Dave Micus, Plum Island Sound

May 3rd, 2004

Like Mike
By Dave Micus

Fly fishing is a sport that has more than its fair share of colorful characters. I'm not sure why. It boils down to the old nature v. nurture debate; does fly-fishing attract colorful characters? Or do characters become colorful after fly-fishing? It's probably a little of both.

Though I don't know how fly fishers gain their color, I do think that there are some characteristics that colorful characters have in common. Your colorful character is likely a good fisherman. That might be inadvertent; you need to put a lot of time in on the water to become a colorful character and a by-product of this is probably improved stream craft. But that's not to say that all good fishermen are colorful characters, and often it's quite the opposite. There are those fishermen who are driven by God-knows-what-demons to always catch the most and biggest fish. These types tend to be, by sheer will, good fishermen, but also single-minded and no fun to fish with.

Another characteristic of a colorful fly fisher is a bit of eccentricity. This unconventional behavior can take many forms, a weird hat, a handle bar mustache, a strange fishing ritual. Where I fish, I occasionally encounter an angler who wears what looks like knickers and knee socks, and his overall appearance is that of a gilley on the Test during the Victorian era. I've never asked why he dresses like this, but it is a tad eccentric.

Your colorful fly fisher is also a raconteur. The logic here is inescapable; a colorful character has to be able to recount his exploits in an entertaining way for those exploits to appear, well, colorful.

The most colorful fly-fishing character I know is Mike Tolvanen, and I'm not alone in my choice. When I first began fly-fishing for striped bass around Ipswich, Massachusetts, I had the good fortune to meet Mike while on one of my initial outings. I ended up spending the better part of the day with him as he showed me good locations to fish, best flies to use, and the myriad of other things necessary for successful striper fishing. This willingness to share information, including hot fishing spots is typical of Mike. He'll call you out of the blue to tell you where he's been hammering fish, and, if you follow his advice, you'll likely have an exceptional outing. When asked to describe him, virtually all of his friends will say, "he's the best fisherman I know,"and we've all had the frustrating experience of standing right next to Mike while he's catching fish and we're getting skunked.

It's not hard to spot Mike when streamside. He's the one throwing the long, elegant, tight-looped cast. He's also the only fisherman wearing bright red Chuck Taylor High Top All Stars for wading boots. If you thumb through a Redington Tackle Company catalog you might be surprised to see a picture of Mike's Chuck Taylors. Representatives of Redington were up north on a photo shoot, and felt Mike's bright red sneakers worthy of inclusion in their publication, even though they sell their own, more subdued, brand of wading shoe.

Everyone who fly fishes on the north shore of Massachusetts knows Mike, and all have a favorite story. We were fishing Crane's Beach on a productive September Sunday, when one of our group had to leave.

"Where are you going?" Mike questioned.

"Church," was the reply.

"Church??!!" Mike asked, incredulously. He spread his arms, taking in the beach, the ocean, the feeding fish. "This is church!"

Mike once told me that he had only had one fight with his wife over fishing-seems she couldn't understand why he had to go fishing on his wedding night.

"The moon was new and the tide was right," he confided to me.

Another time, in the midst of a long winter off-season, he confessed, "I'm ready to start sticking fish hooks in my veins!"

My favorite, though, is a story Mike tells of hooking what he thought was a giant striper. "This fish put up a helluva fight," he elaborates. "It took me forever to bring him in." When he got the bass to the surface he was amazed to see it wasn't 48 inches; not even half of that. Weirder, it was coming to him tail first. "I never saw a fish swim backward before. When I landed him I found I had hooked him right in the anal vent! No wonder he put up such a fight-I would have, too! Gives whole new meaning to 'foul hooked.'"

Like all colorful characters, Mike has his quirks, too. For instance, he always says, when a striper takes his fly, "This feels like a pretty good fish!" whether the bass is 6 or 36 inches long. He believes that, when the bass aren't biting and you're not having fun, it will be more fun not having fun fishing a popper than a subsurface fly. And poor fishing is blamed on the hole in the ozone layer.

We assumed Mike was a local phenom, until one of our group, Jim, was fishing the storied rivers in the Adirondacks. He stopped in a local fly shop to inquire about river access and to pick up some flies.

"Where are you from?" the owner inquired.

"Ipswich, Massachusetts," Jim responded.

"Ipswich???" the owner asked. "Do you know Mike Tolvanen?"

"Everyone knows Mike Tolvanen!" Jim replied. ~ Dave

About Dave:

Dave Micus lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He is an avid striped bass fly fisherman, writer and instructor. He writes a fly fishing column for the Port City Planet newspaper of Newburyport, MA (home of Plum Island and Joppa Flats) and teaches a fly fishing course at Boston University.


Previous Dave Micus Columns

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