Wildwood Cafe

There are many exciting places to visit accross the country-side. Sometimes the adventure is right out the door, other times it is not even necessary to leave these 4 walls.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sand Lakes Vacation

Sand Lakes: Pre-Labor Day 2006

This year has been challenging in determining where I would spend my vacation. I wanted to have a little change-up from the big California vacations that I’ve had the last 2 years. I opted to take my vacation a little closer to home in Michigan. Initially I wanted to take a 2 week trip to the Upper Peninsula. Since then I’ve scaled back to take a weeks vacation with Amber at Sand Lakes, and take another week alone along the AuSable River towards the end of September.

Sand Lakes Quiet Area is a place that I love to visit. I don’t know of very many equal experiences that can be had across the state. There are 3 prominent lakes in this area. Sand Lakes number one is the most popular lake, and it is the 1st lake that is encountered on the hike in. There are many attractions to this lake. There are many trails to hike. This area is very dog friendly with lots of swimming and stick fetching opportunities. Campfires are allowed in this area. The fishing is very enjoyable on all 3 lakes. With the one requirement of a Camp Registration Card which can be picked up at an DNR office you are free to camp anywhere within the Sand Lakes Quiet Area.

I decided that I would bring my canoe with me. I actually prefer to use my float tube because it is much easier to keep stable when winds hit the lake. By keeping stable on top of the water the bait is much more natural to the trout which settle the cold depth’s of lake number one. However since my camping buddy Amber prefers to stay close to where I am, the canoe idea works a whole lot better. One of my preparations prior to leaving was to set up a crude way to include a second anchor. With my one anchor setup the canoe actually can do a 360 circle around the anchor point.

One of my primary considerations was to camp on the lake at a time when it would be the most secluded. I opted to arrive at the quiet area on a Sunday afternoon and stay there until Friday afternoon. The plan was to get to the lake just as the weekend crowds left for home, and leave just prior to the Labor Day weekend crowds.

4PM on Sunday: I left home to start my camping trip.

When I arrived at the parking lot I was surprised to see that I was one of 6 different vehicles that were parked at the trailhead. However I could see that 2 of these vehicles were ready to leave when I got there. I pulled the canoe off the Liberty rooftop; placed wheels underneath it, and loaded up all my camp gear for the week. It was fairly easy to haul everything down to the lake as the trail is mostly downhill.

It is always a pleasure to first view the lake as it breaks out of the woods, especially on a sunny day. The lake is a beautiful turquoise color. This sight was interrupted by a beige colored Labrador Retriever that came over to give Amber a dog greeting. Moving down the hill I was very happy to see that my favorite camping spot on the lake was unattended so I quickly set up camp.

My spot is almost invisible from most areas viewed from the lake. It is nestled away in a far corner. The best camping spot on the lake actually is directly across the lake from the entry point, but that spot is a lot more visible and is built for a family sized group of campers. The only downside of my campsite is that there isn’t an easy entry point to the lake, as the ground is quite soft and mucky as you get closer to the lakeside.

Looking out on the lake I could see that there was a group of 3 people fishing. I couldn’t tell whether they were staying overnight or not. I quickly found myself hoping that they were just there for the afternoon because noises do travel easily, and they had a radio blaring an oldies station in which the older guy felt obligated to sing off tune to.

After getting water from the pump I decided to take a quick hike over to lake 2. I could do some fishing and escape sounds of the bellowing old mule. At the lake I met up with a married couple who owned the beige Labrador retriever. They must have had the same idea that I had, minus the fishing part. The lady seemed a little unhappy about the concert on lake 1. I caught a couple small pan fish which I released and headed back to the campsite.

As I returned I was treated to the 2nd act of entertainment on the amphitheatre from across the lake. This guy’s son decided that it was his turn to step on stage. This little guy was excited about everything and he felt he should broadcast everything in high volume. From sounds of things there wasn’t a whole lot of fish catching going on, but when one of the small Perch or Bass were caught I had the full benefit of knowing every small detail about this from the catching to the cleaning of each fish.

