My Mistress and I

dave jade
Jim Low (right) presents the Jade of Chiefs Award. A humbling acceptance speech.
photos c. Tom Ulrich ©2012

CHENA HOT SPRINGS, ALASKA — OK, it’s true confession time. I have a mistress, and have had for 44 years. There, I feel better getting that off my chest.

She’s not some cute woman 25 years my junior. My wife knows about her, all of our  friends know this little secret, and they know I’ll do whatever she asks of me if it is possible. It’s been this way for more than four decades, and I’m actually proud of my actions.

Whoa! What’s up with this? Richey is publicly confessing to having a mistress. Well, yes, I am doing so and freely admit it.

All of this is just my reason for being what and who I am.

My mistress is an organization. Her nickname is OWAA, which stands for the Outdoor Writers Association of America. We began as just friends back in 1968 when I was much slimmer, had blond hair, and was more tidy than now.

I’d began writing outdoor magazine articles in 1967, and seemed to have a way with words. Magazines bought the first six pieces I wrote, and two went to Sports Afield. I figured this was so easy I should have started writing in high school.

The good times lasted as long as those first six stories, and then I smashed headfirst into the brick wall of magazine rejection slips. My first six stories were something of a tease, and despite the rejections, I felt head over heels in love.

Writing was all I could think about, and even though I had some natural talent, I had to learn how to write saleable copy. That took more time than I earlier believed was possible, and after several years, my reputation began to build. Magazines began to come to me, and sales increased.

My first three-year term on the Board of Directors as a great experience.

With increased sales, my reputation began to grow, and as time went on, I ran for the OWAA Board of Directors. I wasn’t nominated, but 20 people thought enough of me to sign a petition and in time I became a Board member. After three years, I got an Outstanding Board member award and was kissed goodbye.

I then ran for the Board again after a year off, and yet again had to gain 20 signatures to get on the ballot. Again I was elected a board member, and again three years passed, and then I said goodbye for another two years, and was re-elected as a Board member the third time, somethng that has happened only twice in OWAA history.

I served on my mistress’ Board of Directors for a total of nine years, ran for 3rd vice-president several times, but was never elected. It seemed my mistress had other plans for me, and over many years I served on many ad hoc and standing committees. If memory serves me right, I served on nearly 50 different committees over four decades.

Somewhere along the way, I was rocked to my sox by being awarded the J. Hammond Brown Award, for many years of continuous service to my mistress. With the Ham Brown comes a lifetime membership. She and other Board members thought enough of me to give me this award.

I was deeply honored, and nine years later she blessed me with the Excellence in Craft Award, which meant a great to me because I came to feel my mistress was again paying tribute to my work. Sometime shortly after, an article was written about me in OWAA’s Outdoors Unlimited newsletter, and it called me a Legendary Writer. Now, my friends, that’s some pretty heady stuff.

Other honors had a deep and meaningful effect on me.

After another nine years of service to my mistress, and after a long flight to Fairbanks, Alaska earlier this month, the angels smiled again. This time, dressed in jeans, baseball cap, jacket and scruffy beard, I hobbled up the podium steps while leaning on my stick, and was presented yet another prestigious OWAA award – the Jade Of Chiefs Award by Jim Low, a past recipient of the award and a past president.

If I’m correct, I am the 44th recipient of this award since it’s inception in 1958. It is not awarded every year, and in my wildest dreams, I’d come to believe that this award wasn’t to be. It isn’t given by OWAA, but given by other living OWAA recipients to honor a person by affirmation of OWAA adherence to, and support of, the principles of conservation. It is the highest conservation award among outdoor writer’s groups.

