Catching bluegills and wrangling worms with Uncle Bryan
May 05, 2010
Like millions of Americans, I consider myself a fisherman. The nice thing about being a fisherman is that you never have to prove it. Anglers understand that you really only have to be as good as the stories you tell.
Sure, some fisherman get lucky and end up with a ten pound trophy walleye hung on the wall of their remodeled basements. But most of us don't need to prove anything.
We true fishermen know that the true measure of a fisherman is how many times you've had to remove a barbed hook from your thumb or how many times you've wound an entire reel's worth of fishing line around the propeller shaft of your trolling motor. Me? I've done all that and more.
I'm a fisherman mainly because my (great) Uncle Bryan was a fisherman. Uncle Bryan loved his bluegill fishing, and armed with a cane pole and box of crickets, he was deadly on most any mid-Michigan lake.
As a kid, it wasn't very hard to recognize my fishing heritage.
Bait is all-important to a fisherman. Uncle Bryan took his bait collecting and bait storage techniques to a level that at the time, I didn't always understand. I suspected that a cottage cheese container in Uncle Bryan's refrigerator didn't guarantee it held cottage cheese. Truth was, it more likely held leeches, grubs or nightcrawlers.
When I was a kid I was rarely allowed to stay up late. But if Uncle Bryan was planning a morning fishing trip I would be dragged out of bed well past midnight to help collect nightcrawlers.
Now that I am an adult, I realize I grew up in a simpler, safer time and place. In a big city, creeping around people's houses late at night with a flashlight would give people a perfectly acceptable excuse to shoot you dead. But in mid-Michigan where people generally understand the fisherman's code, you're just as likely to bump into someone you know late at night doing the same thing; wrangling oversized worms.
The nightcrawler is the king of worms. It's not a feeble creature like the angleworm. It's a beast with the girth of your finger that has the ability to fight back when you try to capture it. And unless you're a skilled nightcrawler hunter you might not have anything to offer the fish at sunrise.
Uncle Bryan was a master at wrangling nightcrawlers, well for that matter most any live bait. As a kid, I remember him having kung fu like speed and reflexes to pounce on the worms so as not to escape.
Uncle Bryan was your stereotypical fisherman, he wore Oshkosh bibs, a straw hat with the built-in green visor and was a large man with a gentle, but hardy laugh. I think we all can picture a man such as him.
His favorite bait though, without question was the cricket. Again, he had his own unique style in catching enough for a morning fishin' trip on the many lakes that dot the area I grew up in. With the patience of a big ol' black bear he would paw at and overturn logs, stacked wood and small pine stumps, swiftly scooping up crickets, and or grubs as he meandered along.
Once we had enough crickets, we were off to his favorite lake. And there were many to choose from, lakes with names like, Cedar, Bass, Mann's and Rock. Most popular of all though were a chain of lakes called Six Lakes, each appropriately named First Lake through Sixth Lake. As I said, simpler times and places.
Anyway, as I mentioned, cane poles were Uncle Bryan's preferred method, faster I suspect when those gills' were really hitting. Uncle Bryan saw little need for fancy spin-cast reels and rods. I liked that about him. It was simple and enjoyable, not to mention extremely effective.
When you are a kid, there is something magical about venturing out on a lake. It's exciting. Uncle Bryan had an old green fishing boat. Nothing fancy about it, as I told you, I liked that about him. Green aluminum sides with flat wood planks for seats. I loved to sit in the bow... well, at first.
Once we paddled the boat out deep enough to drop the motor, Uncle Bryan would pull on the starter cord a couple dozen times until the motor would sputter to life.
I'd grab hold of the anchor line and ride the wooden plank seat like a bull rider. At first it was like flying, as we gained speed. That is until we would hit the waves and the bounce on those hard wood seats. sometimes it was worse than any spanking I ever got. (Surely worse spankings than I ever deserved.)
Once we would arrive to Uncle Bryan's favorite fishing hole, it was all business. Not too much chatter and surely not too much moving about in the boat, we didn't want to spook the fish. Just grins and giggles and casual nods of approval when a big bluegill was hoisted from the water.
With a gentle twitch of the wrist the cane pole, adorned with a cork bobber and a frisky cricket would come to rest in its own wake. The mood of the fish determined our success on any particular day.
Sometimes the fishing was fabulous, most times it really didn't matter. We were fishing and that was all that really mattered to Uncle Bryan.
Yep, those were the days, days my own fishing tales are made of.
And to close, as I think Uncle Bryan might have said, "It's my fishing story and I'll tell it as I like."
Randy Jorgensen has been with the Tri-City Times since 1980, he lives in Imlay City and is active in many community organizations. Randy enjoys the outdoor sports and travel. His columns are generally of life experiences with a touch of humor.