Michigan Steelhead Trout-Fishing Saga
Bob with Rabbit River King (Chinook) Salmon
A Trout Fishing Ordeal - The Good the Bad and the Blessed
A few years back I was fishing for Steelhead (a large species of Rainbow Trout that has grown up in Lake Michigan) on the Rabbit River near Hamilton, Michigan. It is a small farming community in the Southwestern part of the state, just a few miles from Lake Michigan. I had caught a seventeen pound King Salmon in that river not too long before. The river is really an oversized creek that wanders back and forth and makes a horseshoe here and there.
It was one of those beautiful late fall afternoons, when the sun shone through the clouds it was warming on the face. When the sun was temporarily hidden by a cloud, you could feel the cold take its place.
Attempting to get as close as I could to a hard-to-reach hole in a bend of the river -- the kind that often sheltered the largest fish -- I waded out too far and fell into the cold water. By the time I reqained my footing, my waders had completely filled up with the frigid stuff. As I waded to the bank, the weight of the water in them was enough to make me struggle.
When I finally got up on the bank I emptied the water out of the waders. My clothes were soaked. I put the waders back on. A short time later the wet clothes next to my skin began to feel warm. After a while I was comfortable again. I was so comfortable that I started fishing up the river again, still looking for that elusive fall-run steelhead trout.
I forgot, under the spell of fall fishing, that it gets dark and cold quite suddenly in Michigan that time of year. What seemed a short while later, I realized that I had two or three miles of weedy and heavy brush-lined riverbank to navigate in order to get back; and, little daylight left.
By now the warmth had gone out of my waders. The wet clothing felt icy next to my skin. I was shivering because of the damp cold. My fingers began to feel numb. I had to get back. I didn't want to spend the night out there. All I had to do was to follow the river downstream to get back to my car. The warmth of its heater was a very pleasant thought.
It wasn't long before it had turned totally dark. There was no moon. There were no visible lights of any kind. I realized, when I had seen the same old aluminum lawn chair frame for the second time, that I had somehow backtracked for over a mile. I tried to regain my bearings. I listened intently for noises that should be coming from the road and a small waterfall that were near where I had parked the car.
I headed off in that direction. In the darkness I wandered into a thicket of small trees that had large thorns coming from the trunk and branches. When one of the thorns punctured my temple near my eye, and another the back of my right hand, I realized that I had better head back toward the river. This was too dangerous of a place to try to find a shortcut in the dark.
By now the cold was more important than the lostness. I actually asked God to help me out of this mess that I had created. I had turned a beautiful day into a nightmare.
While I was asking God to help me out I had a definite impression that I should stick with the river and look for a spot, where I had noticed on the way through, that some fisherman had stuck a couple of forked sticks into the ground near the bank. I remembered that I had seen the remains of an old campfire. I guess I was thinking that I could find a match, or maybe a couple of rocks to create sparks with; and maybe some kindling to start a fire. Who knows what I was really thinking.
I found what seemed to be a path heading back toward the river. It was hard to make out in the dark. I followed it for a while. At about the same time that I could smell the water, I stepped on something hard. I felt under my foot. I couldn't believe it. "Thank you, Jesus." It was a small plastic butane lighter. I picked it up and shook it to discover that it was nearly full. I turned the wheel. Even though it was wet, it sparked and a beautiful blue flame came out of it. It was like finding a hundred dollar bill when you are starving.
I was just entering a clearing near the bank. Someone had left a few coals and burned twigs-the makings of a small fire. I was able to get it started. It gave off enough light that I was able to find some dry branches in the woods near the little clearing.
I warmed and dried myself and my clothes. I was hungry and tired, but very aware of how fortunate I was. After I had rested enough, I was able to find my way downstream along the riverbank.
By the time I got back it was around midnight. No one was in the parking lot. Everyone else had given up long ago. There weren't even any campers parked there.
It would be safe to say that this will never happen to me again. How often can I expect God to lead a freezing dummy to the makings of a fire; and, furnish him with a cigarette lighter?