Fly Fishing Wakeley Lake


Rarely does something in print meet or even come close to expectations…but on Friday, July 15th, I had the privilege of fishing a small lake, Wakeley Lake, in north-central Michigan and it more than met any preconceived notions I had going in.Wakely Lake Sign

As I opened up my March/April of 2016 edition of Eastern Fly Fishing my attention was immediately drawn to a story on a small lake not too far from where Vickie and I had camped in the summer of 2015. I read with great interests this very well written piece on the subtleties and nuances that were associated with fishing this little gem.

Wakeley Lake is not an easy lake…you don’t just drive up to the water, dump out and start fishing. The lake is about a quarter mile off of Michigan highway 72, just a few minutes east of Grayling, Michigan. If you know your fly fishing then you will also know that Grayling is the home to the Au Sable River, which was home to the foundation of Trout Unlimited…but I regress as this is another story for another time.

Vickie and I had left St. Ignace in the UP early on this Friday after spending an awesome day out on Mackinac Island the day before; where I will admit that I packed along my fly fishing gear in a small back pack and stopped at three places on the eastern side of the island and fly fished, all told, about an hour…truth is all I got was skunk-but I had always wanted to see if there were any fish, so I did…and now I know. We crossed the amazing Mackinaw Bridge and once again entered into the ‘lower-48’ and made our way an hour or so south whereby we went straight to Wakeley…I grabbed my float tube, 6 and 8 weight fly rods, kick fins, box of flies…and made my way down the trail to this simply glorious little lake. Oh, and lest I forget, all of this came after I paid my $5 dollar daily usage fee to the US Forest Service (which turned out to be the best fishing money I spent on our vacation).
Jeff with Float Tube at Wakeley LakeNot only as it a good walk with all of my gear in tow…but the lake itself is only open from mid-June to the end of August; all fishing is to be done with artificial lures and catch/release is also mandatory! Now, you might ask why go to all this trouble…in my first 10 casts I caught two bass, both very chunky 16 inchers and a 22 inch toothy pike who had all sorts of attitude.

Never before have I been ‘treated’ to such great fly fishing as I had for those three hours…I won’t say that I caught fish on every casts but I will tell you with all regard that in the three hours I landed about 30 nice bass to go along with 8 pike. I must admit that I had to have rolled the dice perfectly on this day as upon arrival the only other canoe on the lake packed up and left. Weather was probably a factor as sheets of rain were rolling in from the east and at times it was darn hard to see too far. All this said, it was a perfect fishing day as the rain and cloud cover…along with the change in barometer had the fish in an eating frenzy.

One of the coolest moments came about halfway through as I looked over my shoulder and there before me, not 20 feet was a loon. It was preening and going through all sorts of motions…and the best part is that it didn’t seem to care that I was so close, maybe it thought I was some sort of critter being so low to the water in my float tube…maybe it thought this guy is crazy to be out here on a day when it was in the low 50’s and raining…either way it was a real treat for me and about an hour later as I was heading back across the lake, my friend the loon, it opened up repeatedly with its lonesome and melodious cry. It is one thing to hear this cry on a movie and another altogether to be out in the ‘wild’ and be an audience to it!
Loon on Wakely LakeHard work is nothing I am shy or afraid of and frankly I am bit odd in that I really like to work for my fishing and my fishing opportunities. As it turned out Wakeley Lake might just be the perfect spot for those others like me. I have had bird hunting opportunities whereby I didn’t really know what the dogs had pointed and was often surprised with a cackling ringneck when I thought we were in quail country; this was much the same as I had my 6 weight rod with sink tip line and a big shad pattern as well as my 8 weight rod and a big shad popper, I was alternating between the two…the beauty and excitement came as I often didn’t know what I had on the other end until I got it very close to my float tube. I will admit that much more care and caution was given to the pike than was to the bass as their rows of sharp teeth can easily wreck even the toughest hands. If you have ever tried to land a 25 inch, 5 pound pike from a float tube whereby you have to pull the fish into your lap…give it a try sometime as it is a real thrill.

As I kicked back across the lake I couldn’t help but just smile as the day I had just experienced will be one of ‘those’ days, one I won’t forget…one that I hope to get to recreate on many other days; I often feel tired at the end of these long sessions-whereby I am my own motor…but on this day I had been rejuvenated, foul weather and all…what a day to Enjoy the Great Outdoors.

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    • Ky
    • August 12, 2016

    We lived in house on property for 9 years due to forest service job . It was most amazing time of our life !! That was our everyday backyard ! We fished everyday possible . Bike trails daily . My husband was in charge of the loon buoy closures each spring . Was amazing to hear them fly in every spring . We had the same nesting pair for years . So glad you experienced what we did ! We miss it so much …. Thank you for your post and reminding me of our daily adventures at wakeley lake

    1. Reply

      Thanks for the comments…I’ve told several that this was one of the finest three hours I’ve ever had fishing….to have it to myself was also very special. Maybe you can help…..does the Michigan DNR have any other lakes such as Wakeley? I’d love to fish them this fall or the next time we were up north…what a special, special place!

    • Kyah
    • August 14, 2016

    I will forward this to my husband Joe gomola . He loved your article . We live in PA now . He works on the Allegheny National Forest . He keeps up with all the fishing up in Michigan. Joe is a wildlife biologist. Avid fly fisherman . He just loved your article. He happens to be in Mio by wakeley right now . He is a wild land forest hot shot fire fighter.
    Here is his info
    Joe gomola
    I’m going to set up Twitter on his phone so he can follow you .
    Again will forward your question . Have him respond .
    Thanks again for great article .

    1. Reply

      Kyah and Joe,
      thanks for the reply and for the nice words. I am so looking forward to next summer and another trip north to Wakeley as I plan on bringing an older friend and my son along so that they too can experience the lake and the Au Sable…what an awesome place to see!

    • Gomolajoe
    • August 14, 2016

    To the best of my knowledge wakeley lake is a one off for non motorized, artificial only, catch and release, with walk in access. The lake was private until the 1980’s when it was sold to the USFS. The state of Michigan took the opportunity to try something new because the public didn’t have access prior to the acquisition. It wasn’t well recieved by the public at the time.

    There is one other lake that may be non motorized and catch and release but I think it is all tackle and you can drive right to it. I wish I could remember the name. Just check the regulations it should be listed in there. I think it was in the Gaylord area but it was 10 years ago and I don’t remember.

    1. Reply

      Thanks for the reply and information…this is such an awesome idea and too bad that other states can’t figure this out and replicate it and its success. The part I liked the most were actually the regulations as I know this indeed had to cut out many of the folks looking for an easy trip….thanks again….


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