For supper I opened up an MRE and quickly had a meal. My brother picked me up quite a few MRE’s from the time when he was in the Army. Some people might frown on the idea of eating Army grub while camping. Personally I think this compliments the kind of experience that I am looking for on one of my backcountry treks. After a lot of hiking I find that pretty much anything sounds great. An MRE at this stage really hits the spot, and I never have to worry about going hungry. The best thing though is the ease of cooking and cleanup. You just put a cooking bag in a pouch with a little water and in 10 minutes you are ready to eat. With Amber in audience cleanup is simple. There is little fear about having a lot of smell left to attract in the neighborhood varmints. I keep a plastic bag which I put the plastic MRE bag which in turn is filled with everything discarded from the meal. I hang this in a tree along with the rest of my food.

Around 9PM I was happy to watch Mr. Singing to the Oldies leave with his son Excita-boy. This was the time that I decided to call it an early evening. For the evening entertainment I started reading a book titled “Three” of which Ted Dekker is the author. The evening air was brisk. It was enjoyable listening to 2 owls that were hooting back and forth. The ground was a little uncomfortable in spite of the sleeping pad underneath my sleeping bag.

Monday: I woke up fairly late in the morning. I waited until there was a hint of sunshine that came over top of the trees. My routine consisted of starting up my one burner Jet Boil stove, which was a bit cantankerous, feeding Amber, then starting breakfast. Once the stove started up it boils water very fast. I had just enough time to empty instant oatmeal in my bowl and then place some mocha mix in my water bottle. On this camping trip I tried a product from Hills Brothers; English Toffee Cappuccino. This was extremely good; it now is on the top of my instant mocha list. Clean up for breakfast was very easy. Amber handled pre-rinse of my bowl; I cooked up some hot water, added some camp suds, scrubbed my bowl and spoon well, and rinsed this out with cold water.

As after any meal I walked back to the pump, filled up my water bottle and nalgene container and I was good to go.

The water on the lake was quite still to start the day. I wheeled my canoe to the best access point on my side of the lake. Amber jumped into the canoe, and I paddled to a deep area of the lake. I caught a small trout which I threw back. It was kind of slow fishing at that spot so I pulled anchor and tried another spot.

About the time I got there the wind started picking up. I decided that this would make a great time to test out a 2 anchor system. I’ve not yet made this very user friendly. I did string the front anchor line through the front hand hold of the canoe, but the anchor (2 window ballasts) itself was in the boat. In order to use the front anchor I had to walk my way to the front of the canoe and drop the line. This was slightly nerve-racking, not just the thought of emptying the contents of the canoe in 50 feet of water, but this had to be done while bypassing the dog which has her own idea of what counterbalance means (absolutely nothing). I discovered that I was fine until I got past the center yoke, because this is when Amber thought she also was supposed to switch ends of the boat. I insisted that she not follow me over top of the center yoke, which got me the hurt puppy dog look. I told her to deal with this, and things worked out alright.

I dropped the back anchor, and I must say that I wasn’t really happy with the outcome. I did not turn a full 360 with both anchors in place, but I did turn about 180 degrees. With this marginal improvement I was at least able to catch an occasional trout, which was pretty much as occasional as when the wind died down. The 1st 2 trout I caught at this spot were barely keepers, but I didn’t have a measuring tape with me. The 3rd trout came in around 13 inches so I was definite that this was a keeper. I actually was hoping for a smaller fish, but since it was about lunch time I decided that it was about time to eat.

I talked with a gentleman who told me that he frequently visits the lake as I arrived at shore. I do recall talking to him before as he has an interesting habit of arriving at the lake, taking a swim, and afterwards lighting a cigarette while sitting on the shore. He walked further down shore and I headed back to the campsite.

I made the decision to prepare my trout in aluminum foil accompanied with Old Bay Seasoning and Lemon. My side dish would be some Crisp bread (which my Uncle Jim always picks up for his Canadian trips) topped with some squeeze cheese.

Trout is so much easier to clean and cook at home. There may be some improvements to be made to my method but this is how I prepare the trout in the great outdoors. 1st I start the fire up, I included a few charcoal bricks that I brought from home to be a good hot bed. Next I cut a piece of Aluminum Foil which I place on something clean. I dig a deep hole with a trowel. With one hand I hold the fish; with the other I clean the fish over top of the hole. The guts, head and tail go into the hole. I rinse the trout with some water from my water bottle. The trout is placed on the aluminum foil. I insert squeeze butter, and other seasonings inside the fish, and also season the outside of the fish. This is rolled up and placed in the fire which is ready to go at that point.

When the fish was done the dinner smelled so wonderful, and I was definitely not disappointed with the meal. Normally I don’t make that much of a fuss in regards to an outdoor meal, but trout is a special occasion and it deserves the extra effort. Amber had the privilege of licking the foil clean but I threw the bones in the hole, and covered everything up. The only problem was in how to best get rid of the foil.

