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Detroit River Provides Perfect Spot for Fishing

Detroiters of all ages, pros and novice, enjoy fishing at dozens of locations along the Detroit River including Chene Park and Belle Isle

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Michael Freeman sits behind a long blue display case at his store, Michael T's, a nondescript building on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Van Dyke Street. Nowhere does it say  "Michael T's." Customers just know. And if he didn't put out two large wooden signs that proclaim, in giant red letters,  "LIVE BAIT," the business would be all but invisible to passers-by.

The display case looks like it may once have contained items of great worth, such as precious gems or electronic devices. Now, it holds lures, hooks, spinners and other items that have great value to the thousands of men, women, boys and girls who regularly fish the Detroit River.

Rods and reels engulf Freeman. Fishing has been very good to him. After assisting the store's previous owner for nearly 20 years, he took over the business three years ago and makes a good living selling minnows, worms and other smelly little creatures that squirm and wiggle. He's so busy that he says he has no time to pursue a hobby he knows he would enjoy: fishing.

"I haven't fished in four years, but I would like to find some time and get out there," sighs Freeman, 60. Problem is, the best time for him to drop a line, early to mid-June, is his busiest time of the year. That's because of the annual occurrence one seasoned Detroit angler, Robert Slaughter, refers to as  "God's gift ": the running of the white bass, better known by locals as silver bass.

"Everybody can catch these fish," raves Slaughter, 57, who began fishing the Detroit River when he was 11.  "I mean, you could catch 100 if you wanted to and had the patience, right from the banks. It's just a nice-sized, good-tasting, easy-to-clean fish.

"I catch some, I keep some and I give some away, "Slaughter says." I clean some for people who aren't able to and give them the fish. It's a nice feeling. There's just something about being on the water. Especially the Detroit River, man."

Our city's most magnificent natural resource is host to a cultural phenomenon that is generations old, immensely popular and, for some, a way of life. Anyone who thinks of fishing as a summer diversion best performed on the end of a dock at some lavish lakeside cottage up north had better shift their focus to Belle Isle, Chene Park, a quiet strip behind the downtown U.S. post office or any of dozens of urban locations along the Detroit River.

Detroiter George Barclay, who jokes that he's been fishing since he was a 7-month-old, says Chene Park, where one can listen to a summer series concert and occasionally fire up a grill—undoubtedly is his favorite fishing spot.

"We go there to relax and kill time," says Barclay, 24, a nightclub security guard who recently snagged 70 silver bass in one week.  "We gave out a whole bunch of fish. They fried them up right then and there. "Nevertheless, most of the fishermen interviewed for this story said they had no favorite spot.  "Depends on the weather and the currents," one explains.

In Wayne County alone, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, more than 84,000 people purchased fishing licenses last year. And while Michigan ranks third in the nation in the number of registered watercraft per capita, in the Motor City, many fishermen prefer to drive down by the riverside and drop their lines from dry land.

Michael T's is one of nearly a dozen small bait and tackle shops that dot Jefferson Avenue parallel to the Detroit River, and the fact that all of them are prosperous while other downtown businesses struggle is a testament to the popularity of fishing in Detroit. Moe's Bait Shop near Alter Road, arguably the best known of the group, this year opened a second location, Big Moe's Bait Shop, on Jefferson between Belle Isle and the William G. Milliken State Park and Harbor.

Owner Jim  "Moe" Mogielski says the new store's name essentially is a tribute to his father, who began the operation 20 years ago.

"When my dad opened up the shop, everybody called me 'Little Moe' and he was 'Big Moe,'" he explains. His father's first venture, Mogielski says, was a liquor store near Belle Isle. He let a friend sell bait from a cooler in the back; ultimately the bait became so profitable that he bounced the booze.

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