I don’t really understand why, but in my neck of the woods it seemed as though the trend to fish from a bridge had caught on as a favorite past time. Hindsight teaches me it probably wasn’t the smartest activity I’ve ever done. However, I engaged in this activity just the same, and might I add – quite frequently. So, once again I find myself embarking on a fishing adventure with my brother Bill. Seems when we were kids we had all the time in the world, and to be sure it didn’t go to waste – we went fishing.
It was your typical Michigan late spring day the sun was shining, flowers were in bloom, and the maple trees were adorned with huge green leaves. If I recall correctly I was sitting outside of our little two bedroom house fiddling around with a fly fishing pole that my parents had gotten me. Although I had no idea how to use one, I wanted one. I believe I was about nine or ten years old at this time and for the life of me I cannot figure out why I would have wanted a fly rod. It wasn’t like there were regular fishing shows like we have on TV these days, so I didn’t see people fly fishing on TV. However, my mind seems to recollect some photos from field and stream magazine. I would usually visit the barber with Dad once a month, and as he was getting his hair cut I did my best to visually pour over every outdoor magazine in the barbershop. Come to think of it, they were the only type of magazines in the barbershops where I grew up. Anyway, in one of magazines I seen a man standing in a pristine stream all duded out in a flannel shirt, derby hat, and hip waders. He had his left arm extended high with fly rod in hand and in his right arm he held a tennis racket looking fishnet. He was using the net to scoop up this beautiful and rather large brown trout. As a kid you never really understand the psychology between a photo and product marketing. All you know is you like what you see, and then you beg your parents for it. So, that’s what I did and that is how my first fly rod came about.
So, there was sitting out front of our house on a chair or should I say an old bucket seat out of a 1975 Oldsmobile that my Dad fashioned into a chair; fiddling with my fly rod. Not too long after I sat down my brother came out and said, “Hey, you up for going fishing.” I said, “You know me, I am always up for fishing.” I asked him “What spot you want to fish today.” He said, “Let’s go to Glengary Bridge.” Now, just so you know Glengary Bridge was an old country steel bridge that was painted bright orange. It stood over the famed “Manistee River” and the river in this area had a mixture of fishing options. You could drop heavily weighted baits in the rushing current of mainstream or throw jigs and crawler harnesses in the soft current pools adjacent to the mainstream. Typically, you would fish the mainstream for catfish, suckers, and large trout. And you would fish the soft current pools for rock bass, walleye, small bass, and northern pike.
We didn’t waste time, we mentioned to our parents where we were heading grabbed some hostess ding dongs, a couple of pepsi cola’s and headed for the car. We jumped into my brothers 1975 Buick Wildcat with its massive V-8 engine and within a matter of minutes we were at Glengary Bridge. In my haste to go fishing I assumed my Zebco 202 and tackle box had been left in the car from our previous trip to the 115 Bridge. However, when we opened up the trunk there was only one fishing rod; my brother’s Zebco 202 and the tackle box. Luckily, I had thrown the fly rod in the back seat, so I could continue to fiddle with it by the river. Little did I know I would do more than fiddle with it. We took our rods and tackle box and walked to a position in the middle of the bridge on the down river side. My brother, whose pole was already rigged gobbed a ball of night crawlers onto his hook and gave it a heave out into the river. As it broke the surface of the water the weight (an AC Delco spark plug) quickly settled to the bottom. Then my brother lodged his pole in between the steel truss braces on the bridge. I on the other hand had to rig my fly rod for heavy weight fishing. I pulled a spool of 12lb test fishing line out of the tackle box and cut off a 4ft piece. Then I tied the leader onto the green float line that was already spooled on my fly rod. Next, I tied a 3 inch bolt onto a small piece of fishing line then tied it to the float line above where I had tied on the leader. I did this to cause my bait to sit on the river bottom. Knowing it was spring, I was sure we would catch at least a sucker and possibly a trout. I knew these fish would be feeding on the bottom as they traveled up the river. Finally, I tied a hook onto the leader, jammed a gob of night crawlers on it, and sent it sailing into the river.
Over the next hour we sat on the bridge watching the tip of our rods, looking for the erratic jerking motion that comes as a result of a fish inhaling our bait then attempting free himself. My brother was the first one to feel the luck that day. His pole started bobbing frantically, so he picked it up and gave it a sharp pull back to set the hook deep in the fish’s mouth. Then the fight was on! He said, “I’m not sure what I have, it’s good sized but not a monster.” He then proceeded to overhand his pole from bridge truss to bridge truss until he reached the area where he could climb over and descend to the river bank. Upon reaching the river bank he would continue the fight. About ten minutes after reaching the river bank he was able to get the fish to shore and land it. It turned out to be about a 5lb rainbow trout. I threw him a fish stringer, which he used to tie his catch to a log; leaving it in the water to stay alive and fresh for eating later. As my brother was walking back to his spot on the bridge, my pole began bobbing erratically somewhat in the same manner as my brother’s pole previously. So, I pulled my rod from its hold and pull back to set the hook deep in the fish’s mouth. Upon doing this my pole was almost yanked completely out of my hand. At this point I realized I had a monster on the line. I proceeded to fight from my position on the bridge. The fish would run down river and I would reel. This cycle would go on for about 20 minutes before I could start the overhand journey towards the river bank. Just to give you an idea of the power of this fish, it took my brother and I together, using both hands, to pass the rod from one side of the steel truss beams to the other. Finally, I got to the area where I could climb over to the river bank. I hollered at my brother, “He is coming in; get the net and get down here.” He runs to the trunk, but to his surprise no net. He came running down to where I was and said, “We didn’t bring the net, I think it was still at the house by the garage.” I thought to myself, “What was it doing there and not here”, then I remembered we had used it remove a couple of barn cats from our garage. Oh, Well! I continued to fight on. After about 30 minutes the fish was tiring and coming to shore. As I got him to shore I handed my pole to my brother and got down on my knees to get the fish. As my brother lifted up on the pole the fish came to surface. Upon seeing the fish I said, “Holy crap that is the biggest common sucker I have ever seen.” My brother exclaimed, “Me too, it is huge.” It was at least 40 inches long and probably about 20 pounds. However, to this day we will never know for sure. You see, I couldn’t get my hand down to the fish’s mouth, so, in order to get the fish’s mouth closer I pulled up on the float line, instead of the leader, and as I did this the leader pulled free from the float line and the fish escaped. Immediately I became nauseas; realizing what a huge mistake I had made. I and my brother have seen this fish in our dreams for many years, and that is where he will stay. Hindsight tells me a couple of things: I was blessed to have had the opportunity to fight this fish; however, the use of improper fishing equipment will cost you plenty.