The Au Sable River of northern Michigan is a renowned waterway, known as the “Holy Waters,” the river is a destination for sportsmen across the country. Whether you are a seasoned fly fisherman or new to the game, there is one place that is at the heart of it all. Gates Au Sable Lodge in Grayling, Michigan.
Our last visit to the river (in the depths of a Michigan winter) we stopped into Gates Lodge to reload on a few nymphs when we sparked conversation with the man behind the counter. A bit surprised that anyone was fishing that time of year, he still greeted our adventure with enthusiasm and a bounty of information including where to go, how to get there, what to use. That man was Josh Greenberg, the owner of the lodge and successor to the renowned Calvin “Rusty” Gates, Jr.
“For me, Gates Lodge was a place of community and my first job,” Josh noted of his memories of Gates Lodge as an employee. “I started there tying flies for then-owner Rusty Gates. From there I began working in the fly-shop, guiding trips and working throughout the lodge. It was a great way to make a living through college.”
10 years ago Josh and his wife purchased the lodge from Rusty Gates whose health was in decline. They have continued the legacy of Rusty by keeping many of the elements of the lodge that make it a fisherman’s paradise and a cornerstone of the angling community, while also making a few of their own decisions along the way.
“The joy of ownership exaggerates the same feelings as being a guide on the water and hearing fishing stories from customers,” Josh says of his role. “As the owner, you just get to see it in so many other facets, whether someone has a great meal or a great experience with the staff – you see the joy and excitement in others and is something really special.”
If you are new to the sport, or even a seasoned trout bum – Gates Au Sable Lodge has something for everyone. With 20 available rooms, the lodge is a home base for fly fishermen looking to explore the bends and turns that the Au Sable has to offer. The rustic, yet comfortable rooms allow you to take a load off when needed, grab a hot shower or enjoy some Home Improvement reruns before hitting the water. It’s enough to get a good nights rest before a day of exploration on the mighty Au Sable.
That comfort extends to the Fly Shop itself, where you will often find Josh whose friendly smile and enthusiasm for the sport and the area is immediately felt. Whether you are utilizing Gates’ services or not, Josh loves nothing more than to “share the water” as he puts it. He is ready to provide any angler with the necessary tools and information needed to get the full experience on the river. From hand-drawn maps to or a comprehensive fishing report, along with the flies, rods, gear, and tools needed to make it successful – the team at Gates’ has you. All they ask, is you come back and tell them about it.
Along with a good nights rest and a shop that we could live in, the lodge boasts an extensive dining experience. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served at the on-site restaurant which is worth a stop even if you aren’t going to fish. As we dove into our lunch together, Josh noted that the expansion of the restaurant was one of those bigger decisions he made as an owner…
“Our chef (Matt Haley) who had booked trips with us in the past was living in Florida and reached out about wanting to move back and looking to open up a restaurant in the area. I said… well, why not here!”
Many of the items on the menu are prepared in house, a lot of which are from scratch. The presentation is something you might not expect from an up-north fishing lodge, but it is not for show as the food is some of the best we have ever had. It’s well-received in the area as reservations are highly encouraged, especially during dinner hours. You can also grab ‘n’ go from the takeout window for a shore lunch on your travels.
If fly fishing is something you feel you have ever wanted to get into, to learn or to experience, Gates Au Sable Lodge is the perfect place to start. The friendliness and passion of the entire staff will ensure you get off on the right foot. It all starts from the top and even a few minutes with Josh, you will feel a part of the family.
If you are an experienced fly fisherman and are yet to fish the Holy Waters or maybe have not had the luck you want… Gates Lodge is the spot. “We are very laid back,” Josh says of the booking experience. “We are going to make the sport easy and approachable for you. Provide expert advice and help create meaningful stories for you. It’s up to us to show you how to best experience the Au Sable.”
There are no fishermen’s secrets there, the team at Gates Lodge genuinely wants everyone to have a fulfilling experience and will let you know the required setup no matter what you are after. All they ask, is you come back and tell them about it!
As we pulled out of Gates Lodge, we were immediately planning our trip back. The lodging, the food, the fishing, the conversation was all uplifting, refreshing and enlightening. If the Au Sable truly is the Holy Waters, your time at Gates Lodge will feel like a baptism – you come out of the experience a new man and dare we say, a better fisher… man.
Be sure to check out Gates Lodge online to learn more and book your next getaway. A prime opportunity to truly live the Great Lakes Good Life.
Photo Credits: Shawn Greco