Wild Places

I remember many years ago a cousin from Missouri came for a short visit to my home here in southern Michigan.
I took him fishing to a small lake near me which in my world, is the customary thing to do. I wanted to take him to one of my favorite lakes that though diminutive in size held good numbers of large-mouth bass and very rarely was fished by others. It always had a remote feel to it and I enjoyed paddling a canoe around it near the shore line.I suppose  it was the stand of tamarack trees that lined the east end of the lake that made it seem more wild and remote than it actually was. Tamarack trees will do that. We had an enjoyable time and as I recall caught a few bass. After pulling the boat up on shore and taking care of gear I said to him that the next time he visited I would take him up north, to which he replied, "this is up north"!
  I have been to remote and wild places. I have been to Labrador which is probably as remote as any place in North America. That involved a long commercial flight and then a 100 mile float plane flight. It was a bucket list thing to do for sure,but I was at the mercy of an outfitter ,guides and a producer and had little or no say in our day to day planning and was also burdened with the responsibility of filming, and due to the poor fishing conditions ,the result of extreme hot weather, had virtually very little time to fish myself. This fact has bothered me more as the years go by then it did in real time, as this was on a lake that claims the title of having the largest brook trout in the world.
    I have always sought wild places.  I spent many years chasing whitetail deer in Ontario that I am sure was the most remote place on the planet that held big deer and was legal to hunt unguided for a non resident. That place was over a thousand miles from where I live and and then involved a 20 mile boat ride to the camp we used as a base. It was worth the effort and drew me back many times and as I write this, I can look up on my wall and see the results of those 'expeditions' preserved as a physical reminder of my effort and the satisfaction they still represent to me.
   Fishing in a remote place creates the same stimuli for me.  Always trying to imagine that maybe only a handful of anglers have been here, I find myself consciously not looking terribly hard for evidence that may  indicate otherwise. A moose track on a gravel bar in mid river has the opposite effect of a boot track, and stands as a barometer of wildness, and in Northern Ontario, it can mean wild native brook trout. And, if you are on certain streams that flow into Lake Superior, it can mean coaster Brook trout!
   The coaster, if you don't already know, is a Brook trout that lives off shore in Lake Superior and returns to certain rivers to feed and spawn. To somewhat clarify, these fish feed heavily on smelt at river mouths in the spring and travel back to flowing water in the fall to spawn. It is not clear as to whether these spawning fish return to 'birth waters' due to a genetic implant like salmon.
Research indicates unlike salmon,coasters appear to spend their big lake existence within a few miles off shore and may frequent river mouths to feed at any time based on available food source including hatches that would carry 'spent flies' to the mouth of the big lake.
It is fair to say that most, if not all of the rivers that flow into Lake Superior in Fisheries Management Zone 10, from Sault Ste. Marie to Wawa, have Brook trout through out the upper river system .
If you are not familiar with the topography in the Algoma District along the north shore, you would be very surprised to find the abrupt change that lies just 10 miles north of the Michigan border.
    This is very rugged mountain terrain that will surprise you with the elevation change and views of the big lake that occur so soon after crossing the border from Michigan that you will want to pull into one of the designated viewing areas along the highway to pause and adjust your mind , and try to slow down and take it all in. You probably will find yourself saying out loud, "I had no idea"! If you are a trout nut like me, you may become overwhelmed by the rivers you will cross as you drive north and declare to yourself or no one in particular, "I will fish this one day"!
I have spent the last few years exploring some of the more accessible stretches of the rivers that pass under the highway near the Lake Superior shore and asking a lot of questions to locals to gain some intel.
      The rivers between the Soo and Wawa all begin in higher elevations and tend to have steep gradient near the mouth of the big lake. That means that virtually ALL have waterfalls , gorges and series of Rapids that can be technical to fish to flat-landers . The upper portions of rivers I refer to means limited access and 4 wheel drive on bush roads that can be very rough and bumpy. If you do not have a need or a desire to push farther into the bush to find brook trout, if you are content to stay within the cozy comfort of a main road and share your fishing with other (local) anglers, it is still worth the time as the fishing may still be better than you are used to experiencing.
If you fish in the U.P., you will be familiar with the type of water I refer to and have fished water with a steep gradient. I liken it to the waters I fish in the mountains of Tennessee, except for the 'tea stain' color, much like the UP.
       I realize that all anglers not not have the drive or inclination to explore wild places that might take some extra effort and can have a element of risk. People are different, and fly fishing people tend to follow trends that satisfy their needs and I believe some even entertain the idea of exploring new places, yet are satisfied to do it "vicariously" through others that are driven to fish around the next bend as it were. I mean those less inclined to explore are still drawn to a good story told by those that do! As it stands I, for one, am grateful that the majority of anglers are content to share there favorite water with like minded folks and find happiness their. I also fish the AuSable.
These rivers of the north in the Lake Superior watershed are under fished by Michigan standards. It is not Labrador, though the far northern rivers above the "height of land" or the divide in the most northern portion of Ontario that sends its waters north to James Bay, such as the Albany River or the Moose River exist in a vast roadless area that may rival Quebec or Labrador for remote factor and Brook Trout. This northern tier is where woodland caribou and even polar bears roam.
    At a certain age or point in ones life, value becomes more significant. All things that have meaning have a value factor. If fishing is important to you, if it is the vehicle that takes you to a place of quiet and the peace you deserve, and you are of a certain age, then time has a great value.
I guess I have found value in a place that is not too far from home,not too expensive ,and has a somewhat convenient' wildness 'factor that puts me among moose and wolves and Brook trout.
I love Michigan. I love northern Michigan and its wild and beautiful rivers.
I also love the fact that our neighbor to the north allows me the privilege to explore rivers that Brook trout thrive in,and experience a culture that is friendly and welcoming.
    If you have a desire to contact me about a fishing trip to Ontario or Michigan, or advice on rivers in Tennessee, feel free to email.

Mark Karaba

The Fly Factor