Group of anglers, including two NHL stars, takes riverboat float down the AuSable River
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 11:52am caleb
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A group of beginning fly fishermen, which included two National Hockey League stars, recently took a riverboat trip on the pristine AuSable River as part of a series of events in northern Michigan.
Eight men took part in a bachelor party weekend, starting with a riverboat trip on the AuSable River booked through Ron’s Fly Shop on Friday, July 31.
Among the group were National Hockey League players Dylan Larkin from the Detroit Red Wings and Jack Hughes from the New Jersey Devils.
“It was a hodgepodge of guys,” said Ron Rakoczy, who owns and operates Ron’s Fly Shop in downtown Grayling with his wife, Ronda. “It was high school friends and some college friends.”
Larkin, from Waterford, Michigan, was selected 15th in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Larkin became the first teenager, 19 years old, to play opening night since Mike Sillinger in 1990-91, according to NHL.com. He made the NHL after one season at the University of Michigan, where his 47 points, 15 goals, and 32 assists, led Big Ten rookies and placed him second in the NCAA among freshmen, according to NHL.com.
He is a center and alternative team captain for the Red Wings.
Hughes, age 19, from Orlando, Florida, was selected as the No. 1 pick and first overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils, according to NHL.com. He is a forward.
Neither the Detroit Red Wings nor the New Jersey Devils qualified for the NHL’s 24-team playoff bracket, which got underway on August 8, for a chance to win the Stanley Cup due to the season being cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rakoczy has fly fished on the AuSable River since he moved to the community in 1976.
The group met in Grayling at 6:30 a.m. and set out for the river. They fished from riverboats in the McMasters Bridge area.
“It is just one of a dozen landings that is on the AuSable that people utilize,” Rakoczy said.
A representative of the group called to arrange the riverboat float down the river.
Rakoczy and fellow river guides taught the group how to fly fish.
“It was something they always wanted to do,” Rakoczy said.
Rakoczy was joined by river guides Brian Kozminski, Ethan Berger, and Tim Riley with two anglers in each riverboat.
“They’re all free-lance guides,” Rakoczy said.
The time on the river had to be regimented since the group had to head to Petoskey at noon for an afternoon round of golf.
“Everything had to be laid out,” Rakoczy said.
The group had planned a charter fishing trip on Lake Michigan for the next day.
They talked about returning to Grayling to spend more time on the river and fly fishing.
“It was a perfect summer day,” Rakoczy said. “They had a great time and they all caught fish. For beginners, that was a great accomplishment.”
Rakoczy had Larkin and Niko Porikos in his riverboat. Larkin and Porikos were teammates on the University of Michigan’s hockey team.
Rakoczy was able to share stories about frequently encountering Red Wings legend Gordie Howe in the community. Howe had a cabin on Bear Lake located between Grayling and Kalkaska.
“I would bump into Gordie Howe all the time in the early 80s when he would stop at Glen’s Markets to get food to take to his cabin,” Rakoczy said.
Rakoczy said he sees some similarities with Larkin and Howe.
“Dylan reminds of a young Gordie Howe,” he said. “He’s got the look and he’s got the speed. He’s a big star.”
Rakoczy said the day was chaotic with such a large group plus the river guides. He added that there was not much time to learn about others in the group of anglers.
“It was cool event, being able to fish with some big time people like that, and they had a blast,” Rakoczy said. “They all grew up playing hockey. Hockey is their lives.”
This is not the first time that Rakoczy had taken a notable figure on the AuSable River.
Famed actor Mickey Rooney visited the community in September 2000 for a two-night performance in the auditorium at the Grayling High School.
Retired Crawford AuSable School District Community Education Director R.J. Hannan and former Superintendent Kent Reynolds made arrangements for Rakoczy to take Rooney on a daytime float on the river.
“That was a lot of fun,” Rakoczy said.
Ron’s Fly Shop, which was founded in 2016, has had a busy season this year with all the fishing gear, hats, and other items the business has to offer.
“We’re a good thing for downtown Grayling,” Rakoczy said. “People that come in off the street that don’t know anything about fly fishing still enjoy our shop.”
Rakoczy will start his 29th year next month at the Grayling High School, where he teaches engineering architecture classes.