fishing – and there are plenty of spunky brookies and browns ready to test your ability – then I recommend pulling up to a sandbar and working the river’s deep pools and undercut banks that way.

In two hours we’d covered about 4 or 5 miles of river and had stopped a couple times to cast, swim and snack. We moved slower than everyone else – about 15 kayaks passed us on the way – but our butts were just starting to get sore in our seats when we pulled up to our end point.

A giant willow marks the take-out point at Rogers Road. Photo by Chelsea Engle

A giant willow marks the take-out point at Rogers Road. Photo by Chelsea Engle

The Jordan – and all the other area rivers for that matter – have outfitter services that will gladly set you up with a canoe, kayak, tube or raft for the day and give you a ride to/from the river, making spotting a car or hitchhiking unnecessary. This weekend is going to be another hot one, so pick a river and stay cool.

Information on rivers, outfitters and rentals: http://goo.gl/AYmGhR

Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman and outdoor columnist. He is a stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. Contact him at englemobile@gmail.com.

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Out, See, Go: Josh Greenberg & his rivers of sand

By Chris Engle, outdoor contributor

Through my work as an outdoor reporter I’ve met some truly special people. Josh Greenberg is one of them.

It was at Gates AuSable Lodge about four years ago where I first met Greenberg. He was a spindly fellow with a 5 o’clock shadow, pacing circles around a long table where a dozen men were tying flies. He stopped every so often to chat with one of the guys as they wrapped the tiny hook clamped in their vise with string and bits of feathers.

Josh Greenberg

Josh Greenberg

That particular morning of tying was devoted to veterans of war in the Middle East. The goal was to tie as many flies as possible and donate them to veterans who fish the AuSable. One fly pattern which caught my eye had a red- and blue-striped body and white wings, appropriately named the “patriot.”

Some guys were new to tying and Greenberg was there to help. In fact, tying flies is exactly how Greenberg eventually came to own the legendary fishing lodge. He said so during a talk about his book, Rivers of Sand, at Otsego County Library this week.

Greenberg grew up in Ohio the son of two teachers. His father was a fishing addict and planned epic, cross-country family vacations around fishing outings.

“Dad was a fisherman first and fly fisherman second,” Greenberg said, explaining how his own enjoyment of catching fish on flies, spinners or through the ice is hereditary. “I came to fly fishing through fishing and I still like all kinds of fishing.”

Between family trips, Greenberg honed his casting skills by trying to hook rocks in his yard. He admitted there wasn’t much else to do in Ohio, so imagine his excitement when his parents considered buying a cabin on the AuSable River.

“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I ran down to the river and there was a big caddis hatch going on. I saw two trout rise at the bend. I ran back to my parents saying ‘We gotta get it, we gotta get it!’”

At age 15 Greenberg landed his first job: tying flies for the shop at Gates AuSable Lodge. People who tie flies sell them to the shop by the dozen or sometimes by the hundreds, and each one must be done just right or fishermen won’t buy them.

Greenberg went on to study writing in college. He focused on fiction but was eventually approached by a publisher seeking a nonfiction, how-to sort of fishing book. He signed the dotted line.

Right around that time in 2010, after lodge owner Calvin “Rusty” Gates died of cancer, Greenberg was presented the opportunity to buy the lodge. He tried to back out of his book deal to make the purchase.

“It was at that moment I learned what a contract means,” Greenberg joked.

He and his wife, Katy, bought the resort and he kept his word with the publisher. As a new father, husband, mortgage holder and fishing addict, Greenberg still managed to hold it all together and wrote his book during the “cold and lonely” Decembers of 2011 and 2012. I can’t even imagine his stress level but Greenberg is a noticeably chill dude. Maybe the stress is what keeps him so skinny.

Out of two solid months of writing through the night, drinking pot after pot of coffee, Rivers of Sand was born.

Rivers of Sand by Josh Greenberg

Rivers of Sand by Josh Greenberg

He describes the book as a collection of “essays with utility,” pairing his own experiences on the river with tactical advice on ways and means of catching trout. Just like the river, his book flows from the headwaters of the AuSable River to Lake Huron.

“Sable” is the French word for sand and rightly describes the geography of the river and its upper reaches. Greenberg calls the river a “premier, but cruel, fishery” sought by people from as far away as Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

“Michigan is such a unique fly-fishing state,” Greenberg said of its diverse fishing species and methods. “There’s nothing like it in the country.”

Greenberg plans to write another book focused more on the experience of trout fishing and less on technical know-how.

MY FINAL WEEK at the Gaylord Herald Times in April 2014 was spent tying up loose ends and bidding farewell to the people on my various reporter beats. The week also came with a sense of “seniorotis” – the disorder you get in the waning days of high school where you can just slack off and get away with it.

What better place to slack off than on the banks of Northern Michigan’s most beloved river?

I drove down to Gates AuSable Lodge on a rainy April morning with my editor and friend and bought a copy of Greenberg’s book with the newspaper’s money. He signed it and I gave it away through an online contest.

Greenberg chatted with me a while from behind the counter of his fly shop where he looks right at home. He promised me a trip this summer and I won’t pass up that opportunity to fish his river of sand.

Learn more about Gates AuSable Lodge and Greenberg’s book by visiting gateslodge.com. Chris Engle is an avid outdoorsman and stay-at-home dad who lives in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at englemobile@gmail.com.