I have a confession to make, and it’s that I’ve been looking forward to a entire week at steamins family cabin in northern Michigan more than I have any other trip of the year.
If you asked me if I wanted to go to the Seychelles, Chile, or BC instead, I can honestly say I wouldn’t have thought twice about replying with a quick ‘ no thank you, I have plans for this fall’.
At first thought, I tell myself I how just don’t know why I feel that way. But when I think more about it, it’s the rich memories that I have at steamins cabin that make the difference.
The smell of coffee’s just different, at 0445 when there’s anticipation in the air as we’re all planning to execute our plans we made around the fire the night before. There’s always eggs in the pan, and toast getting crisped.
Conversation always erupts once we get to our 2nd cup of coffee, but ends with “good lucks” as we still want to be in our spots before sunrise.
No matter the type of day, you can plan on sharing your experiences whilst looking at the fire, and listening to the sizzle of whatever’s cooking on cast iron in the open kitchen. 94.1, which I’ll go to my grave saying is the best classic rock station is always on accompanying your conversation. For the week it’s no longer 2020, you’re living in 1980 and the sound of steamin firing up his grandfathers old jeep every morning reminds you of that.
The river that flows nearby runs through cedar, hemlock, oak, and white pine. It’s gained slightly in popularity in the past 10 years, but what hasn’t changed is its rich micronutrient supply, its sophisticated brown trout, it’s undercut banks I think you could fit a small car in and never know it’s under there, and steelhead lies that offer challenges you don’t normally encounter out west, let alone the Great Lakes. Anyone’s that’s attempted to swing this river fully understands this statement.
The other thing that I enjoy about floating this river is the memories. You’d hate me for it, but if I floated you from town—- downstream for about 5 days of fishing I could talk your ear off and go foot by foot of every trout I or a friend has caught, big ones we’ve seen chase, runs that have an oh-so-sweet swing, and log jams that rumor to have the trout we dream of inside. I understand where trout live during the day, where they hunt at night, and the lies our migratory fish enjoy settling in. It’s a matter of putting in my time, reaching into mailboxes, and hoping that one of those reaches something will grab my hand in the uncomfortable darkness and make me feel like my entire bodies going inside along with it.
Bear and steamin came ready with their bows to hunt the prior knowledge they’ve accumulated on the surrounding public land. I had Nuya with me, and planned on taking her down the river everyday during my stay. I couldn’t wait to share my fishing days, with steamin and bears hunting Days back at the cabin.
We drove up on a Friday, and picked some pies up on our way.
The first few days were to be quite honest, as expected. They fellas saw a bunch of deer moving the first night and morning, but due to un seasonally warm temperatures things slowed, along with my fishings. I swung the lower stretches of river—- becoming bitter of new guides, several other boats that never seemed to float this stretch, gin clear water, and barely any fish.
This was ok though, because we had planned our meals in advance. 2 months in advance in fact. So we shared our days over:
Venison meatloaf, and garlic potatoes
Fried Walleye sammishes with home made tartar and slaw
Chorizo lasagna with a minced herb oil, one star salad, and garlic bread
We did see a foggy day in the forecast, and since there wasn’t many steelhead around bear and I went trout fishing.
In the flat shit water we have zero confidence in, bear had this rainbow swipe at his fly right when he was taking it out of the water. What I haven’t seen before In MI is when he reflexively slapped his fly back in the water 5 feet from the boat, it swam right to it, and ate it. Just like that. I suppose when you’ve seen that play out 50-some times you appreciate when the second half happens.
The warm hot weather, along with our luck needed to change though— and we were gifted a mid week wind storm which brought almost an inch of rain in a single hour. But, the windstorm changed things other than the anticipated hunting and fishing. It knocked a tree branch over a nearby power-line and steamins alpine black bear shoulder with collard greens preparation was interrupted with darkness.
It’s was phenomenal, after we made the necessary adjustments to our cooking and lighting situation.
