Fichigan

Small Stream Trout fishing in Michigan

One Boy at a Time

I entered the following story in the 2020 Write Michigan contest but wasn’t chosen as a finalist. I have done a lot of writing but this story, bordering on horror, was something new for me. It was inspired by a nightmare. I thought I would post it for a short while on fichigan to let readers see how one trout fisherman fills his time in the off season.

One Boy at a Time

There was a baby lying on a blanket in the middle of the two-track road. I stopped in plenty of time. I was driving carefully because I was afraid the hump in the middle of the two-track would scrape something loose from the bottom of my car. I was looking for access to a trout stream and hoped to do some fishing. I hadn’t driven this two-track before.
The two-track opened into a small field and when I looked to my right I could see people off in the distance on lawn chairs, about forty yards away, and kids running around. The kids headed toward me as I got out of the car. Skinny kids, all young, maybe not a teenager among them. I pointed to the baby as they drew near and said something about that being a dangerous place to leave a baby. The kids kept coming closer. They stopped a few feet away and surrounded me. I looked over at the people on lawn chairs and not one of them had moved. They seem to be talking as though I wasn’t there. Then I realized it was all women on the lawn chairs. No men in the party. That was odd. Where were the men? I could explain to a man how I was looking for the river and maybe there would be an understanding. He might yell at one of the women for being careless with the baby. That would be it.
I staggered forward. A young girl had jumped on my back. She had her arms around my neck. I swung around and pulled her arms free in one motion and she fell to the ground. I looked down to see her facing me on her hands and knees. She had dark stringy hair. She stared at me, wide-eyed, but with a blank expression. At least I couldn’t read her expression. No malevolence of anything like that. More like this was a game. She was skinny like all of the kids and wore loose fitting old clothes. The other kids moved back like I might be dangerous.
“Put your hands on top of your head.”
I turned around to see a woman police officer pointing a handgun at me. She wore a blue uniform, no hat. Young, in her twenties. Where the hell did she come from? No police car. In fact no cars in sight besides mine. She must have been hiding behind a large oak tree. I felt something sting my right hand. There was a smooth stone near my feet. I looked to my right. A girl with short hair, maybe ten years old, was holding another stone. She seemed to be waiting for my reaction. Patient, like a good hunter.
I had left the door open on my car and ran for it. I heard the police woman fire but guess she aimed high. Maybe it was a warning shot. With so many kids standing around it was some sort of negligence to even shoot. The car was still running so I jammed it in gear and swung wide to miss the baby. The car bounced out of the two-track but kept traction in the field grass. As I slid back into the two-track I glanced to the right. The women were still seated. A few heads were turned, watching.
I probably hit fifty miles per hour on some stretches of the two track. It split twice and I made my direction choices based on the sun which kept me in a generally west direction and away from the field. I came out on a gravel road and stopped at a four-corners store. There was no one working the counter so I called out hello a couple times. No answer. The rear door, back by the cooler, was open so I looked out back. A wiry guy with a scraggly beard was feeding a fenced-in black bear fresh carp. He was throwing the fish over the top of a ten foot cyclone fence. The bear was huge and fat. The ground inside the fenced area was all dirt, no weeds, and dug up like the bear had been digging for roots. The bear walked over, picked up a fish in it’s jaws, and plopped down. I could hear fish bones cracking.
I asked the man how to get to the highway but didn’t say anything about the women. I had to convince myself he was not related, had nothing to do with it. I kept looking at the bear. Is it legal to keep a bear in Michigan? It was disturbing to watch it feed. The scruffy man tossed the last fish over the fence and gave me directions. His directions were true.
When I arrived home I locked the doors and started writing. I have a welt on my hand from the stone but can hold a pen. I’m worried about that baby. Worried for that baby. I think it was a boy.

The WLAV Raft Race

For about five years starting around 1968 Grand Rapids hosted one of the biggest parties in the country. Hundreds of home-made rafts and thousands of contestants ran a timed trip/race down a section of the Grand River on the north side of town.  Live rock bands at Riverside Park blasted the pretty much drunk and stoned out crowd. There was police presence but they were cool. They weren’t there to bust pot smokers, they were there to make sure the crowd was orderly. I know it may be hard to believe but in the late sixties and early seventies pot was not considered a big crime unless you happen to get in the crosshairs of a fanatic cop. We would never have guessed it would take fifty years for pot to be legalized in Michigan. Really, it was just a social thing, probably like drinking during prohibition. Back to the raft race.

Robbin Crawford, of local metal sculpture fame, worked as a welder for a local machine builder. I worked there a couple summers at the same shop. Robbin designed and built a couple rafts for the raft race and I was fortunate to be invited to participate. He somehow hooked up with Ficeli’s Party Store and Budweiser to build a custom raft, essentially a pontoon boat supporting a platform with Miss Budweiser, a local beauty. To propel the raft forward we had hinged boards bolted to the bottom of our shoes in a way that there was no resistance moving our foot forward, but when drawing back, like rowing, the hinged boards opened like an umbrella to scoop water. Didn’t work at all so we floated down the river in style. Robbin built a second raft whereby a couple were married on the river. Don’t recall their names, but that was a year or two after this race.

