Each summer, some college friends and I go to Michigan’s Manistee National Forest for a weekend trip we call Fish Yer Briefs Off. The forest has many famous trout streams—the pristine Pere Marquette, the mighty Big and Little Manistee, both renowned for steelhead runs. We don’t go to those rivers. Our place, which I’ve sworn to keep secret, is an hour from Grand Rapids on a forested ridge where a small stream feeds into the bigger river. When the steelhead come in late winter, fishermen line its banks. But we usually go when the forest is empty and the trout are absent.
The first year, we met at a wood-paneled smokehouse off Route 31, picked up steaks and Busch Light, and drove 40 minutes to find that we had nailed the timing. Gray drakes covered the trees, and the sounds of rising trout echoed off the clay banks. We still couldn’t get the fish to take our flies. In 2011, we showed up during the chinook run but had only trout flies. That night a bad windstorm blew in as we were making dinner. Oak leaves circled in dust devils. Birch trees shook like Pentecostals. Then: crrrack! A big oak fell ten feet from our kitchen.
Despite the many mishaps, we always return. We’ve talked about going to the flies-only section on the Pere Marquette, where big trout chase big streamers. We’ve talked about trying the Big Manistee, too. But neither place has our little clearing on a ridge. And I know where I’d rather be.
Access: If you can identify our river, have fun. Otherwise, fish the Little Manistee at the Bear Track campground ($14), which has a 1.5-mile trail that connects to the North Country Scenic Trail.