Travel to northern Michigan for winter fly fishing

Guide Tom Manus of Boyne Outfitters fishes in his waders in the frigid Jordan River in northern Michigan on an early January afternoon. (Ellen Creager, Detroit Free Press, MCT / January 8, 2013)

You can do winter fly-fishing all across the state. But mostly it's confined to hard-core anglers "who just need that fix," Winchester says. For newcomers or people who want the help of a guide, a more structured program is definitely the way to go - and the big ski resorts like Boyne are happy to oblige. Resorts across America are adding other unusual activities to keep skiers busy and attract new guests . Water parks, spas, zip lines, yoga, ice skating, cross-country skiing - and now winter fly- fishing - beckon to winter lovers who used to show up just for the downhill skiing.

And I do recommend winter fly-fishing, as odd as it sounds. The winter river, with its bowing cedars, yellowish and curving, is something to see. Newly fallen trunks and limbs lie this way and that (Winchester and Menas bring a chainsaw in case they encounter an obstacle). Snow hugs the banks. A midwinter sun looks as chilly as a circle of lemon sorbet in the sky. Ice clings to bare twigs like glass. You can breathe out here. Deeply.

I do have one weird question for my guides. Have they ever caught the same fish twice? Yes. If a fish has a scar or special marking, they may recognize it. Also, anglers know these rivers, know where the fish are, at least sort of. Because it's catch and release, fish often return to the same general area where anglers caught them last time.

"We know their address," Menas says. Still. The entire venture to me seems delicate and chancy, the rod so light that it seems it would be torn from your hand should a trout have a notion to eat lunch.

Most new anglers who try fly- fishing can be intimidated, partly because of the 1992 film "A River Runs Through It," which made the fly rod seem like Brad Pitt's magic wand. Even today, guides see some people with "A River Runs Through It" Syndrome, which is a compulsive need to do a figure-8 twirling of the line, "like you're doing a ribbon dance," scoffs Winchester, flicking his wrist and sending the line straight out into the fast-moving current .

Boyne Mountain is going into winter fly-fishing full throttle, plus preparing for spring. There's a stocked trout pond near the ski runs. There are fishing poles available for guests. They teach fly-fishing and fly tying.

After we leave the river and return to the resort, Winchester asks if I want to catch a trout in the pond.

But it seems a violation of the zen of fly-fishing, contrary to the acceptance of the fish's wishes on this day not to be caught.

Anyway, I kind of get a kick out of picturing the lazy steelhead huddled along depressions in the winter river. I picture them watching plankton drift by, the steelhead equivalent of watching "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" on TLC. They feel a boat passing, hear voices, see that nice juicy bug or clump of eggs dangling above, but . nah. They'll doze on this January day until they feel spring coming for real. Crazy humans, they murmur as the boat passes, then all becomes silent again.

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IF YOU GO:

Winter fly-fishing is offered by many fishing guides in Michigan, but the big ski resort Boyne Mountain has taken it up a notch, offering it for the first time this year to guests through Boyne Outfitters on the property.

Several packages are available, including the classic described in this article, the Traditional Float: Float down the river and fish from the boat and in the water. Instruction, equipment, waders and lunch included in the full-day tour; $375 for two people.

Also offered is a half-day tour for $275.

For details, contact http://www.boyneoutfitters.com, 231-549-6064.

Getting there: Boyne Mountain is in Boyne Falls, northwest of Gaylord and about a four-hour drive from Detroit. For general questions about Boyne resorts or lodging, contact http://www.boynemountain.com or call 800-462-6963.

WINTER FUN

For a different spin on a snowy vacation, here are some things to look for:

AIR BAGS: These massive, inflatable air bags are placed at the bottom of jumps to allow skiers and boarders to try flips and spins. Nail the landing on your feet, and you ride off down the hill. Fail, and you have a soft landing; http://www.bagjump.com or http://www.bigairbag.com.

BUMPER CARS ON ICE: These are turning up at skating rinks from coast to coast. The battery-operated "cars" are large rubber tubes with molded seats that can hold one adult or an adult and a small child. Controlled by two joysticks, they are easy to steer or spin as they bump along on wheels with tiny cleats.

ICE CASTLES: These massive ice castles are formed by thousands and thousands of icicles. A series of pathways takes visitors through ice columns, tunnels, caverns and archways. Introduced last year in Silverthorne, Colo., the castles were being built this winter in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

SNOWBIKES: Bicycles that ride on skis have been around for decades, but now they have the blessing of some ski resorts, which rent the bikes and offer instruction. The bikes can be taken on the chairlifts to access a variety of terrain; http://www.snowbike.info

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Ellen Creager: ecreager@freepress.com