That’s Robbin sitting in front, then me standing, then standing at the back is Ken Phillips, my step-dad, a machinist working for the same machine shop. He managed to get me in the shop as a paid intern.  Here’s two more photos. If you google WLAV raft race you will find some photos that show the size and scope of these events. Sadly the event was cancelled after serious accidents on the river. I understand the city attorneys were worried about lawsuits.  Not sure how you weigh that against such a great time for so many people.

 

Beatles Postcards

I have been wandering through antique malls and estate sales to fill time between trout seasons.  I picked up the book “Warman’s Antiques and Collectibles 2019” at the library figuring it may help to know a treasure if I see one. The book devoted a small section to Beatles collectibles and I recognized a photo I had seen recently at an antique mall downtown so I figured it was worth my time to go back and see if it was still there.

The photo at the antique mall turned out to be a postcard of the same image with Paul McCartney’s brother Mike’s signature on the back. Mike picked up a camera about the same time Paul picked up guitar so he was in a unique position to follow the band in the very early years. In the pre-Beatles photo above George Harrison is only fifteen years old.
There were five postcards for sale, four of them with Mike’s signature.

The postcard with the signature on the front side shows John and Paul rehearsing “I saw her standing there” according to Mike’s note about the photo. Of special interest is the guitar John Lennon is playing, his Gibson J-160E which later sold at auction for $2,410,000.

I have no idea of the value of the five postcards but they seem to be rare and Mike McCartney’s signature adds a bit. I remember watching the Beatles first appearance on Ed Sullivan. Black and white.  You couldn’t hear much music for the screaming. Frantic girls passing out. Crowd control. I started wearing my hair longer. They changed the world like no band has done since.

Preston Arendson

I mentioned Preston Arendson a few times in earlier posts and on the Songs/tab page. This article by Pete Hector was great publicity. The Sawmill Saloon in Big Rapids was a great place to play to a college crowd in the 70’s. A really fun time.

October on the Pigeon

There’s a section of the Pigeon River up near Vanderbilt that stays open year round but with some restrictions for keeping trout. The Pigeon winds through some very remote country with a a great mix of gravel bottom and sand bottom areas. In the late fall large brown trout move upstream to spawn and it is a chance to catch (and release in my case) a trophy fish. I rose early Monday morning and made the four hour drive.

I could see from weather reports and the DNR daily report on stream conditions (right hand column) that the river was going to be high. I thought by the time I was up there the stream water level would drop. Instead, the river was very high and carrying a lot of mud making it resemble a moving, watery vanilla milkshake. I had never seen a river look quite like this.

When I dipped my lure in the water it totally disappeared six inches down. So, not good. It would be nearly impossible for fish to see the lure. I put on my biggest, flashiest #13 silver minnow and started casting. There’s a good sandy stretch that Feral, Natch and I have all caught good fish and that was my destination.

I managed to get into the stream just above a beaver dam but crossing to the other side where I could place a few critical casts was impossible and dangerous. If I was not alone I might have chanced it.  So I backtracked out and went up to a spot upstream where I knew I could makes some casts along the bank. I managed to get into the stream and fish a good bend. Long story short – I never saw a fish, not even a strike. But that’s OK. Just needed to get away for a day. Take one more shot. It’s a long time before trout season comes around again.

Coincidence

I often wake in the middle of the night and invariably check the clock. Two nights ago I woke at 3:21. I have been harboring a suspicion for years that numbers may solve the riddle of the universe and was curious enough about 321 to ponder it at 3:21AM. For starters, was it a prime number? (a number only divisible by itself and 1) I quickly saw that it is the sum of 3×107. Not prime. So then I thought how about 432, the next set of descending numbers. No, not prime, it is the sum of 4×108. The relationship of 3×107 and 4×108 compared to 321 and 432 was interesting. So of course I thought about 543, the next sequence.  That broke the strange new rule. Not to be dissuaded I thought of the next descending sequence, 654 and saw it was the sum of 6×109. So that was interesting again. Not sure if there is any truth to prime numbers pointing to a theory of the universe but that is the kind of question I may ponder in the middle of a sleepless night.

The coincidence occurred the next day while reading “A Gentleman In Moscow” by Amor Towles. The main character, Count Rostov, has made the acquaintance of a young girl, Nina, working on mathematics for school. She has taken it on herself to figure out all of the prime numbers. There is a stack of papers next to her filled with numbers, some circled. The count picks up a sheet and tells her this one is not a prime number. She looks at the number (1,173) and asks how does he know? He replies, “If a number’s individual digits sum to a number that is divisible by 3, then it too is divisible by 3. Nina says, “Better hand me that stack of papers.” Don’t let this small description of a passage turn you off to the book. The book is really a delight capturing the human spirit.