It puts me in with some pretty heady and influential past and present writers. Past recipients include such worthies as

  • Arthur Carhart
  • Henry P. Davis
  • Nash Buckingham
  • Roger Latham
  • Homer Circle
  • John Madson
  • George Laycock
  • Karl Maslowski
  • Ed Zern
  • George Harrison
  • George Reiger
  • Ted Williams (not the baseball star)
  • Joel Vance
  • Erwin Bauer
  • Leonard Lee Rue III
  • Charlie Elliott
  • Grits Gresham
  • Michael Furtman
  • Tony Dean
  • Greg Patterson
  • Rich Patterson
  • Chris Madson
  • Jim Low

and many others that I have known over the years.

These members had a terrific impact on how I approached conservation issues.

This award was granted for a wealth of conservation stories I had written for The Detroit News, and during my freelance career. A 13-part series on profit poaching in Michigan brought this problem to the forefront. Other stories including an 18-part series about the need for increased study on state black bear numbers, and more positive studies on this animal. I covered Indian Treaty Rights and negotiations from both sides, fought hard for a dove season that lasted only one year, and many other resource management stories.

My 44-year affair with my mistress, and 36 years with my lovely wife Kay, has brought me many highs in my lifetime. It hasn’t all been fun, and that’s one of the things about life we must accept, but I consider my life and career to be the best thing that has ever happened to me.

My long-term friendship with these and many other writers have been a joy to my life. I’ve mentored many beginning writers over the years in hopes they carry the literary torch for conservation in the future, and it’s all been a great and wonderful time.

My life as an outdoor writer has become the model for my professional career. Honestly, I must admit to being one of the luckiest and most humbled men men in the world. And I also admit that my wife, and my mistress, are greatly responsible to me being what I am today.

May God bless and smile kindly on all present, and all who have blessed me with their friendship. Your obedient servant. — David J. Richey

Missing my twin brother

DRO-Missing my twin brother George.
George Richey (both photos) landing and holding a big king salmon
photo c. Dave Richey Outdoors ©2012

September 10 is a day I won’t likely forget. It’s the first day of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula black bear season, but that’s not why I remember it even though I’ve shot a bear on that day on several occasions.

Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of my twin brother George’s death. It happened nine years ago. He was taken ill and learned he had seven different kinds of cancer, and four days later died in Traverse City’s Munson Hospital.

He faced his impending death bravely, didn’t quibble about the outcome he knew was coming, and greeted death on an optimistic note. I lay in his hospital bed, clinging to him while staring at the heart monitor. The flat line seemed meaningless because of the gravity of his various cancers. It simply spelled an end to a great life.

He didn’t fear death but embraced it

You see, George and I began steelhead fishing many years ago in the early 1950s, and we traipsed all over the Upper and Lower peninsulas in search of steelhead once we became old enough to drive. We were always together in the early years, and we could read each other’s mind. He could start a sentence and I could finish it. Twins often have such gifts.

We both loved the same things. First it was steelhead, and then jumbo brown trout in numerous locations, and then salmon came along in the mid-1960s. George jumped on the lure bandwagon by manufacturing a wide variety of Michigan Squids, Michigan Sparkle Flies and other trolling flies for salmon.

George’s son – Casey Richey of Frankfort – has taken over the fly business, and has expanded on many of his father’s ideas. Casey held the brown trout state record for a short time before it was beat by a larger fish caught in the Manistee River.

George had a long run with his lure business, and lived to age 63. He died just five months after I retired from The Detroit News as their staff outdoor writer-photographer, We made plans for countless fishing and hunting trips, and we both looked forward to retracing our earlier study of Lake Superior tributaries for steelhead.

We’d planned a more leisurely assault on such rivers as the Big Two Hearted, Huron, Middle Branch of the Ontonagon, Mosquito, and many others that we’d fished in the late 1960s. We’d planned a pilgrimage to the Rock River for pink salmon as we’d done in the early 1970s.

He had caught more than his share of Chinook and coho salmon during our 1967-1976 guiding career on Lake Michigan tributaries, and during his lengthy career in the lure business. He also tied fishing flies for added income, and came up with several flies that he formulated to work on clear and dark-watered streams.

