After a questionable amount beer and whiskey, a utility knife was the weapon of choice to seal our bond, forever as one, sometime around the year 2000. It was the night when we became blood brothers. As incapacitated as it all seems, that moment stands out to this day and marks a time that two crazy souls became one. At least in our eyes.
His name is Aaron Easter. We all call him Easter and it has been a few years since we have been able to truly enjoy one another’s company and get back to where our youth left off. Easter came in from Colorado, where he has made his residence the past seven years. This year was going to be different; I was finally ready and able to spend a couple days away from everything reality throws at us. No children, no work, no bills. Just my soul and I, and soon my blood brother Easter. Let’s see where this will go. We had no plan. We only knew we were on the hunt for Steelhead and nothing was more important. We had two days to find some fish, to fill everything that makes us live, most importantly Easter’s. He does not have ample opportunities to chase after these beasts of the rivers, and our passion alike for this is strong; so damn strong. Let’s roll out brother…
Thursday morning had me waking up to a baby slurping down a six ounce bottle next to me in bed. I sat up and looked over to see Easter making faces at my 11 month old daughter as Sadie was feeding her. Sadie and I looked at each other, confused at the moment. We weren’t used to a 6’3”, 225 lb. man laying in bed with us at 4am, but he was ready as was I to get this day going and embark on another adventure together. I was 20 years old again the second I stepped out that door and nothing was holding us back from making the most of the two short days we had together. No plan. Just two souls, some fishing poles and a fly vest.
Rockford, MI was the first town to break to fish the Rouge. I had just pre-fished this river five days previous to try and find some fish, with some success. Rockford would be just a blip on the map today as we hit it hard for three hours through rain, sleet, wind and snow, with no fish. Time was short. We better get a move on. Newaygo was next to fish; otherwise called The MO. Rockford was a two hour drive from my place, and now onto Newaygo for another 45 minutes north. We stopped into the Muskegon Fly Shop to look for spawn. I knew our chances were grim in a fly shop, but they turned me onto some trout beads. I had heard of them before but never tried them, and a lot of guys have sour feelings when it comes to fishing them. As always, I love to support a local fly shop and I made the purchase on some beads and we were on the water minutes later, rigging rods. We were fishing under what seemed to be an abandon railroad trellis. It was hard to tell as the only tracks the trains leave are the ones that are made for them. An hour into fishing the trellis, drift after drift, Easter had snuck down around the pylon extruding from the harsh current. I looked over at him and his look was priceless: a serious man when it comes to the fight of a steelhead as he had a fish on.
After somber fishing, we were alive again and the fight went on, tiring the fish, completely knowing Easter would be saving this one for the grill. He took a nice buck, 5 or 6 pounds. He gave him everything he had to fill his arms with life again. We snapped a few pictures and I jumped back in the run; three drifts in and, wow, fish on! The line screamed from the reel. I knew right away I had a decent fish, and hoping for a hen to suck some spawn from. Easter would blurt out that this was the hen we had been hoping for. He made it very clear to not lose this one, as she carried the key for the salvation of our journey. He coached not only me but this fish as well all the way to the bank. I felt as if he thought I had never caught a steelhead before, but I remembered quickly, for everything that put a bend to our rods today needed a valiant effort to heed our success! A gorgeous plump hen rose to the bank to fill the stringer, providing the gold within her womb to keep this journey alive. But I guess these beads had us onto something here and anyone who calls this LINING FISH on this day fishing a deep run is a fool. These fish snapped, and gave us the treasure we had hoped for from the anticipation leading up to today.
We wrapped the railroad trellis in our back pocket and headed north yet again for a 30 minute drive to Baldwin, where we would find a bar to feed our hungry souls and a few beers to wash the grease away. The bar burgers and beers were sleeping pills after a long, cold and wet day chasing Steel, and a few short miles later we were checking into a small trout lodge in what felt like the heart of Michigan’s trout country. For $65 a night I anticipated a hole in the wall motel, but this place was warm and cozy, full of trout nostalgia everywhere we turned. It helped keep the motivation alive to fish the Pere Marquette the next morning.
The Pere Marquette is one of Michigan’s premier trout fisheries and holds a giant name for itself during the peak salmon runs in the early fall, but Steelhead and resident trout abound here as well. The river comes with rules: keep your voice down and enjoy her, do not leave anything behind and pick up what should not be there. The river did not disappoint in her beauty the next morning, which was greeted with a few giant snowflakes, as we wisped our fly rods against the current. Although we would not find a fish here this morning we took in all the PM had to offer and once again we were on the road heading back into Newaygo to pull the railroad trellis back out of our pockets.
The trellis did not hold her treasure she had the day before, but Easter had a hole in mind throughout this entire trip, and I knew he had been itching to get back to it one more time before our trip would have to end. We made our way a few miles up the river to what I now call the Easter Run. He had pulled a limit from this run one year ago nearly to the day in quick fashion and he was hoping for one more tug back before his return to the Rockies. Three drifts in and he blurted “fish”! I looked over and his smile once again said it all. If things could have gotten any better, I don’t know how it would have happened, for this was the icing on the cake. The last run; the last moments of the day lead to the last fish of this amazing adventure, and he took one more elusive creature far from our world to the banks of his reality. The feeling I felt inside is indescribable. A mere three fish total for two hard days of fishing and plenty of driving felt like a pile of success. The big spring push of fish from Lake Michigan had yet to happen at this time, but we encountered what we were after.
600 miles later, I was hugging an old friend goodbye only to tell him I would see him soon. Not a friend, but a brother of blood that intertwined one foggy night.