Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
May 29th, 2000


by Jerry Dennis

Every game fish has a dimension beyond which it become an exemplar, a paragon, a bragging fish. The dimensions vary, of course, according to species and place. Down south largemouth bass grow to the size of state-fair hogs, so it take double-diget weight to be worthy of boasting. Here in the north, cold water and short summers make our bass reach trophy status at about six pounds. For smallmouths the defining number is five pounds; for northern pike, ten; for steelhead, fifteen. Chinook salmon don't raise eyebrows until they reach twenty-five or thirty pounds.

You have to keep some perspective on this. A one-pound bluegill deserves more praise than a four-pound walleye. And while a three-pound rainbow trout is a stud in the Au Sable, trollers on Lake Michigan dismiss it as small, a mere "skipper." Trout and salmon grow so big in the Great Lakes that they skew the grading curve. A three-pounder makes almost no impression when it's caught in company with twenty-pounders, especially when landed with tackle stout enough to drag a cow behind a train. But a wild three-pounder in a river is another matter.

On most rivers where I've fished, a sixteen-inch trout is considered a nice fish, an eighteen-incher is a nice fish, and anything bigger is worthy of hosannas. For years a twenty-incher was such an elusive prize that I remember at age twenty being disappointed when I caught a brown trout that measured nineteen and three-quarter inches. Since then I've taken a fair number of browns, rainbows, and even brook trout bigger than twenty inches, but most of them were caught in places like southern Chile, which hardly counts, or were taken at night during the Hexagenia hatch, when big trout are more vulnerable than usual. A twenty-inch resident trout from a Michigan river, on a fly, in daylight, when I could see the strike and watch the battle and admire the colors of the fish - that was an experience that eluded me until I had fished those rivers for twenty years. You might say I finally earned the right, though I'm sure it had more to do with chance. For a long time my luck was bad, then it got better. Throw a fly into the water enough times, and eventually even the biggest fish comes down with a case of the stupids.

After a trout reach about twenty inches, it's more convenient to scale it in pounds, yet most anglers I know in Michigan measure even their largest trout by the inch. That might be because we don't want to trout associated with the ten-and twenty-pounders we see caught so frequenty from the Great Lakes and displayed dead on the dock. Also, those of us who prefer to release most or all of our trout - even, and perhaps especially, the big ones - can rarely take the time to weigh fish. We measure then quickly and get them back into the water. When a lady in Grayling recently caught a very large brown trout during the Hex hatch, it was the length of the fish - thirty inches - that everyone talked about, not the weight. Saying it was a ten-pounder would have lacked punch. ~ Jerry Dennis

Continued next time!

About Jerry Dennis

Jerry Dennis lives in Traverse City Michigan and feeds his obsession for fly fishing (and giant trout) by spending as much time as possible on the Boardman, Manistee, and AuSable rivers. He has been a full-time writer since 1986, writes for numerous magazines, and was the recipient of the 1999 Michigan Author Award. His seven books about nature and the outdoors include A Place On The Water, The River Home and From a Wooden Canoe. The River Home was name Best Outdoor Book of 1998 by the Outdoor Writers Association of American and is now available in paperback.

Excerpt from The Riverwatch The Quarterly Newsletter of the Anglers of the Au Sable.

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