By: Tom Deschaine
I recently had the opportunity to venture to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for a fly fishing trip on the Escanaba River. I only manage to fish the Upper every few years so I was looking forward to the trip. The unusually warm summer in the Lower Peninsula brought most of the hatches off earlier than expected and drove the trout into deep haunts. Since the dry fly fishing was basically nonexistent, the opportunity to head north to one of Michigan’s pristine fisheries was going to be a great opportunity.
The city of Escanaba is located at the mouth of the river which terminates at Little Bay de Noc on the western shores of Lake Michigan. The word Escanaba comes from an old Ojibwa Indian word which translates into “flat rock.” The city, with a population of just under 15,000 people was originally established as a logging town. Today, as the third
largest city in the Upper Peninsula, Escanaba is supported by light industry and a paper mill which is the cities largest employer. Escanaba is considered a major shipping port for iron ore and lumber.
The mighty Escanaba River with its head waters some 50 miles to the north and west of the city has inspired literature for decades from such great authors as Henry Longfellow, Ernest Hemingway and John Voelker (aka, Robert Traver).
The river’s watershed is surrounded by miles of hardwood forest and conifer swamps; home to eagles, mink, otter, deer, coyotes and black bear. This swift, strong and clean river flows through some of the north’s most beautiful and scenic wilderness. The main stream is formed just south of the city of Gwinn where the East and Middle Branches of the river converge. From here south, the river not only entertains trout fishermen but is also popular with kayakers and canoeists.
The river holds brook, brown and rainbow trout in abundance. Although the trout population is self-sustaining, the river is supplemented with an aggressive planting program. The main branch of the river is abundant with natural trout foods. Fishermen are often rewarded with catches of trout in the 20” range. As you approach the mouth of the river the trout become less prevalent. Smallmouth bass and walleye become the most sought after fish in this area of the river.
Normally the Escanaba is considered a ‘technical’ river, requiring delicate presentations and precisely tied flies. But, on this trip I arrived just in time for the peak of ‘hopper’ season. The trout were hungry and aggressive. Each and every cast resulted in a strike. I had no trouble filling my creel. At each site I fished, I ‘nailed’ them to the point of boredom.
If you’re ever planning a trip to the Upper Peninsula be sure you place the Escanaba River on your agenda. Whether you choose to float or wade, it will be an experience that you’ll not soon forge The river is truly enchanting — to that end, it will call me back many more times.
See you on the water…..