A Dean Goes Fishing

By Chuck Mishaan


You can find Charlevoix on the map by imagining the tip of the fourth finger on the mitt that shapes the state of Michigan. The village of Charlevoix, a summer escape for Chicagoans and other midwesterners, opens onto Lake Michigan, and that’s where we are going. With a Hudson Valley easterner. 

Each year since 2005—and for most of the 1970s—Stuart Stritzler-Levine, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Emeritus Dean of Students at Bard College, and original sponsor of LLI, has headed out to Charlevoix, Michigan. As soon as Bard’s graduation festivities finish, Dean Stritzler-Levine is on his way.

To sightsee? To hobnob with the locals? To dance away the night at the local clubs? Nope. 

To fish. Not to catch fish. To fish.

To go out alone in a boat with line and lure dropped into the water, without a radio or phone; with no books, no podcasts, no newspapers, no distractions. Dean Stritzler- Levine is on his boat to fish.

Dean Levine on his Boat
Dean Levine in his boat, image courtesy of Chuck Mishaan

On the Water

To fish? To be out on the water before sunrise, to set out onto Lake Michigan in the dark and watch the rosy-fingered dawn begin to light the way. To study the lake and learn how to read it. To understand the flow of the currents, different every day; the sway of the waves, the sounds of the morning. Are the fish near the surface today or deep in the water? Is a school in broad view or hiding in the rocks? How bright is the sunshine and which way is the wind?

Put these things together, think what the fish might do on this day, and begin to build a lure that might, with luck and patience, attract a lake trout. Drop a single line into the water with a heavy down-rigger managing the depth of the hook and lure. Then wait. Wait for the tug of the line, wait for the fish.

Unbalanced Ecology

Lake Michigan is a living thing, joined to Lake Huron to the east by the Straits of Mackinac. The two lakes together form the largest body of freshwater in the world. 

Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, but a fragile lake, too. Invasive species brought into the lakes by the bilge and ballast of ocean-going vessels have terribly upset the ecology of the lakes. The sea lamprey, with its mouth of powerful suction disks, the river herring, known as the alewife, zebra mussels and quagga mussels from Ukraine, brought in the ocean water ballast and through the St. Lawrence Seaway, have almost destroyed the native life of the Great Lakes. Desperate, and not always successful, interventions by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have tried to restore the natural balance of the lakes for both commercial and recreational fishers.

Sediment and Algae Color the Great Lakes. Image courtesy of National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science of NASA imgae by Jeff Schmalts, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
DNR logo
Image courtesy of MI DNR Fisheries

Fishing for Information

Dean Stritzler- Levine has tracked the life of his fish in Lake Michigan for all the time he has gone there. He maintains a log of every fish he has caught. The fish are quickly returned to the lake, lively and living, but are first logged by date, time, and location and then by vitals—size, species, weight, location, weather, type of lure. The Dean shares this information with the DNR and together they monitor the health of the lake.

The Long Day Closes

To fish. For Stuart Stritzler-Levine it’s a meditation, a spiritual experience, and a meeting with nature, sky, water, birds – and fish. As he steers his boat back to Charlevoix harbor under the twilight skies of a long day, tomorrow is already beckoning, and plans for next summer on Lake Michigan are already forming.

Image courtesy Katie Maloney from 2013 EEOB 3410 Ecology on Flickr