George had a great deal of fun with big salmonids but he and I shared a secret love for back-of-beyond jump-across creeks and silt-laden beaver ponds for brook trout, and wee little ponds and lakes for bluegills.

He loved small fish as well, and loved bluegills and brook trout

He didn’t share in my love of big game hunting, but he would go on such trips just so we could share another memorable event together. He shot mule deer and whitetails in Texas, was on a one-shot big whitetail hunt in Quebec where we saw only one whitetail over a four-day hunt. He shot two caribou in northern Quebec, and one was a cow caribou, which he proclaimed, as “having a bigger spread than any whitetail he ever shot. That netted him a good razzing from others in camp, but George didn’t care.

“If they are picking on me,” George said, “they are leaving someone else alone.”

That was George. Many people knew him, everyone liked him, and those who knew him through his lure collecting, admired the depth of his research for his books Made In Michigan Lures and Made In Michigan Lures II. Both editions are available from me, and the first edition is rare and very collectible.

He was a picker. He could look through a mountain of old lures, often a pile that had been picked by another collector, and find the proverbial diamond in a coal mine. His skill at uncovering old Michigan-made fishing lures was legendary. His skill at identifying old Michigan-made lures was an enviable one.

In many respects, George was a legend in his own time. Not only as a fly tier, fishing lure maker, fishing guide, angling and lure historian as well as an outdoor writer.

George Richey had many loves and most of all were his old lures

Brother George and I grew up in a little town north of Flint (Clio) and moved north after years of barbering in Clio and Flint. He was a well-known hunter and angler, and many people came to pick his brain on a variety of topics.

He liked people, people cared for him, and he made a lasting impression on others. Readers often write me to ask if George and I were related, and when they learned we were twins, they didn’t know how there really could be two of us.

We were proud of being twins, and we each praised the other when such praise was needed. He’s gone now, but will never be forgotten by me or those who knew him, and I guess I may now  have to do the steelhead assault on the Upper Peninsula streams alone. It just won’t be the same without him but it will give us something new to talk about  when I meet him again up yonder.

I still miss him and that empty hole in my heart is where he lives.

Facing the dawn

DRO- Buck in bone white rach
Many bucks have shed velvet and have bone-white antlers
photo c. Dave Richey Outdoors ©2012

Anyone who greets the dawn in the field is getting a good jump on the day, and will most likely find game animals and birds moving. Do it just right, and it can be a kick-off to your preseason deer scouting.

I visited one of my hunting spots two days ago, and there was a comfortable breeze in the air, not too cool but certainly not warm. It felt good to be a bit chilly, and I walked in to a high hill where I could watch for whitetails without being spotted or winded.

The sun was still blushing the eastern horizon when a doe with two fawns wandered by, stopping here and there to nibble on alfalfa. They walked along the edge of a nearby green field, and sniffed at some new green growth, apparently to see if it was tender enough to eat. The dry weather doesn’t help any late-season growth.

Food plot growth done for year

Two bucks, both fuzzy-antlered with velvet, cut the corner of a fallow field, dipped down into a gully, came out the other end and disappeared into the woods. They were quickly followed by a spike-horn that had got sidetracked, and was now playing catch-up with his buddies.

The sun was rising above the horizon when I spotted a veritable gold mine of turkeys. Twelve gobblers and hens were moving like a combat platoon, and they came across the top of the hill and crossed within 20 yards of me. I was sitting on the ground, knees up and Swarovski binoculars to my eyes. I had to lower the binoculars to better see the gobblers.

One bird had an honest 12-inch beard, and two had 10-inch beards, two had 7 1/2 to 8-inch beards, and the others were jakes, hens and poults. The sunlight glistened off their dark feathers, turning the colors from russet to gold to black and back again. They didn’t know I was there, and they passed by and headed down into an open field where they would be out of sight of a nearby road.

Spotting turkey flock heading out to feed

I caught a glimpse of some animal moving through the timber, and never could see it well, but it appeared to be a coyote heading for a place to lay up for the day.

