Fish and Chips, Michigan-Style

When I'm not making birdies I'm fishing in Michigan or the Florida Keys. A record Mangrove Snapper....for me.

We may not wish to admit this, but golfers and fishermen are a lot alike:  we prefer good weather but will tolerate the bad and downright inhospitable; we tackle the well-known venues but search out our own little secret places; we can play by ourselves yet having a trusted buddy or two along for the golf or angling encourages unspoken silence which bonds friendships; we pour over new toys and tweak our equipment to get that little extra bit of performance; we exaggerate the events of our rounds and the size of the ones that got away;  golfers and anglers are both approachable.  What fisherman has ever not answered ‘having any luck?’ with an honest quip?  Golfers will offer the same courteous small talk – but don’t ask after you’ve seen someone four-putt the 18th.

Michigan astronaut Jerry Linenger said there were few landmarks that stood out while orbiting the Earth aboard Russian space station Mir. One was the Great Wall of China; another was the outline of Michigan, resplendent in greens and blues as well as the sapphire circles and streaks of over 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, which prompted his move to Traverse City once he landed.  That’s reason enough to look at some ‘stellar’ northern Michigan destinations.

Traverse City, Michigan.....who wouldn't want to live there?

Astronaut Jerry Linenger, homegrown in Eastpointe, Michigan

Manistee National Golf Club is part of a relatively new consortium, Osprey Recreational Properties whose tagline is ‘We Are Michigan Golf”.  A bold statement, yes, but Osprey meets the challenge with the two courses at Manistee seemingly named after golf faults, Cutter’s Ridge and Canthooke Valley, though one would hope Canthooke would not apply to the nearby angling as well.

Architect Jerry Matthews’ Cutter’s Ridge and Canthooke Valley, designed by Gary Pulsipher are quite different in design but are both environmentally sensitive;  Canthooke Valley is more traditional and playable with few forced carries and minimal wetlands – though the 14th hole has guardian waste bunkers and ‘canthooke’ transforms into ‘must-hook’ in order to negotiate the hole.  Cutter’s Ridge has the wetlands Canthooke lacks and is the gentler of the two courses.

If you’ve had it with trying to stay out of wetlands and water while playing golf, the Manistee area provides superb opportunities to submerge yourself for great fishing on the Manistee River, which is famous for brown, rainbow (Steelhead) and brook trout, smallmouth and rock bass. Its Indian name, Manistiqweita means ‘crooked’, a characteristic which translates into great fishing because of the constant flow and movement with pooling at the bends and twists bringing an abundance of food.  Fish love when their dinner comes to them.

The Manistee is regarded as one of the country’s best and most stable rivers.  What makes it so special?   Fishing expert Ray Schmidt, of Schmidt Outfitters in Wellston, explains:

“The water quality of the Manistee remains excellent despite any bad rains or natural disasters because of the flood plains and soil type.  Also, there is no industry or man-made pollution along the river.  More importantly, the Manistee is protected by two government programs: The U.S. Forest Service deems it a ‘Wild and Scenic River’ and the state claims it for the Natural River Act”.

A Steelhead from the Maple River in hand.....

Trout love the cool and clear waters of the Manistee.  Other unique migratory fish like prehistoric White Lake sturgeon and Chinook Salmon swim in from Lake Michigan continuing up toward the Tippy Dam.

Complete guide services for catch-and-release only are available. Schmidt Outfitters is located in the heart of the Michigan Century Circle, a 100 mile radius of wildlife, rivers, ponds, streams, and backwoods.  Owner and Founder Ray Schmidt can be reached at 888-221-9056 or 231-848-4191.  The website, www.schmidtoutfitters.com is a wealth of information including river conditions, reports, equipment, what’s biting and when.  A female fly-fishing instructor, Kate Smith, also an avid photographer, will inspire more women to embrace the spirit of the outdoors.

Manistee National Golf and Resort is located at 4797 US-31 S., Manistee, MI 49660; or call 231-723-8874;   Consider the Stay-and-Play packages at Manistee National’s website, www.manisteenational.com.   To book a tee time, call 800.867.2604.   Check out the junior programs, including age appropriate golf camps for kids even as young as 5-years-old.

