Rediscovering Lake Hudson...and its herons

By Steve Begnoche

I’m not sure when it struck me, but sometime within the first 30 minutes of paddling and floating around Lake Heron, make that Lake Hudson, I realized what a neat place Lake Heron, er, Hudson, Recreation Area is.

Before heading down to Lenawee County from Ludington recently to visit my mother-in-law, Joan Waldron, I put my 17-foot Old Town Nantucket kayak on top of the truck thinking I might explore Lake Hudson again. It’s been almost 20 years since Brenda and I and our daughters moved from Morenci to Ludington.begno.kayak

I remember writing in a farewell column in the Hillsdale Daily News, where I worked for about 18 months after a five-year stint at the Morenci Observer, that I was trading seas of soybeans and corn for beaches of sand and the blue water of Lake Michigan.

Life in Ludington with its miles of sandy Lake Michigan beaches, state parks, rivers, the Manistee National Forest and more natural resources than most of the locals can appreciate, has been good. The outdoors and all it holds has been greatly rewarding.

But I’ll never forget the day our oldest daughter, then in kindergarten, said she liked Morenci better. She missed Bean Creek–and her friends and family there.

 And I remember many afternoon hikes along the creek and many hikes and the occasional cross country ski at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. I remember photographing spider webs, dripping with dew that clung to the thistle plants.

And I remember a Hitchcockian Lake Hudson experience after walking a deer trail where, upon the ride home, I felt tickles on my legs that wouldn’t go away. With no one home, I entered the kitchen of our Cawley Road home, dropped my jeans to the floor and was aghast to find ticks–more than 20 of them–working their way up my legs to where I know I didn’t want them. Ah, the memories.

Lake Hudson also prompted me to buy my first boat: a well-used Montgomery Wards jon boat, with suspect oar locks, for $90. It was made out of the thinnest aluminum I’ve ever seen in a boat. Later I added a little trolling motor which I still have and use. I was the King of Lake Hudson, tooling around, seeking fish and taking the kids for rides at about 2 mph, which considering the lack of structural strength of the boat, might have been too fast.begno.pads

I remember an assignment for the Observer of spending the day with Michigan DNR biologists as they gathered eggs from muskies they were netting in the lake. My eyes got as big as the fish.

Finally, one day with my brother in the boat, bored of not catching anything, we were tooling around the lake absent-mindedly trolling lures past the spots I learned where the DNR had placed their nets. The biologists told me their logic–why the spots were good for muskies–and I was smart enough to figure they knew a lot more about that than I, so I later fished those spots. Well, I caught one, about 34 inches long. It remains the only muskie I have ever caught. Did I mention I like fishing, but I’m no expert?

Back to this recent June afternoon, I had decided it was time to reacquaint myself with the lake. I now fish a lot out of my kayak, leaving my battered ski boat and a little fishing boat to gather cobwebs and mouse nests most of the year. I’ve caught a lot of fish in the kayak and have found fishing from it to be a lot of fun. I slip into areas most motorized boat fishermen can’t get into. A leaping bass or northern pike will often be shaking at or above my eye level from my seated position at the water’s surface. A face full of fish-shake-spray provides a different kind of baptism. Every now and then I’ve been towed a bit by a big fish. I find that kind of fun–really.

I thought a muskie might give me a good ride.

Well, the first two people I meet while kayak fishing on Lake Heron were fishing from kayaks. One was targeting bass. The other bass and muskie and he reported good luck…earlier. You fisher folk know what that means–I was too late.

Instead of fish—though I toyed with more than a few bass or more accurately they toyed with me—I found something else even better: Lake Heron is a neat place. Well, maybe not neat. In two afternoons of paddling almost every inch of its shoreline, I only encountered one house, set way back in the far southwestern sector. Mostly, the shoreline is wilder (in a new growth sort of way) than most of the inland lakes of most of Michigan.

I started calling it Lake Heron because herons were everywhere: blues, great blues, at least one green heron, at least one heron in its white phase (or at least that’s what I determined). Herons were wading at the water’s edge. They were standing on the shoreline in the weeds.  They were hunting from atop logs in the lake. They perched in trees. They criss-crossed the sky with that slow, deliberate flap of the wings so unique to them. Shy birds, they tended to take off before I got really close. However, on a few occasions, I got within a few feet without knowing they were there and when they took off they did so with a raucous scolding. It’s a prehistoric scolding, right out of the Flintstones, and it made me smile more than most cartoons. At times three to five herons would be in my view at once. That’s when I changed the name to Lake Heron.

Being a dammed river, the lake drowned many little valleys making for many little finger-like areas to explore. I did my kayak thing which meant I often paddled into or let the wind blow me into expanses of lily pads or other weeds. The mixture of plant life atop water has always intrigued me. I like fishing the little open spaces, and have pulled some big fish out of frying pan-sized openings in the weeds.

Saturday, and again Sunday afternoon, I explored these parts of the lake. For about 30 minutes on Sunday, I played around in the far southwestern finger of the lake. It was weed-choked and deserted. Fish were jumping all around me, but again I couldn’t interest them in the lures I brought. I didn’t really care. The pond showed another personality of the lake, a place that the late naturalist Sigurd Olson might say could provide a listening point for a harried soul in the modern world to reconnect with something older in the natural world. OK, Lake Hudson is man-made, but the lily pads didn’t know that. The fish didn’t know that. The herons didn’t know that. The sun played on the water as it would in a natural lake.

And I connected as much as I would in some back bayou of Hamlin Lake (another man-made lake) near Ludington or on a still pond off the main channel of the Pere Marquette River.

The kayak will make the trip back to Lenawee County again. Maybe even the fishing boat if I get more serious about reacquainting myself with a Lake Heron–Hudson–muskie.

That would be a bonus. The real reward is just experiencing the quietness of Lake Heron-Hudson. It speaks volumes to those who would listen.

    – June 20, 2007