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Spring turkey season for me was still a week away, and small game season had finally ended a few weeks earlier here in Michigan, and considering that my wife just had our second son a month again, I was itching to finally get back outdoors after the hectic, sleepless adjustment period.
But I knew I couldn’t go far. Though I am itching to fly fish some of Michigan’s famous northern rivers this Spring, it would be too far of a drive. Given the new baby situation, I could probably take a day at the most, so instead of a northern fishing trip, I planned a 24-hour getaway, no driving required. I’d go bikepacking at a nearby recreation area, outfitted with primitive campsites on a secluded lake.
Sure, it’d be cold, and time would be short, but this was one way of getting to do four of my favorite activities all at once; biking, camping, paddling, and fishing, so I spent the morning trying to fit all my gear in my backpack and strapped to my bike, which was more of a struggle than I imagined, and on I went; 38 strenuous miles from my front door to the lake.
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The Joy of Multi-Sport Adventures
Sure, I could’ve just driven to the lake in about 35 minutes, but what’s the fun in that? Last year, I rediscovered my love of cycling and started completing longer and longer rides. I also discovered bikepacking, and it just seemed like one of the coolest ways to travel outdoors.
To strap all your camping gear to your bike, ride out on some beautiful dirt roads and singletrack trails, and find a place to sleep in the great outdoors? Sounds too good to be true So this was my first attempt at bikepacking, and to make the most of the short time I had, I also brought my packraft so I could get out into the lake, as well as my Tenkara rod, the most packable type of fishing rod.
Cold, Wonderful, Short-Lived Solitude
The first 10 miles of my ride were through residential and industrial areas. If I were to do this route again, I’d drive myself to a better starting point. Nonetheless, after about 12 miles, I was out in the country, riding alongside South Michigan’s Grand River, with almost no other sound except my bike chain and the spring choir of birds.
Fighting the Spring winds wasn’t ideal, but after 38 sluggish miles, I finally reached the state park I was aiming for. In mid-April, the temperatures were in the 40s. While I hate being cold more than anything, it was so nice to have the entire lake to myself. It’s still too early to be considered camp season for most.
The primitive campsites were nestled right along the lake. The entire time I was setting up camp and cooking dinner, I could hear fish splashing on the surface right by my tent. After some instant mashed potatoes, I donned my waders and figured I’d try catching a few fish before calling it a night.
And they were hungry. About ten feet from my tent, I caught some decent-sized panfish and small bass. I wasn’t really chasing anything bigger. I did hope to bring my cast iron skillet for an early season fish fry, but alas, they aren’t exactly light enough to carry on an already overloaded bike.
After a handful of fish, and with plenty of sunlight left behind the clouds, I called it a night. The temperature was dropping and I didn’t want to bother with a fire. The woods surrounding the lake was anything but silent, as the geese, turkeys, fish, and squirrels were buzzing with activity late into the night.
More than anything, I was hoping a night under the stars would offer me more sleep than one under my roof with a newborn. But, given the hyper-active wildlife, I was wrong. But at least I didn’t have to change any diapers in the middle of the night.
Far Too Much Work, But Worth Every Mile
Again, the morning was cold. Too cold for me to smile. Nonetheless, I puffed up the packraft and shoved off the lakeshore in search of fish. The strong winds wouldn’t let me sit still for even a moment. After finding a decent spot near some fallen trees, I caught one or two fish before getting blown into the bank, requiring me to paddle back to my starting point. I suppose this is why kayak anchors are a thing.
Unfortunately, time flies when you’re fishing. I had a long ride home ahead of me. 38 miles with a fully loaded bike and an unrelenting wind. It was a lot of work, and the trip lasted a little longer than anticipated. I told my wife I’d be home in 24 hours flat. 29 hours later, I finally rolled into the driveway. I knew by the look on my wife’s face that I was just a little bit late.
Looking back, I’ve never worked harder to catch a few fish than that. And no, I probably wouldn’t recommend riding 75 miles just to catch some bluegill. But given how crazy the past few months had been, it was exactly what I needed. I would absolutely do this again. Next time, I hope for some sunshine, and I’m leaving the raft at home in favor of that cast iron skillet.s br