I didn’t spend much over an hour sitting, and it become apparent the critters were done moving. I walked the edge of an alfalfa field where mud remained from an earlier rain, and checked for tracks.

One big splay-hoofed deer track was visible, and it looked two-thirds larger than any other deer track I saw. Was it a buck or doe? Hooves splay out in mud, and that could account for some of the size, but it could have been a deer of either sex. I knew of one very large doe in that area last year, and had heard reports of a good buck as well. It’s always easier to think of it being a buck than a large doe.

I used to hunt with a man who claimed he could tell the difference between a buck and doe track with 100 percent certainty, and under certain circumstances, I believe I can too. But, tracks in mud never seem to offer quite enough clues to its sex, and I need something more to go on than a widened track in soft mud.

Was today a scouting day? Absolutely. I could determine where the bucks entered the woodlot in the morning, and with a westerly breeze, even picked out a perfect tree. I’ll have to watch in the morning more often, and then get serious about a stand once I know the bucks are using the same trail every morning.

Pinning down some key stand sites

I learned years ago, when hunting bucks in southern counties, that farmland deer will travel one of two or three trails in a given area. We sometimes had to flip a coin to determine which of two trails to choose from, and often the coin would lie to us. So much for gambling.

Preseason scouting doesn’t need to be a major investment in time nor does it have to be done every day, but hunters should spend time scouting three or four times a week when possible.

It’s not only an important part of deer hunting, but it can be fun. My wife used to sit in a stand before the bow season opener, watch the deer and videotape them. By early September, she would have the buck of her choice on tape, and she would later lay claim to it with a well-placed arrow.

She always shot the buck she videotaped, and that proves that preseason scouting, from the spring on, does work. And, besides that, it’s great fun.

A lifetime of steelhead fishing

A buck steelhead hovering over a spring spawning bed
photo c. Dave Richey Outdoors ©2012

A friend stopped by the other day with a buddy of his. The other gent wanted to meet me, and have a discussion about steelhead fishing.

It began mildly enough when we shook hands, and we made small talk for a few minutes. Then, in a burst of what seemed like pent-up anger, he questioned me about my steelhead fishing.

“You’ve written that you have caught 100 steelhead in one day, and another time you wrote that you’d probably landed nearly 10,000 steelhead in your life,” he said. “I think both statements are a crock. No one can catch that many steelhead these days.”

Mind you, this dude was a guest in my home. I didn’t take kindly to his ranting insults, and that I might be lying.

I agree that he was probably right. It would be most difficult, if not impossible, these days to catch 1,000 steelhead in a lifetime. I also added that he must have missed something from both stories he had read. I learned long ago that people read what they want to read into a story, and then want to argue their mistakes when they are wrong.

“First of all, Bud, I wrote that two of us caught 100 steelhead in one day, and will gladly introduce you to the other man who has a much shorter fuse than mine,” I said in an even voice. “Call him or me a liar, and you’ll find a rocky time ahead.”

“But … but,” he stammered. And I then told him it’s not polite to interrupt someone when they are speaking. He quickly shut up.

I explained that the 100-fish day happened over 25 years ago, on a cold and snowy day with lots of wind, and most steelhead fishermen were home or working. We happened to find a big school of fish, and it seemed as none had eaten in a month. Every orange-colored fly we pitched to them resulted in a strike.

We quit fishing once with nearly 60 fish that we had caught and released unharmed. We went for breakfast, checked another stream, and headed back to the hotspot for a second round. We were up to about 85 fish when my buddy fell, got soaking wet and headed for the car and some welcome heat.

I envied him but there were more fish to hook

I stuck with it, caught what it took to hit 100 fish, and kept only one small male steelie that inhaled a fly through his mouth and was hooked in the gills from the inside. The fish was bleeding heavily and would die so I kept it.

