Rebirth

26 03 2017

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.

Huron on the left, golf course creek on the right.

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.





Evolution

5 03 2016

About a week ago I was listening to a podcast by April Vokey. She has been interviewing people who are instrumental in the fly fishing world. One interview in particular really got me thinking. The person stated that he cuts the point off of the hook when he fishes for steelhead. The thrill for him now is proving to himself that the fish was there. He has no desire to hook, fight and then land the fish, especially if it is a wild Pacific Northwest Steelhead. This really struck a chord with me and got me to question my own motives. I started to ask myself, when did I evolve from racking up a body count to just enjoying the experience?
Before I get too philosophical, I suppose I should try to explain where I am going with this. I’m not going to bash anyone who decides to keep a legal limit whenever they go out. I’m also not suggesting that anyone who keeps fish is not out there for the experience either. I’ll be honest; there aren’t many walleye that I release, unless of course it was a pre-mature release 20 feet from the boat. I guess what I am trying to figure out is when did I start to care more about being out fishing and not so worried about catching?

When I was a wee little tyke, catching bluegills with my Zebco 202 at my Grandparents cottage, all I cared about was catching as many as possible and the bigger the better. It was all about bragging rights and showing my father and grandfather that I could catch fish just like them. As I got older it wasn’t so much about trying to impress them as it was trying to show up the neighborhood kids. They may have been better at baseball but by God I could catch Largemouth Bass all day long on a Panther Martin spinner. That continued on into my foray as a boy scout. Campouts were all about fishing and who could catch the most. Summer Camp at D Bar A held a point contest every year for wildlife. We could get points for any fish entered. I racked up such a body count that they instituted a new rule the following year. Troops were only allowed to count 3 fish toward their total. In retrospect now the amount of damage I did, and other scouts, to the population was probably pretty bad. I doubt very many of those fish ever survived the catch and release process.

Back then though it was all about the numbers, Catchin’ and Killin’ as my one friend put it. We had to be in that top 10% that catches 90% of the fish and we were relentless. We spent many a night on the beaches of Harrisville tight lining salmon. Was it legal? Yes. Was it ethical? Nope. Yes, these fish were going to die anyways and none of them were ever going to get the opportunity to spawn. Technically they were a controlled experiment to keep alewife numbers low. They were past that point in their usefulness so hauling them out of the water like we were was no big deal, at least that is how we viewed it. Back then I could only go salmon fishing a few weekends a year. The anticipation was more of a drug than the actual catching. As with all addictions the high eventually wears off and in this case it was cold turkey, the salmon disappeared. I had to replace it with something else so I went full bore on walleye. Again, it was back to the take no prisoner’s attitude and catch as many as legally possible. Eventually, I honed my presentation to the point of where days of not catching a fish were pretty rare. In a word I got bored. I was catching walleye pretty much whenever I wanted. I wasn’t forced to do all my fishing during the Spring run when everyone out there is an “expert”. As long as the ramps are open I could come and go as I please. I was spoiled. Many view the annual run as a once a year event, to me it became a nuisance. Too many boats and too many fishermen. I would go on select evenings but never the weekend or during the day. I began to long for more peaceful times when it would just be me and the fish. I wanted that serenity that other writers could so poetically put into words. It didn’t happen overnight, it just built up to one year when I decided I had had enough of the craziness.

This desire to get back to a more simple way of fishing led me to my next adventure, Steelhead.

I don’t know what it was about these fish but for some reason I just decided that I was going to catch them spey casting and I was going to release everything I caught. I have no idea what brought on this revelation but I made up my mind that this was going to be the way to do it. I bought a 11-9 switch rod, learned how to cast it, tied up some flies and once again I was relentless. The big difference this time around was that it was no longer about the numbers. Now all that mattered to me was landing 1 fish and releasing said fish to fight another day.  Racking up a body count was no longer the end goal.  Relaxing and enjoying everything going on around me was now that goal.  Granted, that hit or “Tug” has become my new drug but standing in a river and peacefully swinging a fly downstream became more important than filling a cooler.  Hassle free fishing was what I was after.  So much so that I don’t even take my boat, I just put on my waders and start walking.  I know there are better holes that are accessible only by boat but that is more of a hassle when I’m only going out for an hour or so.  Success for me is no longer measured by numbers of fish caught.  I guess as I got older I began to realize more and more that our fisheries are a fragile resource and they can’t be taken for granted.  I know that my releasing a few dozen fish a year is not going to make or break a fishery but it gives me peace of mind.  Come to think of it, that is what I desire most now.  That peace of mind that can only come through fishing.





Washago Pond Hog Tied Bluegill

12 09 2014

Went back to Washago pond the other night to just play around for a bit.  Action was pretty slow with only a few smaller fish caught.  I did see some decent surface action farther out on the pond then I could cast.  I’ll have to bring my waders along next time and see if that helps.  Only thing of interest was the way I caught this one bluegill.  Somehow I was able to wrap the leader around his tail when I set the hook.  He was basically hog tied and I brought him in backwards.  I haven’t done this to a fish since my salmon tight lining days on the beaches of Harrisville.  He was released none the worse for wear to fight another day.   

If you look closely you can see the leader going from his mouth and around his tail

If you look closely you can see the leader going from his mouth and around his tail