A Short Fish Story
by Craig Kivi
From sand in my diapers to my mid-fifties; I have been blessed to fish the Huron River Chain of Lakes. Over the years I have come to know well many of the weed beds, deep holes, under water shelves, shallows and spawning grounds of this ecosystem. This knowledge has served me well during my career as a professional fishing guide and many are the happy stories of landing “the big one.” But let me share with you one of my favorite stories about the little one that ultimately got away but left an enduring impression on the soul of this fisherman.
It was a perfect balmy early August day on the Huron River and I was fishing alone just below the old Bell Road Bridge. Just me and the ancient river as it traveled over rock and gravel contours forming rapids, gentle eddies, and calm pools between the forest shrouded river banks, unmarred by human development. There is a narrow branch of the river along this stretch, a branch that loops its way around a small island, providing safe habitat for smaller fish in its slow moving shallows. And, as is often the case when I fish alone, on this day I sought more to indulge my curiosity than pursue “the big one” so I chose to explore this quiet backwater.
I fly fish, and this day my outfit was lean. Waders over tee shirt and cap, a very short fly rod, light line and a small box of flies are all I had; not even sunglasses as I knew the tree lined river would be shaded from the sun’s glare.
The juvenile Smallmouth bass I knew should be in this stretch have a fighting spirit that far surpasses their size; when hooked they will jump, shoot sideways, and run with an animation more akin to a 500 pound Marlin than the duller response of their lunker sized brethren. By the time I had slowly, quietly worked my way part way around the island I had caught and released several of these tough, little fighters. Then a short light cast was met with a fierce strike and I was onto a 7” Smallmouth that just would not give it up. He jumped and cart-wheeled, ran out line making repeated dashes towards the river bank. I finally landed him, and after briefly admiring his gorgeous shimmering colors, eased the hook out of his mouth and returned him to the river.
This fish, this catching of this fish. This perfect day, this perfect place. I sat down right in that river, sat down on the smooth gravel bottom in the mere 6 inches of water from which I had landed then released that spunky fish. Sat there for 10 minutes, maybe more, as the warm breeze rustled in the poplar leaves, joining with the churning gurgle of the upstream rapids. Enchanted by the sunlight filtering through the trees, listening to the song of the river. And recalling that fishing is about so much more than catching fish. It is a gateway to those times and places where we experience the things that stay with us forever.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has designated the 2 1/5 mile stretch of the Huron River downstream from the Mast Road Bridge as a NO-KILL area for Smallmouth bass.
Photo by Jack White