Let me state up front: I caught no fish. This was not surprising, seeing as the weather was lousy for bass — cold (40s) and blustery — and I had no salmon lures.
I was in town for all of 36 hours, and two precious hours of fishing were lost because I had to schlep to the local hardware store to buy materials to repair my broken fishing pole. (Super glue, a dowel rod, Fiber Fix tape, and a small hacksaw did the trick.) United Airlines was to thank for this hassle. Why the airline refuses to allow passengers to bring collapsed rods on the plane as carry-on luggage is beyond me. But, lesson learned: if I fly United again, I’ll pack my Plussino telescoping fishing pole, which won’t get snapped.
But, oh, most definitely there are fish to be had in Traverse City. Plenty. And good drinks.
The town’s center is pinched between Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay and Boardman Lake, and a river runs through it. That there are two fly fishing shops in downtown Traverse City is no accident. Charters will take you on the bay for walleye, or you can put your own skiff in the river at the public (free) ramp near Park Street or in the bay at Clinch Park.
Small-mouth are in the Boardman River year ’round. Trout also can be found. Hannah Park is a lovely place to hunt bass. There are plenty of good spots to cast from, including docks built for angling. The park is a short walk from the Park Place Hotel, which is smack in the middle of the town. Go west on E. State Street, turn left on S. Union, then right on 6th. (The Park Place, I should add, has a bar on its eighth floor, which offers terrific views of the bay.)
From Hannah Park, one can follow the river to Boardman Lake. It is only a 20-minute walk, and the Filling Station Microbrewery is a block away from it. Fish, eat, have a brew, and fish again. The entire day can be spent there.
Especially exciting is that salmon and steelheads run in the late summer and early autumn. My late October arrival came at the end of the run. I did get to hang out with two locals and watch them pull three 30- to 36-inch salmon from the Boardman. These guys caught the fish between Cass and S. Union Streets, right in the downtown. Shiny spoons (maybe 3- or 4-inches in size) scored two of the salmon. These guys also chucked various hard baits that look like thin or fat minnows. Watching a hooked salmon leap from the water was really something. Each of the toothy beasts took 10 to 15 minutes to bring in.
There are plenty of places to bend the elbow in Traverse, all within steps of the river. The barman at Bootlegger’s saloon did not bat an eye when I walked in with my fishing rod and ordered a measure of Knob Creek to warm my bones.
The town’s beverage selection is impressive. The Grand Traverse Distillery serves up its bourbon and rye, and Mackinaw Brewing Company pours a half-dozen of its beers. Michigan’s craft beer industry is booming, and one can get Bell’s, Founders, and too many others to list. Traverse’s eateries also stock Michigan wines.
I do hope to get back to Traverse City. It’s a great town for fishing and drinks, and the locals were friendly. At the U & I Lounge, I found myself pulled into a small celebration. A local lass was turning 50, and she asked me to do a shot with her. “A lemon drop — with no lemon.” So, straight vodka, then? “Yeah, what are you — a wimp?” We gulped the shot, laughed, and gabbed until she and her merry band moved on to their next bar.
I returned to my room and fell into a blissfully, heavy sleep, the sort one gets from an afternoon of fishing and good drink.
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