21 Dec



In the world of environmentalists, Rusty Gates stood tall among the best.

Staff writer

Info Northeast

Fly fishermen from around the country will mourn the passing of one of the AuSable River’s premier and memorable protectors.  Calvin “Rusty” Gates, owner of Gates AuSable Lodge, located on the AuSable River’s “Holy Water,” passed away on Dec. 19 after losing his battle with lung cancer. Gates, who had assumed management of the lodge from his father, Calvin Gates Sr. in 1983, was 54-years-old.

The younger Gates and his wife Julie built the lodge into a premier destination, attracting fly fishermen from all over the world.  From the time Gates’ father purchased the lodge once called “The Canoe Inn” in 1971, Rusty Gates showed a keen interest in tying flies and serving as a guide on the AuSable River system.

In the world of environmentalists, Rusty Gates stood tall among the best.  As a proponent for the “catch and release” philosophy, first originated and practiced on the “Holy Water”, Gates’ efforts have afforded fishermen the opportunity for an experience unlike any other in the world of quality fishing. Even the name, “Holy Waters” was coined by Calvin Gates Sr., for that stretch of the AuSable River mainstream running from Burton’s Landing to Wakeley Bridge.

In 1987 Gates founded a new group named the “Anglers of the AuSable” to monitor and protect the trout waters of Northern Michigan. His legacy will continue in the work of this 900 strong group of individuals dedicated to this same cause.

Ironically, Gates has been, for several years, deeply involved in an organization called “Reeling and Healing – Midwest”, a nationally recognized support and rehabilitation association for women who have battled cancer and love the out-of-doors, especially fly fishing.  Underwritten by several major fly fishing manufacturers, “Reeling and Healing” teaches women to fly fish, enjoy the out doors and, in the four seminars sponsored each year by Gates Lodge to draw support from their peers in times of trial.

Rusty will be greatly missed by all who love the river and what he meant to the sport of fly fishing. Gates Lodge will continue to operate under the management of Josh Greenberg who has worked for Rusty for the last 15 years.

More details on Rusty’s life can be obtained by going to

Conservationist dead at 54

By Sheri McWhirter

Traverse City Record-Eagle


GRAYLING — Northern Michigan lost an iconic conservationist and legendary fly-fishing outdoorsman.

Calvin Hugh “Rusty” Gates Jr., 54, of Grayling, died Saturday at his home along the banks of his beloved Au Sable River after a long battle with lung cancer. He was founder and president of the Anglers of the Au Sable conservation group from its inception in 1987 until his death, and was among the most trusted voices on fly-fishing techniques in the northwoods.

Fellow conservationists, fly-fishers and environmental law advocates spoke of his abundant influence on the region.

“We’ve lost a giant. We’ve lost somebody I consider a legend,” said Lance Weyeneth, an Anglers board member who fished with Gates on the Au Sable.

Gates is the reason Weyeneth fly-fishes today, and imparted not only skills, but also a love for the river and its ecosystem, he said.

“I really can’t imagine that during my lifetime I’m ever going to know somebody like him. He was so studious of the river. The river was such a big part of who he was,” Weyeneth said. “And you’ve never seen a prettier cast. Rusty made it look easy.”

Not only was Gates a behemoth in the fly-fishing world, but he also was integral in local conservation and environmental justice issues.

“He was the kind of person who comes along once in a while, the type of person who stands for himself and things that are valued by so many others,” said Jim Olson, a Traverse City attorney who worked with Gates on environmental legal battles.

Olson came to know Gates well when they worked to fight an oil company’s plans to clean up pollution and dump treated waste water into Kolke Creek, part of the Au Sable’s headwaters.

“He gave us a beacon by which to stand up for what’s right. I think he was more than an environmental leader. He stood for the values of nature itself, the lakes and streams and woods,” Olson said.

Gates’ business, the Gates Au Sable Lodge east of Grayling, is a fly-fishing mecca, where thousands of anglers flock during the April-through-autumn trout season. That’s a tradition that’s not expected to change in Gates’ absence, said Josh Greenberg, manager.

“I’m going to continue to manage it like I did this summer, while he was ill,” Greenberg said. “There will be no name change. No way.”

Gates is survived by his wife, Julie, along with a daughter, sons and a large extended family.

A complete obituary will appear in Tuesday’s Record-Eagle.


Comments From The Internet

“Rusty Gates was a brave, smart, tireless champion of wild trout and the beautiful, magic places they abide. He lead by example; and he has touched and inspired us all,” said Ted Williams, noted Conservation Editor for Fly Rod and Reel.

Sad news. Rusty was a great friend to Michigan rivers and trout.

I live and fish in MI and Gates death is a sad loss to the sport of fly fishing. He has helped to save the Mason Tract – South Branch. It is a beautiful stretch of water. My condolences go out to his family.

Rusty was a treasure to the state, and I hope those that follow will learn from his example.

A sad day indeed, Rusty was a true hero. All who fish the Au Sable, should bow their heads and offer thanks to this remarkable man. RIP Rusty your work will not be forgotten.

Wow did my heart sink when I saw that headline. Traverse City Magazine ran a story on Rusty a few years ago. The opening line was, “The AuSable is Rusty’s river, the rest of us just fish there.” Couldn’t say it better. It will be hard to walk in the shop this May.

Rusty Gates will be forever remember for what he did for protection of the waters and woodlands that he and we loved and enjoyed. A great leader has fallen. We must continue his work. Our sympathy and prayers go to his family and relatives.

Like others, my heart just sunk when I read this news about Rusty. I will always remember him for his incredible commitment to the Au Sable, by which we have all been benefactors, and his willingness to have a cup of coffee early in the morning and just chat.

Unfortunately, I can’t say enough.

I will miss Rusty and his cryptic fishing reports. But most importantly, before any decoding of his report was begun, he would always start with “the coffee is hot”.

His most remembered words to me: “Eli, you got to hit the log” and “we need money for the river”.

Good bye, my good friend and fellow of the angle. My heart goes to Julie and the kids.

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