Growing up in suburban Detroit I was regaled with stories of the Driggs River Gang. Not nearly as sinister as it sounds, the gang consisted of a large group of family and friends that migrated north for a yearly hunting and fishing camp each fall on the banks of the Driggs River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. ‘The Gang’ started off with original members of Great-Uncle Al and his buddies, then cascaded down through the families generations along with a few friends mixed in.
Each year there were multiple ‘planning sessions’ held at Eddie’s house to ensure all the bases were covered and then, as the leaves turned, the migration north started. Once on site it took a full day to erect the monstrous house-sized oil cloth wall tent around a stove piped cast iron wood burner. The tent was the common area, card room, sleeping quarters, dog kennel, and kitchen all rolled up under one massive roof held up by 37 miles of binder twine…give or take. A lucky few stayed for a whole month while others migrated in and out of camp a few days at a time; at its peak each year there were three dozen men and a dozen dogs under that roof.
The days at the Driggs River Camp were spent chasing upland quarry through the woods or trying to trick the local brookie population in to eating a well placed silver Mepps spinner. The nights were filled with cleaning guns or fish, card games, stories and pipe smoke. Camp was miles back on some two tracks in a time that was well before cell phones, and in a part of the country they may still not work, so as a young boy the isolation made it feel like we may as well have been on another planet. There were only three rules; no loaded guns in camp, only the invited were welcomed, and you had to be at least 10 years old to go. It was something to look forward to every year.
Fast forward to present day…Salmonfest. It has become a yearly trip that I look forward to spending with a few friends and family each year. Some years there are more people along for the fun and then in other years, like this year, there are only a couple that can make it. Each year it is a quick drive north to the banks of Michigan’s fabled Pere Marquette river where we see about tangling with some king salmon, and then after a few to hand target the egg-gobbling browns and any early steelhead that happen to be around.
We have shed the tent in favor of Baldwin Creek Lodge and we spend all our waking moments on the water so we depend on Debbie’s or Barskis to supply us with an endless supply of gastro-riddles to navigate through (all kidding aside Barskis is phenomenal fare…can’t recommend the burgers or perch dinner highly enough). Out of nothing but stubborn tradition we get up long before we really have to and walk in to the river in pitch dark, then hang out on the bank and listen to the salmon working upstream as the first cigars of the day are lit. Everything seems funnier in the dark of the woods when you are working on hours of sleep that can be counted on one hand, so laughing until you hurt is generally to be expected. Eventually I am usually the one that breaks down first and wets a line in the dark then the others are usually quick to follow, especially once there has been a fish on. The general plan usually consists of being out until after dark with just a short break mid-day for lunch and a few beverages…then repeat again multiple days in a row. While we do spend almost all our time on the river we all have come to realize that the fishing is just the excuse to get together.
And that slot yielded feeeesh!
My first morning up this year I charged up a glow in the dark ESL and ran it through a deep bend a few times before getting in to this beasty. Keeping the lights off and fighting the fish by feel is always a good time.
Brian has gone a number of years running now. He was around when Mike and I were talking about the trip one time and commented on how cool it sounded. Brian was not a fisherman at all but when I said "dude...you are welcome to come up and hit it with us next year" he jumped on it. A week later we were eight months out and he had already ordered up waders...the wait was on!
Now Brian has this trip down pat and we love getting him to come out from central Illinois to get on some fish for the weekend. After having done this trip he got the bug bad and now fishes as much as just about anyone that I know, terrorizing largemouth and bluegill at his local lakes on a daily basis!
A quick word of advice...do whatever is required to not let your line wrap around the tip of your rod...bad things are a certainty if you are wrapped up. This hog was giving Mike quite a fight when all of a sudden it swam straight at him. While trying to manage the line he had out and get it back on the reel a loop developed towards the tip. As I yelled to warn him it almost happened in slow motion that the fish took off for the lake and turned his rod from a four piece to a six piece.
Mike finished up the fight on what was left of the rod though and about five minutes later I slipped it in to the net. This was the second year in a row that Mike will be making use of that warranty...these guys can be tough on gear.