Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Day I Got Hooked on Fishing

By Rachel Wisner

It was a long, hard road, that road between me and my first fishing trip. Amazingly enough, I had been surrounded by water most of my life: I grew up living on Pickerel Lake (Newaygo County) Michigan, and I worked many years on the Muskegon River. Despite my easy access to water, great fishing water at that, I just never found the right moment to actually try fishing for myself. That is, until April 21, 2008.

The path to fishing began for me when I was just a little girl. I always wanted to try it. My whole life I watched fisherman having fun and bringing in that big catch – I wanted to do that. It did not matter if it was ice fishing, lake fishing, river fishing, any other kind of fishing; I just wanted to try it. But alas, 37 years old and I never made it happen. Finally, while talking to a river fishing guide, Mike Marsh, from Marsh Guide Service ( about donating a trip for the Newaygo Troutfest Raffle when it came out (okay, I baited him – pun intended) with the knowledge that I had never been fishing on the river that I basically lived on for the last six years.

You see, I am an owner at Wisner Rents Canoes, Kayaks, Rafts, Tubes and Fishing Boats in Newaygo, Michigan. That is why it is so wrong that I have not been fishing – especially on the Muskegon River that I have sent so many people floating on, a good portion of which were fishing. So Mike, being the intuitive guide that he is suggested that he take me down the river fishing on a guided trip. We worked out the details and came up with a good day that would work for the both of us. I was so excited! I told EVERYONE that I was going fishing – finally!

Telling everyone may have been a bit premature because who knew if I was going to even catch anything, let alone like fishing? Who knew? Mike Marsh did. From the moment we set up the trip, I just felt a confidence with Mike that I was going to have an amazing day. I told Mike that one really good thing about never having fished before was that I did not have any expectations other than experiencing a great float on the river and scout any trees down that needed to get cleared before my season started, so I was out there with an open mind and a clear heart.

Mike had other plans then just tree watching. He wanted me to catch some fish. We started at Pine Street Boat Launch at a reasonable 10am. I was concerned that this was too late because most of the fisherman that I had taken out fishing wanted to be dropped off at 7am but this was the beginning of me trusting my guide to know what was best – something I would do often throughout this amazing day. It takes a special person to tolerate total lack of knowledge while doing a task, even if it is an amazing job that most people would love to have, even if you have to explain time and again, “hold the pole and the line and just at the exact moment let go of the line without letting go of the pole – please don’t let go of the pole” and “watch the hook when you swing that around!” and don’t forget “ouch, can you wait a second until you yank that hook from my hand?” Patience is a definite fishing virtue and one I was not born with, maybe that is why it took me 37 years to get there.

We started floating. Well, I floated and practiced casting while Mike rowed us right over the fish. He also could see the fish (Special sunglasses or bionic eyes? I still don’t know.) anywhere in the river. For awhile I pretended that I could see them too. I couldn’t, and I still can’t, but I can feel them! And, I know this might sound cheesy, but I believed in them!

We were floating and casting and floating and casting. All of the sudden, Mike starts madly rowing upriver! He said: “Put that casting rod down and sit still!” I pretend not to be offended, knowing that there must be a great reason to get all intense on the new girl – there was – it was a bed of Steelhead. Mike thought it would be the greatest thing ever if I caught one while on this trip. Unfortunately, the closest I have ever come to fly-fishing is watching “A River Runs through it” about eight years ago and all I can remember is that the lead actor was hot and looked amazing fishing: I can’t even remember who it was, let alone anything about fly fishing! Thankfully, Mike realized this (again with the intuitiveness!) and did all the fly-fishing part himself, until he hooked this amazing Steelhead and handed the rod to me and said “don’t let it go slack.” Let’s just say that we both forgot my lack of abilities and that I might know what that means 20 minutes into my first fishing trip ever…. Yes, I lost the Steelhead.