Meandering up toward ‘Big Mac’, a magnificent suspension bridge which separates Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, a truly ‘hidden’ gem awaits in Brutus:  Hidden River Golf and Casting Club.  The ‘Golf’ may be on the premises but professional fishing guide Tony Dunaske prefers the nearby Pigeon River State Forest for great fishing, nature watching, and solitude.   Limited fly-fishing is permitted on the Maple River, which runs through Hidden River in spectacular fashion, but to catch trophy fish, you need to get off the beaten path.

“I take a lot of dirt roads, really two-tracks, to get to my favorite spots.  You don’t find fish off of a paved road,” said Dunaske, who spent 3½ years in Alaska and 45 years as a guide and teacher.  “People in Michigan are spoiled because we have so much more access here than in Alaska, where you have few roads and have to fly most places to get good fishing.  The weather plays a big factor and it is expensive.”

Dunaske charges about $125 – $300 per person for half-day excursions, lasting 4-6 hours, depending upon your needs and the number in your group.  All fishing gear, tackle, bait, and food are provided.  You need to bring a one-day fishing license, polarized sunglasses, billed hat ideally covering the neck and ears, khaki slacks and a long-sleeve shirt.  Shorts are not recommended because you’ll be donning waders and bugs will eat your arms alive if left exposed.  Other items suggested include a first aid kit, insect repellent, plastic garbage bags, an extra knife, rain gear, and a source of fire.

The biggest mistake people make?

“People believe too much of what they read in books and see on TV about where to place the fly.  Fly-fishing isn’t like A River Runs Through It and doesn’t require big muscles and major throwing.  It’s a gentle action which can be picked up,” said Dunaske.

About 70% of his clients are novices; women are much better students than men.  He added, “They listen better and are not driven by a quantity quest; however the frustration level is the same as men if they aren’t catching anything.”   Looks like another similar golf comparison, Tony!

Day's end at Hidden River: table for two 'al fresco' style at the Rainbow Room

When you’ve had enough water action, check out the W. Bruce Matthews III designed Hidden River Golf and Casting Club, rated 4½ stars from Golf Digest.  The Maple River is prominent as 1.5 miles of it winds through the 7101-yard layout.  Great conditioning, a nice mix of pines, links and dunes on the middle holes, and hardwoods with some elevation mixed in provide a perfect venue for a challenging yet relaxing round.  After golf, the Rainbow Room terrace overlooks the river, where you will enjoy fine northern Michigan cuisine (translated: fresh fish) as you watch the anglers try to catch some. On Tuesdays, sit outside and enjoy the entertainment or ‘Music on the Maple’.  It should come as no surprise that the Rainbow Room was selected by PGA Travel Magazine as one of the top 4 golf course restaurants in the Midwest in 2008.  Stop in on Fridays for Seafood Night to enjoy fresh Michigan Walleye, Rainbow Trout, Salmon Fillet, and Great Lakes Smoked Fish Chowder.  Hidden River G&CC is located at 7688 Maple River Rd., Brutus, MI 49716 but is now part of the Boyne USA family.  Call 800.325.GOLF (4653) or 231.529.4653, or log onto the website at www.hiddenriver.com.  You can also call 1.800.GO.BOYNE.

However, if you want a taste of genuine up-north hospitality, make reservations at The Crooked River Lodge, a bit south at 6845 U.S. 31 North, in Alanson, MI, about 15 minutes from Hidden River.  You will not find a more friendly, family-oriented place to stay, mostly due to the down-home attitude of owners Ken, Sharon, and Mike Pressey.  Built of logs harvested on the Pressey family’s property, a huge and open atrium and great room, complete with a 3-story fireplace, overlooks the Crooked River.  Resident dogs affectionately greet guests as they arrive; and a turtle, who lives in a special large pen under the stairs, has its own fan base.  Ask Sharon about her true and remarkable tale of triumph over adversity, though I won’t give it away here.  Contact Crooked River Lodge at 866.548.0700 or via their website, www.crookedriverlodge.com.

Crooked River Lodge 3-story atrium fireplace overlooking the Crooked River

Not all great fishing spots are ‘up north’.  To comprehend the incredible natural beauty of Bucks Run Golf Club in Mt. Pleasant one must take a quick peek at the true love of its creator, prolific Michigan course architect Jerry Matthews, who originally set out to be a conservation officer.

“I just love being outdoors, especially hunting and fishing.  I could spend days doing nothing else, coming inside only when I had to,” Jerry mused.  In 1988 Jerry changed the name of his architectural company to Natural Course Design to reflect his continuing philosophy of blending design with nature and making it appear as if the course was always there.  Golf Digest Magazine’s Places to Play gives Bucks Run 4.5 stars proving it’s the golfers who love the mix of natural wetlands, lakes, and woodlands.