And then, catching approximately 10,000 steelhead. I’m 73 now, and began steelhead fishing at age 11. By the time I was 15, I was catching between 100 and 200 steelies each year, and that was from the Sturgeon River between Indian River and Wolverine. Mind you, that was back in the early to mid-1950s.

By the time I was 18 in 1957, I was fishing even more often, and the fish numbers shot up to about 300 steelhead per year. Some of those fish were caught during a “temperature run” caused by Burt Lake fish seeking comfort in the cooler river water. Competition? There wasn’t any.

By my mid-20s, I was fishing steelhead along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Favorite streams were the Betsie, Little Manistee and Platte rivers, and those rivers held lots of fish and very few anglers.

It was really amazing, and seldom would I keep a fish. I would have six or eight 30-fish days each year, and always put the fish back. A quick, hard fight, and a swift release and no harm to the fish.

I began guiding salmon and steelhead fishermen in 1967 when the spawning runs first began, and my clients cared nothing about steelhead. Everyone wanted salmon, so I’d give them lessons and once they learned how to cast, I’d “go check for other hot-spots.” I always carried my Black Beauty fly rod, and I always looked for steelhead holding downstream of spawning salmon where they gobbled free-drifting salmon eggs.

Those fish were always caught and released, and I’d return often to check on my people and lead them to new batches of salmon. I guided for 10 years, spring and fall, and not once did my clients go home without a limit of fish. Not only was I the first fly-fishing wading guide in the state for anadromous browns, salmon and steelhead, but I pioneered this fishing and developed many of the tactics in common use today.

Whenever I had a free day, I would check rivers to keep track of the runs, and the best way to do that was to fish. There were countless days, especially in November and December when the rivers were full of steelhead and everyone else was deer hunting, working or at home, close to some heat. Those months can be brutal on a steelhead stream.

I could easily say I personally landed 400 to 500 steelhead each year during my guiding years, which would mean 4,000 to 5,000 fish during those 10 years. One also must remember the limit back then was five fish daily, and seldom a day passed without catching a limit. Again, perhaps 99 percent of those fish were released.

Steelhead laying on a spawning bed
photo c. Dave Richey Outdoors ©2012

Fish only for male fish

One also must remember that the big push by the Michigan Steelheader’s group really didn’t get underway until the mid-1970s. Back then, people who had caught three or four steelhead in a lifetime were introducing their friends to the sport.

High steelhead numbers held through the early 1980s, and although I no longer was guiding, I was still fishing hard in the spring and fall. It was great: I’d fish for steelhead in the morning, and bow hunt for whitetails in the afternoon and early evening. It was great fun.

Do I know precisely how many steelhead I’ve landed? It was well over 8,000 steelhead by 1976 when I quit guiding. I know I’ve caught well over 2,000 fish since then, and if it hasn’t reached 10,000 by now, I’d be very surprised.

I’d consider myself a fish hog and poacher if I’d kept everything I caught, but nearly all fish were released after a fast, spirited fight. Most spring steelhead are soft-fleshed and not tasty, and they don’t freeze well. I only fished for male steelies in the spring, and never bothered fishing for the females. I avoided hooking the hens.

Nowadays, with my vision problems, I don’t fish steelies as hard or nearly as often as I once did, and that is a good thing. Bowlers become expert by rolling 20 games or more each week, and steelhead fishermen become better anglers by fishing daily.

I courteously ushered the head-shaking gent to the door and on his way. I don’t know if he believed any of this or not, and it really doesn’t matter. All I know is that for many years the numbers of river steelhead far outnumbered the anglers who were qualified to fish for and catch them.

Those who could, did. Those who couldn’t, bad-mouthed the hot sticks. There’s nothing new about jealousy among anglers.

Come along on an outdoor adventure

DRO - King salmon caught on a Michigan Squid in the early fall
A nice king salmon caught in early fall on a Michigan Squid
photo c. Dave Richey Outdoors ©2012

The above title asks a good question, and it’s been tossed my way for nearly nine years by many readers. My answer is invariably the same: why not?

