Avery Lake 1996
I was quite worried that I would not get to go on my “fishing expedition” this year. Brother Mark long ago bowed out. He and Jo were planning a trip down south in the spring and he wouldn’t have the vacation time available. I tried to get John to go, but I was planning on camping in our tent and that was not very attractive to him. Luckily for me I ran into my old, old friend Mark at Ron’s house when we were visiting earlier this year. Mark has wandered in and out of my life over the years, but at this point I remembered that he was (at least at one time) a fisherman! Well, Mark liked the idea and he had a vacation week already set in June. This turned out to be the week of Linda’s family reunion. So we split the week. I would leave for fishing on Friday and come back Tuesday. We would then leave Wednesday morning for the reunion. This would make the fishing trip only three full days, but that is better than not going at all.
Later, Mark asked if he could bring his son, Joe. I had not seen Joe since he was a little kid, and now he was 16 and interested in going fishing with us. Sure thing, he could join our throng. Mark also was planning on buying a boat this year and would bring it along. Great! At the end of May, however, when I called Mark to make some final arrangements, there was some bad news. Joe was going to Disney World the week before our fishing trip and would not be back until Saturday. That meant that Mark and Joe would not be arriving at camp until Sunday night.
Linda felt that I should wait until Sunday to leave for fish camp, since I would be up there all by myself. But, I already felt that I had cut this trip short, so I was determined to go myself and just wait for Mark and Joe. I did up a detailed map so that Mark could find me at Avery Lake. This is where Mark (the brother) and I had fished last year, up near Atlanta, Michigan. Linda insisted that I bring her cellular phone in case I broke down on the road. On Friday, I packed up my Plymouth Sundance with my tent and put my canoe on top and left for the north woods.
The weather was warm, so I had the air conditioning on, and the miles passed pretty quickly. I had studied the route and I had been there before, so the path was familiar. I also had a great deal of anticipation. I hadn’t caught any “quality” fish yet all year. The steelhead trip I chartered had been a disaster from a fish catching point of view. I hadn’t gotten anything out of the Huron River, where I lived, yet that was worth noting. So this was going to be my opportunity to really tie into a large healthy fish, and I couldn’t wait. When I was almost to Avery Lake, I got to see an amazing sight. Flying along the roadway was a turkey! I had seen turkeys walking around up here before, but it was amazing to see such a big bird flying. By the time I finally pulled into camp, I was ready to go fishing.
This campsite has these great tent sites overlooking the lake near the boat launch area. Motorized campers and trailers can’t camp at the tent sites, so it is nearly always open. I was surprised to see another family there tent camping, but the site Mark (my bother) and I had had last year was open, so I took it. I really had an internal struggle to deal with. It was already 7 p.m. and but the lake was calm and inviting. Should I go fishing and set up camp later (in the dark) or should I set up camp first. I was very eager to get on the lake. I compromised and set up the tent but skipped dinner and dumped the canoe in the water and went fishing.
It felt good to be out on the water. The loons were about, making their weird calls. The sun was setting behind the wooded hills that surrounded the lake and I was nearly alone on the water. I dragged a Rapala lure a few times and caught a very small smallmouth bass. Not very exciting, but a good start. I switched to a jitterbug just as it started to get dark and soon got a smallmouth to snatch it off the surface. I measured this one and it was an honest 13 inches. My first decent fish of the year! So, floating on the lake in my canoe with the stars just brightening in the sky and the loons calling in the background, I pulled out Linda’s cellular phone and gave her a call. I told her I had arrived safely and had landed my first fish. When she found that I was calling from my canoe, she told me to get off the water because it was dark already! How did she know that?
Camp was a nightmare. The camp had filled up while I was gone. Even the remaining tent site had campers. It was late and I didn’t feel like cooking, so I just heated up some soup for dinner and washed it down with hot cocoa. I had trouble finding everything in the dark, since I had not set up the campsite. I couldn’t fill up my air mattress because my pump made too much noise and I discovered that the ground was littered with acorns when I laid down to sleep. However, I was tired enough after all of the activity to sleep pretty soundly.
The next morning I went fishing before setting up camp. I took my canoe to the shallows where there were lots of stumps to try my luck. I did get a couple of small fish, but I was sure there must be better. I noticed that a large number of mayflies had hatched in the water and were floating in a large “slick” moving across the water in a bunch. Fish were feeding on the floating insects, so I drifted over to where the action was. I tried my lures, but the fish just ignored me. They were apparently in the mood for insects. So I switched to my fly rod.
