Anglers Celebrate the Legacy of Rusty Gates

April 29, 2010 By: Marshall Cutchin

This past Sunday anglers from as far away as Montana gathered at Gates Au Sable Lodge in Grayling, Michigan to celebrate the life of Rusty Gates. Gates, who lost his battle with lung cancer in December at the age of 54, had been the voice of the Au Sable River for more than 30 years. For those who were fortunate enough to have met “the Gator,” as he was called by those close to him, it is impossible to look at the Au Sable without feeling Rusty’s presence. Even after his passing, Rusty continues to inspire others to stand up for the river he loved so dearly. His spirit and tenacity had an affect on everyone involved in environmental causes, from hikers and hunters, to the many who came to northern Michigan to fish the Au Sable and its neighboring streams.
Dave Smethurst of Gaylord, 66, said, “Rusty was a teenager when I met him, and he’s been a friend ever since. When I was the state Trout Unlimited chairman, Rusty usually was the source for getting information we needed to fight the excesses of the oil companies in the Pigeon River Forest. He understood the scientific and legal issues as well as the scientists and lawyers.”
Gates, who was named Fly Rod & Reel‘s “Angler of the Year” in 1995, founded the Anglers of the Au Sable in 1987. Through Rusty’s leadership and ability to rally those around him, the Anglers of the Au Sable were able to win numerous battles in the name of the river, including: Catch and Release on the Holy Waters, National Guard noise pollution on the North Branch, Oil exploration along the South Branch, and toxic chemicals on the main stream.
“A tap on the shoulder, a glance, and a short conversation. That was usually all it took. We set to our tasks with a brio, partly for the cause, partly not to let him down.”