I hope someday to post at this website a lengthy tribute to the inspiration I’ve gathered from Ishpeming’s John Voelker, an “as-is” guy who stayed true to his home turf —while keeping his celebrity on the side—during his “Quintessential Yooper” life of 1903-1991.
When in Ishpeming, take the time to wander his old neighborhood, including his former residence, the Rainbow Bar, Congress Pizza, the Mather Inn, & Carnegie Library—satisfaction guaranteed!
And for a closer look at the man, please read this exceptional piece by Richard D. Shaul, originally published by Michigan History magazine—“Backwoods Barrister” (Nov/Dec 2001)—as well as the accompanying short pieces by Shaul and Shirley J. Bergman (granddaughter of juror Oscar Bergman) about the U. P. trial that inspired Voelker’s Anatomy of a Murder.
Just for now, let me add that my mother grew up in Gwinn, just downstream from legendary Frenchman’s Pond (Voelker’s fishing camp), along the East Branch of the Escanaba River; between its banks and my grandmother’s doorstep lay but a very narrow tract, known at times for its excellent blueberry production.
My uncle, Max Finley Jr., was John Voelker’s personal mechanic for a spell back in the early 50s, my uncle employed by a Gwinn garage. Uncle Max also explained to me one time how he and Mr. Voelker would occasionally bump into each other in a Three Lakes tavern, where they would share a few drinks—Voelker typically headed westward to some trout hole and crossing paths with my uncle’s regular mail run.
Those were the days!
While later living in Laurium, my uncle fished lakers out of Superior, at various times testing all of the waters around the entire Keweenaw, even going as far as Isle Royale, and doing so in his own boats; I was part of the crew on a few of those adventures and though not crazed about that sort of angling, I sure enjoyed the crisp mornings and, in hot weather, the relief!
But I, like John Voelker, much preferred the streams, and it was in the heart of Voelker Country I got myself started with trouting (at first, dunking dem worms, later opting for spinners) back in the mid 70s on Green Creek (near my grandmother’s), a tributary of that same Escanaba East Branch, with access coming by way of the creek’s intersection with historic M-35. Soon thereafter, I was boldly tackling the West Branch of the Chocolay (very near the former airbase) as well as sections of the Escanaba’s West Branch just southwest of Gwinn. I also learned how to nab rainbows from that area’s Johnson Lake, also home to Ketola’s sauna that just happens to be the first and still probably the best I’ve ever experienced.
When I attended Michigan Tech in the 80s, I tested my skills mainly in the Big Finn region of Toivola & Tapiola, in the heart of the infamous “Copper Country Triangle,” bounded by Ontonagon, Houghton, and Baraga. There, I found productive fishing on the Elm, Graveraet and parts of the Otter River watershed, occasionally venturing further south in the Ontonagon River drainage of the Ottawa National Forest.
And spent many fine days that I will never, ever forget.
Over the years I've also been privileged with the opportunity to fish across Lower Michigan, Wisconsin, Northeasten Minnesota (mainly around my father’s hometown of Ely), Oregon & Alaska. To see photos of some of these adventures along with selections from the writing of John Voelker >>>>>
For more about the historic Model Town of Gwinn, click here and here; the first article, titled “Gwinn: A Model Town Without Equal” was written for Michigan History by Arnold Alanen, who has also contributed much to the subjects of Northland architecture and the area’s progressive Co-op movement that flourished throughout most of the 20th century; the second article appeared in the Marquette Mining Journal.
And for more about historic highway M-35, click here.