Saturday, June 13, 2009

What’s In A Name?

imageWhat’s in a name? It depends on how anglers and hunters use the name to communicate with other sportsmen. Names can and do play an important role in how we feel and think about the outdoors.

They may remind us of a favorite trout pool with mist rising off it or a secret woodcock covert where white splashings cover fallen leaves, and names often play a major part in identifying where we fish or hunt.

Mind you, I’ve been banging around the outdoors for well over 55 years. During those years I’ve learned some things about a good many places, and it’s fun to talk about these different spots to like-minded sportsmen with our special name codes. Of course, other folks may have developed their own names to confuse other anglers or hunters.

The Platte River has long been one of my favorite salmon and trout streams. I guided fishermen on it and several other streams in our northern counties for 10 years, and have fished it for nearly 50 years.

The Platte has many local names that help anglers pinpoint specific locations. For instance, the old Rope Hole, just upstream from the mouth, was the first spot salmon and steelhead would pause on their way upstream to spawn. It was known by this name by many anglers.

The Hole Where It Never Rains was a hotspot until the outlaws began going under the M-22 Bridge to snag fish. The conservation officers also knew where this spot was, but few people had the knack of fishing it.

The trick to fishing this hole was to wait until broad daylight. Any fish in the hole at dawn would stay there. Those people who went under the bridge in the dark would spook the fish upstream or down. The hole would be empty of fish at dawn if anglers tried fishing at night.

There was the Goose Pasture (also called the Goose Grounds), a campground on the upper Platte River off Goose Road. It was always good in the old days when more fish were available than anglers.

There was the Swimming Hole in Honor, the Doctor’s Hole and the Nurse’s Hole, all upstream from Honor. Two favorite spots years ago was the Grade. There were two: the Upper Grade between Haze Road and US-31 and the Lower Grade, downstream from Haze Road. These grades were where an old logging train once crossed the river. Some of the old pilings still remain but the only thing they are noted for now are gravel bars for spring and fall spawning fish.

Think about it. Two anglers in a restaurant are talking about where to fish, and one would be heading for the Rope Hole while the other was heading for the Upper Grade. Few other anglers would know what they were talking about.

My Home Stream was the Sturgeon River in Cheboygan County between Wolverine and Indian River. I began fishing it at the age of 11, and spent every summer camping there to escape the downstate pollen that affected my hay fever. It too is rich in angling history and place names that were rather odd.

I can close my eyes, and think of The Snow Hole, and the spot instantly comes into focus in full color. The river flows downstream, dropping into a deep hole in front of the old Snow Cabin, and then it makes a sharp 90-degree bend to the left. It then splits into two current flows as it goes around a tiny island before both threads of current connect.

My late twin brother George and I laid claim to the Snow Hole while others who fished the Sturgeon had their favorite spots. The Sturgeon is a wild and free-flowing stream, and it holds steelhead and brown trout.

It also holds the ashes of my brother and of a very fine gentleman and good friend named Russ Bengel. He donated large sums of money to Ducks Unlimited, and loved the river like he loved life itself. One day when my last fishing trip has been taken, and my last hunt has ended, my ashes will mingle with theirs in my beloved Snow Hole.

The Sturgeon is filled with names. Take the White Road Bridge. One might figure the bridge to be painted white, but it was painted red. Go figure. It was easy to throw people off our tracks if we mentioned going to fish the Five Sisters Hole.

It wasn’t a hole, but a smooth run along the opposite bank, and at the head of the run were five aspen trees growing from a single trunk. The Rain Hole was immediately downstream, and it always paid off with a fish just before a rain.

You know how it is before a rain. You can smell it on the air. We would race off to the Rain Hole, and if we beat the rain, it always delivered a nice steelhead. It was one of the surest bets on the Sturgeon River.

Then there were the Meadows pools, the Clay Hole, Yontz’s Hole, Eddie’s Pool, Railroad Bridge and many others. Knowing the whereabouts of these named locations gave some anglers a heads-up on others who were out of the loop.

Names also applied to hunting, and nowhere was it more pronounced than with grouse or woodcock coverts. Upland bird hunters were more close-mouthed than mushroom pickers and trout fishermen, and the names they gave to each of their favorite coverts were known only to them and two or three close friends who had been sworn to secrecy.

A good friend always starts hunting at the Church covert. This bit of tag alder swale was noted for October woodcock, and among those of us who knew its location, we kept it a secret for years. Actually, the secret didn’t come out until the aspen and tag alders grew too high, and it became useless habitat for migrating birds.

The Caboose covert was on private land, and was surrounded by 40 acres of aspen and bracken fern bordered by an old pasture on one side, a road on the other, and the edge of a damp cedar swamp. It produced wonderful grouse and woodcock hunting for many years, and its name was derived from a train caboose in the woods. Don’t ask me why, but it was there for many years. A few of us were allowed to hunt the area for birds, and we flushed more than one grouse from under the caboose.

Then there were key grouse hotspots such as the Grape Arbor Run, the Split Rail Fence, and Old Baldy. The area 20 feet below Old Baldy was grown up to a smorgasbord of grouse foods, and it held plenty of grouse until wild turkeys moved in and took over. They used Old Baldy’s sand to dust in, and the grouse moved out.

