Well, maybe not the whole state...
The unmistakable rumble of the '73 Sportsman’s Royal outside my front door puts a much-needed jolt in my step. It's early on a Sunday morning and just hours ago I'd been sitting in my backyard swilling beers and hacking on a 6-string, botching the words to Bob Seger's "Night Moves." Luckily for me, Alex has volunteered to take the first shift behind the wheel.
The master plan for this trip was born almost a year ago on the long drive back from Idaho to Cleveland. For two consecutive years we'd made the pilgrimage to throw big foam at lazy cutthroat, logging thousands of miles and stockpiling years worth of stories along the way. This year we’ve decided to cut out a couple of days of driving and spend a week exploring northern Michigan. Though we’ve told our friends and families otherwise, we don’t know exactly where we'll be fishing or staying. All we have are the names of a few rivers and campgrounds, some of which we've had a difficult time finding on the map. Neither of us is too concerned. The Big Orange offers all the comforts of a fishing camp on wheels, and wherever we end up, we'll be fishing.
As we march north the drive seems to fly by. By the time we cross the Mackinac Bridge, time and distance are defined only by the changing landscape. Later, when it feels like we're getting close, we use what we anticipate will be our last patch of cell service to coordinate a rendezvous with the buddies we'll meet in the morning. We manage to find our camp just as the sun is melting into the blackness of the north woods. As we'd feared, the mosquitoes are horrific. We spend the last 10 minutes of our day on a killing rampage, but it doesn't seem to do much good; We both wake the next morning scratching like a couple of meth-heads.
After coffee and breakfast the next morning we meet up with rest of our group. They fished the river yesterday and did well, boating plenty of fat bronzebacks (including one that taped at 20") and a handful of pike. We pull out the maps, decide on a float, and head to the nearest gas station - which is not exactly near - for provisions. With ice in the coolers and gas in the tanks, we've covered all of our bases except for one important element: procuring a car spot. There is no shuttle service on this river, so we're relying on the good graces of the locals to get our vehicles from point A to point B. Mike approaches a sour faced woman clutching a cigarette outside the gas station and offers her $20 to run a quick car spot. She exhales a cloud of smoke and cocks an eyebrow.
"You guys aren't serial killers, are ya'?" she asks, only half kidding. We assure her otherwise, and she hops in a red sedan and joins the driftboat caravan to the boat launch.
We dump the boats, with half of the group staying and the other half running the vehicles to the takeout. The little red sedan occupied by our new friend follows the Big Orange out of the gravel drive. 20 minutes go by as I prepare the rods and tinker with the boat. 40 minutes go by, then an hour. There's no cell service so we can only surmise as to what may be holding the boys up. After an hour and a half a silver pickup comes hauling down the drive. Mike and Alex hop out of the bed and thank the driver. Our gas station car spotter had grown tired of waiting and bailed, leaving them hitchhiking on UP logging roads. With 10 hours of daylight still ahead of us we laugh it off and start working our way downriver, hooting and hollering across the water each time a chunky 16-inch smallie sucks down a popper.
That night we decide to head into town. Town is the bar. We pore over maps, talk strategy and guzzle cheap beer. Dee Dee makes sure to keep our glasses full, and we pick her brain for some local knowledge. She's not an angler, but it's a small town where fishing is engrained in the culture so she's familiar with the river. We gain some valuable insights and she offers us her number lest we should run into another shuttle pinch, though we've been assured that we'll have no trouble finding a car spotter for tomorrow's float...