One weekend he decided to head up to the Rifle River in the northern part of Michigan just outside of Prescott. The Rifle was a great stream for trout. He had tied a new fly and wanted to try it. He tied many flies I never heard of, although at 12 I was only getting started in the arena of fly-fishing.
The Rifle River was a watershed that encompasses about 380 square miles and the river itself flowed for nearly 60 miles before it entered into Lake Huron.
We referred to anywhere north of Detroit as “Up North”. That term always conjured up images in my mind of pristine forests and gin-clear streams where trout grew to Moby Dick proportions or so my grandfather would tell me. When you were Up North it was a different mindset than when you were down below. The streams around my home that flowed into Lake St. Clair were often muddy, tepid and home to various species of trash fish like carp, suckers and the dreaded catfish. No self-respecting trout would ever be caught dead in one of those streams.
As we donned our waders on a bank high above the river, I looked into its depths and saw twenty or thirty good-sized fish. I told my grandfather that this was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel. He looked at me and just grinned. It seemed he knew more about the Rifle River than he let on.
The bank was about 75 feet above the streambed so we had to make our way down very carefully. I was concerned about him as he stepped over downed trees and mangled roots and he was worried about me for the same reason. We were looking out for one another without letting the other one know.
As we got to the edge of the stream he told me to tie on a General. It was an old streamer pattern that worked on the big browns he told me had caught only two weeks earlier. I had a difficult time trying to get my fly out to the head of a pool because of a slight headwind and it took several tries to get it just right for that perfect drift.
All the while my grandfather decided he’d wait to start fishing until I caught my first trout of the day. After 20 times I got the right drift, as I stripped into the deep pool and on the swing I felt the take. I don’t know whether I yelled or laughed but it got my grandfather's attention. As the fish raced to the center of the pool I could see it was not as I thought. Instead of catching a brown trout I caught a catfish. Fighting it to the net I removed the fly that was covered in slime. The disappointment was all over my face. It was then my grandfather gave me some advice that remains with me to this day and it was something like this:
This stream is exactly like the creeks and rivers we have down below. I’ve caught every imaginable species of fish in the Rifle from catfish to carp, suckers to bass and even a walleye or two. This river flows into Lake Huron and what’s in there can in fact come upstream. All those fish you saw this morning were probably carp, suckers, etc. Trout are territorial and they’ll be found usually where the other kinds of fish aren’t. Just because there are many species other than trout in the Rifle River doesn’t mean it’s not a good trout stream. You just need to find those spots and fish there.
There’s one more thing I need to tell you, he continued. Most fish have scales and they are there to protect them. There are times when a fungus attaches to their scales and their protection is compromised; sometimes to the point where it actually kills them. This is true whether it’s a trout, carp, or some kind of trash fish, but the catfish has a smooth skin that has a protective coating on it so the fungus can’t attach itself to it.
In life many bad things will come to you, but if you go through life as a catfish and slough off those things that try to take the life out of you, you'll find you have a healthier attitude and a happier life.
He was right. Things did come to me but I kept my skin smooth with protection from above and the stress and strife wasn’t able to get me down.
Imagine the things one can learn from a catfish.