Trout-Stream Flyfishing in the Upper Midwest's Golden Triangle

Adventure Back In Time
By Bob Butz

Michigan's AuSable River, though not in the geographical center of the state, is the heart of northern flyfishing. This region and river, birthplace of the conservation group Trout Unlimited (TU), is considered the seat of the modern flyfishing ethic.

The AuSable was once the premier trout fishery in America and is still a popular destination today. A number of guides operate in the area, running one-day wade-fishing and float trips in genuine AuSable driftboats. These long (22- to 24-feet), narrow, handmade cedar boats were once used for shuttling supplies between river towns during the great timber boom of the late 1800s. Once modified, fishing guides discovered the boats were stable enough to carry three people: two fishermen and a guide who poles the boat downriver from the stern seat while utilizing a rope and chain system to keep the boat moving slowly and tracking straight.

Perhaps the most historic venue along the banks of the AuSable is the North Branch Outing Club (NBOC). Built by T.E. Douglas, a Canadian turned Michigan timber baron, NBOC officially opened in 1916. Douglas invited the most influential and affluent people of the day to fish and dine at this lavishly decorated 20-room Northwoods retreat. People like Thomas Edison, Horace Dodge, Charles Nash, and Henry Ford, who used to ride up from Detroit on his own railcar, frequented NBOC.

Four years ago, Todd Fuller's family bought the dilapidated riverside property from the 70-year-old grandson of T.E. Douglas and set about restoring the hotel. On May 12, 2001, NBOC was designated a Michigan Historical Site. The club has also applied to be a National Historic Site and expects to receive that designation for their 2002 trout opener. It is one of only 33 historical sites in Michigan, putting it in a class with the world-famous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, and the only fishing lodge in Michigan with such a status.

A handful of pre-Depression-era lodges exist in Michigan. But all have been bought by private individuals or groups and turned into private clubs. NBOC is a family affair and remains open to the public. The full service lodge/bed and breakfast runs guided trips on the AuSable utilizing classic, handcrafted AuSable drift boats unique to this region and first made famous back in the early 1900s.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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