Holy Waters: A History

PHWFF

By Dave Jankowski

Holy Waters is a special Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF) initiative focused on raising funds and awareness of the PHWFF Midwest Programs.

The Holy Waters auction will open on August 21 and close at 11:59pm on September 5, 2021. All proceeds go to support the recovery and rehabilitation of disabled veterans served by PHWFF in the Midwest.


“Holy Waters,” the event sponsored by the Midwest Region of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. is named for the section of the Au Sable River from Burton’s Landing to Wakeley Bridge. The name originated with Calvin Gates, who in 1970 purchased the property that would become Gates Au Sable Lodge. He knew that the stream above and below his lodge, at Stephan Bridge, was something special. It was clear, cool, wadable water flowing over rock, gravel and sand. The banks were lined with second growth white pines and cedar. It had profuse insect hatches and numerous surface-feeding fish.

The Au Sable was named by early French explorers, and means “river of sand.” It is one of the finest trout streams in the country.

It is known for its reliable and numerous insect hatches, as well as large brown trout and numerous smaller brook trout. From caddis flies, stoneflies, to mayflies it is a hatch-matching dry fly stream. In the Holy Water section it is managed as wild-trout stream, receiving no fish planting, and is catch-and-release only.

The Mainstream is formed by the confluence of Kolke and Bradford Creeks in northwest Crawford County. It meanders south for about twelve miles until it turns east through Grayling. The small East Branch joins it just east of town, together they flow another eleven miles before the South Branch joins and then four more miles before the North Branch empties its waters. The river runs another 120 river miles before emptying into Lake Huron near Oscoda. Over its course, it drops 650 feet.

Verne Perry built the first building on the Gates Lodge property in the early 1940s as a tavern and dance hall. After it burned down in 1954, Zoe Borchers bought it, rebuilt the main building, and added four motel rooms. She and her family ran the “Canoe Inn,” adding nine more rooms with the proceeds from the sale of a few acres for a public canoe Landing.

In 1970, Calvin and Mary Gates purchased the property. Cal was a high school band director and musician who had fished the Au Sable since the early ‘50s. He, Mary, and their six children, moved into a house across the river and operated Gates Au Sable Lodge, catering to fly fishermen, hunters, and winter snowmobilers. They added four more rooms in 1971. Mary ran the kitchen and the dining room, except for one small corner where Cal sold flies and fishing equipment. The corner business soon outgrew its space and in 1978, an addition was constructed to house a full-service fly-shop.

Cal Gates died in 1983, and son, Rusty, took over the fly-fishing side of the business. In 1990, Rusty and his wife, Julie, became the sole proprietors of the lodge. They ran six guides, sold thousands of locally tied flies, and with seventeen rooms and a restaurant, Gates Au Sable Lodge became a true fly-fishing destination.

In 2009, Rusty Gates lost a courageous battle to lung cancer. The next year, Julie sold the lodge to long-time employee Josh Greenberg and his wife, Katy. Josh had worked at least part-time at the lodge since he was fifteen years old. During high school and college he tied some 300-700 dozen flies during the school year and then worked in the shop during summer. After college he came on full time, guiding for Rusty for the next six years, and then took over shop management when Rusty got ill.

After purchasing Gates, Josh managed the fly-fishing part of the business. Katy jumped in and took over the behind-the-scenes management, as well as payroll and bookkeeping, all while maintaining a home and raising their two young boys.

The Greenbergs knew that the lodge had been well managed by the Gates and didn’t stray far from their model. But eventually, some changes became inevitable. They hired a fulltime chef, added to the menu, opened an outdoor dining area, and a sandwich window. The fly shop is open in the winter now, as well as nine of the rooms. They also keep the restaurant open on weekends. It has taken time, but Josh has his team in place now. With a full time staff of five, another six to eight guides, and twenty to thirty fly tiers; Gates Au Sable Lodge is the Midwest’s premier fly-fishing destination.

Story by Dave Jankowski

To learn more about Holy Waters, ways you can help, and information on the online auction, please visit HERE

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