We are near the river, it is misty Saturday morning. I can smell the mix of an fresh pot of coffee and the distinct aroma of musty waders, I love this combination. After a rather large collection various motivated individuals, we are assigned various beats on the Manistee river and gather our pokers and garbage bags. I make my way through the crowd and shake hands and catch up with fellow river enthusiasts that I have met over the years doing our part part for conservation. I have to head inside and see what is new with Andy and the crew at The Old Au Sable Fly Shop. I have to stop and admire a slick little Hyde next to the river, it has a fresh coat of dew and I spy a TNT decal on the aft seat. Ohio plates, and I begin to scroll the internal rolodex as to whom this sled might belong.
Some of these individuals are planting cedars for the Upper Manistee River Association, the rest are wading certain sections of the river and collecting any type of debris that might not be natural or organic. I am fortunate to be paired up with two individuals who have places on the river and know the waters we are about to embark upon. We park at the ‘General’s’ cottage, don our waders, place a bright yellow plastic flag on a tree branch to mark our starting point and the ending point for the group upstream. Small chit chat revolves around blue wing olives, a very sparse Isonychia hatch, the various reels we have burned up on bonefish expeditions, and how little we are going to find in the river. It is a clean river. A few beer cans, water bottles, the usual suspects. I really do have my eyes peeled for the elusive lost sandal or perhaps a cooler that was swirled away after a canoe took a flip. No such luck. That is a good thing right? I believe so.
Then the conversation takes a turn as deep and murky as one of the pools I am staring at and wondering how many large browns lurk in the dark undercuts of the opposite bank.
-“Why do we do this? I mean really, who is the smart one?”
I must admit this has been lurking in the back of my mind for more than a few years. I feel a certain sense of deja-vu as the next words spill from his lips like the ripples over pine sweeper I am inspecting for Labatt Blue cans.
“I am a member of Trout Unlimited, The Upper Manistee Assoc., The Anglers of the Au Sable, Federation of Fly Fishers, and various watershed councils, I spend more time either in meetings or doing river clean up/repair projects and I have only spent two days on the water actually fishing. Who is the crazy one? Why don’t we stock this river with more fish? What about cutthroats? The other guy who isn’t a member actually benefits more from what we do than myself.”
When one compares membership dues to the benefits, do they balance? The comparison seems ill fated. I rarely bring a fish home for dinner. The bottom line, isn’t this why I participate in these river improvement projects? So, the angler who isn’t a member of any river enthusiast group, slides down the river behind me, reaping the benefits of lunker structures and erosion protection projects. His annual river dues are a state fishing license at a mere $29, per fish he or she brings home can average anywhere between $1 per trout to mere pennies per steelhead…. and my brook trout dinner can cost me hundreds.
We are nearing the power lines, our take-out point. Between the three of us, barely filled 1/3 of my Glad stretch bag. But that is a good thing. I wish it were the same on the Bear River which has been abused and used as a dumping ground for decades and has industrial debris from before my birth.
Why do we do it?
Why are there forty or fifty like minded people gathered for a river clean up on a rainy Saturday morning?
The answers vary for many. My wife asked me the same question. Why do you take the day off work, turn down guide trips, and gather a pitiful amount of trash for a river over an hour away?
Is it for the brat/beer cook-out afterwards? Partially. You see, it is about the fellowship, getting to know others who share a passion for the waters we each have special memories. Extravagant stories of evenings waiting on the shores enjoying the sunset while passing the time with a cigar in anticipation for the big hatch, it all comes full circle. We give back to the rivers that give us so much.
Then, my TROUT magazine hits my mailbox. Immediately, I browse an article by Erin Block, At what Price Glory? and I have been contemplating how many fish I thought I released to catch again, but may have been fatal. I never knew that Michigan was the first to institute catch & release in 1952, WAY before it was cool. Yet, we are in a state that seems to put up the most amount of resistance to these practices that have proven beneficial on many treasured rivers across the state. I will save more of this discussion for later. That brings up the second part of this discussion. I must leave you with some wise words from the man who has started this ‘conversation’ with a special TU group in Colorado.