Of fish and men

I went on a fly fishing trip to northern Michigan with three friends last weekend.

I think women wonder what men actually do on fishing trips. Their thinking is — why would four otherwise intelligent guys want to spend an entire weekend doing nothing but fishing?

I’m sorry to confirm a woman’s worst fears, but I have to tell the truth.

When four men travel out of town for a weekend like this, what they do is — fish. They fish all day. And when they’re done fishing for the day, they’re so exhausted they can barely get through dinner before falling asleep so they can get up very early the next morning and fish all day again.

After being blown all day by the winds whistling up the Manistee River on Saturday, my friends. Larry, Stephen, Troy, and I were all tired. Troy, who is Stephen’s son-in-law, had reason to be tired. He caught four steelheads on the river and returned them to the cold water, in the tradition of catch and release. After casting all day, the only things the rest of us could claim among us were two steelheads, a pulled shoulder and a swollen hand.

In fact, as we had climbed out of our boats and left the river at the end of the day, the sound that I heard was unmistakable. You can choose to believe me or not, but I know what I heard and I know what it was. It was fish laughter. And if you’ve never heard it, be thankful. It is not a pretty sound.

We went back to our rooms, cleaned up and spent the next hour deciding where to go for dinner. “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” “I don’t care. Anyplace is fine with me.” This was followed by 20 minutes of silence and then we started the same conversation all over again.

We finally settled on the Tuscan Grille, right on the river in Manistee where it straightens to empty into Lake Michigan. Troy didn’t feel well, so he stayed behind.

The Tuscan Grille was a great choice. It’s designed using the bare brick walls of century old buildings with modern design inside; windows that let in the sunlight and open views to traffic on the rushing river.

It was prom night in Manistee and we enjoyed seeing large tables filled with high school students dressed up for the biggest night of the year, out for dinner before the dance. Our conversation went something like this:

“That last fish I lost wasn’t my fault. It was never really hooked.”
“How could anybody expect us to cast in 30-mile-an-hour winds like we had today?”
“I don’t think girls looked like that when we were in high school.”
“Sure they did. You just can’t remember that far back.”
“That was a 10 pound fish that got away. I’m sure of it.”
“Do you have any Advil. My shoulder is killing me.”

Larry and Stephen ordered sushi for an appetizer so I decided to join them. About 10 minutes passed and the waiter said our sushi would be out soon, they were just adding the wasabi — which is kind of a Japanese horseradish. A few more minutes passed and the waiter brought us three white plates with beautiful pink, raw tuna. On each plate there was also a tiny bowl filled with dip and a delicious looking cube of green wasabi.

It actually was as close to real fish as I had been all day.

No one said a word, but we each went to work, slicing the rolled tuna into smaller pieces to make it last longer. I stuck a piece of tuna on my fork, dropped it in the dip, took off a corner from the green wasabi cube and put it all together in my mouth. The taste was instantly exciting and wonderful.

What followed a few seconds later was a growing sensation that a bonfire had been started inside my mouth. It roared around my gums, burning off all my teeth before attacking the roof of my mouth, passing up into my sinuses and finally roaring flames out through my nose. I think it was at that point that my head exploded.

I grabbed for water and looked at Larry to warn him. I tried to shout, “It’s too late for me. Save yourself!” but I couldn’t speak. And it was too late for him, too. There were tears rolling out his eyes and smoke pouring out his ears. We both looked at Stephen whose eyes had glazed over. He looked like he was going into shock.

Ten minutes and a pitcher of water later we were able to speak again.

“The wasabi is a little hot.”
“I think I have third degree burns in my mouth.”
“We should use this stuff for bait.”
“I really don’t think girls looked like that when we were in high school.”

We finished dinner, returned to our rooms and checked on Troy.

“How was dinner?” he asked.

We told him it was great and we insisted that next time we went to the Tuscan Grille we really wanted him to go with us and order the sushi.

“It’s that good?” he asked.

We told him it was probably the best wasabi on the face of the earth and to be fully appreciated, it had to be eaten in large chunks.

So, to be honest, I guess fishing isn’t the only thing men do for fun on these trips. But this other stuff only happens when the fishing is slow— and when one guy is catching a lot more fish than the rest of us.

The problem is, Troy could probably out-wasabi us, too.

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