Next time I wake at 3:21 my plan is to roll over and go back to sleep. With Einsteins help I did attempt to solve the big mystery in an earlier post: The Fisherman’s Theory of Relativity. If that sounds interesting type Einstein in the search engine in the right hand column…

2019 Fall Trout Camp

Pickerel lake Campground

I met Natch and Feral up at Pickerel lake, Pigeon River State Game Area. We had our vintage Apache and JC Higgins campers so camp was comfortable. Natch cut a load of beech firewood which sustained us for four nights. It was chilly but too early for fall colors. When the sun came out it felt ten degrees warmer.

Fishing was good the first two days. The the rivers were dirty and high. Natch caught a 22 inch brown trout on the Sturgeon and I pulled a couple out of the Pigeon, 20 and 21.5 inches. I fished a stretch on the upper Sturgeon with Feral. He had a huge brown making passes and suggested I tossed my lure from the other side of the river. I hooked him for a moment but that’s the last we saw of him. We did catch some small keepers including on the Pigeon so it seems like the Pigeon is making a comeback after the disastrous dam overflow/silt problem a few years back.

Natch’s 22 incher from the Sturgeon

Luther’s 21.5 from the Pigeon

We had an interesting jam the first night, Feral on mandolin, Natch on bongos, and me on electric, then acoustic guitar. Think Jethro Tull/Locomotive Breath and Pink Floyd/Welcome to the Machine. Not our normal folly. I ran out of words quickly on the Floyd song but when I looked over at Feral and Natch they were focused on jamming so I kept playing. There were no witnesses so I can safely say we sounded good.


I fished a stretch of the lower Pigeon with Natch on the last day. I had seen a monster brown there earlier and when we approached the spot Natch insisted I make the same cast. I tossed a variety of lures while he waited patiently. It was getting embarrassing by the time I finally gave up and told him to go for it. That giant fish was probably deep into the undercut bank and never saw a lure. Maybe he heard us in spite of our efforts to be quiet. So.. Maybe next year I will see that fish again. It may have pushed 30 inches.

“Lil” Storm

My youngest daughter Lisa and her husband Brantley were blessed with a daughter eight weeks ago. Lillian is happy, healthy and and beautiful. Her middle name is Storm. Her mom and dad are world travelers and adventurers and Lillian will be right in the middle of it all. Lisa is an outdoor biology teacher turned yoga instructor turned mom, and Brant is a Navy pilot turned dad. The entire family on both sides are so happy and excited. As a first time grandpa I am so proud.

 

Twenty Four Inchers

So a spin fisherman sees a fly fishermen at a good bend in the river and asks how he is doing. The fly fisherman is excited. “Twenty Four Inchers.”
Spin fisherman: “That’s funny, I caught four twenty inchers.”
– Feral Tweed humor.

I should point out that Feral is an expert fly fisherman also, not just spinning gear.

So Feral and I decided to go trout fishing when no sane trout fisherman bothers. No rain for a week. Low clear river. Around 11:00 in the morning to make sure the trout were deep into cover. Sun was out and bright. We ate a giant breakfast in Tustin with too much coffee. We fished one of the most popular stretches of the Pine River in Lake County. We tried to stack the odds against us but it didn’t work. We caught trout anyway. Feral kept three for dinner. Good pan fryers. I would like to say we really killed it but we didn’t see any lunkers and fishing was spotty. Good casting saved the day – zinging lures into tight cover and really doing the dying minnow action with floating minnows. We had to drop the lures right on their noses to get them to strike.

Feral field dressing trout.

We fished a couple hours, changed lead a dozen times, talked about the trout closer in September. Hoping for bad weather and giant brown trout.  Twenty-four inchers.

King Kong

I purchased the etching The Making of King Kong by Bruce McCombs, a Michigan artist, at the Cascade Art Gallery going out of business sale. McCombs is famous for his etchings which hang in galleries and museums around the world (including the Smithsonian). King Kong and I go way back to 1960’s late night TV. When I saw the etching… I had to have it. The image is totally fabricated by McCombs imagination: a full size mechanical King Kong robot on a movie set. Clearly, this might be considered his most creative, whimsical etching.

It turns out there’s a book of the same name: The Making of King Kong, by Goldner and Turner. I checked on Amazon to see about buying it and there were several copies all going for 80 dollars. Price fixing? Seemed high for a used book. So I checked the Kent District Library on-line catalog hoping to find it. No Luck until I mentioned the book to the circulation manager at the Kentwood Library. She was able to find and order it through a system that scans outside of Kent County. (Thank you!) The book is filled with movie stills and anecdotes from the actors and the production team. A fascinating read if you are a fan of the original 1934 movie.

I purchased three other Bruce McComb etchings at the art sale including one called Parade that shows a downtown city parade with giant cartoon character balloons. It’s spectacular. I have been thinking about donating it to the library. It is artwork that kids, teens and adults would all find very interesting. Might inspire young people to pick up a pencil.

Update – Parade now hangs in the Kentwood Public Library, 1st floor, children’s book area.

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