Anglers for centuries have touted the mental and sporting value of trout fishing. But what is it that makes many anglers dream all winter about catching these lake and river game fish? Why, for goodness sake, would any person count down the days to the opener?
Why are 10-inch trout prizes to be cherished? Why should people spend good money to buy fine tackle just to catch a small trout and then release it? Or, on the other hand, why would anglers gloat over a 10-pound brown trout or a 14-pound steelhead?
What is it about this game fish that stirs our cerebral juices, captures our thoughts and engages our soul on a day like this, one day past the general statewide trout opener? It's just one of many questions that trout anglers attempt to rationalize as they tour Michigan's greatest trout lakes and streams.
What follows are just a few of today's idle thoughts that have made me wonder about my 60-year trout-fishing addiction. There are many thoughts that arise from trout openers I've enjoyed since the early 1950s.
Think long and hard on trout, and make a list of some of your favorite trout fishing thoughts. One often will find that the experiences, sights, sounds, and other sensory perceptions are far more important at the end of a fishing day than the fish we've caught. Here are just a handful of how trout captured my soul over a half-century ago.
-- These beautiful, colorful and fragile game fish are the canaries in our environmental coal mine. They are a key barometer of our times. What harms trout can't be good for humans, and when these species are gone forever, can our civilization be very far behind?
-- Brook trout are the prettiest of all. They come in four sizes: tiny, small, legal-size and lunker, each with an array of spotted beauty that hints of wild places that stir our senses. With their tiny blue spots, and white piping along the outside edge of orange fins, brook trout take first-place in any fishy beauty pageant. I look at a trout, all smooth-skinned, and painted up in all their finery, and the sight takes my breath away.
-- Trout respond well to a careful approach and a delicate delivery. Fancy waders and top-of-the-line rods, reels and nets do not impress Michigan's char and trout clan. They feed when hungry, fast when not, and nothing we do can or will change this pattern.
-- Trout inhabit some of the state's most beautiful places. They live in a land of towering pine and spruce, beaver ponds, impenetrable cedar swamps, sparkling streams, gurgling meadow brooks, remote Upper Peninsula rivers dotted with waterfalls -- all such places are home to lake and stream trout, and humans are nothing more than infrequent visitors to their world.
As such, it behooves anglers to put back more trout than we keep. Conservation of wild trout means joining and backing such organizations as Trout Unlimited, who fight for our fish and their special environment.
Their needs include clean water and an environment that is friendly to the fish. They are truly game fish worth fighting for.
-- I fish because of soft dimpling rises, blanket hatches, selective trout, wild places, stream-side camaraderie with other like-minded fishermen, wild fish and the history and romance of trout fishing. Trying to outwit these game fish is for the thinking angler, not a gluttonous fisherman intent only on a full creel.
-- One last and untapped trout bastions are our inland lakes. Such waters produce robust fish, and for those who learn lake-fishing secrets, the rewards can be many and great. Huge trout are taken from inland lakes that seldom, if ever, see a bait, fly or lure.
These lake-dwelling trout are a thrill to catch, and doing so requires specialized skills.
-- My familiarity with trout forces me to fight for them and to proceed in a manner that gives each fish every advantage and opportunity to escape. Trout fishing means much more than a limit catch. This sport is and always should be a major challenge.
-- Seldom are trout kept. Trout deserve to be caught more than once, but on occasion I will keep a few small but legal ones for the frying pan. My thoughts are that big trout should be allowed to spawn and reproduce, and small ones should be released as gently as possible to avoid harming them.
-- There are places where brook trout live that rarely see a fisherman. These fish are naïve, easily caught, and some anglers take advantage of this small failing. Often, in such areas, the area may be over-fished in one day by a greedy angler. Catching a limit, day after day, doesn't prove an angler is a good one.
-- For years it's been my practice to fish those back-of-beyond spots where brook trout hold at the base of a root-flooded cedar. Such black swamps have produced numerous sightings of bear and deer as I slip slowly from tree to tree, dapping a fly or single-hook wee spinner in the water between tree roots. The fish come hard to fly or lure, are easily hooked, and quickly released without taking them from the water.
-- I have a problem with those who regard trout fishing as a social event. The fish are not impressed by our homes or the cost of our cars, so why clutter a stream with people who are there only to impress clients or other fishermen with fancy creels, fly rods and vests?
-- People go through three trout fishing phases. The first is to catch as many fish as possible; the second is to catch the largest trout possible; the third is to exact a challenge from trout and tackle while giving the fish every chance to get away.
-- I'm in Stage No. 3, but can remember as a kid passing through stages 1 and 2. It's easy to remember the heavy catches, huge fish and the bragging of yesteryear, and I'm ashamed by the number of big trout taken during my earlier years. But those days are long gone, and my efforts now are far less than my heavy catches of 30-50 years ago.
-- For 10 years, guiding trout fishermen was my life and a major way to make a living. The hours were long and hard, the weather sometimes bitterly cold, and although memories of those days with large numbers of browns and steelhead still linger, they foster no strong feelings that make me want to return to that way of life. It was a tough way to make a living, pay bills and put cooked groceries on the table.
-- I fish for trout now because I want to, not to prove anything to myself or to others. I fish because of the tremendous enjoyment it brings, and the challenge of hooking trout from difficult places with tackle that gives every edge to these game fish.
-- I now fish for trout because fishing can sooth a troubled soul. It energizes tired fishermen, and it provides me with something I deeply love and something to look forward to in beautiful areas where it's not necessary to rub shoulders with other anglers. It offers me peace and solitude in a world of turmoil and unpleasant things.
That's me. A guy with simple ideals and needs that continue to make me very happy. And just think: an eight-inch brook trout can make me feel great for weeks on end.
No amount of money, big house or fancy ride, can do that for me.
Running water, cold water, wild places and wild fish, are why trout make me feel good in a way that I've tried to explain but find it impossible to convey any better than this. S0, if you'll excuse me now, I've had my say and now have a date with a trout.