Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Rogue River, Salmon, Sandwiches and Soda

The Rogue River is more than just a river to me, it is a place of memories. When I was a young teenager my grandparents moved from the suburbs of Chicago to Belmont, Michigan. When it first happened it was an idea I did not like one bit. I have always had a very close bond with my Grandmother and saw her just about every weekend. Upon first visiting their new home I found that they moved to a neighborhood that was nestled away in the woods virtually free of the bustle of city life and crime. A short walk down the road was the Rogue River. I had never really fished in a river and the few times I tried it I wasn't overly fond of it. The river was darker than I imagined. I expected a crystal clear stream where you could see all the way to the bottom with fish swimming among the rocks in abundance. The color was always a bit stained similar to a light tea color and the bottom was often murky and muddy, but there were always the fish. Michigan was so different in many ways, everything everywhere was green. So many trees and the sound of the river especially when standing in it. You could feel the cool water on your skin as the warm summer breeze touched your cheeks. There was always the buzzing of mosquitoes in your ear, but it was one of those necessary evils.

Although we lived many miles apart, my parents drove to Michigan several times a year. Many Holidays were spent at my grandparents, but each summer me and my sisters took turns visiting, often times for up to a month! I fished to my hearts content. I made friends with a local youth and we hunted crawlers in the night at the nearby county club. I caught Smallmouth Bass, and Suckers mostly in the summer. There were very few trout to be caught in the area we fished. My friend told me stories of large reckless fish called Salmon and of the ever elusive Steelhead. I could not wait for my opportunities to battle such worth opponents.

We canoed down the river and explored every hole and run looking for fish throughout the warm, humid summers. We even caught a few walleye and my friend even caught a northern about 30" one afternoon while fishing under the bridge. The bridge was so close that we would walk back to my grandmother's house and she would have sandwiches made and a cold bottle of Towne Club Soda! I was always greeted by "How's the fishing Honey?" as I walked in the door. Summer was a great time. Although I didn't fish every day, I tried to. My grandma had me do chores and odd jobs where I earned a few bucks so I could keep up on fishing supplies. She insisted that I go to the theater with her on days it was too rainy to fish. She didn't have to twist my arm much, because she acted young for her age and took me to see science fiction or even scary movies.

The river was much as it is today, minus the Childsdale dam which broke during high waters and flooded the area downstream. The breaking of the dam opened the way for migrating fish to make it into the heart of Rockford at the dam downtown.. The upper river has a decent population of trout, but smallmouth, suckers and carps didn't give the trout a chance downstream so the DNR poisoned off the river. It was a heartbreaking moment when a youth watches so many fish floating down the river dying. I thought it was such a waste. We still fished and learned how to catch trout instead. We caught Salmon and Steelhead when I could come up during the runs in Fall and Spring. I longed to fish more and spend more time than ever on the river. I just lived too far away and had school.
Life is just funny sometimes. My step dad lost his job and found a new one close to my grandparents in Michigan. It was my senior year and the worst time to move. I had a job and a girlfriend and a great group of friends which I had to leave.I really did not want to go. My grandmother and the fish were my saving grace.

After moving to Michigan I tried to spend more time at my grandma's often fishing for Salmon and stopping by for lunch which brought a Huge smile to her face. The door was always welcome and she loved to see her grandchildren.

One year the DNR stopped planting the Salmon for the Grand River system in the Rogue and the Kings in the fall were like a ghost from the past. It seemed that there were always more fisherman than fish. I drove by less and less after my grandparents moved to Georgia.

There are more houses and even a nature trail and a dog park. The city of Rockford has a small touristy town feel to it that I am compelled to visit several times a year. I entertain thoughts that maybe I am like the Salmon and the Rogue is imprinted in me. I bring my son to fish for trout and my wife and daughter to shop and eat. It is always a great time, there are so many memories there from the past as I forge new ones with my family now. I even hear rumors, although since confirmed, the Rogue received planting of Coho this spring. Unfortunately being so close to Grand Rapids and the increase in population from years gone by has sometimes made the crowds too much for my liking, I will still visit again as I feel the urge to at this very moment.

My grandma has since passed a couple of years ago. It still pains me to drive by her house. It looks the same as it always had and sometimes I feel like that boy again with hopes that she would be inside waiting for me with a sandwich and a Soda...


  1. This is a beautiful piece, Mike. It is vivid-and I like the way your grandma lives through your words. What a beautiful tribute to her.

  2. Thanks Terri! She was one of the sweetest and kindest people I have ever known!!! I miss her dearly and only wish to follow in her footsteps on how she treated people. She had not once ounce of prejudice or hatred in her body, only kindness and love :)I remember even as a kid she would be so heartbroken when we left from visiting her she would have tears in her eyes as i do now....