Kyle McClelland’s first memory of fishing was when he was three years old with his dad and uncle on the Escanaba River in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He got to hold a push-button reel dangling a worm while the men cast Rapalas.
“I caught a five-pound walleye right over the side of the boat,” he chuckles. Now 16 and a junior in high school, he’s an angler possessed. He’s already picking up sponsors that he helps promote on his XXL Chrome Chasing page on Facebook and on his website, where he displays pictures of fish and shows videos of his fishing trips. He’s got his crosshairs on a business degree, a guide license, an online store, and a charter captain’s certification.
Although he charter fishes for different species, his main passion is targeting steelhead in streams—“chasing chrome.” And he does it with spinning gear, fly tackle with flies he ties himself, and center-pin rigs.
The serious pursuit of steelhead began when he was in fifth grade, living with his parents in the Upper Peninsula town of Manistique, where the Manistique River empties into Lake Michigan.
“It was spring break and I saw all these guys fishing the Manistique River, and I kept bugging my dad to take me down there so I could see what they were doing,” McClelland recalled. “He finally did and I must have looked funny to those guys fishing, a little kid coming up and asking them questions.”
But he got answers, and soon was flinging baits with his spinning gear every snowy day of his spring break.
“I didn’t catch anything but kept at it,” he said. “Finally, on the last day of vacation, I cast in this one last hole before quitting and caught a seven- or eight-pound hen steelhead. Then on the next cast I caught a male about the same size.”
Fishing and steelhead were becoming something of an obsession. Fast forward four years. A freshman in high school, McClelland was again on spring break and on the Manistique, this time following a professional guide around, casting his spinning gear while the guide casted flies. They fished hard all day without success, but finally, casting an egg fly with his spinning tackle, he landed a seven-pound male steelhead as light was waning. That fish changed him.
“I just remember how long I was out there, how cold that day was, and how hard I worked, finally hooking that fish and seeing it jumping and peeling off line and I remember being so nervous when I hooked it my legs were shaking. I didn’t want to lose it! Then when I landed it, I was jumping and screaming. I really can’t explain how awesome it was, catching that fish after working so hard.
“After I caught that one, I didn’t want to do anything else but fish,” he says. “I gave up hockey because every time I went to hockey practice, my mind was on fishing. I fished every day after school and would spend 30 hours on the water on weekends, pack a lunch, get to the river an hour before sunup, then fish until about an hour after dark.”
That spring his father bought a 16-foot Tracker boat, a deep vee model good enough to take on Lake Michigan when the weather allowed. The two McClellands were soon trolling for salmon in the warmer months—after steelhead vacated the river of course.
He took his first video with a smart phone, shooting a jumping steelhead he hooked on a fly. He admits that first attempt was “pretty shaky,” but it got positive comments after he put the recording up on YouTube. He soon invested in a couple of better video cameras, including his current one, which he can put underwater for up-close shots of fish. He said he’s spent many hours learning how to edit video, and now has several, including some short “how-to” segments shot with himself and friends as instructors.
Soon, his site will have an online store specializing in steelhead gear. This summer, he’ll continue as a first mate with Running Deep Charters, a summer job he plans to keep through college and until he gets his business degree and his own captain’s license. And he’ll continue guiding customers stream fishing and instructing them on the finer points of fly fishing, a sport in which he has become proficient through long practice sessions.
Along the way he has found many mentors willing to help an outgoing, inquisitive kid with a clear desire to learn how to catch more fish. He recommends the straightforward approach to any kid who wants to learn more about fishing.
“Just never be afraid to ask questions and talk to people,” McClelland said and added that and open mind, focus and hard work are also parts of the equation. “Experiment with different things. Do some research, Never give up even if you don’t have success the first couple times. Work hard at it because it will pay off for sure.”
No doubt hard work will pay off with a fun career in fishing for Kyle McClelland.
Kyle McClelland readies to release a steelhead caught with help from a Clear Drift float.
Young Kyle McClelland has added underwater photos and videos to his repertoire.
Images courtesy Kyle McClelland