Monday, April 8, 2013

Fishing With Volmar

I first introduced my grandfather Volmar Miller (1902-1987) in my September 20, 2009 posting, “The Old Swimming Hole” - - a description of some fond yet ever more distant memories of my youth.  Here is more of the story . . . .

My grandfather, who grew up on Granly Farm in rural Almena, Michigan, was quite the outdoors man who would later serve on the Michigan State Waterways Commission in the 1960s under then Governor George Romney.  It was at Blocker’s Pond, situated on the edge of Granly Farm and which most of the locals referred to as "Miller Pond," that Volmar first taught me the ways of the angler.  He had also built two small fish ponds on his property just downstream from Miller Pond and stocked them with brook trout from the local hatchery. These ponds were fed by the stream flowing out of the Miller Pond, a small wooden waterwheel on to which old coffee cans had been fastened ladling stream water onto a wooden flume running down to the small fish ponds. 

I was five years old when Volmar first started me out with a simple cane pole, a length of fishing line, and a red and white bobber below which a juicy nightcrawler hung suspended to entice a fat bluegill to the invisible hook.  I eventually move up to a small spin-cast outfit and a variety of wooden and metal jigs and poppers.  I finally graduated to a fly rod and reel and the mysteries of artificial flies crafted from thread and feathers, many of which Volmar tied himself.

I always looked forward to the quiet walk along the stream and up through the woods to Miller Pond. The Blockers had a small rowboat and from time to time I would see someone fishing from it along the opposite bank. I asked Volmar if we might not catch more fish from a boat. He impressed upon me the importance of patience when fishing, like so many other of life’s adventures. Patience, and the proper presentation of the bait whether it be a worm or an artificial lure or fly.  Give the fish what it seeks and where it expects to find it. It could care less whether the angler was standing on the bank or sitting in a boat. There was truth in this.  A string of bluegills would frequently find its way into a iron skillet sizzling with lard.  Fishing for the beautifully-speckled brookies in the small trout ponds was a special treat.  How to trick an Argus-eyed trout by presenting a fly that closely resemble its favorite meal.  The brookies were fun to catch and we would always release them after finessing them to the net.  We were tempted to keep a couple for a shore lunch because they taste so damn good when they go straight from the water into the frying pan.  But we didn’t.  They are too damn beautiful not to return to the water and watch that flash of color as they sound into the depths.

I visited these ponds less frequently as I grew older and eventually I moved beyond my own Midwestern roots once I entered college in Florida. I stopped to visit Volmar in January 1971, on my way home from New York City and Toronto where I had spent part of my holiday semester break.  Miller Pond and the smaller trout ponds were covered with thick ice and snow drifted deep in the woods around the house. Volmar invited me to stay and do some ice fishing, but I was in a hurry to visit my girlfriend who attended college a few miles away. I stopped by again a few months later, on my way home for the summer break. This time Volmar and I tossed some flies and small poppers to the bluegills in Miller Pond. One last time we brought back a stringer of fish for lunch. Little did I know that this would be my last fishing trip to these ponds of my youth. 

But this was not the end of my fishing adventures with Volmar.  He would spend his winters along Florida’s Gulf coast and from time to time I would drive over on a weekend break from my studies to wet a line together.  He had a nice little place directly on the Anclote River only a mile of two from where it flows into the Gulf at Tarpon Springs.  We fished shrimp and crab right off his dock and were rewarded with sheepshead, redfish (channel bass), ladyfish (often called the poor man’s tarpon) and catfish.  We would also boat out to the local mangrove flats where we tossed flies to cruising redfish after which we would return to the dock for “Miller Time” . . . a couple bottles of beer while Volmar filleted our catch (he also taught me the proper way to fillet fish).  If time and weather permitted, we would take his boat, a Boston Whaler, out into the open Gulf to jig pinfish for grouper that populated the reefs and wrecks farther out.  He loved to get out on the open water where he could open up the throttle and let fly.

It has been forty years since the last time Volmar and I fished together and a quarter century since he passed away there on the banks of the Anclote River, his beloved boat moored nearby.  I still think back fondly on those times we shared on the banks of those  small Michigan ponds and along the Gulf coast.  And I thank him for teaching me the proper way to fish and for the right reasons.  Never keep anything you don’t plan to eat.  I have never lost my love of fishing and do it as often as I can.  Volmar is always in my thoughts whenever I find myself on or near the water.  Even when the fish aren’t biting, a day with a fishing pole in your hands is better than so many alternatives.   

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this beautiful memoir of your grandfather.