There was a time when I loved dirty water. It meant that all the jiggers on the Detroit River were screwed and I could be a show off and catch fish all day long. I still enjoy those days but not when I’m steelhead fishing. The odds are already against me swinging a fly and when that sight window is decreased down to a few inches my chances of success are practically nill.
I didn’t think it would be to bad but the run off from the golf course upstream was like chocolate milk.
Since my chances for success were pretty bad I decided to stay home for the rest of the weekend to tie flies and watch a new DVD I picked up, Spey Daze. Just like the tile states it’s a DVD about spey fishing, more specifically spey fishing the Great Lakes for Steelhead. I didn’t have much choice since I also busted my switch rod taking it out of the car.
This wasn’t a how to video, it was more about the history of the steelhead and salmon fishing in the Great Lakes. Granted all the fishermen were spey casting but a lot of the interviews with biologists were about the great salmon experiment and how invasive species changed the Great Lakes forever. Some would find the history pretty boring but not me. I was fortunate enough to be raised during the Salmon boom. My Father and Grandfather would take me on their trips to the Manistee river, in the late 60’s, when I was 3 or 4 years old. This set me on a path of hardcore salmon fishing that lasted until the crash on Lake Huron in 2004. While I watched I started to day dream about all the Chinooks, Cohos, Steelhead, Lakers and the occasional Brown my Dad and I caught. Spring and Fall from Sanilac to Harrisville, we hit it hard. Weekend trips to Harrisville spent sleeping in the back of the station wagon eating Spam and canned soup heated up on a single burner Coleman stove. Day trips to Harbor Beach in the same Crestliner aluminum boat that I use for pulling wire on the Detroit River today. I was a lucky kid, though it was pretty much a done deal that I was going to be a fisherman. When my mother was in labor with me on Halloween of 1964 my Father and Grandfather were in Owen Sound Canada fishing for Steelhead on Georgian Bay. The postmaster came out in his boat to track them down and tell them I was on my way. Fortunately, they made it back in time. I can only imagine what my Grandpa was saying on the drive back. Knowing him he probably said I was going to be a girl because only a woman could ruin a perfectly good fishing trip.
Years later, after my Dad retired, we kind of lost our edge. We still enjoyed fishing but the excitement of a new trip dissipated. We had more fun taking out people who never caught a salmon before and seeing their reaction the first time they hook into a 20 pound screamer. Even that didn’t last long since the Huron population crash happened a few years later. After that we concentrated on pulling wire for walleye. I, on the other hand, started looking for something else.
The more I watched the DVD the more I realized that experiences and memories are more valuable than anything else. I can barely remember the number of fish caught on a trip but the uniqueness of that trip sticks out. The Bald Eagle the flew overhead, the beaver that swam right past me, the mink I was watching run that bank when a steelhead swam up and crushed my fly. Creating those memories has become more important since the passing of my Father and Susan. Going through all their stuff and assigning a price tag to it made me realize just how unimportant “toys” really are. Memories are a different story. I can still remember sitting in my Grandpa’s lap as he taught me how tie a clinch knot. My father talking me through landing my first salmon on a Ping-A-Tee at Harrisville. The look on Susan’s face when I came back to our hotel room to tell her about the tarpon I caught on a fly. Those memories will never be taken away from me. They won’t be donated to the Salvation Army or sold on E Bay.
This is why I chose to fly fish for steelhead. Many don’t get it but I don’t care. The ones that do, understand. It’s not about the numbers but the experience. I don’t catch many but I can remember every fish. I can remember the weather, what led up to that fish, what fly I caught it on and the feeling of satisfaction I felt when I brought it to hand. This is my rebirth, to create those memories that can never be taken away. To fish places I have never fished before. To try and create that one fly that will make the difference. To be able to help someone along the way and to able to share the experience. That has been the hardest part about dealing with their death. My Dad and Susan were my two biggest fans. Both were always so excited to hear how I did, to be able to tag along when they could and to be a part of the planning for the next trip. I’ll never get that back but they will always be with me in spirit when that next fish hits.