Grand Rapids— As arching lengths of monofilament shimmer in the sunshine, West Michigan anglers position themselves near the fish ladder in Grand Rapids, waiting for strikes from coho salmon that have been crowding into shallow waters.
At times lined up elbow-to-elbow, the competition this season can be a little less than friendly.
Fishermen find themselves invariably casting over each other’s lines, layering their bait over one another’s in hopes of barraging the fall run with the salmon’s preferred meal: their own species’ eggs.
With fish fighting to get upstream in the Grand River, the anglers have been known to battle as well, according to The Grand Rapids Press.
Fish ladder veterans call it ‘combat fishing.’
“It gets a little crowded and you kind of expect that,” said Matt Watkoski of Grand Rapids. “One guy might lose a fish because he gets snagged up on another guy’s line, but it’s part of being down here.”
Watkoski recalls an instance a few years ago when he was harshly confronted by another angler.
“I actually got pushed in on the other side (of the fish ladder) once,” Watkoski said. “A guy was on a fish and I was trying to reel in as fast as I could. He didn’t let the fish go downstream and tried to land it right in front of him. He lost it and got pretty (mad) at me.”
That’s all part of the game, says Watkoski’s fishing buddy, Josh Price, also of Grand Rapids.
“It can get a little hasty, especially when the out-of-towners come in and the locals start getting pushed out,” Price said. “Tempers start flaring.”
Price pointed out one fisherman on the western shore of the river who had been casting over his and Watkoski’s lines.
“If a couple of my other buddies were down here that wouldn’t be all right, but I just let it roll and everybody has a good time,” Price said with a smile.
Fist fights aren’t that uncommon, Price said.
“I saw one where it started in the water and made its way up on the bank,” Price said. “Sometimes it gets hectic and you get people who come in and think they own the water. They come up next to you and fish over your shoulder and you’re like ‘Um, I’ve been here two hours. Don’t do that.’”
Rich Lichner of Grand Haven said surviving the experience comes down to a fisherman’s dignity and experience.
“It’s a pride thing. You’ve got to get some on the stringer, then you can relax a little bit,” Lichner said. “Half of what you get, you lose. They get off the hook, you can get snagged up. There’s a lot of rocks in there. It’s quite a battle. If you know how to fish it, you’re all right.
A recent week was good to these three anglers, all taking home salmon for the freezer. All it takes is a little patience, Price said.
“It’s a respect game, but it’s fun,” Price said. “You’re right in the middle of downtown, the weather couldn’t be better and I enjoy the scenery.”