Another spot that always comes to mind even though shooting grouse has become more difficult in recent years. I called it Dave’s Double, in reference to one of those memorable days when the shooting gods smile and two grouse flush. I took the farthest one first, and then swung on the closer bird, and he fell in a puff of feathers. It was my first double on ruffed grouse, and the spot deserved a name.

In fact, such locations are named for a variety of reasons. Some make sense while others do not, but there it is. We accept such things, and when the whim strikes, we name another location.

Many such spots are meaningless except to us, and then only because something caused them to stand out in our mind. Naming our hotspots is as much a part of fishing and hunting as carrying a rod and reel or toting a shotgun into the woods.

And less you think all such places are good, I’ll close with one where I won’t be when the deer season closes on Jan. 1. I won’t be in the Willow Tree stand. I tried it once, the wind kicked up, and the willow blew six feet in one direction in a gust, and six feet back. A nice 8-pointer showed up, and I came to full draw and couldn’t keep the sight on the deer.

I gave up and climbed down. Later that night, part of the willow tree broke off and fell to the ground. It smashed up my stand but I was long gone by then, and much wiser for the experience.

Posted by ofieldstream on 06/13 at 12:01 AM
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Friday, June 12, 2009

Fishing Tournaments: Fun Or Competition?

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Fishing is supposed to be a contemplative sport. Right? Isn’t it?

Much too often angler egos get in the way of common sense. Watch a fishing tournament where people fish for money and big expensive prizes. The losers are easy to spot because they are the first ones to load up and head out of town while the weigh-in is still going on.

Figuring out the winners is easy. They are the ones with big smiles, pressing the flesh with adoring fans, accepting money and prizes while thanking every sponsor, their wife and kids, the boat that brought ‘em to the party, and almost every piece of equipment they use gets mentioned right down to the brand name of their favorite snap swivel.

Those anglers who tie for a certain cash prize are something to watch. While covering a bass tournament, I watched two guys get angry at each other. The last cash prize, if memory serves me right, went to the sixth-place winner. One man weighed in early, and the second man weighed in later, and both had a catch that weighed exactly the same.

The guy who weighed-in first wound up in sixth place and won a check. The other gent, with the same weight, got a ton of prizes but no money. The latter man felt entitled to some of the sixth-place money, and the first gent didn’t agree. It almost came to blows as I stood by with my trusty camera waiting for what photojournalists call a “photo op.” Neither opportunity nor knuckles knocked that day, and the money man simply walked away, a tight smile on his face, wishing he’d come in first-place where the big money is made.

After bopping around this great outdoors, not only in Michigan, but across all of North America and as far away as New Zealand, I’ve learned a few things about people and this great sport of fishing. I’ve learned that buying a fishing license is no guarantee of a limit catch or even one fish. It only grants one the opportunity to legally go fishing. The lust for cash winnings also can make enemies among friends.

Skill determines, within reason, how anglers succeed or fail. Those with frequent catches often are the folks who are more skilled than some of their friends. It’s been said that skill means being in the right place at the right time with the proper bait, fly or lure, and knowing what to do with it. I find that ro be so true.

Fishing is more about ethics and ethical behavior than some would like to think. Those who snag fish—an abomination—is an example. It’s been outlawed in Michigan for many years but folks think the only way to catch spawning salmon or steelhead is to snag them.

This business of ethics is based on personal beliefs and of not doing something we wouldn’t dream of doing if we knew someone was watching. Ethics is a part of how we live our life, and how we treat other people and the fish we catch, and it means doing “the right thing.”

Much of the enjoyment of fishing comes from sharing time with others. Sharing our sport with others can be great fun.

A buddy and I found a bunch of steelhead on the Betsie River below the old Homestead Dam one day, and we were catching fish on spawnbags rolled along bottom. A gent showed up, and as he talked to me about fishing, a fish hit and the hook was set. I thrust the rod into his hands.

He fought it well, thanked me for the opportunity, and I asked if he had a license. He did, and I asked if he wanted the 12-pound male. He did, and shortly after, he returned with his wife. The fish were still biting, and I hooked another steelhead and gave her the rod. She soon had the fish in the net and it was bigger than his.

Never have seen those folks again, but when they left with two fish and some great memories about fishing with some unknown bearded gent and his friend, it made me feel good to share time with them.

This sport appeals to young and old, of all races and religions, and it asks little from its participants other than they fish in an ethical manner and abide by the laws.

Big fish once was my thing but now a six-ounce bluegill on a light fly rod is great fun. Trying to tease a steelhead into hitting in a hard-to-reach spot is challenging and satisfying when a fish finally strikes. If the steelhead jumps but once, is great. Landing the fish isn’t necessary.

Fishing is a great way to mentor a child and build a solid relationship that can endure for many years. I taught my oldest son to fish, and we still share some days together although he has since moved to Alaska. Mentoring means giving a bit of yourself to help others, and it can help a kid get their life pointed in the right direction.

Angling has been a major part of my life since I was 10 years old. Sixty years (almost) later, it still has a magical charm. I worship the fish, and the water they swim in, and both need wise protection from those who would sell our water for personal gain.

Posted by Dave Richey on 06/12 at 04:22 PM
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