Fish Sense

Story And Photos By Doug Stamm

Life may have thrown obstacles Terry Green's way, but they don't seem to stop this angler, who excels at leading others to fish.

Photo of colorful fishing luresFor most of us, tackle boxes can be confusing. But Terry remembers what's where and asks for tackle by brand, color, and patterns.

When Terry Green is at the stern working downriggers and planer boards, he's just like any other hard-core fisherman you'd meet on the Great Lakes. The difference is he's better at it than most. As I joined him off Port Washington, Wisconsin, on his 22-foot Hewes fishing boat, The Green Machine, Terry was asking his first mate about boat speed and depth, all the while sending spoons and flies down below to salmon and rainbows in Lake Michigan. When he was done, he had nine lines out, three on downriggers, four on planer boards, and two dipsy divers. Except for asking a few questions about lure colors, he did it himself with the expertise and timing of the experienced Great Lakes troller he is. It was an impressive display, made all the more so by the fact that Terry Green is blind, and missing his left hand.

I would have been surprised, except that earlier that morning, at the landing, as he geared up his boat, I tried to keep up with Terry as he jumped out of the truck at the ramp and got right to work taking off the boat tarp and custom ribs supporting the tarp from bow to stern. Once he got it started, his friend Bob Hintz and I took over with the tarp, and Terry nimbly climbed in the boat, started taking rods off his custom deck racks, and began putting them in rod holders. Then he put the three electric downriggers into their bases and snapped the custom downrigger weights to the cables.

"OK," he said, "let's get her in the water."

As Bob backed the boat down the ramp, Terry was already putting the downrigger rods, planer board rods, and dipsy diver rods into their proper places. Each rod has a specially built handle under the reel that allows Terry to tuck his handless arm into the opening so he can reel in fish like anybody else, except he seems to do more of it than a lot of us. Next, Terry gave Bob a compass course and asked to be told when we got to 55 feet. When we did, he asked about water temperature and boat traffic. "This is the area we want," he determined. "We'll troll southeast."

Bob shut down the big outboard. Terry went to the stern and started up the kicker. When all lines were out and the last dipsy diver rod placed in its rod tower, we all sat down and Terry said with anticipation, "Let's see if the fish will bother us." It didn't take long. The No. 2 downrigger rod, with the dodger and fly, popped up, and the sound of the drag told us we had a fish on. "Take it, Doug," he said graciously, and I did. A short time later, Bob put a 6-pound-plus rainbow in the net. I hadn't done anything but crank that fish in, so I asked Terry to hold it so I could get a picture of him. It was all his doing, anyway; he deserved to claim it.

Photo of Terry Green with 6 pound rainbow troutA nice 6-pound-plus rainbow comes in on one of Terry's top five baits — a Coyote flasher and Little Boy Blue fly.

Terry put the fly back down on the No. 2 downrigger, things quieted down, and we started talking. At 14, he said, he'd been playing with dynamite caps and had lost his left hand and eyesight in an explosion that nearly killed him. Not long after, the county sheriff took him to a Lions Club camp in northern Wisconsin for a week of activities with other blind kids. There he discovered that he could still do so many things and was encouraged to seek out activities he found rewarding. Born with a creative mind and an innate can-do attitude, Terry is a success story for the Lions and for himself. He became a machinist after high school, married a nurse, raised a family, and started his own machining company — Green Machine in Pardeeville, Wisconsin. Doing everything by feel and sound, and building his own tools, Terry can make anything out of metal. His client list is long and includes names you'd recognize. When asked how a blind man can shape metal, he said he's like the sculptor who carves a horse out of a block of marble; you just take away the marble that's not a part of the horse.

Fishing As A Life Force

Fishing was a passion for Terry as kid, and he never lost it. He fishes Lake Michigan more than 25 times a summer, and being a gifted machinist, he makes all the custom parts on his boat himself. His company also makes a well-known four-rod holder tower he calls a "bird tree," and you'll find them on boats around the Great Lakes. He's often asked by other fishermen about his "bird trees" and other custom boat parts. Knowing most people either wouldn't believe him, or would find it improbable that a blind man could make them, he just tells folks he knows a guy in Pardeeville who makes them, and if they're interested he'll give them the phone number.

