Saturday, April 25, 2009

Remembering Other Trout Openers

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It was sometime in the mid-1980s when I made my rounds of six or eight trout streams on opening day, and it had to have been the worst trout opener in modern history.

I drove through high winds, heavy snow, and temperatures in the mid-20s. It wasn’t a fit day for man nor beast.

I checked the upper Manistee and one of its branches, the mainstream AuSable River and its North and South branches, the Sturgeon and Pigeon rivers near Indian River, and one or two others, and the fishing was nonexistent.

My story was filed from on the road to The Detroit News, and I reported dismal fishing conditions. It was like writing about a funeral. Not much good could be said for the day or the fishing, for that matter.

Another writer for another newspaper wrote a canned story that told of sunny skies, temperatures 40 degrees warmer than they were, and bountiful hatches of Hendricksons, Blue-Wing Olives and Black Stones.

The story was so phony that people were angry when it appeared the next day. A news man at one of the Detroit television stations, who happens to enjoy opening day trout fishing, reported that two Detrpot-based writers had two different stories on opening day. He said only one was accurate, and it was written by me. I felt somewhat flattered.

On another opener, I wound up my checking of rivers and the anglers who were on them that day, wrote my story on battery power, but didn’t have enough juice to left to post my story to the paper. I recalled a young friend who live near Thendara Road east of Grayling off M-72, and went to visit with him in hopes of a good chat, and the use of his phone and electricity.

He wasn’t home but his mother was. I introduced myself, told her of my problem and she invited me in. I set up my computer, hooked it up to their electricity, and she allowed me to use their phone. First and last time I ever had to beg for a place to send my story to the paper.

Another time, I was fishing near Wa Wa Sum on the AuSable River with Max Donovan, an old friend from my boyhood hometown of Clio. He’d had part of one leg amputated years before, and with his “peg leg,” as he occasionally called it, he waded that stretch of river with agility and strength.

At mid-afternoon, the Hendricksons came off and Max was in his glory. He’d flick casts into current seams, behind sweepers, and he was like a machine. He caught all of his trout on a No. 14 Adams, claiming “the Adams is the best fly of all. It can match many different hatches, and it’s a fly that always produces.” He proved his theory that day, and even gave this tow-headed kid a bedraggled Adams to use and I caught a few fish as well.

Once, on the trout opener on the Sturgeon River, my old and late friend George Yontz whispered to me of a hole that he said was full of silvery rainbow trout from Burt Lake. I knew the hole well, understood how it had to be fished, and luckily found it free of people.

The fish were there, and I was on the attack, and hooked one high-jumping steelhead after another. I was young back then, filled to overflowing with a sense of my angling skills, and set out to prove it to the older anglers who wouldn’t help me when I asked for their secrets to catching Sturgeon River steelhead. It was perhaps one of the last days of my life where I kept and killed five steelhead, my self-imposted limit in those days back in the earl 1950s.

I walked into the tackle shop at Yontz’s Hillside Camp with a stringer with five steelhead, and all of the old-timers were there. Yontz could estimate fish weight better than any man I’ve seen before or since.

“Six pounds even,” he said, before laying it on the scales. He pegged it perfectly. “Four-and-a-half pounds” was his next guess and he was off by an ounce. The other three weighed 3 1/2, 4 and 5 1/2 pounds.

My face wore a sappy smile as the old-timers looked at that catch in amazement. The best any of them had done was two fish of three and four pounds. One or two of them had been skunked.

“Where did you catch them, Dave?” asked the best angler (other than Yontz) of the bunch. I got a bit smart-mouth with him, and answered “in the mouth” or “in the river.” They knew why I was hassling them, and later, it seemed a hollow victory as I lay in bed and cussed myself for killing all five fish to prove that I’d arrived as a steelhead fishermen.

Oddly enough, this is the first time I’d thought of that opening day story in a few years. So I dusted if off, put it forth with all of my ugly teenage warts showing, and it was one of my finest openers.

One could only hope for something half that good today. May one and all enjoy a great day, and unlike that mouthy teenager of long ago, I urge people to keep only what they can eat and return all the rest to live to fight another day.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/25 at 05:23 PM
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