Fishing Tiny Brooks Feeding Northern Michigan’s Legendary Trout Rivers

Creek, stream, brook, branch … tiny ribbons of water that lace across Northern Michigan by the multitude, feeding Northern Michigan’s legendary trout streams. The word among fishermen is that these narrow waters are too small to fish. Bob Butz says word is wrong. Here’s his story, starting with a drink.

Plenty of great ideas sparked after a few drinks look pretty stupid later in the cold light of a police station. I can tell you that if it weren’t for a certain cocktail they serve at a certain Northern Michigan watering hole, I probably would never have discovered creek fishing.

Before we head to the bar, however, it would probably be helpful to get some clarity on exactly what constitutes a “creek.” I like to think of a creek as any place you cross with a jump or a couple of gingerly steps without the worry of water sloshing over your hip boots; so shallow and, ideally, cluttered with logjams and fallen trees, that you could never run a canoe down.

Where I grew up in Pennsylvania, this kind of water was the only game in town for wild trout, but only serious fly fishermen ever bothered. The practice of fly fishing small creeks involved the most delicate tackle known to the angling world: one-weight rods; line as fine as angel hair; and flies as miniscule as the period that ends this sentence. Creek fishing took stealth, finesse, acute attention to detail and a certain purity of purpose I admittedly lacked.

I moved to Northern Michigan and took up fly fishing for fun. The fact that I more than occasionally liked to eat the fish I caught guaranteed that I’d never be accused of being a purist. I could see no reason to set foot in a small creek with a fly rod in my hand when the only fish supposedly there are tiny, sublegal brook trout, the sort of fish to be admired and never used as food.

Which brings me back to The Cove. Anyone who’s been to the Northern Michigan town of Leland has at least heard of the Chubby Marys they mix up at The Cove. Basically, it’s a classic Bloody Mary cocktail served with a smoked chub steeping in it—the entire fish, with fins, face and all—alongside a wedge of lemon, a couple queen-sized olives and a crispy Claussen spear.