So, with a sad face (Mike’s) and a tree-searching face (mine – still not expecting anything, so I don’t know what a loss this was), we continue down the river. I am allowed to pick up the casting rod again and have to say, I am getting quite good at it. Mike is instructing me on which way to throw the spinner and I am quizzing him on the job of being a guide. During conversation, I became amazed at the similarities of our lives: you get jobs based on something you can’t control and they don’t last, so you have to make the best of your “season” – working like a dog while you have customers and praying for them when you don’t. The best part is, we both LOVE what we do and would not trade it for any other six-figure job in the world. It is a hard life, but a good one.

We get just a ways past about five other boats in some riffles and around a bend when I land (well, put it in the boat) my first fish. It was just a small Rainbow, but it was my first. It was beautiful. I pose for the picture, and OH MY GOD, he wants me to hold the fish! This means I will have to touch it! I took a deep breath and closed my eyes and grabbed on. (I think Mike said something about ‘oh, Rai, don’t become a sissy now!). The fish still has the hook in its mouth and jumps out of my hands (slippery little suckers!) and lands in the bottom of the boat. Mike leaps to its rescue and frees the poor little thing back too the water. This is the point where I decide that I am a “catch and release girl” – much to my mom’s dismay – she was really hoping for a dinner out of this trip!

Now I am on a mission. I am literally hooked on fishing. I can’t stop. We are passing boats and Mike has to hold me back. I just want to catch more and more and bigger and bigger! Wow – what an amazing feeling! The power, the control, the QUEST! My whole life I waited for that feeling of excitement, never knowing just how great it would be! I had an idea from all of the fisherman’s faces that I had seen after the conquest, but to actually feel it for myself was more then I had imagined…I was enticed to fish MORE!

We floated and cast down the river, passing High-Rollway boat launch and more people fishing (not too much in the way of females on this trip, I noticed, wondering if this is normal). I was feeling good and enjoying the sunshine and the small catches that I was getting, when just as I was explaining to Mike that we were coming on one of my favorite swimming spots, I get a HUGE tug on the line – I don’t even know what to do, but I do know: KEEP THE LINE TIGHT!!!!! So, I get to work this baby into the boat. It was fantastic! I thought that the little first one is good, but no, THIS was good. I caught a 12” Rainbow. Wow, that was fun! I was so excited I told the people in the next boat that this was my first fishing trip and wasn’t I cool? They said yes (I think this was just proper river etiquette, but I will take it).

After the adrenaline is pumping through my veins and I think that I can catch anything, Mike says it is time for lunch (okay, it was 3 pm and we had been so into fishing, we forgot to eat) so I say okay (here is the kicker) “but can I keep casting while you cook?” He took a deep breath and in that adult-to-child voice said, “no, just chill for a little bit” – wow he was good – I set down the pole.

We ate an amazing lunch of steak on the grill, vegetable medley (corn, asparagus and beans), potato salad, bread and dessert. I was like the Cheshire cat sitting there with one of the happiest days of my life happening all around me. How could it not be? I was in a place that I loved, spending the day in the sunshine and being treated like a Queen? To top it all off, I was discovering this hidden part of me – that I loved to fish.

After our great lunch, we headed back out and caught a lot more little ones (still felt great!) and perfected my casting. As it got darker, we switched the lure, then after rolling right over fish and not even getting a nibble, switched it back. I was getting tired. My casting was all over the place. It was about 6pm. Whew, what a day. Then, just when I think I can’t take anymore, we hit the jackpot. There were so many fish; I was surprised they did not jump into the boat! Okay, I might be practicing my fish stories, but there really were a lot of them. I would cast and if the lure made it back to the boat without catching something, at least a little one, we would be shocked. I had my second wind and felt like I could cast 20 yards out into a 6 inch hole – I know, still practicing the story telling – but, I did say felt like it, not that I could!

I ended up catching about 45 seven - ten inch Rainbow, Browns and Salmon and a 14” inch Rainbow and a BEAUTIFUL 16” Brown. I was so excited and happy I was surprised that all of Newaygo County could not hear me hooting and hollering! What an amazing day. We got back to Newaygo at 8 pm and, after 10 hours of fishing, I felt like I was on top of the world. Just so you can feel how ‘Hooked’ on fishing I was: for a girl whose life is based on whether the sun shines or not, the next day, it rained and I woke up thinking “Sweet weather for fishing”!


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