On that day I already was one step ahead of the above problem. I decided that I’d make a visit up to the car and take a trip to the Boardman River for my next fishing expedition.

My expectations weren’t very high for making any catches. My prior trip to the Boardman left me empty handed. Wading in the mid day on a fairly small river isn’t normally that productive. I opted to throw a spinner upstream and just walk back downstream when I had enough fishing. Amber didn’t really care much for the idea of walking behind me in the water, but was fairly well settled after a couple splashing romps. The water was quite cool, and the riverside scenery was very enjoyable.

I was excited to catch a small vivid patterned Brown Trout. Amber was even more excited than I was. Her mouth was chomping for the chance to taste my catch. When I released the fish her nose followed it into the water, and the water bubbled as she attempted to smell out the fish.

I kept working my way upstream. I occasionally caught my lure on overhead branches, the tight quarters were the main reason that I did not opt to fish with my fly rod. I made one cast that hung the line on a branch, and dangled the lure into the water. I jumped because a trout immediately grabbed my lure. I pulled the line free and I retrieved a very nice looking Brown Trout. It had been a long time since my last Brown Trout meal so I decided to put that on my dinner menu.

I had an early supper. I decided to cook my trout pretty much the same as before, but add this to vegetable pasta MRE, to make somewhat of a chowder meal. For the 1st time, I was not happy with the taste of an MRE meal. This was definitely not the fault of the trout, as it was excellent. The trout added to this MRE actually saved the meal.

I didn’t really want to chance a varmint encounter with the leftover aluminum foil, with the imbedded smell of dinner. I took the trash that I had up to my vehicle, and I drove up to M-72 to leave my garbage in a roadside park’s garbage bin. Since I was on vacation I decided that this would be a great opportunity to head into Traverse City to get a frozen mocha. Unfortunately the drive through coffee shop on the corner of M-72 was not open, so I drove further into town. I ended up stopping at a Dunkin Donuts, where I picked up an iced mocha.

When I returned to my campsite I tried a little bit of shoreline fly fishing, but nothing would take.

As night fell I once again started reading my book. That evening I had some trouble getting to sleep. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I did this to my self when I satisfied my mocha longing.

Tuesday: The next day I woke up a little earlier because I had planned to take a road trip to the upper Manistee River. When I walked out of my tent I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy the scene of thick fog on the lake.

I finished up breakfast and made the half mile trek up to my Jeep.

I arrived near the upper Manistee River around lunch time. I ate a lunch of Beef Jerky and trail mix at my vehicle.

Even though I had planned to use my fly rod on the upper Manistee, I ended up using my spin rod. My reasoning was that I had planned later that day to canoe the fly fishing only stretch below M-72.

I was very pleased with the easy wading of the upper Manistee. One of the things that I have been hoping to discover through the years are bodies of water that are easy to wade, as well as good fishing. The bottom of the river was primarily sandy, and there wasn’t a whole lot of natural structure for fish cover. The water temperature was definitely cool enough to make a trout happy, and my dog shiver. I am quite convinced that fly fishing the upper river would not pose any trouble. There is ample room for a back-cast.

As far as the spinner fishing was concerned; I was able to trick a couple small trout, but really nothing to get excited about. I have to believe that early morning, and late afternoon fishing would pay much higher dividends.

I left the Goose Creek area around 3PM, and stopped at the Shelhaven Canoe Livery. The canoe business was pretty slow that day. I was alone as I entered the Livery. They were very accommodating as far as me bringing Amber along with me. I was dissuaded from fishing the downstream stretch from M-72 because this required a pickup at a specified time. I picked the shortest trip available upstream of the Livery. The gentleman who drove the van talked a lot about dogs, and was surprised that Amber was the very 1st dog I owned. He slid the aluminum monster down some steps and Amber and I were on our own. I immediately found myself wishing that I had my own canoe as it was better in every way that I could think of. Amber of course decided that she needed to sit directly next to me, which left the majority of the shiny beast empty.
Once again I brought the spin rod with me. My reasoning for this was that I could just troll a spinner downstream to follow my canoe. A year or 2 ago this worked well with my friend Jason and I as we canoed the Ausable River.