The next morning I realized the storm certainly did change things. I put the shoe In early and had one of the more interesting floats I’ve ever had. I took a recent trip to the Deschutes river this fall to visit steamin/YPs and spent the entire time wishing a steelhead would be behind or in front of each new and promising rock I was swinging. This was different. Every run I swung, instead of seeing nothing like I had the 4 days before- I would spook 3-5 steelhead out of. When I was rowing to different spots, I’d see steelhead on inside bends, and other nondescript spots actively swimming upstream. I was reminded that instead of hoping for one fish that would rise 4ft to my dry fly, I had to convince one out of hundreds that the alewife, goby, and chum line dinner they consumed the other night wasn’t enough. I had to convince one the plethora of king salmon and coho eggs, all the smolt, and the sculpins were also not enough. And lastly, I had to present something that still caught their attention admits the millions of oak leafs getting washed downstream in the rising river. I caught nothing one run after another, becoming admittedly more frustrated after each run I’d spook fish out of that I just swung. I’m not sure why a float filled with so many fish frustrated me. But Its one thing catching nothing when there was barely any fish. I can get skunked under those circumstances all year. But when I knew they were there- that was different. I fished a small fly, a big fly, a flashy fly and a dull fly. Why wouldn’t any commit? Maybe I should’ve recasted and kept my fly in a likely travel zone. But the small chance that a piping hot chrome bullet fresh from the lake would collide with my bullet of pent up anticipation was too exhilarating to not keep stepping through each run, and trying each next good spot.
That night we shared stories at the local watering hole staffed with a small amount of surprisingly new, de-ecent talent.... “Yeah that’s not gonna last”....
The next day I planned to float a different stretch I’d hopefully see less boats on. You’ll never believe my thought process here, but I was thinking since I saw all those fish swimming upstream, maybe I should fish upstream the next day.
It was an especially crisp morning. It finally felt like steelhead weather. 3 deer blessed Nuya and I with some good medicine and watched me swing through my 3rd run of the morning. My fingers finally felt how they should when fishing steelhead in MI- which is a strange mix of burning pain and numbness, mixed with impressively slow joint movement and terrible dexterity.
I had reached the point where I was truly happy catching nothing as the sun came up and warmed us up. Beats the hell out of being anywhere else. So I stepped through each run confidently, focused on sinking my fly to the correct depth before I engaged each swing and enjoyed every cast.
I did this all day, with no interest in my offering.
I was getting toward the end of my float and got grabbed really damn good out of the very top of a quick run. I recasted multiple times with no luck. I decided to start stepping, and half way through my 3rd next swing my shock loop was torn from my index finger and thumb, and slapped against my rod right before my drag went off all while seeing a shiny chrome steelhead completely jumping out of the water shaking its head with my sculpin in the corner of its mouth. The sun was still shining bright overhead so it made every water droplet getting thrown off the fish sparkle. Nuya barked with excitement as the fish ripped more drag and jumped an unumerable amount of times. Every time I got it close it tore off on another hard run and aimed itself at the nearest log jam. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Nuyas body flying about 6 feet in the air jumping off of the high bank cannon balling into the river after the hot fish. She’s never quite done that before... Must’ve been feeding off of all my excitement. She swam back to the bank like a good girl and finally got so see what I was standing in the river for the past 5 days. That steelhead gave me everything I’d every want a steelhead to do, and more.
I fished one more spot but wondered if another fish would maker me any happier. I came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t, so I reeled my line up and pushed Nuya to the next boat launch as the sun came through the trees.
That night I planned to make a curry I made once before. What makes it so good is a toasted peanut and cilantro sauce, that covers your protein and potatoes that are seasoned with a home toasted garam masala blend with toasted coconut, peanuts, chilles, and other various Indian spices you grind up in your coffee grinder.
I was really excited to have this at deer camp, and put it on the table with excitement. My first bite I felt a sandy crunch, and heard similar sandy crunches coming from steamin and bear. They were too polite to say anything, but I questions what that sandy texture was coming from. I eventually found a few small stones in my curry as well. We went through every ingredient, and realized the cilantro I used was full of sand and rocks I washed off the leaves that became Intrapped in the stems. I love cilantro stems so tossed those in the food processor as well.
Dinner was then us scrapping off our newly discovered rock curry unto the trash.
There wasn’t much else to report, my wife got Covid and I had to come home the next day which then resulted in several other logistical changes with rides, Covid testing, etc. Nothing like a week of degenerate activities in the north woods to make you really feel out of place the following week too. All and all it was probably my favorite week of 2020. And looking forward to more now that steamins finally coming home hopefully for good.
Hoping steamin will weigh in with perhaps some hunting story, touch on the water heater, and Jack.