Bass, Bluegrass and Back Twenty Mine

Behind-the-scenes ride through increasingly wild landscapes – no cell service, no tall buildings, and only random passers-by. The border between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin is formed by the Menominee River, one of many systems that eventually drain into the Great Lakes. People here know what car you drive, what your drink of choice is, and your grandmother’s birthday.

We grew quite fond of the area after spending time on the water with some of the best from the midwest, Tim and Nate to Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co. and everyone’s friend, Adam Greuel.

Nate Sipple (left) and Adam Greuel (right).

Born and raised in the land of ‘Ope’

Musician, fisherman and Wisconsin pride Adam Greuel of the bluegrass band Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is no stranger to Menominee. Heck, the river even inspired a beautiful impromptu love song while we were out on the water. When he’s not busy bringing joy with sound, he’s exploring rivers, small streams, and just about anywhere Google Maps shows he might have a chance to fish. Russel Pedersen—who plays fiddle, banjo and vocals for the band—was also able to come out the day before the two headed to Washington Island to headline the Sol Grass Music Fest.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades is a self-described “high-energy progressive string band from WI with roots in old-time, folk and bluegrass.” They recently celebrated a decade of making music together, much of which is inspired by the simplicities of the Midwestern good life. Fly fishing and Menominee have inspired tunes such as River Rat, Wisconsin Water, Northbound and Rivers High.

Fishing is not only what they do, but who they are. It’s ingrained in the music they make, the way they plan their entire year, even the cars they drive. The whole group is united by one thing: the small bass.

Russel takes the strings mid-cruise.

Bassin’ was slow, spirits were high

Not many things bring the people of the Midwest together like a casserole… or smallmouth bass. No one knows this better than the owner of Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co. Tim Landwehr and Sage Elite Pro Nate Sipple. When it comes to smallmouth, we couldn’t think of better people to guide you in the right direction… we’ll have to come back to you in their pans. Like Adam and Russel, Menominee fishing is more than a hobby or even an obsession, it’s a way of life deeply ingrained in every part of who they are.

For over twenty years, anglers from all over have made the trek to the Menominee River to experience the legendary topwater bite. Year after year, anglers return for the slowed-down lifestyle, the treasured friendships that are made, and the best pound-for-pound fighting fish.

Adam decided which popper to throw with the new Sage R8 CORE.

We didn’t swim all 116 miles of the Menominee, but one day on the river was enough to keep coming back. Our trusty guide, Nate Sipple, helped us navigate the post-storm waters as we all worked to get the bass biting. The new Sage R8 Core was the perfect tool for the job.

New Sage R8 CORE

We were able to send countless casts to every low bank, waiting for the burst of high water. This had us switching popper sizes and colors throughout the day and we even tried to have fun with the pike. As they say, it’s not always easy, but it’s always good.

The Sage SPECTRUM LT coil fits nicely in the new Sage R8 CORE.

“People need to be aware of this if they’re going to care.”

About halfway through the day, the crew stopped at an island before some of the most amazing braiding. Nate instructed us that we were passing through the area where the proposed Back Dyty mine would operate. That’s why, in 2017 and 2020, the conservation coalition American Rivers named the Menominee one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.

A sign opposing the Forty Back mine is placed in tall grass on the river bank.
Signs opposing the mine were scattered along the riverbank.

The Back Forty Mine is a proposed open pit metal sulfide mine to be located on the banks of the Menominee River. The mine would span 865 acres across the Menominee watershed and be only 150 feet from the river bank. It targets deposits of gold, zinc and copper in sulfide mineral rocks that were formed by past volcanic activity. To access these deposits, a 750 meter deep pit would be dug to remove any rock and soil covering the sulphide ore. The company would extract the ore through blasting and cyclic drilling. But it doesn’t stop there. The company plans to mine the metals locally. This extraction process uses cyanide to extract the metals from the sulphur. In a mining case study on its website, non-profit SOS Blue Waters describes that “… regular mining is like scooping chocolate chips out of a cookie, while sulphide mining is like scooping sugar out of a cookie.”

Final open pit plan for the Forty Back Mine. Courtesy of MDEQ.

When sulfide minerals are exposed to air or water, sulfuric acid is created. This suspected musculoskeletal and respiratory toxicant is a highly corrosive material that is an active component in battery acid and exhaust cleaner. These minerals are what would be found just 150 feet from the Menominee River.

As stated in a 2016 research paper by the Indian Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Commission, “uncontrolled acid generation by AMD [acid mine drainage] results in an ecosystem with high levels of metals, dissolved solids, sulfates, and acidity. A mine that drains acid water can destroy rivers, streams and aquatic life for many years.”

Look no further than the 2015 Colorado Gold King Mine spill for an example of the luck that awaits Menominee. The mine, abandoned since 1923, released millions of gallons of acid mine leachate into the Animas River. It destroyed nearby Navajo Nation farmland and turned the entire river orange from pollution.

A changed community

Menominee is home to a large number of classic freshwater species such as small and largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike, muskie, perch and lake sturgeon. The abundance of fish has kept loyal anglers coming back year after year to enjoy the peace, quiet and fishing with dear friends. Tim, Nate and the entire Tight Lines crew rely on this fishery for their livelihood and the local community relies on them as a major local business. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and an odd number of other artists draw inspiration from the unique landscapes that stretch along the 116 miles of the river and throughout the Menominee region. This water is not just a place, but a way of life and a lifeline for an entire community. All of this is threatened by the mine, which would ultimately do more harm than it claims to help.

More fishing, less mining. Adam and Russel cast the Sage R8 CORE rods effortlessly.

The question is not whether it will contaminate precious fresh water, but when and to what extent. To read more about the Back Dyty mine, click here. To make your voice heard, sign here and share on social media.

A big thank you to Tim, Nate and the entire team at Tight Lines Fly Fishing Co. who showed us nothing less than a good time. And a special thanks to Sage Fly Fishing for allowing us to get out on the water and throw those primo R8 CORE rods into the primo smallie water.

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