When I was a young boy around ten years old, my grandfather would come home with lots of fish. He would tell us children his stories of where and how he had caught those fish. I was always fascinated with his stories. I couldn’t wait until I could go fishing with grandpa and learn his technique.
I worked for my father around the house and in town doing odd jobs during the summer, I saved money to buy myself fishing tackle. I bought fishing poles, a tackle box, line, sinkers, bobbers, and a used net from a friend. I was already to go fishing when spring came. I showed off my gear to whoever would listen, but, the main person I wanted to impress was my grandfather. To me, my grandfather was the best fisherman on the St. Mary’s river. I can’t remember a time that he went fishing and didn’t come home with fish. He would catch so many fish that sometimes, he would smoke them, then take them to town and sell them. Grandma didn’t like it too much, because, I believe he sold them at the local taverns. Local people came to his house to buy fresh fish whether smoked or not. Grandpa had a nice boat for that day in time; he would pay me sometimes to clean it, a hard and stinky job. I didn’t mind because he would explain to me the responsibility of keeping your gear in good clean working condition, which, was a very good lesson. I in turn have taught my sons that same old lesson.
During those first five years of fishing I went with grandpa as often as school would permit. I learned the secrets of my grandfather’s ways. Pretty soon I was catching fish all the time. Grandma said, “I needed to learn how to smoke the fish like grandpa,” she liked smoked fish because she didn’t have to cook them. As I got older, I was allowed to go fishing with my friends and their dads. I always took my gear with me, as sometimes their fathers would say, “ he has everything needed to fish”. I knew grandpa’s way and that is the way I fish. I was asked many times after that to go fishing with them, sometimes it was just with the father, maybe his buddy and myself. I was starting to get the reputation on the river as a good fisherman. I sold some of the fish down at the Sugar Island ferry boat. As Grandma would say, “we have enough fish.” I would give them away to some of the old timers sitting on the dock trying to catch fish or just there relaxing; it made me feel good to give away some of my catch. The old timers would laugh and say “I’ve got a good story to go with this one.” It made me think of my grandfather’s stories.
One time I went fishing on the North Shore of Sugar Island, just looking around mostly. However, I looked down into the water and saw the biggest fish in my life; it was a six foot Sturgeon! I stopped the boat and hooked up a line that would maybe be strong enough to catch it. I baited a big hook dropped it right down in front of this beast; it was only about ten foot deep. I could see everything going on, to my surprise this beast took the hook. I jerked hard to set the it and the fight was on. I was alone with this beast. I didn’t have the boat anchored, so the beast dragged the boat all around the river. I got tired several times as this fight lasted over four hours. I finally prevailed and the beast gave up the fight. I couldn’t keep the beast as to me, “a Native” he was a “Grandfather Spirit”. I took the hook out easily and watched him go back into the deep. I went home and told my wife and Grandpa of the fight. I could not prove it, but they knew because of my excitement. I love to tell my boy about that day, just like my grandfather’s stories, he was fascinated.
In 1995 the FLW came to the St.Mary’s river to put on a Walleye Tournament. This was a big tournament with professional fishermen. They had advertisements on their boats, with big motors, and every kind of the newest fishing equipment known; the “crème de la crème” of fishing. However, weeks before the tournament, these teams came up the river trying to find the best walleye holes. They asked around town for the best fishermen on the river, looking for guides. I was approached by a team, new to the tournament; they were on a tight budget with less sponsoring than other teams. Mike Ryder and Bill Pagan were their names; they said they could pay three hundred a day to guide them. I didn’t want to do it; but my wife said “we could use the money.” I went along for three days straight leaving at six a.m.. The rules were you could fish from sunup to sundown. We caught lots of fish during the early morning hours and in the late evening. One night I took them out on my twenty-one foot pontoon boat set up for fishing. I showed them how to catch walleye at night. I shared holes around Sugar Island, Les Cheneaux Islands, and Drummond Island. They didn’t win the tournament, but they made it to third place, which paid a large amount of money. I never revealed to them my upper river holes. HAHA!
I’ve fished the St. Mary’s for forty five years. Now is the time to pass my grandfather’s techniques down to my son Marc. He will be among a handful of men who know this special technique of fishing the river. Grandpa is long gone, but his techniques will live on through my son Marc as he loves fishing. Marc and I love to go out in the boat, however, today’s economy is cutting our times short and few. But, on the banks of the mighty St. Marys you can find us fishing like the old timers. He has caught several big walleye and many whitefish, his preference is catching the Atlantic Salmon that run in the Fall. I’m proud that Marc enjoys fishing the St. Mary’s river and hope he continues to enjoy great many catches throughout his life and passes the special technique on to many generations to come. The Stt. Mary’s river is the best fishing in the world, especially since it’s in our own back yard.