Fishing is 'not about the catching'
Written by Grand Rapids Press   
Friday, 22 April 2005 12:23
We were sitting on the bank of the Pere Marquette River enjoying the sun, savoring the wonderful smells of chicken on the grill. The day was warming and the layers of clothing were coming off.

Only hours before there had been ice on our lines. Dawn had been clear and cold. Toe-numbing, finger-nipping cold.

But that hadn't stopped the three of us from launching Wayne Anderson's driftboat with the hopes of a day-full of Pere Marquette browns.

Wayne, a Press reader from Ludington who had invited me out for the day, now was turning the chicken on the grill. John Ochs, his buddy who retired from GM and now lives the good life, sat absorbing the warmth.

It was 11 a.m. The sun now was over the trees. Fishing was slow and we had stopped for lunch. The conversation roamed as it does at times like this: Fishing. Chicken. Lures. Potato salad. River tactics. Macaroni salad.

Politics? No thank you. I've had enough.

Warmed by the sun

In a quiet moment, warmed by the sun, I began to drift peacefully into a reverie, running over the events of the morning.

We'd set off at daybreak, floating quietly down the river, taking in the bird sounds and constant rush of the river as it cut through the landscape, sliding downhill to Lake Michigan. Anderson, who fishes three days a week, suggested prospecting with spinners. Big, No. 5 spinners, not the little 3s. He'd had a good day on the river just a few days before.

"They are heavier and sink deeper. You need the weight to get them down in the current," he'd said about the big blades on his lures.

"Don't worry about hooking stuff. It's going to happen. If your not hooking stuff (on the bottom), you're not where you need to be."

The exercise was simple. Cast across or just upstream and retrieve slowly as the current carries it downstream. Cast under low-hanging branches to downed timber or to fishy places -- those dark holes or runs where fish may hide. Let the spinner flutter by their favorite lie.

"You want to get it right up next to the bank," said Ochs from the back of the boat, pitching one perfectly.

And so it went all through the morning. Casting. Retrieving. Hooking underwater snags and remnant lines, putting Anderson's lure retriever to good use -- a simple and essential piece of gear.

It was still early when I hooked into a nice buck steelhead -- a slim four-pounder, nice and chrome. Anderson urged me to "take my time." I was fishing lightweight, graphite trout gear with six-pound test. If it got rambunctious, my hands would be full.

But I kept pressure on the fish and it just never got spunky. The water was cold; the fish lethargic.

It wasn't long before I had it next to the boat where Anderson soon had it in the net. We paused for a few photos and released it back to the river.

It isn't always possible to return a fish caught on a treble hook, particularly if it takes it deep. But in this case it was a lip hook, presenting a great opportunity. I turned it back with no regrets.

Conversation then turned to how a steelhead will shake its head, trying to shake the lure, of course, but almost as if it was saying: "What was I theeenking?"

On the river bank, now in the sun, I chuckled to myself recalling the conversation. It had gotten silly.

The topic had first come up when I hooked the only other fish of the day a 5-inch baby rainbow. The sight of the fish hanging off that big lure had the three of us shaking our heads wondering what it was thinking.

It wasn't long before we were back on the river -- bellies full. There were more river miles to fish. More stories to tell and more sights to see.

There would be the guide with the sleeping client in his boat, an angler whose face we never did see because it was so far down on his chest, under a hood, that we started to wonder if he was still breathing.

Then there was the guide who didn't seem to know whether he'd caught three or four steelhead when we asked -- prompting us to wonder about his math. We began to apply his fishing paradigm. That meant our two fish might actually count for four -- or maybe it was six. I don't know. It doesn't matter.

Though our little band of intrepid anglers wouldn't hook another fish this day, I came away thinking the outing was largely successful. I'd had a delightful day on the water.

"It's not about the catching," said Anderson without any pretense. "It's about floating the river and seeing the sights and good conversation."

Indeed, that's why they call it fishing.

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