“Eventually, all things merge into one…..and a river runs through it.”
- A River Runs Through It - Norman Maclean
I would never claim to be a salmon fisherman. That term is reserved in my mind for those out on the big water, spooling down hundreds of feet of line in search of those silvery monsters. All I know of salmon fishing is from the shore of a harbor or bank of a river during the fall run. A fishing style that suits me just fine, by the way.
Last week, during the traditional time of year for the salmon run, I loaded the truck and hit the road by 3:00 am to make the 190 mile trip from Neillsville to Algoma. By daybreak I had my lines soaking along the banks of the Ahnapee River in “my” favorite spot. It's early October and a few other fishermen were staked out, but it was pretty quiet. I didn’t mind. Watching a few small flocks of cranes and geese overhead, some distant shotgun blasts and hearing an occasional whoop of a “fish on!” and splashing wasn’t a bad way to spend a morning. The “torpedo” wakes of fish moving upstream though the shallow waters were few and far between and I could only claim a couple bumps.
This cold morning I was reminded that a sound, a smell, and seeing a specific object, can sometimes bring back vivid memories. As I sat in my chair sipping steaming coffee from my thermos, I looked across the river to the opposite bank at piles of boulders strewn near the bridge. I thought about Randy…. that was “his” spot. Every fisherman knows that sometimes one has the “hot spot,” and that jumble of rock was Randy's hot spot.
Randy Stanley and his sons, Chad and Jack, were the guys who introduced me to this sport. One fall afternoon years ago, they invited me over to Lake Michigan for a fall run fishing trip. I jumped at the chance. My last experience with salmon were the early years of snagging when I was just a kid, so an opportunity to fish again for these Kings was something I didn’t want to miss. Over the years we did well with a cooler full of filets, other times we went home with only a bottle or two of Von Stiehl wine. Regardless, all trips were successful and fun and I was hooked on the sport. (Pun intended)
|Jack and Randy|
The outdoor life could not be more ingrained into a family than what the Stanleys live. Randy and his sons were a tight group, and seemed to spend every free moment in the field or on the water, and if not, they were planning their next trip. Luckily for me, I befriended them and was able to join in from time to time. In remembering this particular fishing spot on the rocks, it seemed Randy would pull in three or four fish to our every one. “Fish ON!” and I’d reel my own line in, sprint up the bank with the net, cross the hiway bridge and scramble down over the boulders to scoop up another fish for his stringer. I never tired of it. After a day of fishing we’d crash in a van or back of a truck to catch a few hours of sleep and then maybe grab breakfast at Dairy Deans. I remember on our last trip together Randy hadn’t felt that great at our meal and later that fall we knew why. He would be diagnosed with cancer. His treatments started and he fought well, but later that year we lost him. For his friends, his family, his sons in particular, there will always be a void left that Randy filled with laughter and wit while we were outdoors with gun or rod in hand.
On this Fall day, looking across at “his spot” on the banks of the river, hands warming around a cup of coffee, it didn’t matter that the stringer would be empty. It only mattered that his life had enriched mine and brought me memories and friendships I’ll never forget.