A Rookie Fly Fisher in Borrowed Waders

While on a driving tour along the Au Sable River, Hannah Agran, Midwest Living assistant travel editor and Michigan Travel Ideas contributor, spends the night at the North Branch Outing Club near Grayling and tries her hand at fly fishing.

My husband Juan and I are somewhere north of Grayling, our cell signal fading, the sky darkening. If my printed directions fail us, who we will ask for help? Before I can answer, we see a rambling old place with a welcoming porch and warm glow from the windows. Judy Fuller pushes open the screen door to meet us.

The North Branch Outing Club once welcomed Henry Ford, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Edison. Like us, they came to pull trout from the cold, clear stream that flows south past the inn to the Au Sable River. The Fullers bought and restored the lodge in 1997, creating a rustic retreat that breathes history and old-fashioned hospitality. (Yellowed photos of gents in waders hang in the stairwell; jars of pretzels and penny candy line the kitchen counter.) Judy sends us to bed with gingersnaps, and the gurgle of the North Branch sings us to sleep.

The next morning, we tug waders over our sneakers while Todd Fuller, Judy’s son and our guide, drags a flat-bottomed wood boat to the stream. He paddles; we soak in the beauty. Yellow iris bloom on postage-stamp islands. Birds twitter. A blue heron rises from the reeds. We wade into the stream, and Todd shows us how to loop the rod through the air, flick our wrists to mend the line, and watch where the current carries the fly.

Something nibbles, Todd shouts, I stumble backward in my oversize waders, and Juan’s laughter rings out over the water. I feel like a fool, but the trout is beautiful, speckled blue, green and orange in the palm of my hand. He doesn’t flop wildly, but seems strangely at peace with his predicament. Maybe he knows that if he waits just a minute—long enough for me to marvel—I’ll put him right back where he came from, in the cold, clear north branch of the Au Sable River.

Did Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, men who made their livings harnessing nature’s power, feel the same awe at such a tiny creature? Todd sure does. Squinting in the sun as he takes in the scene, he says, “I’ve seen a fish on a fly a billion times, but I still love every one of them.”

Hannah is the assistant travel editor at Midwest Living magazine and loves exploring the Sunrise Side of Michigan.