March 24, 2016
A river runs through us – and
we had better take care of it
By KEITH GAVE
In most small towns in our part of the world, the centerpiece of the community is typically a church. Or a bar.
In the heart of Grayling, where the river runs through it, stands a fly shop. And that, perhaps more than anything, explains who we are, why we’re here, what we stand for and why that river system that attracted so many of us to these parts is so damned important.
It’s why Opening Day around here has little to do with the start of baseball season; it’s about the last Saturday in April, the start of trout-fishing season, when many around here who depend on the tourism trade are happy to be open for business again.
It’s about the fish.
The Au Sable river system is the life blood for Grayling and Mio and all the little towns along the main stream to Oscoda where the canoes race each July, and for towns like Roscommon on the South Branch and Lovells on the North Branch. Without healthy waters, we’ve got nothing.
Art Neumann knew that, and he spent his life doing all he could to raise that awareness to so many of the rest of us who take these rivers for granted. Stop by Neumann’s fly shop in Saginaw and you were likely to get lecture on the responsibility of everyone who steps into a pair of waders – or for that matter onto a canoe, kayak or tube for a leisurely float – to conserve what we love.
But for Art, it was always about the fish, the beloved trout that bring people from all over the country to our region from April through September to cast a fly on these pristine waters.
Art Neumann died Monday. He was 99. But what a life he led. And what a debt we owe him.
On the banks of this very river in 1959, just east of Grayling, Neumann and several other conservationists gathered to found Trout Unlimited to ensure the health of trout, their habit and the sport of angling for them. With Neumann as its first executive director, TU lobbied – and frequently battled with – the state of Michigan to stop its indiscriminate stocking of fish, to improve habitat in streams throughout the state and to develop protective fishing regulations.
When word spread about the success the fledgling organization was having in this state, Trout Unlimited began to spread quickly from Maine to Alaska.
“What Art did was to build an institution,” Chris Wood, President/CEO of TU wrote on the organization’s website. “Today, the ‘house that Art built’ includes 400 chapters, over 155,000 members and 240 scientists, biologists and other professional staff who serve to make fishing, and the places that fish life, better.”
It’s about the fish.
The more we remind ourselves that, the little bit each of us can do when we step into these beautiful waters for a few hours of fishing or to cruise along the current on a tube, the better for all of us.
A healthy fishery ensures that those in the population centers down below like Detroit, Chicago, Toledo and Cleveland keep coming up here not just to load up on flies and other gear at the beautifully renovated Old Au Sable Fly Shop, but to shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, browse a real-estate market that’s starting to heat up, listen to our radio stations and shop even more at the places they hear about on those stations.
Art Neumann is crediting for penning the Trout Unlimited Philosophy, which is worth repeating here for those of us who – whether we know it or not – truly depend on it:
“Trout Unlimited believes that trout fishing isn't just fishing for trout.
“It's fishing for sport rather than food where the true enjoyment of the sport lies in the challenge, the love and the battle of wits, not necessarily the full creel.
“It's the feeling of satisfaction that comes from limiting your kill instead of killing your limit.
“It's communing with nature where the chief reward is a refreshed body and a contented soul, where a license is a permit to use – not abuse, to enjoy – not destroy our trout waters.
“It's subscribing to the proposition that what's good for trout is good for trout fisherman and that managing trout for the trout rather than for the fisherman is fundamental to the solution of our trout problems.
“It's appreciating our trout, respecting fellow anglers and giving serious thought to tomorrow.”
Our town, Grayling, has its share of wonderful churches. But at its heart is where we gather once each year for the start of an incredible canoe race. The rest of the year it’s a place many of us stop by for all things necessary to flirt with the beautiful trout in our rivers.
It’s about the fish.
And if the fish decide not to cooperate? Well, there’s a great bar right across the street with the best damned hamburger in Northern Michigan.