By Howard Meyerson
MANISTEE, MI — Their day started out like any number in late October – some wind, some sun and fish were jumping, but the bite? Well, honestly, meh.
Things could have been a lot better to hear Captain Chuck Scribner tell the story, but the 25-year veteran Manistee River guide was, in fact, fishing with one of his favorite clients and friend: Bill Fuhs, of Grand Rapids. Some call him “Big Fish Bill.”
When friends fish together there is no such thing as a bad day. Time spent on the water together is valuable – like gold. And, Fuhs, who had fished with Scribner for 18 years, had every confidence that the day would end up enjoyable, not to mention productive. What he didn’t anticipate was landing a 38-inch steelhead weighing 21-pounds, 3-ounces – the largest reported on 2013 Michigan Master Angler list in the catch and release category.
“I was absolutely surprised,” said Fuhs, who is known on the river for his trademark black cowboy hat. “We had four and half hours of nothing and then all of a sudden I hit a fish, lost it as it came at me, then cast out again and it hit.
“It started going downstream and kept fighting. They are so powerful you can’t tell for a while what you have, but it became obvious that it was something special.”
Scribner, a Birmingham native who moved to Manistee years ago to make a lifestyle change, spends approximately 220 days guiding clients every year. He knew Fuhs was into something big, just not how large. It would take fully 25-minutes to find out.
“We had to pull anchor and chase it,” said Scribner, owner of Scribner Outfitters in Manistee. “At several points it was 200-feet down river from us. At one point I thought, for sure, the fish was gone. Bill said ‘He’s gone,’ and I said ‘He’s not gone. Keep reeling.’
He said ‘I am reeling.’ Then the fish went back up river. We were eventually able to move it over to one side. Then, it turned and headed back down river on a big run and both of us were shaking our heads laughing, but still had not seen it.
“Bill is one of my best fly fishermen. He has natural instinct for fighting fish and being patient. He is the guy you want to have in the boat when you have a big fish on.”
Fuhs eventually worked the fish in close to the boat where Scribner leaned down to net him. But, the big steelie was too big for the hoop net, so Fuhs had to grab an edge and provide an assist. That’s when both men realized just what they had.
“It was a gorgeous, well-proportioned female,” Fuhs said. “Chuck asked me how big I thought it was. I said. ‘I’ll betcha it’s 15- to 18-pounds.’ Then he lifted it out of the net and put in the boat and got out his digital scale. Then, we both sat there star struck.”
Jim Bennett, another area river guide happened to be motoring up river soon after. Knowing Scribner and Fuhs, he hailed them and inquired about their day. When he heard about the fish he offered to let them weigh it on his certified scale, a Boga Grip, portable device that allows anglers to handle and weigh a fish at the same time.
“At first I didn’t think it was that big, but it surely was,” Bennett said. “I hadn’t seen a fish like that in years. It was gorgeous and had great girth and was very healthy.”
Michigan’s Master Angler program has certain requirements for all entries. A photograph is required and the fish has to meet or exceed the minimum length or weight for entry. That minimum for rainbow trout is 32 inches – or 14-pounds. Length measurements are needed for any catch and release entries. Weight measurements are need for catch and keep.
Fuhs steelhead would have topped the catch and keep category as well, had he opted to keep it. The biggest catch and keep steelhead for 2013 was 36-inches long and weighed 20.75 pounds. It was caught by Julie Fraley, of Kaleva, while spincasting on Manistee with a trout bead for a lure. The Michigan State Record steelhead is 26-pounds, 8-ounces. It was caught in 1975.
Fuhs, a dedicated fly angler, caught his fish on Crazy Egg pattern, tied by Scribner. There was no question, he said, that he would release the fish though it certainly would have been a trophy.
“I had no second thoughts about releasing it,” Fuhs said. “I’ve been practicing catch-and-release for 25 years. I find that the fish are prettiest when they just come out of the water. Catching it was absolutely exciting. I am blessed that I have caught quality fish over the years. I’ll have the memory of this one that I can refresh again and again.”
This story appears on MLive Outdoors.