GORDY TELFER: Fish races

Gordon Telfer is a 4th generation (near) native to Big Rapids. He is the husband of a most wonderful wife and father of two fantastic sons. He is a graduate of Big Rapids High School and has worked many jobs in Big Rapids, retiring after thirty years from Ferris State University College of Pharmacy.

Welcome back to my continuing affair with Mitchell Creek. (Bear with me, we will change course in the next article.)

I began fishing when I was about 5 years old. Dad would take me down to a shaded pool directly below the Michigan Avenue bridge, where we would dangle worms near a small waterfall. Occasionally a brightly colored brook trout would dart out from the swirling water and grab the worm. I can remember how excited it made me and how beautifully marked the fish was. If they didn’t taste so good I don’t think I could have killed them. On the other hand, I believe God put these creatures here to please the palate as well as the eye.

It’s a strangely common occurrence among most hunters and fishermen, as their skills become sharper, their desire to harvest lessens. They become more interested in “counting coup” than harvesting the animal. Counting coup was a practice of any number of peoples including the American Plains Indians, where one would touch his opponent without harming him and without being harmed oneself. Much honor was given such an act.

So it was with me and my fishing, and I began to be a lifelong advocate of catch and release fishing. Mind you now, I did not give up catching fish to eat, but kept only enough for an occasional meal.

That’s enough senseless drivel, now back to the story at hand.

When I was 8 or 9, dad would drive me out to the culvert where the central branch of Mitchell Creek crossed 220th Avenue. Here I would begin to fish the creek back to Big Rapids.

FISH STORY: A young Gordy Telfer is pictured with the bounty from one of his many fishing trips. As a child, Gordy knew of all the good fishing locations along Mitchell Creek. He and his brother, Tom, would compete over the locations and who could catch the most fish. (Courtesy photo)

I would sometimes fish upstream from the road a ways, but many times this was difficult as beaver would sometimes dam the stream and the brush was very thick. In addition, there seemed to be a preponderance of horned dace in that stretch of stream. They were not to my liking, although they did give an admirable fight on light line. Plus, most of the larger beasts were colored bright enough to make one think it was a brook trout flopping on the opposite bank. It did get your heart going until you could cross the creek to gather in your prize. Not being the targeted critter they were a little disappointing. But normally one began at the downstream end of the culvert. There was a nice little pool located there and the stream ran along the road a short distance before turning east into the woods.

There were very few homes that even came close to the stream or its two tributaries between here and town. And if you fished the stream slowly, it could take most of the morning to reach Loomis Pool, which ended the better fishing parts of the stream.

As my knowledge of the stream grew, I found one could skip many portions of it. This left more time to spend on more productive stretches. The art of reading a stream puts the dedicated angler to a great advantage over the occasional fisher. Not that any of this knowledge put fish in the creel every time, but if fish were to be caught, you probably would do well.

It wasn’t long and my brother, Tom, would join me on these fishing jaunts. Things worked out for a couple of years and then the competitive urges began to take hold. It was a race from the culvert on 220th to the Loomis Pool.

We would leapfrog each other from one good hole to the next, many times bypassing some very good fishing water to get to the “honey holes.” These honey holes were consistently the most productive of the stream and therefore took preference over all others. There were times when we would almost come to blows as to which had possession of a particular fishing hole.

I remember one time when I stopped at a point where the stream cut under the bank concealing a good spot, only to find my bait canteen had opened up and emptied itself along the trail. One of the lessons learned in life, that to be first does not always pay off. Watching the stream — as I brooded over the loss of bait — a large brown trout, followed by two smaller (but keepers) browns, slowly drifted downstream and under the bank upon which I was sitting. Shakily, my legs carried me back to where Tom was fishing. Begging him for a crawler or two, my pleas fell on uncooperative ears. Couldn’t blame him, and I probably would have meted out the same were the situation reversed.

Finally he relented and gave me a crawler and I raced back to the spot where I had seen the fish slip under the bank. I drifted that crawler under the bank and waited. I worked that crawler as temptingly as I could but to no avail. The fish had either moved on downstream or were not interested in my offerings.

I don’t remember which one of us caught the most fish — on this or any of our jaunts — but that was not the point and we were both well aware of that. We had some good times on these short fishing trips. We learned a lot about fishing, nature and each other, and we stored up a lifetime of memories.

There was one time, as Tom reminds me, when he had caught his limit of brook trout and was carrying them home strung on a stick. A gentleman passerby offered him a goodly sum of money for his catch. Tom declined the offer, or at least that is his story.

— Gordy

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