Who can fathom how anyone can play Bucks Run and not want to immediately go fishing?  Seeing about 1.5 miles of the amazingly brisk waters of the Chippewa roiling by on seven holes and then conversely, the peaceful serenity of Fisher Lake on the 9th and 18th holes evoke widely differing emotions;  in the end, it’s all about gettin’ and nettin’ the fish.   The river is loaded with smallmouth bass and steelhead trout.  While you are not allowed to fish the river from the golf course, there are still public entries where you can get to the banks and wade in alongside the 12th and 17th holes.  It is rumored that ‘tons of smallmouths have been caught by anglers who are tubing and canoeing down the river’.  No doubt General Manager/Course Superintendent and GCSAA Member Jeff Sweet and PGA Head Professional Jon Conklin have verified this during some rare down time.

A few years ago while taping an episode of CBS-Detroit’s Michigan Golf Weekly, we were standing on the par-3 17th hole, whose peninsular green can be seen from the clubhouse deck.  Waiting for the crew to set up, I was spellbound by the awesome panorama.  Snapping me out of my visual paradise, the crew chided me about holding up production……I reminded them that sometimes ‘one has to step back to enjoy where you are and let the golf simply happen”.  I then rolled in the 40-foot double breaking putt for a ‘one-take’ birdie.  ‘Nuff said.

Later that day, Jerry Matthews escorted me across M-20 to visit owner Bud Fisher’s Zelda’s Deer Ranch, a private hangout that can be yours for the day.  80-acre Lake Fisher is home to walleye, trout, perch, and bluegill where you can fish off the dock, the boathouse or the pontoon.  Anyone is welcome but no gear is provided, so you must bring your own.

Bucks Run is located at 1559 Chippewa Rd., Mt. Pleasant 48858; for more information call 989-773-6830 or go to the website, www.bucksrun.com.

If you are one of those who eschews good advice and thinks using a guide is a waste of money, consider this:  would you take up golf on your own – with no professional help – and expect to shoot par immediately?  Then you probably shouldn’t go fishing without using the services of a qualified guide like the ones mentioned here.  If you are a true novice at either sport, the maze of equipment, terminology, and advice will have your head spinning like a power slice or a screaming 10-lb. test line with a 50 lb. trophy attached.  You may think you’re playing or fishing for fun, but you need something to show for your toils.   If you still won’t pay for expert help to achieve that, here are a few tips to get you through:

–          you can’t catch fish that aren’t there; know your species and where they hang out;

–          fish don’t like light (no eyelids, remember?) and don’t want to be seen – or eaten, so they’ll hang out under shelter, in weeds, or near rocks;

–          dawn and dusk are the best times to fish

–          if fish don’t like what’s on the menu they won’t bite; fish are energy efficient and want food to come to them; it is vital to have the right bait, whether it is alive or artificial.

Can fish resist this artificial lure?

There is constant debate regarding using live bait vs. lures and artificial flies.  Ponder this:  did you know that color affects the performance of an artificial fly?  Master Floral Designer Bill Taylor of Eastpointe is also a motivational speaker and has studied Color Therapy for 25 years.  “You have to look at how the different colors appear under the water as the light diminishes and then dissipates altogether.  That’s what the fish sees.”

Vibrational levels in deeper, denser waters are lower, according to studies by Rutgers and Texas A&M Universities.  All colors give off vibrations but purple has the lowest and can still be seen at depths of approximately 180-feet.  By then, the rest of the rainbow has turned opaque.

“I’m a practical applications guy.  We humans are made up of mostly water, are drawn to the water, but guys, well, guys can’t just stand on the dock.  We have to get our feet wet.  We may be spiritual beings but we want results!  And the fish will go after the purple lure because it stands out and looks different from everything else.”

In the end, it’s acceptable to tread Michigan’s bountiful waters knowing little.  Ray Schmidt will gladly take novices on an excursion instead of forcing them into fishing school.  He adds, “You know, in Germany you must complete a course which covers environmental issues and proper etiquette before they’ll ever let you out in the real fishing world….but that’s OK.  I don’t mind taking inexperienced anglers out for ‘playing lessons’.  Who cares? I have the greatest job on the planet.”

Doesn’t sound like a bad idea for golfers either.  But wait – I thought I had the greatest job on the planet.

 

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