Anglers and hunters can understand a column, which is nothing more than a bit of self-indulgence plus some solid fishing or hunting experience and information. Columns are about what I think, feel, do, believe in, rant against, etc.

The same thing can be said about a blog. A blog (short for weblog) is a daily journal of sorts. It covers the wide range of my daily emotions, and how I look at things through a bleary and somewhat biased or jaundiced eye. You may sense a touch of anger, animosity, joy, sorrow or other human emotions. My feelings on a wide variety of things is never far from the surface nor am I adverse to bluntly speaking my mind.

I’ve been writing a daily weblog since I retired from The News

You’ll almost always feel my love for the environment, the animals, birds and fish that we hunt or try to catch, and you’ll feel my sense of betrayal and delusion when some sorry dude levels perfectly wonderful wildlife habitat and then builds a shopping mall or hard-scrabble subdivision.

Readers will read my unabashed feelings on brook trout that invariably turn me on in their watery little trickles, and the litter that invariably turns me off when I must look at it. You’ll note, hopefully with a righteous indignation like mine, when I bare my soul about the destruction of an ever-decreasing amount of wild land.

Hopefully, you’ll share my glee when the DNR does something really great or get ticked off when they continue to do something utterly stupid like depriving you and me of the opportunity to obtain private-land turkey permits in Region II while granting such permits to people in the Upper Peninsula and southern Lower Peninsula.

My blog runs daily except when something happens to my computer

My weblog runs daily, and I’ve only missed a few days since November, 2003, and then only because some piece of crud hacked my website. My archives are available to one and all, and I urge readers to dust off some of them and see what you’ve missed.

You’ll share my pain when my beloved twin brother George died on Sept. 10, 2003. You’ll get as excited as I did when catching a 30-pound muskie, writing about the Christmas Tree Bomber, and other true tales. I invite you to walk with me when we go into a bear swamp for a hunt, and what is even more fun, when we walk out in the darkness. Jump into my tree stand as we bow-hunt for whitetails, and whisper in my ear when it’s time to shoot a dandy buck or tell me to draw down on him and let up, giving him a life he could have lost had I shot.

Come along as we wade belly-deep into an area steelhead stream during those cold March days, and grab the net when we slug it out with hefty Chinook salmon in the fall. Let’s take a walleye fishing trip on Long or Platte lakes, a bluegill outing to Arbutus Lake, and we can trudge through the January snow in search of cottontails and snowshoe hares.

Sharing the outdoor life with each other

Do you feel up to laying flat on the ground as Canada geese hover overhead, honking loudly, as our belly muscles tighten and we lever our way to a sitting and shooting position? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t thrill to the loud and clattering flush of a ruffed grouse as the October dew dries on the ready-to-fall golden leaves?

Does any upland gunner fail to rejoice to the towering flight of woodcock as they dart and twist ever upward out of the alders before quickly plummeting to earth before we can swing and shoot

Calling predators with that high-pitched squeal of a dying rabbit is a heap of fun during the winter months as the coyote darts out of a thicket, and begins circling to a downwind location. We know a shot may be possible but it’s nerve wracking to watch the animal close in on a spot straight downwind. Will we get a shot?

Fishing and hunting has been a major part of my life for more than 60 of my 73 years, and I eagerly await each new season and every new adventure. You ask me: why do I write a daily weblog?

I write because I have a strong need within me to do so. There is a deep need to write, and a need to share my love of fishing and hunting with my readers. I don’t have to write for the money although I wish this blog and website paid more; instead, writing about the outdoors makes me feel good, makes me feel whole and helps smooth out all the rough spots in my life.

You and me, we can go places and do things. We can discover new places to fish or hunt, and learn more about what pulls us ever onward to another wonderful outdoor adventure. People who stay indoors, and watch idiotic game shows on television have my sincere sympathy.

Me, I’d rather be outdoors with a bow or rod in my hand and enjoying all that nature has to offer. How about you?