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Fly Fishing Talk Recalls Ernest Hemingway's Love of Northern Michigan

Peter Jones, Fly Fishing Guru from Grayling, Speaks at Bay County Museum

June 29, 2008       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Peter Jones, second from right gathers to talk fly fishing with Eric Jylha, marketing director of the museum, right, and, from left, Jennifer VanBenschoten, David Jones and Tyler Jones, 10.
Hand-tied flies are inspected by a museum visitor as Jones describes qualities of a bamboo rod.

"Rivers are magical places." --Ptolomy, Greek astronomer, astrologist and cartographer.

Peter Jones is a Brit, but he loves Northern Michigan much like Ernest Hemingway, who was perhaps the world's best known fly fishing advocate.

"Fish the same stream that Ernest Hemingway and Henry Ford fished," urges the state travel promotion bureau.

The AuSable is famed worldwide for its brook and brown trout, although in 1876 Daniel Fitzhugh Jr., Bay City sportsman, introduced the rainbow trout with eggs brought from California, to replace the legendary grayling that had been decimated by the lumbering industry.

"The northwestern Lower Peninsula has more than its fair share of blue-ribbon trout streams, known far and wide among anglers: The Boardman. The Jordan. The Pere Marquette. The Manistee. Together, these and lesser-known streams and tributaries make the northern tier of the state a premier fly-fishing destination."

In the early part of the last century, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Ernest Hemingway fished the AuSable and stayed at the Douglas House, in Lovells, where the North Branch Outing Club was formed by lumber baron T.E. Douglas.

Today, the historic site is as a state and federal landmark. A bed and breakfast is located there and offers guided fly-fishing trips from traditional AuSable riverboats.

Jones, a fly fishing enthusiast who came to the United States in the 1960s, has found a home on the banks of the AuSable River near Grayling. He spoke, and displayed fly rods and lures, recently to a Second Saturday audience at the Bay County Historical Museum.

"Most of the fish I release," he said, adding wryly "but occasionally I release one into a stick of melted butter."

Jones has established the Old AuSable Fly Shop on the banks of the AuSable and has become widely known for his expertize that includes the ancient and arcane art of making fly rods.

"This is high season -- when the Mayflies come to dance," said Jones. Fishers come from as far as California in the second week of June every year to experience the AuSable and its much desired trout.

Jones tells tales of the glories of fly fishing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, days when to reach William Mershon's camp took 8-10 hours from Saginaw. There was a Model T two-track from Saginaw to Rose City, from whence trails led to a big lodge on the North Branch.

Once on the river, the famed AuSable River boat, a 22-24 foot long classic design, was used to ferry people and goods to the fish camps up and down river.

George Mason, who developed the Mason Tract of eight double-banked miles on the south branch, would fly up almost daily from Detroit to enjoy his favorite sport. The Mason Tract, that Jones called "an incredible gift to the State of Michigan," runs from Chase Bridge to Smith Bridge is restricted to fly fishing and is "one of those special places."

Willie Durant, the founder of General Motors, built Durant's Castle, a mansion on the river later destroyed by fire.

"Michigan has a wonderful history of making fishing tackle," said Jones, noting Hadden' split cane rods, the Wanigas Rod Company and many individual rod-makers.

Then there's Scientific Anglers of Midland, originators of the plastic tapered floating filament line, and a host of fly-tying experts led by Stephen Martuch and his legendary nine flies that he called "buggers."

The rod-making fraternity from around the world gathers at the end of June each year in Grayling for a three-day event where the talk is all about fly fishing and the faithful fish the big flies.

Michigan is special to British fishers. Says Jones: "In Michigan if you can get into the water, you can fish it. In England, you have to make a deal with the landowner in order to fish the waters adjoining their property."

He decried the new generation of fly-tyers who he said are "guys throwing flies as large as chickens at the fish."

At this time of year, the AuSable is 63 degrees, he said, "colder than a bad girl's kiss." But the little black caddis and other flies hatch on Lake Margarethe and move to the rivers, creating -- for the fly fisher -- the magical conditions described by the Greek astronomer.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
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