I am not a very good fly fisherman, especially from a sitting position in a canoe, however, I was determined to get the fish. I could see them in the clear water, cruising around the floating bugs. Linda had bought me some special bass flies that were made just for this situation, so I tied one on and “cast” it in. After a bit, I found that if I wiggled the fly just right, I could attract the bass. In a few minutes I had a large smallmouth on the end of my fly rod. What an experience! A fly rod is so light and smallmouth bass jump clear out of the water. I never would have been able to get the fish into the canoe without a net and I used it. This one was 14 inches. After I put it back I positioned myself ahead of the floating insects and I got another big one! Soon, however, the bugs all blew into extremely shallow water and the fish wandered off elsewhere, so I paddled back to camp for breakfast.
One of the reasons that the camp at Avery Lake appeals to me is that is should not appeal to most other campers. There is no sandy beach and the water is icy cold fed from springs, so no one comes there to swim. The lake is filled with stumps and fallen trees from the forest that was flooded when the beaver dam was enlarged by the cottage owners who own much of the land at one end of the lake. Boaters and water skiers would not like this lake either. It is located at the end of four miles of unimproved dirt road making it out of the way for casual campers. I have always figured that these facts would keep Avery Lake quiet and secluded, but I had not considered one important angle.
Several of the campsites included a apparent “off-road” club that had brought all of their whining dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles. The winding, unimproved roads and trails around the camp were perfect for their fun. All day long as I set up camp I could here them running through the hills surrounding the lake, kicking up clouds of dust as they rode. What an annoying bunch! Once I had camp set up, I (of course) noticed that I had forgotten some items. It was too hot to fish anyway so I jumped in my car and began to work my way up the winding dirt road out of the campsite area to get to town.
As I came on a turn, one of the four-wheel all terrain vehicles came hurtling around the curve. I slammed on my brakes and swerved off the road to the right. The other vehicle was in a four wheel slide coming right at the side of my car. My window was open, so I had a good clear view of the action. I was certain he would hit me, but at the last moment, within a few inches of my car, he finally slid to a stop in a cloud of dust. Immediately following him was another dozen vehicles, motorcycles and other four wheelers. They all saw the problem and had slowed down. I just let out my breath and moved on as they streamed off back into the campsite. I hate the thought of having to share this spot with them every year.
On the way back from town with my treasures, I got to see a mother deer and fawn just off the road near the campsites. I really love the wildlife. After dinner, (surprise!) I went fishing. I drifted past some weed beds, and whenever I could spot a fish hiding there, I would drop my bass fly into the water and hook the fish. This was very interesting! It seemed that, if I could see the fish, I could catch it with my fly rod. One fish spooked when I dropped my fly over his head, but he just circled around and came back to the same log. So, while he circled, I dropped the fly at the log, and when he came back, I had him! These were decent fish, 13 or 14 inches of active smallmouth, and lots of fun to catch on a fly rod.
Last year, fishing with brother Mark, a large smallmouth had leaped into the air, spit out my lure and escaped. I was sure that would have been the largest bass I had ever caught, if only I had gotten it hooked well enough. So that night, I went back to the same spot where I had lost him before and began to use the same lure I had used to almost hook him. It was even the same time of evening. I was sitting in deep water at a drop off casting into the weed bed in the shallows. It was a perfect night for fishing.
I had a fish! He tugged a few times and I set the hook hard. He wouldn’t get away from me this time! Now he raced straight for the canoe and I reeled in as fast as I could to keep the tension on. I could see the fish in the clear water in the shallows running along the bottom. He was big! He came straight towards me and then went straight down into the inky darkness of the deep water below the canoe. Without hesitation, my fishing line snapped! The fish had won again, this time taking my lure with him. I had made at least one fatal mistake. I had been using 8 pound line, which obviously was not a wise thing to do when looking for a big fish. I sat for awhile with my mouth open and then packed up for the night.
By this time the isolation of camp was getting to me. I don’t see myself as a very sociable person, but the hours and hours of time I spent without saying a word to another human being was weird. The camp was completely full and there were lots of people around, but I had no reason to speak to them. I built a campfire that night, sat by the fire and drank my hot cocoa before going to bed. In the middle of the night, I woke up. The wind was blowing and the air smelled like rain. I put the rain fly on the tent and fell back into bed. It didn’t rain that night, but the clouds moved in.
The next morning (on Sunday) I fished around the “loon” island, where the loons had been nesting last year. I was using my Rapala and catching lots of little bass among the logs and stumps in the shallow water. Off the one side of the island was a steep drop-off that led to the deepest part of the lake. I was floating near there and using my fly rod to get a fish I saw hiding in the deeper water, when I saw another big fish. The water is so clear, you can see right to the bottom. This one made the 14 inch bass I had been catching look small. He wandered away before I had a chance to try anything on him and I never saw him again. Maybe next year!