I loved the scenery, but everything else was a complicated mess. The spinner drift idea just did not work because the river changed course too much. I hit things along the river going forwards, backwards, and sideways. I completely abandoned my spinner drift idea when I almost trapped myself in a sharp turn that had 3 standing trees and a lot of debris angled in the wrong direction with no way out. I paddled furiously and ended up colliding against the last tree in the line, which was just far enough to shake free of the trap. Every time the wind picked up the front of my canoe swung wildly in that direction, this was because all the weight was in the back.

With the burden of my fishing out of the way things started to smooth out considerably. I passed a group of canoeists that all were saying how much Amber looked like a dog that they had. I got to a point where I could manage all the river obstacles without panic.

Further along the river it ceased being a scenic beauty because both sides were lined with countless cottages. The fishing opportunities however looked much better. There were deeper runs, more log jams, and gravel on the river bed, which would be better for the hatching insects. I did see one big trout in this stretch in a deep run.

I decided that it was time to try a little fishing again. Noticing a couple canoes behind me I parked my canoe in a patch of mucky weeds.

I also noticed a couple dogs in one of the canoes. Both dogs were hanging over the edge leaving the canoe inches above the water. If not for the width of the plastic canoe they would all be in the water.

A lady in this canoe stated to me; “Your canoe goes much more graceful than ours does.” This gave me a little tinge of pride. I answered back “It really wasn’t very easy for the 1st few miles”. Before I could even revel in this moment Amber noticed the dogs in the other canoe and in one motion she tried to jump out of the canoe. Suddenly I found myself swimming in black muck, along with all the contents of my canoe. Trying to save some dignity I yelled back “See what I mean?”

I didn’t know which was worse, my predicament or my wounded pride.

This was quite embarrassing to flounder like this in front of the 2 canoes, but this also was the 1st time I tipped in a canoe since I lived near the Ausable River. I’ve been in a canoe many times since that time. I muttered “Why’d you have to do it Amber?”

I looked over my predicament. Everything was soaked including my “weatherproof” camera. The canoe was half full of black murky water. I saw a shallow ledge upriver. I trudged upstream with my canoe. I tried my best to empty the water from the canoe but I couldn’t get the right leverage to get much of it out.
I made the decision to head downstream, murky water and all. Amber didn’t want to sit in the water, but she didn’t want to move forward in the canoe either. With a bit of persuasion she did sit in the water, but with her sitting there all the water drained to our quadrant.

I had hoped to clean my canoe out in a flat stretch of the river, but the remainder of the trip had steeper banks along private property.

I did clean out the canoe when I arrived at the livery. I also made sure that Amber’s submerged half was cleaned in the river.

No one from the livery remained to make sure things were taken care of properly. The group that passed me earlier found themselves in a situation where they needed picked up from the campground they were staying with no way of contacting the individuals that were supposed to pick them up. I called information and got the number they needed to contact. One of them left a message with the place they needed to contact. I didn’t feel right about leaving them alone in their predicament so I offered to drive one of them to the campground they needed to get to. Thankfully things resolved that instant as their contact arrived at the livery.

I ate supper in Kalkaska. Initially I was planning to eat at an Arizona Steakhouse which was only about 5 miles from where I was camping, but I was very dirty and most likely smelly as well. I planned to clean up in the lake, as well as making sure Amber was cleaned up. Minutes after arriving however I saw a familiar sight walking in my direction, it was Mom and Dad. Amber was overjoyed to see Mom and Dad. She pranced in happy circles. I told them about the adventures of the day, and mentioned that my camera was no longer working. They talked to me about the upcoming camping trip that they were planning. Amber whimpered for a long time after they left.

I walked around the lake and talked with 3 people who were there to just enjoy the scenery, the stars in the sky and try to catch a fish. They had 2 friendly male Rotweiller dogs. A lady held one of these dogs because together they were a bit much for Amber. They had lawn chairs, and we talked for quite a while.

That evening I was alone on the lake. I once again read to the backdrop of hooting owls.
I could tell when I woke up in the evening that I was coming down with some kind of illness. I considered heading back Thursday instead of Friday.

Wednesday: I felt fine in the morning. Once again fog rolled on the lake, but it wasn’t as thick as the morning before. I determined that morning that if my worms were alive I’d fish on the lake, if they weren’t I’d go fishing somewhere on the South Boardman River. I was surprised to see that the worms were faring quite well in my cooler even without ice. Many of them made a jailbreak and were hiding in the bottom of the cooler.

