The Middle Branch of the Escanaba River begins northwest of Humboldt, Michigan and flows south and east until it joins the East Branch just below the the town of Gwinn. Highly oxygenated riffles, pools the size of small lakes, spring-fed tributaries, and an abundant supply of food make the resident trout happy which, in turn, causes some to grow old, big, and brawny. John Voelker loved this river for its trout, its scenery, and its solitude.
For thirteen and a half miles between County Roads 581 and 565 the river flows smack through the heart of Voelker country. Scarcely two of those miles run through public land, however, and those sites cannot be reached by roads. Most maps show several private roads terminating at the river, but all are crossed by a cable or gate with a subtle or not so subtle message reminding fishermen to keep the hell out.
In Big Secret Trout Voelker describes a section of the Middle Branch located a mile or so from the site of his father’s old hunting camp: “There is a certain remote stretch of river on the Middle Escanaba that I love to fish by myself; the place seems made for wonder and solitude . . . One may drive to the camp in an old car or jeep, but, after that, elementary democracy sets in; all fishermen alike must walk down to the big river — even the arrogant new jeepocracy.”
The Middle Escanaba is still a beautiful and remote river today, but much of the unconstrained solitude that Voelker cherished has been lost. The environs are still alluring, but the isolation is gone. “Another historic stretch of trout stream is ruined,” Voelker wrote with sadness when a camp was constructed near his Big Secret place. “If not the fishing, the sense of solitude and isolation that I must have when I fish.”
A remote cabin on the Middle Escanaba.
(Click photo for larger view.)
© 2011 Timothy Schulz