ED GILBERT: Northern pike and bears in the U.P.

By Ed Gilbert • Last Updated 9:39 pm on Friday, February 24, 2012

Daily News Outdoors Writer Ed Gilbert

A recent Associated Press article tweaked my thinking about camping in the Upper Peninsula. And yes, it included various outdoor activities that can be done in the winter as well as summer.

I have a good friend who lives in the U.P., and he particularly enjoys the fishing and hunting there. He and his family do many other activities there as well, but most of those aren’t in the winter time. Fact is they’re living down in the Lower Peninsula right now!

But camping up there in the summer has been a joy for our family. We’ve camped over in the western part, the northern part, and in between. We enjoyed all those camp sites, but the one we have most enjoyed is at the Upper Falls at Tahquamenon Falls State Park.

The first time we camped there we had an exceptional time, and that is what my memory has served up just now.

Wife Gerri and I and the three kids arrived there on a Friday, pulling our camping trailer with my old Ford. We found a great location not far from the Tahquamenon river and in sight of the falls. We were then invited to attend a meeting held by the park ranger, where we were warned about the scavenging black bears at night, and the usual stuff about not leaving food out and so on.

So we took careful note of all that, and then took a walk down by the falls. They were beautiful, cascading over a cliff that was about 50-foot-high and forming a large pool at the bottom.

Then I looked below that pool and there they were — large fish moving slowly about along the grassy bottom of the river. Huge northern pike, and bunches of them!

Well, fishing was in season, so I nearly ran back to camp where I retrieved one of my heavier spinning rods and a couple lures. I also put on waders, even though the water was quite shallow below the falls.

I didn’t have long to find out how northern pike fight in the U.P. On my second cast a huge northern grabbed my lure and the fight was on! That fish, at least 30-inches long, took my line through the lower part of the falls and the pool several times, never pushing a nostril above the water for about 20 minutes. When it did come to me, I released it and continued fishing.

After catching and releasing another northern, I noticed another fisherman casting out nearby. Then, within about half an hour, there must have been 10-or-so other guys fishing and catching fish as well. Evidently, the word had spread quickly that a school of northerns were at the falls. It was a fun experience.

But the most fun was yet to come. On Saturday night we were all snug in bed in the trailer when we heard strange noises outside. It sounded as though someone was banging on a garbage can, or rolling one around. So I carefully went to the door, and as I moved toward it the trailer suddenly tilted a little to that side. I carefully opened the door, and there, with both front paws resting on the doorstep, was a huge black bear, staring me straight in the face!

Well, of course I slammed the door shut and stepped back. And I guess the bear stepped back too, as the tilt went out of the trailer and we could hear it shuffling off.

By then everyone was awake, so we spent the better part of that night playing card games and keeping all the lights on in the trailer.

Yes, we’ve been back to that campsite since then. Even saw and heard more bears. But those northerns? Well I guess our first visit had been the charm, as there was no such luck again.

If you’re entertaining a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula, you really should consider the Upper Tahquamenon Falls as one of your destinations. It has always been a fine experience for our family, and I know you’ll enjoy it as well.

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