I was on the lake around 9AM. Around noon I caught the fish that would become my lunch.
I made a slight variation to the Rainbow that I cooked for lunch. Instead of the Old Bay Seasoning I went with some Creole Seasoning. I know that Creole isn’t specifically meant for fish, but I do like the way this tastes better than the Old Bay Seasoning on fish.

Amber and I took a swim after lunch which was quite refreshing, and I felt much cleaner.

In the afternoon I took my fly rod and I headed over to lake 2. I found that the Sunfish liked a beaded nymph that I had. I caught quite a few pretty patterned fish. Amber decided that she didn’t like to the taste of the Sunfish that I caught, but she still wanted to chase them when I let them loose.

I could see some changes to a couple areas that were at one point maintained by beavers. The deep narrow trenches at the end of the lake were no longer were there.

When I walked to lake 3 I noticed that the beaver lodge was pretty well dislodged, and the water there was shallower. I did catch my biggest sunfish at this location.

On my way back to the campsite I observed that I had another set of neighbors across the lake from me.

When I got back I made a goofy decision. I opted for Beef Ramen soup over top of going to try out the Arizona Steakhouse, just a little ways down the road. Even with the Beef Jerky that I crumbled into the soup, dinner was served very quickly. I also ate some of the extra things I didn’t get to from the MRE’s. Without a doubt the steak dinner would have made a better choice.

That afternoon I decided to just take it easy and read in my campsite. My boat cushions made a fairly comfortable chair. I heard some coyotes yipping in the distance so I made some extra precautions to avoid attracting them into my campsite.

As it started to get dark I outfitted my fly rod and I headed out to the center of the lake. I figured that the best time to catch a trout on a fly would be towards evening. Many fish jumped around my canoe, but nothing was fooled by the fly on the end of my line. I overheard an old guy across the lake say “You can’t catch a trout in this lake using a fly rod like that guy has”. I chose to ignore what he said. I figured that I eventually would show him that you can indeed catch a trout out there on a fly.

The water out there was very still. With the fading rays of light it was turning a beautiful emerald color. More time passed by and I still hadn’t caught anything. By this time a father and son from the shoreline had launched their Jon Boat, had a lantern shining and were starting to catch fish.

While I was casting my fly after dark, several bats pursued it across the air. I figured after a while that I had a better chance of catching a bat than I did of landing a trout. Around 10PM I gave up, and headed back to shore. This day I would not land my 1st Sand Lakes trout on a fly.
Once again that evening I felt a touch of sickness coming on. I determined that I would break camp the next day.

Thursday: In the morning I checked on my worms. I was quite surprised to see that they were alive and well. Once again a few of them broke free of the carton which had a small broken edge. I decided that I would try catching a few trout to bring home to eat with my parents.

I took my tent down, and allowed my ground cloth to dry off from an overhanging branch. Everything was set up for me to load it up in the canoe after I was finished fishing.

The wind was fairly stout that morning. My canoe started doing circles out on the water. I gave my 2nd anchor one more try. This time around I set my rear anchor 1st. I worked my way forward in the canoe. I waited until the canoe was pointing in a direction common to where the wind preferred to push it, and then dropped the anchor.

The results this time around were much better. The canoe only swung an angle of 45 degree, instead of 180 degrees in which the canoe swung the 1st time around with both anchors.

A little after noon I caught my 3rd trout and I paddled back to shore. I packed the trout in my cooler, and I packed everything into the canoe which now had a set of wheels underneath it.

The trip back as always is quite a bit more difficult. I stopped many different times to give my arms a rest. I talked several minutes with an elderly gentleman and his grandson. When I arrived at the vehicle the 1st thing I took care of was transferring my fish from the portable cooler to my portable car cooler. As I packed things away in my vehicle I talked to several people who had questions about Sand Lakes, or my canoe carrier setup.

I celebrated my departure with a cold Diet One pop that I took from my car cooler. This was not near good as ice cream, but it is a joy to taste of civilization once more.

Note: Picture above is not actually from this trip as my camera is presently out of commision.


At 8:22 PM, Blogger Jemit said...

wow!!! I just love reading your journals.. once I get started, I can't stop.. gotta read the whole thing. You need to put all your journals together and publish them. Great stuff!!!

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Paul Imm said...

Thank you Aunt Marilyn.

I do enjoy sharing some of my little adventures with people that I know. Sometimes the experiences can be quite unpredicatble.
Thanks for your encouragement!


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