Dad gave me the ability and access to fish freshwater ponds and lakes in Northern Indiana and Wisconsin while on our yearly fishing vacations. Patience, focus, and stealth are what I take from my early training watching dad wield his cane pole filling the fish basket with bluegills and perch for the table.
Uncle Rex was a little more exciting when it came to fishing. Fly rods, bait casters, and spinning tackle were all part of his arsenal. I learned to take care of your gear if you wanted it to last. The smell of muscelin today takes me back to stretching the wet fly line from the day across the clothes line in his back yard to dry before treating with a fine film of muscelin for flotation. Uncle Rex seemed to think like a fish and doing things the way he instructed seemed to work. I was always impressed by his Northern Pike mounted heads on the side of his work shed.
My brother Jeff and my Aunt Chris imparted upon me the fact that hunting for big fish is worth getting dirty and wet while in pursuit, or in Aunt Chris’ case, actually dying for, when the day is won.
Moving south after graduation from the PGA program at Ferris State College and nothing else to worry about except golf and monster southern black bass, I dove into both with both feet. From 1983 until we moved to Ohio in 2000, Melanie and I hunted farm ponds and bays across southern Alabama and north central Florida looking for that legendary 10 pound largemouth bass. While on our adventure, both Ben and Sarah developed a love for fishing and all that it entails,and that is being spread down to another generation of extended families today.
Big Gene and Mel reintroduced fly fishing to me on our bass pond around 1989. I enjoyed the whole deal except I didn’t think it was enough ammo for my ten pounder. I stuck with bait casters until I was able to check the big bass off the board in a small lake in the Ocala National Forest. Where do you go from there? The pursuit of catching wild trout on a fly rod and all the shenanigans that go on during the journey!
Todd wanted to go trout fishing at his Grandpa’s cabin on the Tellico river in Tennessee. We used corn and rooster tails and caught enough stocked rainbows to burn a hole in Grandpa’s deck with hot cinder blocks while cooking. Needed tools, the hippy over the hill hooked us up. Trout moved up to number one on the fish totem pole.
Family vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming started a new lifestyle for Mel and I. I think we both became trout bums right there on the Snake river trying to cast further than 25 feet without killing someone in the wind. The first truly wild trout I believe I caught was a Yellowstone Cutthroat with all the cool scenery everywhere.
Moved to Southern Ohio and met Tom Frick, owner of the Rusty Drake Outfitters in Dayton. Through the shop, Mel and I were able to meet and become good friends with the lead instigators in our trout adventures. Bill Loveless, Howard Parks, and Buck Juhasz. The sum total of what these guys know about all things trout fishing is really amazing. I paid attention while fishing and tying with these gentlemen and I like to think I picked up a few things along the way.
Jeff Cagle led us through the woods of Tennessee looking for native Brookies. Walker Parrott showed us the trophy waters of the Davidson in North Carolina. Young guides out of the Holston River Fly shop put us on rising tail water brown trout during one of many sulfur hatches on the South Holston in Tennessee. Bill Loveless took us to Pennsylvania for rising brown trout on the Little Juniata and introduced me to Steelhead on Lake Erie tributaries. Buck introduced us to the history and soul of fly fishing on the Cumberland Valley limestone streams home of Vince Marinaro.
Michigan waters have been shown to us by many individuals over the last twenty years. Tom Frick, Howard Parks, and Rusty Gates welcomed us to the Holy Water of the AuSable River. Bob Linsenman personally showed me how to streamer fish on the Big Water below Mio, also on the AuSable. Of course, the legendary Matt Supinski netted my one and only Atlantic Salmon on an unnamed river in Michigan. Matt also introduced us to first class accommodations and food during super hatches of various mayflys during spring and early summer on the Muskegon.
My western water experience is very limited but most memorable. James Whitescarver gave us a full detailed accounting of all things outdoors in Montana. Melanie’s 21” loch leven brown trout and my 25” Bull trout are totem fish with memories unto themselves. I could certainly get used to drift boat fishing along as James manned the oars.
New friend and fishing partner, Jim Oates teamed up with Buck to show Mel and I the Driftless Region in SW Wisconsin. Truly native brook trout and wild brown trout all caught on either a purple hopper or a hippy stomper is a tough act to beat. New favorite place to go for terrestrials.
Every April for the last twenty years has included our pilgrimage to home waters, the Mad River. Hendrickson hatches spent with my family and closest of friends pulls me to Old Troy Pike early every Spring. I have had epic days as well as scoreless days in regards to number of fish caught or even seen on the Mad. The boys at the fly shop always used to tell me. “If you can catch a trout on the Mad with a fly rod, you can catch fish anywhere”.