TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Kyle McLelland probably isn’t what his clients are expecting when he shows up to guide a fishing trip.
McLelland, 17, a Forest Area High School student, is betrayed by his baby face, but appearances can be deceiving.
McLelland probably knows more about fishing for salmon and trout in northern Michigan streams than the average middle-age fisherman who might appear along the banks of the Betsie, Boardman or Platte rivers.
It’s because by 15 he’d already set his sights on being a professional fisherman. He learned to fish for steelhead in streams near his Upper Peninsula home before moving to Fife Lake with his family.
McLelland recalls his first steelhead fishing foray. He was 12 and spent his entire spring break trying to catch fish. He had been sidelined from youth hockey by an injury, and began to look for something else to do after school.
“I devoted my spring break to catching steelhead,” he said. “I just kind of saw what a lot of people were doing. I kept talking to people and learning.”
McLelland never did catch a fish during those six days, but persisted and later that season landed an 8-pound steelhead.
McLelland worked for an area guide service the past two summers and before that guided trips in the Upper Peninsula. He remembers the first trips he guided near Lake Superior.
In May 2012, he started a Facebook page and website that help supply fishing reports and tips to fishermen in northwest Michigan.
Since then, McLelland appeared on a few outdoors TV shows and gathered corporate sponsors, among them St. Croix fishing rods.
He guides trips all week during the summer and on weekends during the school year. It isn’t unusual to see him fishing until the sun sets along the Boardman River on weeknights.
He attends a class at Northwestern Michigan College a few days each week and uses the trip to Traverse City as an excuse to hit the river for a few hours before heading home.
But he doesn’t keep his fishing secrets to himself.
McLelland always helps other fishermen because he mastered stream fishing with plenty of help from others who volunteered tips.
“I try to give back what people have given me,” he said.
He knows fishing smarts alone won’t make his dream of professional fishing come true.
McLelland intends to seek a business degree from NMC after he graduates from high school. He hopes the education will help him launch a full-time career guiding fishermen.