Ramblings from "The Junkie"

Cradle Of Filth
The color and clarity of the water is so beautiful that you swear you were fishing in some tropical destination. The number of fish moving from pool to pool and run to run is mind-boggling. The whole riverbed moves and shifts from left to right and then it explodes in every direction! I’ve never been to Alaska when the Pacific Salmon run their natal river in the thousands, but I can’t imagine it being much different then the incredible Salmon fishery that exists on the Big Manistee River.

Every year, anglers from hundreds of miles away descend on the stretch of water below Tippy Dam. My Fisheries Biologist buddy has described this stretch as a “virtual fish factory”. The natural reproduction rates combined with the aggressive stocking program deliver the Salmon from Lake Michigan into the thousands. Of course, with the amazing numbers of fish come the hordes of anglers. And I mean every imaginable type of angler from every walk of life. Thus, the stage is set for a scene that is overwhelming in its magnificence yet incredibly morbid and irreversible.

That’s when it hit me. Almost like the three-legged egg fly the guy on the opposite bank was slinging across the river with his surf rod. The Salmon make their one-way trip to return to the very cradle in the gravel where they were spawned. Their sole purpose is to propagate the species, to pass on the very genes that made them the great fish that they are and to leave behind the promise of a new life. Yet within this cradle lies the filth of lead encrusted treble hooks, miles and miles of fishing line, rotting carcasses, beer cans, torn underwear, candy wrappers, cigarette butts, clothesline, broken rods and Styrofoam cups.

And within this cradle, on the very riverbank where the Salmon get hauled up by their tails, dorsal fins, bellies and every other place besides their mouth, lie the blatant snagger and his son. Yes, the son who plays the role of the innocent witness to a horrible lesson in sportsmanship. While the fatherly poacher perfects the clean and jerk, the cast and sweep, the young apprentice learns the techniques being passed down as “the way to Salmon fish” as if this is the only way it’s done. A strangely twisted version of a Jimmy Buffet song plays in my head, “Son of a son of a Snagger” seems to fit the scene in a sickeningly appropriate way. And so the song goes, just like the lessons of the fatherly poacher until the day comes to a close and the proclamation of having hooked 40 fish resounds across the parking lot.

It doesn’t take long before you realize that practically 8 out of 10 so-called fisherman are throwing their arms out trying to reach farther and farther into the cradle. Fish after fish are stuck and dragged in sideways. Most are by the tail or by the dorsal and occasionally you’ll see a hook stuck “near” the mouth. That’s about the time you’ll hear an explanation like, “he slammed it with his head like he slams them Alewives out in the big lake, cause he’s hungry!” This couldn’t be a more idiotic rationalization of why the oversized treble on a modified Thunderstick has managed to lodge itself in the gill plate of such a magnificent eating machine. How many times have you been trolling on the big lake and hooked a huge King Salmon by the gill plate? Did he swim up from the depths to ambush your Northport Nailer by slamming it with the side of his head? Absolutely NOT! And so the song goes, just like the lessons of the poachers standing side by side with their sons.

What remains is the cruel truth of human nature and the toughest part of Salmon fishing below Tippy Dam on the Big Manistee River. Despite this morbid scene of human behavior and the irreversible nature of the spawning Salmon, there has been an attempt to reverse some of the lessons and habits that have been deeply rooted since snagging was perfectly legal. The DNR in cooperation with local law enforcement and a group of citizen anglers have instituted a program that has made a positive impact on the Big Manistee River. While the mission of the C.A.R.E program is to educate and enforce the current rules and regulations set forth by the DNR, the fact remains that old habits die hard. That’s why I believe it’s the responsibility of every fisherman to take an active role in improving the incredible fisheries that exist throughout the state.

The Big Manistee will always be a magnet for both fish and fisherman. While the Salmon make their one way trip up river to spawn, it’s my belief that the cradle of filth can be cleaned up. We must be passionate about doing things the right way and sharing the belief of fair chase. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the essence of sport. Only then can we can expect the tune to change.

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Cradle of Filth
A strangely twisted version of a Jimmy Buffet song plays in my head, "Son of a son of a Snagger" seems to fit the scene...


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