by Scott Alexander Burrell
With trepidation normally reserved for public speaking and tax audits,
I looked forward to my first adult fishing trip - four guys and a black lab
heading up to the North Branch of the AuSable for opening day. I was,
at thirty-three, to be a fairly aged debutante due primarily to performance
anxiety and an inclination to figure things out through research rather
than trial and error.
My fishing skills, supplied amply and early by my father, however, were
not the source of my trepidation. What I lacked was confidence in my
fella skills - the ability to posture, boast and thrive in a testosterone-laden
environment. Again, owing to a rather bookish nature, I embarked on a
spring cram session in Traver, Hemingway, McLean, Lyons, Dennis
and other assorted trout pundits that I hope would supply the necessary
That research conviced me that I needed to reform my ideal. I always
thought fishing had nothing to do with banter and competition, laughing
and drinking, and everything to do with reflection and reverence because
my father - my only fishing companion - and I rarely spoke on the stream.
I knew exactly how Hemingway felt when he wrote that Nick Adams "did not
like to fish with other men on the river." I now had an urge to learn
otherwise and Traver's "Dancing Fly" convinced me that such a trip could
do the trick.
My uneasiness grew, though, as I contemplated the foolishness of debuting
on opening day rather than during the Hex hatch or some other trout orgy.
As any stream lasher worth his neoprenes knows, the Hex hatch with it's big
bugs and big fish is the perfect time to wallow in guydom. Opening day,
on the other hand, with no bugs, no fish and a better than even chance for
horrendous weather offers no ready-made stag events. I would be on my
Although I hoped to reply on my research to come off as a jovial swell,
what I desperately wanted was to avoid some huge breach of decorum and
I figured thorough preparation would be key. So I made at least two trips
to every fly shop in the D.C. area proudly informing the proprietors that
I was taking in the opener on the famous AuSable. This boast failed to
elicit what I considered the requisite awe and I got the same hollow feeling
I'd gotten when these East Coast snobs failed to recognize the Boardman
as birthplace of the Adams fly.
Despite a new found confidence in my equipment, fishing skills and working
knowledge of fishing lore, both general and local, I still had that same
queer feeling I used to get on the first tee when playing golf with strangers.
I don't know "how good" my companions were and whether, despite all my
preparation, I might still make a colossal blunder.
Fortunately, I had been invited on the trip by my oldest and best friend,
Chief, and if I haven't completely embarrassed myself in front of Chief yet
I'm never likely to. Besides, despite years of arguing over inconsequential
subjects, everyone Chief has ever introduced me to is, in the argot of our
generation, cool. He had assured me that the other members of our party
were indeed cool.
My flight from Washington National to Detroit when off without a
hitch and by 4:00 on Friday we were at Chief's suburban Detroit home.
By 6:00, I had met our host Ace and his pal Buddy and we finished packing
the fish car. It was once these preliminaries were completed that the guy-fest
began in earnest. Initial posturing and equipment scoping is one thing - Buddy
had two Sages!! - but the rutting really took off when we stopped to provision
At the local Kroger, we performed a drill not unlike a group that had won
10-minute shopping spree. We grabbed steaks and chops, eggs and
bacon, doughnuts and bagels, corn and potatoes, and all manner of
spices, sauces and seasonings until someone won the checkout tape bet
at about $180 (and in full disclosure, by Sunday we had made three more
trips to the bait shop for supplementary victuals).
Finally, about 6:30 we headed up I-75 towards the AuSable. Then the
real BS-ing started. Chief told stories that I'd stopped laughing at the
25th time I'd heard them, but in this testosterone-drenched atmosphere
they were suddenly revitalized not the least because some of them made
me look good.
The weather in Detroit had been mild yet overcast, but as the pallid and
grimy cities of mid-Michigan gave way to flat and featureless soybeans farms and
finally to the sand rooted CCC pines, the creeks and ponds, and the hills
and dales that foreshadow true Up North, the horizon featured a dusky
scarlet that bled into an incredibly rich purple - the type of breathtakingly
natural hue that I hoped to soon see displayed on the sides of a bright
AuSable trout. Best of all, this welcomed meteorological display appeared
suspended directly over our destination on the North Branch.
We finally rolled into the cabin around 10:30 and in an inexorable reaction
dating back as far as my earliest memories on Silver Lake, I hurried
down to look at the water. I watched its swirling eddies and more
informatively, at that hour, listened to its gurgling banks while the
scent of pine and the smell of puckerbush triggered a flood of old
trout stream memories.
Now nestled into the cozy cottage hard by the North Branch with our
gear unpacked and the river observed, we cracked a couple of beers
and began to consider the evening's entertainment. The suggestion that
we play a little poker rekindled an uneasiness that had largely dissolved on
the trip up. I think most guys can navigate life fairly easily on three good
stories, a decent jump shot and a tacit knowledge of poker. While I have
been blessed with the talent to tell stories and have occasionally been known
to knock down the J, I stink at poker and the thought of getting into an
all-night card game dredged up painful memories when pride and bad
gambling skills conspired to cost me dearly.
Fortunately, the poker suggestion failed to turn out the vote and we somehow
settled on Monopoly. Now, although I am no better at monopoly than poker,
I felt it would be more difficult to look foolish playing a child's game. As
indicated by the dog-eared board and Ace's encyclopedia knowledge of rule
and strategy, I was given to believe that Monopoly must be the 'house' game at
Ace's. Although I went bankrupt first, I didn't look particularly foolish as I
peered out the window into the darkness, I engaged in a self-indulgent reverie
that Monopoly was to this cottage on the AuSable what I had read cribbage
was to John Voelker - a means to size a man up before fishing and a method
for de-constructing him afterwards. ~ Scott Alexander Burrell
Continued next time . . .
Excerpt from The Riverwatch
The Quarterly Newsletter of the
Anglers of the Au Sable. We thank Bob Linseman for use permission.Lighter Side Archive