Sunday, April 19, 2009

Michigan Cottage Country

Each year at this time we get the boat ready to take advantage of every opportunity to get out of town for some fishing along with peace and quiet. One reliable place to get away is a cousin’s cabin on a small lake in southwest lower Michigan, about an hour’s drive from Valpo.

His cabin is on Magician Lake, which is connected to a chain of natural crystal clear lakes known as Sister Lakes. These lakes are nestled in the fruit belt east of St. Joseph MI about twenty miles east of I-94. The surrounding Michigan countryside is abundant with fruit orchards, vineyards and small produce farms. Lower Michigan is loaded with pothole farm ponds and lake chains that support abundant panfish, bass and pike populations. Seldom are we skunked but occasionally we run into a tough bite such as the past week.

Thursday and Friday the weather looked great with a rising barometer and warming temperatures so we went.

We go fishing for many reasons, #4 is catching a few dinners. #3 is getting together to share stories, #2 is to complain about the government and #1 is to get a good buzz on with a few friends. The past few days we scored 3 out of 4. No weather conditions guarantee fish in the box and this trip proved it. The warm weather brought out a lot of fishing boats and they all had the same idea, most were locals. As far as we could tell nobody was catching much but as they say, a bad day in the water beats a great day at work.

Over the decades there has been a rapidly shifting cultural influence on the lake. I have no problem with the nouveau rich but having money is no excuse for obnoxious behavior.

While drifting our favorite spots it was noticeable that many cottages on the shoreline had for sale signs displayed toward the lake. Twenty years ago was THE time to buy. A lakeside cabin with a 40-80’ shoreline frontage went for about $100,000 or less. Two years ago the same properties went for $500,000. or more. Most investors bought the property, not the rustic seasonal vacation cabins. A dwelling is worth so much less than the lakefront property it sits on. Location, location they say.

Last summer when fuel prices were at $4 a gallon it had little impact on boat traffic. It will be interesting to see if the economic downturn has an effect on wealthy summer cottage owners this year. I doubt that it will.

Here’s a fabulous log home built on property that once held two or three cabins.

The family who built it own a bank, they tell me. During the past five years we have yet to see a human being on the property. But what a nice job they did. The landscaping alone had to cost more than $100,000 with all the stone and Mexican labor.

Here’s another summer home that has been on the lake as long as I can remember.

It looks like a typical suburban Chicago home. Nothing like “getting away” from it all is there? I have never seen signs of human activity on this homestead either. Maybe they spend most of their time on the tennis courts in the back.

Over the past few decades we watched as small cottages were purchased, torn down and replaced with personal luxury vacation resorts. Temporary seasonal piers were replaced with permanent piers, which need no care or seasonal maintenance. Expensive, they are. It wasn’t unusual to see a Mastercraft waterski runabout (with the Ski Nautique decal emblazoned on the side) under a shore station canopy along with a fishing boat, a pontoon boat and a jetski or two tied up to the pier, all belonging to the same cabin.

Giving way to the next watersport fad those Mastercraft V8 inboard mid-engine ski boats were soon replaced by Mastercraft V8 inboard mid-engine Wakeboard boats. A fool and his money are…you know.

These wakeboard boats have the basic Mastercraft layout with an inboard center mounted V8 engine. They sport a much higher freeboard. What’s most noticeable is the stainless steel tubular structure which encompasses the cockpit area that supports a loudspeaker array, brackets to hold the wakeboards and a connection for the tow ropes. The cost of a Mastercraft Wakeboard boat can go for about $60,000. What you don’t see is the ability for this boat to hold water ballast.

From what I am told these boats take on water in onboard ballast compartments. The extra weight allows them to create a higher wake behind the boat. The wakeboarders then have a man-made wave from which they are able to perform their airborne acrobatic display. I guess this falls into the new “Extreme Sport” category. The speakers mounted on the framework provide a musical soundtrack that enhances their dubious folly along with disturbing and annoying anyone within 300 yards. Where are those Somali pirates when we need them?

It’s getting to the point that if we find a quiet and productive place on the lake to fish it wouldn’t take long for one of these jerk boats to enter the bay and destroy what would have otherwise been a peaceful day of fishing by roiling the water near our boat and acting like a$$holes.

Throw in a few jet-ski’s and you may as well be on the Chicago lakefront. Isn’t that what wealthy urban yuppie types are trying to escape?


Dan from Madison said...

Wow I have never seen one of these wakeboard thingees. Yikes, sounds like hell on the lake.

As for the "cottage on the lake", I considered it several years ago but decided against it. Too much money, the lake frontage property tax will crush the life out of you here in Wisco, maintenance $$, etc. and all for a few precious weekends each summer.

Maybe when the kids are out of the house and I have actual time for it.

For now, I love to enjoy other people's boats.

By the way, bummer on the lack of fish.

Carl from Chicago said...

That boat and your story reminds me of Rodney Dangerfield as captain during Caddyshack.


Hi Gerry,

I just wrote a similar post to yours only from a bit different angle -- the hybridizing of natural lakes into suburbia. Just noticed your post, after I had already posted mine. Yeah, let our blogs expose those ruinous yuppies! I grew up in MI and am sad about the "plowing under" of the beauty of the lakes. Gosh that super wake boat sounds like terrorists own it!!! -- Barbara