Thanks in large measure to the beavers, the Michigan River is a gold medal stream, flush with wily browns and cutbows. Fishermen licked their lips and eyed us with envy when we mentioned we had six miles of the river meandering through our property. “You do?” they asked, drawing that second word out for as long as it took to think up a plausible reason why we should let them fish our private waters.
These fell into three categories. There was the reason by virtue of relation, as in “My cousin’s granma used to summer across the highway from y’all’s place. I grew up hearing so much about your beautiful property, etc. etc.” Then there was the reason by desire: “I’ve always wanted to fish the Michigan and just never had a chance. I was hoping that now that I’m here, etc. etc.” And finally, the reason by flattery: “My buddy says the Michigan’s the best water up here. You are so lucky to have that river on your property, but I’m sure you know that. I bet you’re both great fishermen, too, etc. etc.” We were immune to such entreaties.
Not that Bernard and I were saving the fish for ourselves. I have always been disinclined to spend time fishing, partly because I’m allergic to bug bites, so standing in a bug-infested area seemed counter-productive. The deeper truth went beyond skin deep. I’m not temperamentally suited to it. Standing patiently in water for hours would drive me insane. Nevertheless, I had to admit that as sports utensils go, a fishing rod was an elegant device and the reel made a lovely whirring sound. I decided to try it.
I splurged on a variety of metal lures, choosing whatever looked bright and shapely, hoping the fish would find the colorful ornaments attractive, too. I didn’t dwell on the conundrum of why a fish which ate tiny flies would believe an item that looked like a painfully heavy earring should be edible.
For my first fishing foray, I chose a spot that seemed reasonably free of willows on both banks. It was early May, offering the possibility of at least some bugs hatching, though not yet mosquitos. With the river just opening after winter, the fish would be hungry. I figured to make short work of catching enough for a tasty fish fry.
In the weak warmth of a chilly afternoon sun, I cast, cast and cast again. I didn’t even get a bite, though some that day seemed to have better luck than I.
Instead, I spent most of my time spluttering and swearing as I stomped through the slushy snow bank to unhook my lure from the one willow in the vicinity. I stalked home, fishless, and defrosted some elk.
And that was that, except for the fact that I harbored a simmering resentment against the trout that disdained my lures on that early spring day. It was mid-July when our neighbor reported seeing a large trout swimming in the shallows where our main ditch ran across a slight dip in the road. Apparently the trout was trapped there after the head gate cut off water from the river, leaving him nearly high and dry. Bernard and I instantly had the same idea. “This fish is ours!” we cried. “ And I don’t even need a fishing rod to catch him,” I shouted, beside myself with glee. We’d use a net, swooping down on him in 4 inches of water, and scooping him up. What could be simpler?
Off we went to the trout arena, fishing net in hand. Forget all this sweaty stuff like waders and broad-brimmed hats with netting. Now that it was hot summer, I could wear what I considered proper fishing attire: sandals and shorts. We crept around the edges of the pool, looking for signs of a large fish. When he slunk out of the shadows, he was indeed the largest trout I’d ever seen, though by trophy fishing standards he was probably one they’d throw back in. Still, he was big enough to make a good meal for two, plus leftovers. And I wanted him.
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