The preservation of science and history around the Northern Great Lakes region of Michigan is in good hands. Ed Retherford ’69 arrived at Olivet College in 1965 from a family steeped in their love of nature and already an avid outdoor and fishing enthusiast. Retherford recalls his maternal grandfather taking him out on his boat at a young age and “tagging along” with his uncles, who were renowned Thumb- Area outdoor experts. “I was with them all the time,” Retherford said.
Retherford paired his great interest in nature with his Olivet studies. He chose biology. “I took a lot of zoology classes like ornithology and entomology from Dr. (Edward) Speare and Dr. (Richard) Fleming. For my senior thesis, Dr. Speare suggested that I do something on fish.” Retherford wrote a paper on the growth rate of Coho salmon. “They were introduced into Lake Michigan in 1966 and two years later into Lake Huron.” Retherford rode the first wave as salmon fishing grew into a boon for Michigan’s economy.
Hired into the Alpena School District as a science teacher and football coach in 1969, Retherford simultaneously launched a business guiding fishing tours on Lake Huron. He soon began studies and earned Captain status. “2020 will be my 51st year. It’s been a great run,” Retherford said.
What brings success as a guide? “I always tell people you have to be an entertainer. You’re out with them all day,” Retherford said. As an expert guide, however, Retherford must be ready to handle any safety concerns that arise. “You have to make decisions about weather and wind then actually deal with them.”
At the wheel of his fifth charter boat, Captain Ed enjoys telling the cache of stories he collects about clients he shepherds on tours and fishing tournaments. “I like seeing people, especially kids, catching their first Great Lakes fish. Most haven’t caught anything over 12 inches. That’s rewarding,” he said. And, so too, when his clients win a tournament.
Retherford recalls one tournament entrant complaining about having a carp on his line. “I told him to shape up because it was going to be the biggest brown trout he’d ever see. It turned out to be a 21.5-pound champion.”
Today, the fifth generation of Retherfords is carrying the Northern Michigan traditions forward. Ed and Barb, married for 50 years, have three adult children. “Philip and Paul are captains on the Great Lakes. Amelia and her husband are avid outdoor people who hunt and fish all over the world,” Retherford said. Three grandkids, Julia, Theo and Vivi, fish with their dad in Petoskey all the time. “It is great seeing my kids active in the sport and knowing about the Great Lakes.”
Northern Michigan history and Great Lakes fishing will thrive as long as there are Retherfords handy to take the helm.