Last spring did me in.... I was cold and wet so much of the time and my hands hurt like crazy. You see, long before I became a steelhead guide I did something really stupid.... well, many things actually, but one that would forever change my life. I don't remember all the circumstances, but I was mad and decided I would run off to the woods to vent. The trouble was, it was a cold day in the middle of a Michigan winter and I ran off in such a hurry that I didn't grab a coat, gloves, hat.... nothing. I was about 13 at the time and my emotions got the better of me. After a couple hours in the woods shivering, my hands white as the snow and feeling very strange I arrived back in the house and ran them under hot water until the blood flowed again.... yes, that was painful. To my naive mind, this seemed logical. I later found out that this would affect my circulation from that point on.
Eventually I went to a specialist because my hands would loose circulation really easy after that incident and I was diagnosed with Reynaud's disease. Reynaud's was not a threat to my life the Doctor told me, but it would mean a lifetime of being very careful not to let my hands lose circulation, which could cause permanent damage. With Reynaud's, the blood vessels in my fingers had become hyper sensative to cold, and to protect my core temperature, my hands would shut down blood flow at even the mildest of cold temps. With no known cure, I became reliant on warm mittens and hand warmers when in the cold to make sure the blood flow wasn't shut off.
When I began guiding in 2003, I was only going to guide for trout and bass and I was not even interested in cold weather guiding. Somewhere in my quest for more trout and bass trips I realized I was going to need to guide for steelhead like the rest of the guides... and so I did.... and I loved it. Since then, I have spent more and more days on the river during the cold months than my hands would allow and I have suffered the consequences. Although I adore steelhead... especially when we can catch them on a swung fly, I have decided that even they are not worth the risk of losing my hands. After waking up 3-4 times each night with my arms completely asleep and needing to get up and shake the blood flow back in them I knew what I had to do. This was last spring, and my November calender was already nearly booked full, so I couldn't just quit then. I made the committment to finish the fall swung fly trips and then I would go back to my art studio for my families income.
The thing with guiding is, it gets in your blood. I started guiding because I couldn't shake the urge, and after 8 years, I still can't. From now on I'm just going to have to get my fix in warmer weather, guiding for trout and smallmouth bass as I have done for the last 8 years. Steelhead trips were going to be sacrificed. I am sad, because I have truly enjoyed steelhead, especially in the fall, but I also know my limitations and realize my hands are made for much more than guiding.
I appreciate so much the people that took the time to teach me the ropes of being a good steelhead guide. I will always cherish the days hunting for chrome, and look forward to many more days hunting trophy trout and smallmouth bass, whether here in Michigan or some other beautiful river.
The rumors are true... my family and I are trying to move to Eastern Tennessee after falling in love with the South Holston River, but a few things are currently holding us back. As of now, I will still be guiding for trout and smallmouth bass on my home water the Muskegon River during the 2012 season. May through August. If you would like to book a trip with me you can still do so through Feenstra Guide Service or by calling me at 231-206-7660. I would love to show you the great trout and bass fishing the Muskegon has to offer next summer! With the massive run of salmon this fall, there should be huge amounts of salmon parr to fatten up the trout in spring. I expect the trout fishing next summer to be awesome!