By Frank Hursley
Originally published in the Journal of the Flyfishers' Club, London, England; Reprinted by permission
For the past 30 years I have read little of none of Hemingway. Then, within the past year, upon discovering how northern Michigan had a profound influence upon his early life, I embarked on a belated Hemingway phase. In order to enhance this awakened enchantment with the Hemingway legend, In June I set off to fish the creek at Horton Bay, where as a young man, Ernest delighted in taking numerous trout from its modest waters.
We were in the midst of a family vacation at Walloon Lake, a lovely lake where the Hemingway family summered at their cottage, Windemere, located on the same arm, but farther south on the opposite band. Born in 1899, it was here Ernest spent his first 19 summers.
At the general store in Horton Bay I had noticed "Breakfast Is Available" scribbled on a sign and with visions of a stout breakfast I left the cottage early on a pleasantly cool morning dotted with spicy white clouds. I had barely rounded the first curve of the driveway when I was forced to brake suddenly. Stepping down the center of the drive was a family of wild turkeys, led by a scrawny mother hen with watchful eye. They were as startled as I and with a litany of oaths the mother assembled her little darlings into a quick step elsewhere.
Reaching Sumner Road I headed toward Horton Bay. If I had turned in the opposite direction the road would have ended at Walloon Lake adjacent to where Ernest was known to work 12 hour days harvesting crops at the Hemingway farm, Longfield. Ernest's mother built a house on the farm where she escaped the demands of a large family by rowing the mile across the lake in order to satisfy her private moments. In order to reach Horton Bay, Ernest would also row across the lake then walk the four miles to the five-house village.
I reached the general store just as they opened and took a stool at the abbreviated counter near the rear. I was anxious to fish Horton Creek which crossed the road a quarter of a mile farther down, but I wanted to absorb the store's 118 years-old atmosphere. Ernest came here to pick up his mail as well as supplies.
While at the counter I surveyed the store. On the far wall photos depicted buildings no longer standing in the village. Included was a picture of Jim Dilworth's blacksmith shop and the Methodist Chruch where Ernest and Hadley were married in 1921. The church had stood next to the general store and I was told the foundation is still visible. I was shown a guest register which has entries by people from all over the world who have come to Horton Bay to revel in the Hemingway association.
I drove down to Horton Creek and parked the car at the roadside. The creek ran through a culvert below the road and its character was completely different from one side to the other. Upstream on the other side of the road the water was placid, barely any current and it was too deep for uneventful wading. On the downstream side the water tumbled out of the culvert in a rush to reach its destination in Lake Charlevoix not far on. This stretch had all the appearance of a major trout stream: rock and stone bottom with smart little eddys and rippling current, and above all, shallow enough for hip waders. I saw one major problem, however.
Downstream within casting distance a fence paralleled the road ending at each bank. On a tree limb overhanging the stream a large wooden sign proclaimed "No Hunting or Fishing". I assumed this restriction originated at the fence line and extended downstream. If my interpretation was correct, I should be free from a charge of buckshot as long as I did not penetrate further.
As I donned my waders and joined the Constable, passing motorists slowed to gawk at the sight of a suited fisherman in this area. by anchoring myself close to the culvert there was just enough room before the fence to allow a Hare's Ear nymph to drift down in the current. Much to my amazement and pleasure after several drifts and retrieves I was rewarded with a modest brook trout, no doubt a distant descendant of the trout that saw the inside of Ernest's creel. In as much as I dared not violate the fence line I was more than satisfied to reel in after my one encounted. It was a far cry from the two-pound brook trout Ernest mentioned in a letter written in 1917.
I drove back past the general store and turned down the road just the other side. Now paved, this was the irt road of Ernest's story, "Up in Michigan", written in Paris in 1921. The road ends at the bay on Lake Charlevoix where a lumber mill once stood and where sailing schooners loaded their cargo at a dock. They sailed with their cargo of lumber across to Charlevoix then out across Lake Michigan to the big city ports. Nothing remains as a reminder to this long-defunct industry. I parked and walked to the water's edge and lit my pipe. A brisk, cool breeze blew in from the lake sending lapping waves to etch their mark in the sandy shoreline. Along the shore modern cottages are clustered togehter, and out oin the bay their sail boats and sleek power boats lie at anchor bobbing on the waves. To the west the bay reaches out to a point once frequented by Hemingway on his fishing excursions and here little Horton Creek joins its waters to Lake Charlevoix.
I drove back up the road and slowed at the last cottage. This was the Dilworth's Pinehurst where Hadley and Ernest celebrated their wedding reception prior to being driven down Sumner Road to Walloon Lake. From there Ernest rowed his bride across to start their two week honeymoon at Windemere Cottage. From then on his life changed, became more complicated with challenged derived from new and distant horizons. But it was here amidst this entire area that his deep love for hunting and fishing and his great reverence fot eh outdoors had its roots. And I believe wherever he was thereafter he carried with him, tucked somewhere, a special affection for his boyhood haunts.