Mark Rinckey (with net) lands a Platte River steelhead for David Richey.

I was dreaming the steelhead dream, and my world was one of rushing river water, a jumping fish hanging in the sky with droplets of cold water hanging of its hard body, and there I stood: looking like a big doofus, with a broad grin on my face, and loving the experience.

Then I came out of my mid-day reverie, shook my head once, and the steelhead tugging me downstream was just a good dream at a bad time. The older I get, the more that some of the mistakes of my youth come back to haunt me.

Forty-one years ago, I fell off a fire escape, caught myself on one of the supports, and hung there 30 feet above a paved parking lot. I managed to climb hand-over-hand up the support to the edge of the fire escape, and pull my sorry butt up to safety.

Injuries have caused a weak left leg and weak lower back for me in past few years.

I’d broken two vertebrae in my spine, ruptured a disc, and when I slammed sideways into the brick wall after catching the support, the impact really messed up my back. Three months after back surgery, I slipped on some ice, fell on a piece of fire wood frozen in the ground, and broke the vertebrae above the first break.

That laid me up for a year, and even though I was writing magazine articles at the time, I had to do some from bed. I spent two or three months in a full-body cast, and finally, I was able to walk around. There’s an old adage about outdoor writers having to be tough.

I finally got back to work, fished and hunted while traveling all of North America for magazine articles. My back always hurt, but like is true with hockey players, football players, I had to play with pain – day after day.

Then some joker in a BATA bus pulled out in front of me, and although I had my lap and shoulder restraint on, I had no time to stop. The impact as the car T-boned the bus, banged up my chest and ribs. You guessed it: this car didn’t have an air bag. Some broken and fractured ribs happened even though the hospital originally told me there was nothing broken. It just took a couple of days to develop.

So, the last 10 years have had its way with me. My left leg has never really worked right, and was always weak. I compensated for the injury and weakness, and most people never knew there was anything wrong.

I knew, and hid the constant pain, and worked despite it. I retired from The Detroit News in May of 2003, and considered spending the rest of my life doing exactly what I did while working as a full-time staff writer – fishing and hunting.

Two years ago, the pain really started to increase. I had to take the occasional days off to rest my body, and then back I’d go again. Gradually, in the past two years, my left leg got very weak and wading rivers became nearly impossible. There has never been any “give up” in my vocabulary, but river fishing became more and more difficult for me.

I was at the point of forgetting about something that had been a part of my life for more than 60 years. I began trout fishing in rivers at 11 years of age, and now at 72, I was facing the grim prospect of never fishing a trout stream again because of bad legs and a bad back.

Here comes guide Mark Rinckey and my son David Richey to the rescue.

Well, I’m more than delighted to write and tell you that my steelhead fishing trip came true two days ago. My son David, of Sitka, Alaska, came home. I’d talked with guide Mark Rinckey of Honor, Michigan, (231-325-6901) and he felt they could get me out on the Platte or Betsie rivers. Frankly, they were a far more optimistic than me.

Rinckey says the warm autumn and little snow, has put a number of steelhead into the Betsie and Platte river. In the past 10 days, Rinckey’s methods for other anglers had produced limit catches some days and only a couple fish on other days. However, during those 10 days, they had landed one 18-pound steelhead, two at 17 pounds and numerous fish up to 15 pound. Me, I’d be more than delighted to catch any steelhead.

You see, my left leg doesn’t work well. For 41 years, it has been considerably weaker than my right leg. But, oh how I wanted to go, to catch one more steelhead, a game fish that I’ve fished for quite successfully for 61 years. I’d come to realize how much I missed the hiss of river current flowing around the end of a sweeper, and the sheer determination and dogged fight with a big steelhead was burning a hole in my heart/

We got to the river, and I pulled on my waders, took a few tentative steps on dry grounds, and I felt “I can do this.” I walked at my pace, and they helped me down a short dropoff to the water’s edge on the Platte, and we got into the water. Mark walked in front of me, David behind me, and we slowly crossed the river.

Mind you, it was the last day of November but the weather had been balmy. It was a bit cool but we were dressed for it.

He we go, getting The Old Man & his creaky bones into the river.

We got to a wide sweeping run against the far bank. Mark gave David some spawnbags, and he’d been here many times before, and hooked a steelhead right away and landed an 8-pound hen steelhead, all bright silver and glistening in the current. He fought it well, and soon the hook was twisted out and the fish was given its freedom.

We cast and cast, and Rinckey left me in the water near shore, and floated back and forth between my son and I. Eventually, it dawned on us that David had probably caught the only steelhead in that run or all the splashing had put the other fish down.

We crossed the river again with Rinckey leading and David following, and me in the middle. I got up and made my way back to the car, and felt great. I was fishing again, doing what I’d done for most of my 72 years. It was a wonderful feeling.

We drove to the Betsie River where Rinckey guided a client to an 18-pound buck steelhead a week before. He said this is where things will be tricky because the water was up, and the current strong.

“I’ll be on one side of you and David will be on the other,” Rinckey said. “If you stumble or the current sweeps your leg out from under you, we’ll have you.”

So, in this manner, we waded across the river in near chest-high water, got up on a shallow sand ridge, and walked downstream. Rinckey gave the instructions.

“David, go downstream 30 yards and cast right up next to the opposite river bank, and let it bounce downstream. This is where Ray caught the 18-pounder a week ago. He also caught two 15-pound here the day before yesterday. There are lots of fish in the river.”

He pointed out to me where to cast, and cast the spawnbag out to show me where the spawnbag was supposed to go. I’d fished this hole many times before. I could feel the splitshot bouncing along bottom, and suddenly the line stopped.

I snapped the rod tip back and was into a good fish. The fish ranged about 40 feet, stopped and Mark and I eased down through knee-deep water. I’d eased back the rod, moving the fish inches closer, and he responded by making another short run and a half-hearted leap.

“He’s hooked good in the corner of the jaw,” Rinckey said. I’d pump and reel, and then the fish would take back the six-pound line. We fought a back-and-forth battle for 10 minutes before I could sense the fish tiring. At just the right moment, I eased the fish across the surface to Mark’s waiting net.

The fish came to the net and my guide didn’t miss this fish.

“You got him!” Rinckey roared in my ear as David yelped with joy to see The Old Man do again what The Boy had seen done hundreds of times before.

The steelhead, a buck weighing 11 pounds, was lifted from the net and held up for me to admire. It was sleek, with that pinkish-red blaze of color along its sides, and I drank in its beauty before asking him to gently release it.

We fished that hole relentlessly for another hour, and Rinckey asked how I was doing.

“My left leg is really getting weak,” I said.. “I know we have to wade upstream, and I suggest we do so while I can.”

He whistled up David, and we began the upstream trek, one on each side of me. Sheer determination showed on their faces, and I suspect on mine as well. I climbed out of the river like an arthritic hippo, wobbled a bit on my unsteady legs, and then we walked through the woods and up the hill to our vehicles.

I was choked up with emotion as I profoundly thanked both men for making this trip possible. Who knows what the future may bring when it comes to my lifelong passion of steelhead fishing, but this trip was one of the greatest thrills of my angling career. I also want to give thanks to the steelhead for giving me another thrilling battle on light line. It was a day I will never forget.

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