Thursday, October 11, 2012

20 Questions: Brian Kozminski

Brian Kozminski, aka, "Koz."
Brian Kozminski is the compass behind True North Trout. But more than that, Brian's a Michigan fly fishing guide with an unequaled conservation conscience. He takes his Michigan roots seriously, right down to his active involvement with the Miller Van Winkle chapter of Trout Unlimited.

I don't know Brian terribly well, but what I do know impresses me. His steadfast commitment to Michigan's trout and salmon resources is obvious--he wears it on his sleeve like a badge of honor. His social media posts about Michigan fly fishing are bold--he's kind of like Robert Conrad, daring you knock the battery off his shoulder. You mess with Michigan, you have to answer to Koz.

But this interview process--which is usually pretty low maintenance for me--always lets me in on a few secrets ahead of everybody else. I learned a lot about Brian, and I'm guessing you will to, in the coming questions. I learned that not only is he a man of conviction, but that conviction came to him the hard way. I assume Brian--like of a lot us--had to hit rock bottom before he was able to build himself back up, to reinvent who his is versus who he was years ago. It's admirable, to be sure, but it's also powerful.

See for yourself. On with the questions:
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I have been there before, snippets from here and there, no exact single place in mind. The fragrance of birch bark mixed with cedar and pine while watching a Canadian sunset reflected in the calm lake nestled between mountains; fresh oranges and aromatic coffee with a brackish scent in the morning gearing up for bonefish before the day's heat near the equator; knee deep in a stream early May with a decent pod of fresh hot steel sipping on stones in a pool beneath a sweeper. Nowhere in any of these places do I have to worry about who stands on what political platform, how they feel about pro-choice, nor how many millions they have wasted trying to buy my vote. Anyplace I can connect with nature, listen to hear her melody and drink her in deeply is as close to happiness as we can aim for.

John Muir
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I am going to cheese out and say John Muir, the father of the national parks. His early adventures and writings of the Sierra Nevada and forward thinking allow us to still enjoy the thing we call life. 

What is your favorite journey?
Right now, I am in it. There have been many little mini-episodes ... a trip to Belize with a fishing buddy so he could get married on a whim and not knowing for certain if we were going to make it back to Grand Rapids or not--that was on the edge. But I have to say that everyday my little girl and beautiful wife keep it a journey.

On what occasion do you lie?
I really, REALLY try hard not to fabricate things. It is not good for my program. I can dance around a subject with the best of them, I have found living a good and decent life doesn 't require me to lie or cover up much.

Which living person do you most despise?
Despise is like deep, cutting, very visceral and full of hate. I can't put a face or name on that. There were many people in the service world who can push all your buttons; there are those, too, who like to sit back and do nothing, watch you do all the work and reap the benefits, but I believe in karma, and in time, they, too, shall get theirs.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
SERIOUSLY? Are you for real? When I drank, I would often slur the SERIOUSLY around like a dead cat, I have since knocked that out.

What is your greatest regret?
No regrets really, many wishes. I wish I had every dollar I spent in a bar or at home on Captain and Jager buying rounds, over-tipping little hotties. I could have a small little cabin in the woods and a couple of boats. I wish I traveled more in my youth instead of frivolously wasting my time in bars contemplating the complexities of Cascade and Magnum & Perle hops. I wish I fished with the passion and verve I had in my 20s instead of finding it decades later in life. But no, no regrets.

What or who is the greatest love of your life? 
Without a doubt, my wife Lesley. She is truly amazing, besides giving me the best gift ever--our daughter Simone--she is one of the brightest, classiest and most wonderful woman I could ever wish for. The guys all know I am a pretty lucky guy. She always supports me in my river life and volunteer hours for Trout Unlimited, doing Salmon in the Classroom, teaching children fly tying after school programs and river clean-ups, tree planting, grass seeding and stream monitoring.

Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I was musically inclined. I can sing decent--I keep it contained to the shower and in choir, but I really am blown away by amazing musical talent. Someone like my brother-in law who can hear a tune and immediately play it on his guitar, then jump to the drums and lay down the tempo and play keyboard. I do a lot of things, multi-tasking I relish in, but I had a tough time playing the bass drum and marching at the same time in high school.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
It is no secret. My sobriety. Without it, I wouldn't have any of this. The wife, child, family, two dogs, car, roof over my head, J-O-B, pride, self-worth, decent balance of serenity and peace. I only bring this up because I run into a few awkward scenarios from time to time. Floating down the river, a client wants to take a nip of the flask--by all means? Myself? No thanks. Trust me, you don't want THAT GUY on the oars. Once in a while a cabin owner offers us to pull over and have adult soda pops by the fireside. Sometimes I feel bad when I decline their hospitality. It's not that I can't be around alcohol or booze--I have worked in a restaurant as either bartender, manager or server for over 20 years, but I don't know that they don't know I belong to a secret coffee club and those late night bonfires really have little or no appeal to me these days. So, now, some do know, and they see me coming down the river in my boat and they fire up the coffee pot and I happily stop in for a quick cup and the latest river report.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
Easy. Killer whale. Orca. Awesome and simply amazing creatures, still keep a family pod, intelligent and aggressive hunters. They are the perfect machine.

What is your most treasured possession? 
One would think a plethora of rods, old and new, flies, cars. No, no, no. My driver's license is without a doubt my most-prized possession. It is mine, only mine. I lost for all of my 30s--a stupid 20-something and his low self-worth but high immortality belief racked up a few OUILs and lost it for two consecutive five-year suspensions. It took a lot of work to get it back. A LOT of work, and I treasure the privilege to drive every day.