After eating, I decided to take a nap. The clouds were getting thicker, so I closed everything up before laying down. The next thing I remember was hearing Mark’s voice outside the tent. When I emerged, he introduced me to his son Joe and I helped them set up camp. I began talking and probably didn’t stop for days. It was such a relief to have someone to talk to. Mark had brought a tent canopy for over the picnic table. He also brought his new boat. It was a small, nearly flat bottom, unsinkable boat with a 25 horsepower motor and a steering wheel setup. After we set up, we launched the boat and went fishing.
We fished around the small island near the stumps. I was kinda nervous. I felt like I was the “host” and felt that they should be catching lots of big fish. There was another boat near us back in among the stumps that caught a big one and immediately afterward Mark spotted several big fish moving among the stumps. We didn’t get one, however. The weather started to turn ugly by the time we came in. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but the dampness was persistent. Luckily, Mark’s tent over the table gave us a reasonably dry place to congregate and cook dinner. It rained on and off all night.
On Monday morning, the weather still looked iffy, but since it wasn’t raining, I convinced Mark to take us over to the area around the dam. Avery Lake is an impoundment formed by building up an ancient beaver dam. The dam is on the far end of the lake near the area that has cottages. We worked our way into the weedy shallow area off to one side of the dam and did catch a few small bass. The weather didn’t improve and we were getting wet by the time we came in. During the day, while it rained, we took a couple of field trips. I took Mark and Joe to check out some fishing spots. There didn’t seem to be any good spots around town for fishing in the Thunder River. We also took a look at nearby Lake 15 from the old (now closed) campground. I also took them all the way around the “back” way into Avery Lake that brother Mark and I had “discovered”.
Another wildlife encounter we had was with a huge snapping turtle. This one was working it’s way across the parking lot at the boat launch at camp. I have never seen one this large out of water. Quite a sight.
Looking at a map, we found a bridge that went over the Thunder River downstream from town. Mark drove out there, and despite the many signs warning everyone to keep away, we stopped to fish under the bridge in the rain. It looked like a good spot, and soon Joe had caught a decent trout. Not long after, Mark caught a decent bass. But then, a car pulled into a nearby driveway and I suggested we move along before the local sheriff came looking for us. We went from there to a small stream farther south. There were definitely fish (I think trout) in that stream, but even though some bit, we didn’t land any. It was getting dark, so we called it a day. Despite the rain, we lit up the campfire and watched it from the protection of the tent over the picnic table.
Tuesday morning was my last day at Avery Lake. The weather was still pretty bleak. It was cold with a steady drizzle, but not enough to dissuade us from fishing. We targeted the island directly out (where brother Mark and I had stopped for lunch last year). There was a projection of shallows off one side of the island and we would slowly drift in the wind down along the side of the island. Finally, we started catching some fish. We cast Rapalas into the shallows around logs and weeds and caught several 14 to 15 inch smallmouth. We repeated the drift past the island several times and usually caught more fish. Finally, we let ourselves drift off into the stumps.
It was down there that we saw a peculiar thing. Off among the stumps, about twice as far as I could cast, there was a shape slowly moving. I’ve seen muskrats, turtles and other creatures move across the top of the water, and this was not one of those. Based on what I could see, it was at least two feet long, and probably could have been easily twice that long. It lingered for quite a while, swimming on the surface before disappearing. What I saw when it moved looked to me like a tail like a fish would have. What sort of fish, that size, would cruise along the surface in shallow water like that? Mark suggested that it had been a pike. If it was, it would have been a beauty. I guess I prefer to think it was Avery Lake’s version of the Loch Ness monster. While we were down in the stumps, one of the loons surfaced about 10 feet away from the boat. Beautiful. Unfortunately, it dived again before we could get to a camera.
I needed to get packed to go, so even though it was not really raining that hard, we started in. At that point, a bald eagle flew over the lake and settled in a tree not far from the boat launch. We were headed in that general direction, so Mark maneuvered us towards the eagle for a closer look. As we approached, the eagle took off over the lake. It was beautiful! Mark followed the eagle with the boat, but the eagle just sped up and left us behind pretty quickly even though Mark opened up the throttle.
Back at camp, Mark had promised a special breakfast. He had brought all of the fixings for a special dish that he makes on occasion. It has cut up vegetables and cabbage, mushrooms and fried sausage topped off with fried eggs. He made a huge pan of the stuff and we polished off every bit of it. It was great. I should get the recipe. Afterward I packed up my tent (still very wet) and canoe and headed back to reality. It was actually really hard to think about leaving, even though it looked like the weather was not going to let up. Mark tells me that it rained on and off until Saturday, but the fishing was fine and they had a great time. But I had other adventures planned, so I needed to get back home. So ended this year’s big fishing adventure.