Lighter Side

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June 5th, 2000

Giants, Part 2

by Jerry Dennis

Thirty-inchers are extremely hard to come but, but you can't believe how many twenty-inchers are caught. Literally: You can't believe it. I've seen so many seventeen-inchers grow to twenty that I've become skeptical of every report. Kelly Galloup, who in his shop hears stories almost daily about twenty-inch trout taken from area waters, automatically subtracts two or three inches. He's been fishing the rivers around here all his live and has caught more big trout than anyone I know. He understands just how big a genuine twenty-incher is, and how rare.

Not that they don't exist. They do, and probably in greater numbers than most people suspect. The twenty-inch benchmark has taken on quasi-mythical status on many waters, which is why so many anglers chase small trout while harboring secret hope of the unexpected whopper. According to that way of thinking, a large trout is an anomaly, like an albino moose or a zucchini the size of a couch. A lot of people are convinced that such trout, even if they do exist, are so smart they're virtually uncatchable.

It's not unusual for anglers to admit at a certain period in their lieves that they've given up the quest for big trout, that they care less about the size of the fish than the quality of the experience, that they appreciate a ten-inch brook trout more than a ten-pound brown trout. I can sympathize.

I was once like that. My lust to kill faded and never came back, and I long ago lost any urge to demonstrate prowness. Yet I'm more interested in large trout now than at any time in my life. In my youth I caught some decent fish, but few giants. Now, after thirty years of apprenticeship, I'm arrogant enough to believe that I can occasionally catch one.

Mere bulk is not enough. I like catching steelhead, salmon, northern pike, muskie, bass, even carp when they can be caught in clean water on light tackle, and I will probably shout tributes at the top of my voice for tarpon, bonefish, and striped bass if I ever wet my feet in salt, but I would still rather catch wild, river-dwelling trout than any other fish. I'll take a twenty-inch brown trout any day over a twenty-pound King salmon. It's a matter of temperament. On the waters where I fish, salmon are aliens, transported across the continent from the Pacific Northwest, entering rivers not to feed but to complete brief and ultimately fatal mating missions. Catching them is like setting an ambush. Brown trout are aliens, too - as I am - but they have been here long enough to become nationalized - as I have also. They live year around in the rivers, and know their surroundings intimately. When you step into a river, you're stepping into their kitchen. Catching them requires knowledge of their kitchen, the seasons, the insects, crustaceans, and bait fish - requires knowing almost as much as the trout. You can sometimes get lucky, but to be consistently lucky you have to be good. ~ 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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