In the '80s, when he first started fishing Lake Michigan with a passion, he made his own downriggers and measured his line out by making his cable wheel let out two feet of cable per crank. Not satisfied with that, he made it electric using a windshield wiper motor from a Ford Bronco. The way he rigs his boat to make it an efficient fishing machine for a blind man also makes it a more efficient fishing boat for any angler. His custom-built cooler racks for the stern, rod-storage racks, rod-holder towers and bases, and clips for his tarp to snap on his trailer are handy additions to any boat. He's so good at it he's often called upon by friends and strangers to rig their boats. He knows boats and clever ways to make them easier to fish.

Photo of custom metal loop for fishing rodHe makes a custom metal loop for all his rods, allowing him to use his left arm to hold the rod against his chest while he cranks in fish.

He also makes it easier than most to have his crew help. For example, he makes his own weights for his four downriggers and bends the tail fins slightly so that when they're close together they track away from each other. He colors them red for use on the port side, green for starboard so his crew can keep track if they run the downriggers. Same for his reels. He'll label the reels with different colors for different amounts of lead-core line on them so he can ask his crew for a seven-core reel and not have them wonder where it is.

The Angler Others Like To Watch

Terry's phone rang again for the third time that morning. His fishing friends wanted to know how he was doing. He belongs to a salmon fishing club, The Ozaukee County Chapter of Great Lakes Sport Fishermen, where club members share information freely but also are in friendly competition for their annual "Boat of the Year" award. At the end of the summer, the boat that brings in the largest combined weight of each of the biggest Great Lakes sport fish — king salmon, coho salmon, lake, rainbow, and brown trout — wins a coveted plaque to display on their boat. Next to the wheel on Terry's boat, a plaque reads "2013 Boat of the Year." This summer Terry was the guy everyone was trying to beat.

Photo of a planer board with handleHe adds a metal handle to his planer boards that releases the board from the line faster than without his invention.

Just then, Bob announced that the inside port planer board had a hit. Terry jumped straight to the rod holder and started playing the fish. "It's a heavy one," he said. "I think it's a laker." When the planer board came to the boat, Terry's one-handed modification to the board made its release from the line simple and fast. We watched his lake trout roll at the surface, just off the stern, and come unhooked.

"Darn," he said, "I think that was a nice laker. It didn't fight like a salmon or rainbow."

Terry sensed it was time to check the outside port planer board, and we brought it in, minus its spoon. Terry asked for a Moonshine Wonder Bread spoon. Bob handed it to him. He deftly tied on another snap swivel using his mouth, hand, and handless arm, and sent out the lure. When seven colors of lead core were out, he snapped on the planer board and set that off the stern. He asked us to say when it was out far enough, then locked the reel and put it in its rod holder. With the board out, he brought up his downriggers and changed out his spoons. The downriggers automatically stopped when they came up, but when he put them down he judged the depth by time. I'd watched him do it several times by then; he'd ask if he was close to the depth he wanted, and he was never off by more than a couple of feet.

Photo of ergonomic handle on fishing netTerry added an ergonomic tool handle to his net, available from www.wrightstuff.biz, that allows anyone to land a heavy fish with one arm.

Terry asked when we hit 300 feet of water, and when we did he asked Bob to turn around and head back toward the harbor. The turn took us downwind, and he asked Bob to back off on the throttle a little on the kicker. He could tell by the whine of the downrigger cables that we were going a little too fast. The rod on the No. 1 downrigger with the Wonder Bread spoon popped up and the reel screamed for a second and then quit. "Sounded like a king," Green said. "The way he took drag for a second. Wish he would've stayed hooked."

A Good Day, If It's A Day On The Water

The fishing had been slow this morning, typical of this unusually cold season on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan. While we fished, two more phone calls came in, and Terry gave them a report on what he was using and how we were doing. I asked him how he decides where to go and what to use. Much of it, he said, is his 30 years of fishing the lake, plus, like most of us, he'll ask his friends. The club posts phone numbers of members on the water and anyone can call them for an up-to-date fishing report. "We all help each other," he said, then talked about taking his sons fishing whenever they came to town. He took his first son on the lake a week after he was born. I asked what sort of things his sons had learned from having a dad who couldn't see. "Well, they learned that it's possible to do whatever you want in life," he smiled.

The day wound down and experience told Terry that the next bite wouldn't happen until dusk, so we started getting ready to pull the lines. He took the starboard side and pulled in the dipsys, then the boards, then two downriggers. I took the port side, with one downrigger, and Terry finished before I did. "Well, we didn't do so well on fish today," he said, turning his face into the late morning sun and light southerly breeze, "but it sure has been a beautiful day." 

Doug Stamm is an award-winning member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. He lives with his wife Lucy and their English setter in the Wisconsin River valley of southwest Wisconsin.

— Published: December 2014


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