When it comes to fresh water fishing, I don’t know how you could argue anywhere is better than Michigan.

The entire state is surrounded by the Great Lakes, and is home to countless natural inland lakes and some of the most beautiful rivers in the country. The hunting, which is steeped in a rich history and culture, is also fantastic. For me, Michigan becomes better the farther north you go, with Gaylord being a favorite destination.

As a fella who loves the fall, I can’t wait for chilly air, changing leaves, open hunting seasons and fish aggressively feeding. Each year, as fall begins to set in, I try to find my way north before all those perfect attributes arrive farther south where I live. This year, I was back in Gaylord to fish, hunt and explore the local scene. The trip did not disappoint.

On a frosty late September morning, I joined my friends, Nick Green, public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, and Chris Sebastian, public affairs coordinator for Ducks Unlimited, for an early season ruffed grouse hunt. Nick is the expert. He has two well trained bird dogs, which are indispensable when the trees are still green and thick with foliage.

A couple of years ago, Nick and I shot sharp-tail grouse with his dogs in North Dakota. I was eager to hunt behind Calvin and Summit again. As they worked the cover, and we were walking down an overgrown logging road in the Pigeon River Country State Forest in search of ruffies, my mind wandered back to many of the incredible outdoor experiences I’ve had in northern Michigan. Carp fishing Beaver Island. Steelhead and salmon on the Pere Marquette. Brown trout on the Au Sable. The list goes on. Combined, it’s these memories mixed with the reality of the state being so rich in outdoor opportunity that keeps drawing me back.

The bird hunting ended up being tough. In two days of busting brush over many miles, the three of us never killed a bird. We flushed plenty, but because the leaves are still so thick on the trees the grouse disappear as soon as you hear the unmistakable beating of their wings as they take flight. I did have one decent shot opportunity, but missed. Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. It was the opportunity to spend time with great friends while marching through the wilderness I sought, and found. Nick said the best grouse hunting takes place in late October.

I didn’t have time to fish like I had hoped during this quick trip, but a number of other people in our party did go out to Lake Michigan to fish Grand Traverse Bay where they caught lake trout and whitefish. It was hard to drive over the Pigeon River multiple times without breaking out a fly rod, but grouse were the goal and I was committed.

See you down the trail.

III

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at [email protected]