- Andy Whitcomb, Outdoors
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Editor's note: Anglers across the U.S. are buying fishing licenses in record numbers. Following is a story in our new series, Fishing America, representing a slice of American angling pursuits.
"What size line do you use?" Steve Hanson asked, eying me skeptically.
"10-pound," I said, and foolishly continued, "I prefer to keep the fight short, less stress on the fish."
"Oh. You're one of those," Hanson said.
Despite my line-size character flaw — and possibly because I held my own with him trading Simpson's quotes — Steve seemed to give me another chance and we became good friends.
Hanson, 40, resides in the Lansing, Mich., and is Regional Lake Manager at PLM Lake and Land Management in Michigan.
I met him about 10 years ago while he worked on his master's degree in Fisheries at Michigan State University. My wife and I had just moved from Iowa and I took a temporary position working as a fisheries research tech in his lab, eventually even assisting him with some electrofishing.
It led to friendship, and Steve even began showing me some of his secret fishing spots. Can't say why, but most of his locations seemed to involve a cemetery, a hole in a fence, or wandering through someone's yard.
"Put your stuff down!" he said one afternoon along the back edge of a cemetery en route to a pike hole. "Just throw it behind the tree!"
I obeyed and we did our best nonchalant mosey and gestured at trees as a maintenance truck slowly cruised around the loop. I always wear my fishing vest to pay my respects.
He even took me to "secret lake," which carried with it the possibility of being picked up in a police cruiser because it is illegal to walk along the edge of a highway.
When I did finally discover a place on my own, it turned out he had already been there.
"I found this little lake with a floating trail on a mat of cattails. One false step and you go right through. Can't even see the water from the shore ..." I told him.
"Were there some pallets?" he asked.
"My brother and I put most of them there."
But no matter how many terrific places he took me to fish, I always got the feeling that there were still a few really good places that he was holding out on me. If Mike Iaconelli needs some more places for his City Limits show, Steve is a guy to ask. Steve may not tell him anything, but he could try.
Opinionated, conservative, and passionate fisherman and father, he was on my short list to receive a few Fishing America questions. He answered some questions via e-mail:
Why do you fish?
It's about not knowing what may be lying below the surface of the water waiting to ambush my bait. I believe it is an addiction that falls in line with many others that involve the pursuit of the unknown, the thrill of the hunt and the enjoyment of success.
I fish because there is something fascinating about them to me. Whether I am admiring an 8-inch brown trout from a cool northern stream, or a freshly boated kingfish in southern Florida, I am in awe. Fish are beautiful in a prehistoric sense.
I fish because I am amazed by the world below the water's surface.
I would say I fish to relax but anyone who has fished with me knows this to be untrue. It is relaxing in the sense that I can focus completely on the task at hand and put all other worldly problems aside, momentarily.
I am by no means relaxed when I am fishing. Even while still fishing for catfish on a hot summer evening with a cold beer in hand, my mind is racing. Are we in the right spot? Do I still have bait on? Should I try another rig to see if it works better? Better pull in that slack? Did I lock the keys in the truck again?
What do you fish for?
Anything. The kids and I enjoy carp fishing in the spring before the lake is warm enough for the bass and bluegill bite. My kids have become quite proficient carp fisherman as my daughter proved by winning the Lunker Derby a few years back with a 21-pounder.
I love catfishing. There is something gratifying about being able to boat on occasion a dozen or so 10-pound plus catfish. I have fished for just about anything that bites. I've even targeted bowfin, with the scars from the stitches still on my hand to remind me of the 7-pound pound bowfin dangling on one hook while another was lodged firmly in the bone of my finger.
About 6 years ago I was introduced to saltwater fishing in the Florida Keys. I was hooked immediately. I still cannot believe the diversity of species and the strength of saltwater fish. Like the freshwater species I pursue, I enjoy targeting a specific species and learning what I can about its habits.
I have rarely spent more than $50 on a fishing rod. In my early days of hitting the river for steelhead the graphite revolution had begun. I had a yellow fiberglass 9-foot eagle claw. My fishing buddies called it the whip.
Once during the process of a hook set, the tip of the rod ended up under my boot from behind. Still can't defend that one, but I caught more steelhead on that rod than any I have owned since. I truly believe it's not the rod; it's how you use it.
I have more fishing gear than any man should be allowed. Because of my diversity of target species, I need a diversity of rods and reels. I am set up now for moderate saltwater gear to ultra light trout and panfish. A good portion of my garage space is occupied by rods, tackle boxes, and plastic tubs full of fishing accessories.
Who taught you to fish?
There is not one person I can say taught me to fish, but rather a few select people who have influenced me through our time on the water together. My brother Eric and I have spent many days in makeshift boats in remote lakes pursuing monster bass. Eric taught me what it means to be a man. Support your family, work hard and be the best person you can be.
My friend Alan Wilson who got me hooked on carp and catfish. Alan also took me to the keys for the first time and I am forever indebted to him for introducing me to saltwater fishing. And to the former Principle of Sutton's Bay school who offered to sit down with a kid from out of town and introduced me to the improved clinch knot and how to hook a redworm through the tip and conceal the #8 hook and allow a more natural presentation to unsuspecting brown. I think his name was Bill. That 15 minutes of lessons has lasted me nearly 30 years and landed me an enormous amount of excitement, joy, and satisfaction.
Do you, in turn, teach fishing?
As much as it annoys them, I take the opportunity to teach (my kids) about aquatic ecology including plant identification, fish species identification and everything that I know about the requirements of quality habitat and water quality to maintain a healthy fish population. I think it is important that they understand the complexity of the aquatic environment and what we do, or don't do, can have devastating affects on aquatic environments and ultimately fish populations.
Many of lakes that are state owned are overrun with exotics aquatic plant species and all of the stocked fish the DNR biologists can throw at them usually lose the battle to a degredated environment and unsuitable conditions. Ultimately the fishery collapses and we all lose.
Steve and I e-mail every once in a while, trying to keep the distance from Michigan and Oklahoma as short as we can. But my kids have yet to experience pike and I know who to call when back in Michigan. That is, if he'll put up with us and our 10-pound line.
Despite an early line bias, angler ends up sharing secret spots