Where would you like to live?
We had plans for Colorado last year. Lesley had a job lined up in Greeley at Banner Medical, but after our house was on the market for a year and no offers, we turned down the job, and then a month later we got an offer on the house. We had no plan at that time, we moved to Boyne City and love it. The Mitten State is keeping me here for now--its cold, clean and clear running waters and its vast freshwater oceans have me in mind for a purpose. We shall see what that is. I do want to see more of the states, a taste of the Rockies made me realize how much of our own country is magnificent and awe-inspiring. I want to see Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, Montana, Washington and Oregon, so many great areas to visit, someday ... ALASKA.

Who are your favorite writers?
I only recently got heavy into reading--the usual suspects are on my bookshelf. Maclean, Ames, Kreh, Schwiebert, Swisher & Richards, Leeson & Schollmeyer, Geirach and Voelker. But the best for my taste is Thomas McGuane. Loved 92 in the Shade and The Longest Silence. For the trout research department, you must read The Trout and The Fly by Goddard & Clarke. Anders Halverson's An Entirely Synthetic Fish opened my eyes, and FOUR FISH by Paul Greenberg should be read by anyone who can dunk a worm.

George Griffith, founder, Trout Unlimited.
Who are your heroes? 
Mr. George Griffith. He did so much for our state, laying the groundwork for what I believe is the best common sense. That what s good for the trout is good for the trout fisherman and that managing trout for the trout rather than for the trout fisherman is fundamental to the solution of our trout problems.

"Don t let it be said, and said to your shame, that all was beauty here, before you came."
- George A. Griffith

How would you like to die?
I could imagine taking a few deep breaths underwater might not be so bad, once you get past the panic state, you would simply fall asleep. Just don't want to burn in a fire or car crash, or get caught in a tiger trap with pungee stick and fire ants crawling and biting me.

If there is a Heaven, and you go to Heaven, what would God say to you upon your arrival?
 "Koz, you should not have been so hard on yourself. I kept giving you opportunities and you were blind. You shouldn't worry so much about what others think of you. Do what you know is right and stick to your guns."
Which actor/actress would play you in the movie about your life, and why? 
We all would think ourselves fancy and have Brad Pitt play me on the screen, but reality is Matt Damon or young Anthony Michael Hall would be a better fit. I do often get "You have a resemblance to the (Dirty Jobs) Mike Rowe, and your voice sounds like the Cash Cab guy," but that is usually from non Midwesterners who think we all talk funny anyway.

What's your favorite guilty pleasure?
Moose tacks and Swiss rolls.

What's the closest you've ever been to dying?
 Last February, I went in for a physical. I am in decent shape, I eat fairly healthy (semi-vegetarian/no red meat/ova lacto), don 't smoke, don 't drink, but I nearly black out running 6.5 mph at a 18 percent incline. They admitted me that afternoon and found a 99 percent blockage in my LAD--pretty serious. That weekend may have been the closest I have been to checking out. I had a stent put in and now watch more of what I eat and do. I plan on fishing a lot more rivers and seeing a few more sunsets with my family. Get yourself checked out!

BONUS QUESTION: If you could go back in time, what year would you visit first?
I have to see what a beautiful place northern Michigan was pre-logging era. Late 1880s to the turn of the century. Can you imagine the fishing? It might be boring, catching four or five grayling at a time on one cast. I think this land and the river have made a miraculous recovery in the last century, but we have a long way to go. Many more river miles need to be released. That becomes a touchy subject with all the invasive concerns we have here in Michigan, but too many dams are choking the life out of what once flowed freely to the big lakes and oceans. It needs to be returned that way once again.


  1. Those of us who don't personally know Brian often ask, who is this guy? Now we know. Thanks for a refreshingly honest interview without a couple of layers of BS.

    1. Indeed, Howard... refreshingly honest!

    2. Thank you gentlemen, I am honored to be in league with you and the many other fine writers, anglers and conservationists~ Tight Lines!!

  2. Awesome interview guys! Really good to learn more about Koz.

  3. I Always love the 20 questions. great stuff

  4. Love this series Chris - great to hear about some of these folks I otherwise would not likely cross paths with.

  5. Thanks, Chris. Great interview.

    Brian, it takes a lot of courage to bare your soul like that. Thank you for sharing your insights & experiences with life. A good, positive lesson for all. Also, thank you for your dedication an commitment to preserving and restoring our natural resources.

    If we ever cross paths, I would love to enjoy a coffee with you.

    1. I would enjoy that~ you have similar insights and I would guess we have travelled many a same road.

  6. Thanks for sharing Koz with us Chris. Brian is a great guy and you just added to my respect for the man. Love this series you are doing. In this day and age where we have a bunch of "virtual" friends and live getting to know them from their profile pics, and posts it's nice to get something meaty and substantial to go along with the face and name. Kudos!

    1. Thank R.M. ... I've often wanted to know more about Brian... I'm glad he agreed to the interview...

  7. Yep, another tremendous interview gives us a glimpse into the inner-workings of another amazing person. I admire Koz for his ability to pick himself up by his bootstraps. People with that strength of character and resolve humble me. I'm pretty sure that if I fell hard, I'd be down for the count.

  8. These 20 questions are one of my favourite features in the fly fishing blogosphere. Koz is a damn cool dude. And I totally agree with his reading list...especially Four Fish...

  9. I had the great privilege of fishing with Koz a bunch of times this year-- Northern Michigan could not ask for a better steward for its waters and woods, and an angler could not ask for a better guy to spend the afternoon with. Great guy and and inspiring interview!

  10. Great interview and what an amazing guy!