The tiny brook trout cradled in my palm lies still and glistening, strangely at peace with his predicament. Maybe he knows that if he waits just a minute—long enough for me to marvel at the blue flecks on his skin and the orange rim of his eye—I’ll slip him right back where he was born, the cold, clear North Branch of the AuSable River.
I’m a rookie fly fisher in borrowed waders, standing shin-deep in storied waters three hours north of Detroit. (The AuSable was America’s first dedicated fly-only river.) The current tugs at my feet, pines stretch up and riparian wildflowers bloom. Gazing into the trout’s eye, I wonder if Henry Ford might have done the same a century ago. After all, last night I saw his name scratched into a guest book at my lodge, Fuller’s North Branch Outing Club.
Judy Fuller bought and restored the 1916 hotel, a National Historic Site, with her husband 23 years ago. Antique rods and nets hang on the walls. The floorboards are a little creaky; the beds are a little squeaky. And only two suites have private bathrooms. “We figured if Ford and Rockefeller could share a bath, anybody could,” Judy says. When people like Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison and others came up here, running water and electricity represented peak wilderness luxury.
Today’s adventurers can gear up in the lodge’s fly shop, and guided trips float downstream in flat-bottom wood boats. Rocking chairs line the porch where, legend holds, auto magnates fixed prices after a day of pulling trout. And at night, you can hear the AuSable burbling through your open window. northbranchoutingclub.com