In order to get away from the crowds and find the best hunting and fishing locales, anglers and hunters in both Michigan and Ohio often get as far off the paved roadways as they can. THE BLADE/MATT MARKEY
GRAYLING, Mich. — The stream by the side of the road never seems to have the best fishing, whether it be the iconic Au Sable River that loops across the landscape near here, or the Chena that squiggles its way through Fairbanks far north in Alaska.
It’s pressure that makes the difference. The water that runs close to that nice paved highway is easy to access and therefore it receives an inordinate amount of fishing pressure. More lines in the water, more hours of the day, on more days of the year.
But if you push off the hard road, onto the gravel, then onto the sand, and finally onto old logging trails or paths cut decades ago by miners, the fishing changes dramatically. You encounter fish that don’t see an artificial fly or a spinner day after day, and you encounter more of them.
The same general rule applies to hunting. Pick a hunk of public land that is close to the road and easy to get to, and you will see less game, and far fewer of the trophy-class animals. The hunting pressure there will present more than the challenge of encountering game without keeping your presence a secret – too many fellow hunters often eliminate the element of surprise.
The hunting ground that is a good hike off the last stretch of passable roadway will receive far less pressure. The tougher it is to reach, the better the hunting or fishing you will find, in nearly all cases.
We followed this premise many years ago when our family fishing trips to Canada involved my father and his four oldest sons, and a Ford station wagon as our mode of transportation. Seeking to escape the crowds and fish remote waters, we took that boat of a car up the Trans Canada Highway from Sault Ste. Marie and into Lake Superior Provincial Park.
From there we consulted an old Weyerhaeuser lumber company map and took off down a rough gravel lane that would lead to streams and lakes far from the highway. The two-track quickly degenerated into a series of washouts, deep potholes and brushy impediments. We had to stop every 50-100 yards to move a fallen branch, fill a hole, or construct a crude bridge.
With its considerable load and low clearance, the old wagon took a beating. It was a very time-consuming adventure just trying to get away from the main road and reach some seldom-fished water.
A lot has changed in the 45 or 50 years since we forced that Ford people-mover to pretend it was an all-terrain vehicle. If you are trying to reach the distant branch of the trout stream, or the remote area with prime deer habitat, there are much better options today, as a recent round of test drives laid out.
Michigan has a lot of unpaved secondary roads, and some of them in the more undeveloped sections of the Lower Peninsula’s north country will deteriorate into deep, sloppy sand or narrow vegetation-covered paths. A fishing friend and I took on these rugged byways in a Toyota 4Runner Trail Premium and it got us to a quiet piece of the East Branch of the Au Sable where the trout acted like they hadn’t seen an angler in months.
Besides the muscle needed to power through heavy, wet sand and a gear box full of rough terrain options, the 4Runner had the ground clearance and balanced suspension so you never felt like you were blazing a trail through uncharted territory. The best feature for two graying anglers with aging backs was the sliding rear cargo deck that supports 440 pounds and is an awfully convenient place to slip on a pair of waders. The sound system coupled with the unwavering grip made us feel like we could climb a mountain in this thing, while listening to a ZZ Top concert inside.
“Things are a little different today,” said Toledoan John Sinkovich, who first started bear hunting in the forests of Ontario around 1970 and still has plans to bow hunt for deer this fall. “We had to pull off the road, put on our backpacks, and take a hike well back into the woods.”
The options hunters and anglers have in 2017 can take them much farther off the paved roads and away from the areas that receive the most intense hunting and fishing pressure. We put a beefed-up Ford F-150 Raptor to just such a test on the mosaic of backroads around Michigan’s Irish Hills, shortly after a pretty heavy rain, in an effort to reach some of the less accessible small lakes in the region that likely see few fishermen.
With a 10-speed automatic transmission, 3.5 liter EcoBoost engine cranking out 510 pounds of torque and a set of custom shocks, this machine took us over hill and dale and right up to the edge of a lake where a couple dozen Canada geese were very surprised to see us.
The next venture involved a version of the Chevy Colorado ZR2 and it took on the winding network of old mining haul roads that are spread throughout the 60,000 acre AEP ReCreation Land in southeastern Ohio. It worked the washouts, ruts and developing gullies with ease, and the skid plates added some insurance when we ventured well off the rarely graded gravel roads.
“Like most places, to find the best fishing in this part of the state, you have to leave the pavement and get away from the crowds,” said bass fishing guide Corneilus Harris, who for decades has been pushing off the established grid to reach the most remote lakes and ponds in this region of reclaimed strip mines.
The dikes and marshes of the Lake Erie shoreline provided the proving grounds for a Ram Sport Truck and we sloshed along with little hindrance despite the continual changes in terrain. The suspension has a desert racing heritage and the traction never felt a bit in doubt.
All of these four-wheeled beasts of the backwoods are powerful, more than capable of handling the toughest topography, and well tricked-out with comfort and convenience options – a far cry from that old station wagon. These vehicles don’t leave you wondering at all if you will make it in, or out, of those best hunting and fishing areas. The trout and the deer now present the biggest challenge, as it should be.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.