In a sometimes arduous search for the men and women we can place before our children and grandchildren as role models to follow, Jim Bedford stands as a beacon of integrity. He is a virtuoso of sorts to many, particularly to Michigan’s outdoor world.
Jim, without question, has achieved a level of mastery in the world of fishing for steelhead trout that is truly unmatched. At the age of 80 years, his health hinders him, but his passion for pursuing this mighty fish “wanes not!”
Admittedly, after receiving his permission for the personal interview, I felt as giddy as a young child given the opportunity to meet one of his heroes. I called a number of my friends to share the great news. Simply the mention of his name required no further introduction. Many had exciting stories of their own about Jim that were shared with me as well.
Upon approaching his home, I was confident I would find a flashy new pickup truck or two with fancy murals adorned with stickers about fishing and such. There were none! Certainly, a walk through his garage would show many of his lifetime achievements and be the place where all his fishing paraphernalia would be displayed. Wrong again! Surely, numerous mounts of trophy steelhead would be on display on the walls of his home. Not a single one! My respect for him grew instantly higher.
I was certain, however, there have been many awards and honors bestowed upon him through the years that were stored in some hidden place in his home.
“What always stood out most to me was that, unlike some people, my dad has no interest in notoriety or “fame” for his fishing skills. People would ask me if he has ever done fishing competitions, and my response would be no, he fishes for pleasure, not competition. In fact, he would be horrible at competition fishing because he would be trying to help the other anglers if he had the opportunity. I’m not sure what gives him more pleasure, the actual fishing or helping others catch that big fish. I believe this also transitions into his outdoor writing. For him, it is more about helping others than the paycheck he receives from the publication.” A quote from Jim’s son Allan Bedford.
After shaking hands, I shared with Jim the extreme excitement I felt for the opportunity to interview him for this story. He chuckled at the thought that anyone would think that highly of him. I quickly assured him I was only one on a long list of those sharing my sentiments. Kathel, his wife, overhearing our conversation from another room, said, “Everett, you be careful now; you’re going to give him a big head!”
I replied, “No, ma’am, he has earned this honor, and he deserves to have a big head–at least for a few minutes!” We all laughed together. Disappointingly, Kathel passed away soon after, on June 15, 2023.
After we sat down to commence the interview, Jim commented, “What I appreciate about this is that most of the time when an article of this nature is written, it’s usually written about someone after they have passed away. They never get to read what others truly think about them or what they’ve done. I just know that I love to do it and will do it wherever I can for as long as I can.”
Jim Bedford caught his first steelhead in 1966. He set a personal goal to catch 10,000 steelhead trout in 100 different rivers. That goal was achieved in April 2013. Today, his total stands somewhere over 11,000! The “single-eyed” pursuit of this fish has continued for over sixty years and shows no signs of stopping. It has created in him an unwavering love and respect for the steelhead trout. He is a member of Bob Perrin chapter of Trout Unlimited of Lansing, where he served as president for over 10 years.
Having authored several books on fishing steelhead, he has been a featured writer for more outdoor magazines and journals than I can count and taught fishing classes at Lansing Community College. Jim volunteers in any capacity he can, all to promote fishing and increase awareness of the importance of protecting Michigan’s fisheries for future generations.
Jim pulled out a large three-ringed binder and slowly began turning the pages. I said, “I understand you have kept impeccable records of the fish you catch.”
He slowly turned to look me in the eyes and said very convincingly, “Every single one!” Looking into his binder, I noticed over 30 categories of information for each fish caught. The information he collected ranged from water temperatures and line used, to river bottom conditions, as well as retrieve and lure used, just to name a few.
Many years of research and wading streams and rivers contributed to his conclusions which are freely shared with interested anglers. “I have tried to sort out some of the myths and fallacies that have been perpetuated regarding the steelhead and provide you with lots of good and solid scientific-based information,” he expressed.
When asked why he chose lures over other baits, he responded resolutely, “I have two reasons; the first is the strike! Fishing with a bobber, you often miss the thunderous bone-wrenching strike that feels like it’s about to tear your arms right out of their sockets! Secondly, using a lure allows me the freedom to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. Sometimes it’s a mink running along the shoreline or a whitetail deer sneaking up on me in the forest.”
Jim is an adamant catch-and-release fisherman. “Releasing a large wild steelhead trout back into the river is one of the most satisfying things you can do as an angler. In my younger days, I felt the pressure to have a few on my stringer to prove I was a good fisherman. I soon grew out of that mentality. The steelhead is too wonderful of a fish to catch only once!”
Few understand more than Jim the tremendous dangers and the daunting gauntlet each fish must travel through to reach adulthood. One of the most shocking statistics about the steelhead is that a single hen can release up to 6,000 eggs, and only 1-2% actually attain maturity age.
Jim Bedford claims he was born with the “fishing gene.” He learned to fish at a young age and on his own. “I had no interest in sports; I just wanted to fish!” As a young man, he would bicycle to the Red Cedar River in Lansing and catch carp, smallmouth bass, and pike. Today, Jim catches steelhead from that same river. “I just know that I love to do it and will do it whenever I can for as long as I can,” he said.
Jim’s daughter, Terri Bedford, shared this special memory: “Growing up as a child, what I knew more about my dad, besides being a kind and loving father who loved to tease, was that he was a fisherman. That is what he did! In fact, I remember if he was home during the day on the weekend, that was an odd occurrence, and I wondered what was wrong. As an adult, I recognized fishing as his passion for life; without it, I don’t think he would be who he is. I am so very grateful to share his love, appreciation and reverence of nature experienced through fishing as I get to enjoy the best father/daughter time with him in many adventures on the streams and rivers of Michigan and more. I couldn’t ask for a better time spent with him and cherish each and every moment.”
It seems fitting to include a few paragraphs from the writings of John Voelker’s “Testament of a Fisherman” that are descriptive of Jim Bedford: “I fish because I love to; because I love the environs where trout are found, which are invariably beautiful, and hate the environs where crowds of people are found, which are invariably ugly; because in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and a small act of rebellion.”
For a writer such as I to have shared this time with one of the heroes of the outdoor world that I love and value so much was truly an honor quite difficult to put into words. The appeal goes far beyond the catching of fish for many who are paying attention to the manner by which he lives.
Thank you, Jim!
Author’s Note: The purpose of the Tribute column is to locate and honor our “hidden heroes” of the outdoors. I’m looking for both men and women who are veterans of the outdoors and have made a difference and lived a life worthy of honor. If you know of a “seasoned” Michigan resident you would like to submit for consideration, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.