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People I Have Met on a Stream While Fly Fishing
People I Have Met On A Stream While Fly Fishing
By: Jerry Kunnath
[Previously published in the
Michigan Outdoor News]

A nice little stream

On the shore of Lake Superior, about thirteen miles due west of Whitefish Point, lies the ruins of the old
Coast Guard Vermilion Point Life Saving Station. The last time that I visited that site, it was being restored by
Lake Superior State University as an environmental research facility. Years ago, right around 1969 or 70, I
used to fly fish for brook trout in a short tiny stream near the station.

Vermilion Point was first settled and developed as a commercial cranberry bog way back in the 1870’s. A
pioneer family came to the area, which was mostly a swampy bog with a small stream flowing through it into
Lake Superior, and built dikes and dams to help in the harvest of the natural cranberries of the bog.  They
were there only a few short years though, not being able to make a go of it due to the harsh climate and the
failing economy. A few years later the United States Lifesaving Service, later to be renamed the U.S. Coast
Guard, established the Vermilion Point Life Saving station. This station, some of its buildings still standing
today, operated there for years, saving many lives during the frequent gales of the Big Lake.

I first found the little stream at Vermilion Point in 1970 by accident, while riding two-track roads in my four-
wheel-drive Chevy. After a long thirteen-mile ride on a sand road through mixed pine and cedar swamp, I
came to an old plank bridge over a small creek. I got out of the truck to inspect the bridge and immediately
heard the crash of Lake Superior’s waves on the nearby sunlit shore. Looking down to the creek about ten
feet below, I could see numerous fish darting back and forth in the crystal clear water amongst the pilings
and shadows of the bridge. I rigged my short, fiberglass four weight with a small dry fly, and cast from the
bridge to the gurgling waters below. Almost immediately, a nice brookie slurped up my fly and danced to my
waiting net up on the bridge. While releasing the fish I heard the sound of a vehicle coming up the road. It
parked, and an elderly gent came shuffling in the sand towards me on the bridge, sporting a warm smile on
his weathered and aged face. He introduced himself as George, his last name now escapes me, and we
talked of the weather, of fishing, and of the beauty around us. We also talked of his ninety odd years spent
living in the area. He told me that he often came here to hike the sandy shores and to reminisce about times
past. It seems that George’s family lived on the beach near Whitefish Point and made their living by fishing
the waters of Whitefish Bay and Lake Superior. At the turn of the century, his older brother Harold joined the
Life-Saving service. Harold was quartered at the Vermilion post near where we stood. George and his
brother would take turns hiking the thirteen miles of shoreline to visit each other when Harold had leave
time. George related how they would sometimes fish the big lake and the many streams of the area. He told
of camping on the shore of the great lake, and how they would sit under the starry sky next to a roaring
driftwood fire, talking of their dreams and ambitions, as young people often do. Then, with mist welling in his
bright green eyes, George told of how his older brother was lost while trying to rescue some storm tossed
sailors during one of the famous Lake Superior November gales. After a moment of silence, George politely
took his leave and told me to try the stream a little further up into what was left of the bog. He told me to fish
in the shade of the wisping willows, where he promised I would find bigger brookies. He smiled and touched
his hat brim as he nodded his head, and shuffled towards the ruins of the station. I did find larger brook trout
upstream of the willows. George knew what he was talking about. I never saw George again. We never did
cross paths, but the memory of George and his brother Harold are with me to this day. During later trips to
that stream I often thought that I had heard George's faint voice blowing in with the coursing breezes that
wafted over the dunes. Later deciding that it could only have been the rustle of the willow leaves overhead.

The last time that I went to fish that streamlet was about fifteen or so years ago. I kept my rod in the truck.
The station itself was fenced and closed. The old bridge would not probably be safe for foot travel, let alone
the weight of a car. The stream was merely a trickle, being over-grown and silted. The beach had been
posted by the Federal Fish & Wildlife Service against travel because of nesting piping plovers. However, the
memory of George and his lost brother was still with me, as were the trout that I had caught there. I felt that
by then, George had most likely joined his brother Harold. Perhaps they were once again sitting together,
this time above the starry sky and talking about fishing the lake, and perhaps about their dreams.

                                   
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Vermilion Point Life Saving Station - 1970
The 'Vermilion Point Coast Guard Lifesaving
Station circa 1970

Authors photo