If I’d known about the secret to “casting confidence,” I’d have tried
fly fishing years ago.
It’s a sport that I’ve been curious about for a long time, but I’d just never gotten around to doing it, although we’re surrounded by opportunity: Michigan has more than 12,000 miles of trout streams, and over 800 are classified as “Blue Ribbon.” Trout Unlimited was hatched right here in Grayling a half century ago.
Part of my hesitation is the mystique of fly fishing. It’s something Ernest Hemingway did—he wrote about Nick Adams fishing the Big Two-Hearted River in the UP. And Michigan Judge John D. Voelker, under the name Robert Traver, not only penned Anatomy of a Murder but his love of fishing inspired him to writeTrout Madness and Trout Magic. Traverse City-based Jerry Dennis, author of The Living Great Lakes, also wrote The River Home, an Angler’s Exploration.
I could say the array of flies, choosing the right fly, the whole outwitting-the-fish challenge, and the mystery of how fishermen can stand in a river for hours casting, casting, casting are just overwhelming—but they’re also part what intrigues me about the sport.
So when I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural “Dining on the Fly” experience in the Traverse City area, I fueled up the Splattered Van and headed north to the banks of the Boardman River.
Dining on the Fly is the brainchild of four guys from the Grand Traverse area who’ve combined their considerable talents, love of the outdoors, and expertise in food, wine, and fishing to create “the ultimate Northern Michigan experience,” according to Spencer Stegenga, owner of Bowers Harbor Vineyards.
His partners in the venture are Dave McCool, a certified fly casting instructor and Master Angler who operates his own fishing and hunting school and guide service; Doug Kosch, owner of The Boathouse Restaurant; and Boathouse Executive Chef Eric Nittolo.
The Up North experience takes place at Dave’s 30-acre Boardman Riverfront property about a dozen miles south of Traverse City.
Tip number one came before we even picked up the provided fishing rods: A champagne glass (or two) of Bowers Harbor Blanc de Blanc does wonders for “casting confidence.”
Properly fortified, our group of 7 learned how to handle the rod, to make “tight loops,” and to avoid knots in the line. We waded into the crystal clear water to learn a bit about the trout buffet of insects that exists naturally in and around the river, and how they influence the choice of man-made flies.
Then it was time to test our new casting skills—and our ability to stay upright in the current. Only Chet, an experienced fisherman, caught a brown trout (a whopper, of course). But that was okay. I was happy just standing in the river, listening to the rushing water, and practicing my casting technique.
The 3-hour fishing lesson ended all too quickly.
It was time for more champagne and fish tales on the riverbank followed by a gourmet, 5-course dinner prepared on two burners by Chef Eric, with assistance from sous-chef Raymond.
Chef Eric also offered a running commentary on the menu, from the complex and colorful beet, spinach, and apple salad to the chocolate mousse dessert.
Each course was accompanied by a Bowers Harbor wine, described by winemaker Spencer. There was plenty of conversation, laughter, and repartee around the table as well as between the Dining on the Fly principals. About the four men, Chef Eric says, “We’re like brothers with other mothers.”
I appreciate their vision and this showcase for the natural, cultivated, and culinary wonders of the region.
After finally testing the fly fishing waters I think I may have found my kind of sport—as long as it comes with glasses of bubbly and Pinot Noir, plus seared scallops and tasty lamb chops.
Two scheduled dates remain for Dining on the Fly: Mondays, July 13 and July 20. Additional dates available for groups by arrangement. Price averages $225 per person for the fly fishing instruction, dinner, and wines (may range from $200 to $250 per person inclusive, depending on group size).