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Fletcher Pond, also known as the Fletcher Flooding, is an impoundment first created in 1935 when the Alpena Power Company dammed the Upper South Branch of the Thunder Bay River and began flooding 9000 acres of marshland. The Upper South Dam is now owned by the Thunder Bay Power Company which controls water levels as the pond serves as a retention pond for downstream hydroelectric generation. No beautiful sand beaches here; Fletcher Pond is one of the premier bass fisheries in the United States. Because of its shallow depths and submerged stumps and logs, no jet skis or large powerboats disturb the peaceful and serene waters.
The shallow lake supports heavy cover for game and pan fish, making it a great place for both the serious angler and the family fisherman who wants to introduce the kids to fishing. Six pound bass are caught here every year, and 30 inch pike are common. Underwater features, including a submerged railroad bed, provide ideal habitat for many types of game fish. The challenge at Fletcher Pond is to find a way to fish it without losing one's rigging in the heavy cover. Angler's websites provide useful information from Fletcher veterans, and endless discussion discloses just how highly this fishery is valued among sportsmen. The fishing season never stops here, with ice fishing nearly as popular as the summer season.
The waterway is named after the Fletcher family, founders of the Alpena Power Company. The APC donated 6,600 acres in the Fletcher Pond area to the Thunder Bay Audubon Society in 1985. This acreage was of particular interest to the Audubon Society as Fletcher Pond had, by that time, become home to the largest osprey population east of the Mississippi. Opportunities for wildlife watching augment the enjoyment of a peaceful day on the water fishing. Wildlife viewing is best done by boat in the southern, undeveloped portion of the pond. There is very little development on the pond itself, providing much cover for wildlife along its irregular banks, many small coves, and adjacent marshland. Birding is likely the second-most popular reason visitors come to Fletcher Pond. Geese, ducks and aquatic birds find ideal habitat here. Herons and egrets stalk the shallows for fish and frogs.
Twenty-five osprey nesting platforms have been installed and most are in use each year. The osprey are unique in their fishing habits, and it is suggested visitors view them from their boat as the ospreys plunge completely underwater to snare fish to feed their young. The form they exhibit on lifting themselves out of the water into flight is most unusual and must be seen to be believed. Binoculars are a must for the visitor, as the wildlife here truly are wild and will behave much more naturally if viewers keep their distance. Bald eagles nest in the wooded acres of privately-owned sportsman's clubs on the southern shore and are often seen in winter on the ice scavenging fish left by ice fishermen.
Fletcher Pond is also near the home range of Michigan's elk population, and elk are apt to wander into view in the early morning mists. Although native to Michigan, elk had disappeared by 1875. Seven western animals were released in the area in 1918, forming the basis of a herd that has reached as high as 1500 animals. Over the intervening years, it has been determined that the optimal number the area can support is around 900 elk, and limited hunting has kept the numbers in check. The primary elk area is farther to the west in the Pigeon River State Forest, but the elk often wander into adjacent areas as population increases put feeding pressures on the growing herd.
Public boat access is available off Fishing Site Road and bait, tackle, food, gasoline, campsites, rentals and even fishing shanty rentals are available a mile or so down the pond, all on the north shore. Several campgrounds are available around Fletcher Pond, and lodging is available in Hillman, six miles away, Atlanta 23 miles west, or Alpena 25 miles east. One establishment near Hillman offers elk tours by either wagon or sleigh, accompanied by gourmet dinner for those who wish a few more amenities than a campground or motel provides. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, located in nearby Alpena, offers a variety of Great Lakes educational and historical exhibits. Float trips are available to view underwater shipwrecks from the era of heavy lake travel on the sometimes treacherous Lake Huron.
Detroit is about 300 miles away and Chicago nearly 400 miles. Access is primarily by two-lane state highway from I-75 for the last 50 miles, but the trip up US 23 along the Lake Huron coast is especially beautiful if coming from the Detroit-Toledo direction. If you drive the US 23 route, make sure to look for the huge statue of Paul Bunyan and his Ox, Babe, at the corner of US 23 and Nicholson Hill Road in Ossineke. Old Paul and his ox are famous folklore figures in nearly all northern states with a logging history, and there are statues of the famous pair located in at least three northern states. The story told is that this statue of Babe used to be a full-fledged bull, but the statue was within view of a bar across the street and a lucky shot from a local drunk one night made a steer out of him. Also in Ossineke on US 23 is a perfectly charming example of a tourist trap of the 40's and 50's called the Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo. The exhibit is a mixture of cement dinosaurs, cavemen and religious figures in an odd mix of childhood wonder that kids will love. This is a great stop for a picnic lunch and a chance to let the kids run a bit and wear themselves out after a long car trip. Because eastern northern Michigan has not been as heavily developed as other areas, a great many examples of roadside-attraction kitsch still exists in this area and are fun to hunt out and view.
Although not nearly as heavily tourist-visited as Michigan's western shores, a visit to the sunrise side of the state is a must for the sportsman, and a fishing trip to Fletcher Pond will have the angler bragging about the one that didn't get away for many years.
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