Making a living requires hustling for the legal tender and dedicating precious hours of your life. Sometimes this necessary burden makes you forget the best days.
Can life really be simplistic as a child, their dog and a can of worms for catching bluegill? Can you relive those days? My wife and I just did.
My grandson, Cole, loves to fish. We recently spent several hours fishing from my dock for big bluegill. The day was hot and my Labrador retriever, Sprig, took several dips in the lake.
Cole watched his line with more concentration than a 7-year-old boy normally possesses. He still prefers the Zebco style spincast reel with child friendly mechanisms. He casts, reels and sets the hook on biting fish. He even hooked on his own worm, a chore that initially took a little practice.
Sprig, in the meantime likes to run back and forth from the shore to the dock, waiting for some action. He loves to fish and studies the water for fish while we are waiting for a bite.
Cole suddenly had a solid hit and he managed to set the hook. His Zebco rod bent in half as the good-sized bluegill fought hard. Sprig in the meantime ran back on the dock for a closer look. The fish finally tired out and was dumped on the dock where Sprig immediately moved in for a smell of his new fish buddy.
The bluegill was quickly rescued from Sprig and put in a bucket for filleting. Grandma would soon cook Grandpa and Cole a fine fish dinner with fried potatoes and corn. Cole’s fishing talents would provide the fish.
I took a break from the action and sat against a stone wall. I closed my eyes remembering my catfishing trips to Little Ozark Lakes, south of St. Joseph, with my grandfather and grandmother in the early to middle 1960s. I would spend a good part of the previous day gathering bait, especially worms.
Grandmother had a neat trick of scattering her coffee grounds in the same place. Rain and the coffee grounds brought in every worm in the immediate area. The neighborhood kids, Dallas and Steve, helped me catch grasshoppers and crickets, all said to be great catfish bait.
The next morning I always woke to the smell of coffee brewing and bacon frying. Grandmother made sure we had a great breakfast and she packed a good lunch too. Then we made the 40-minute drive to the little lake in the hills that looked like the Ozarks.
I always cast out my two Zebco 33 rod-and-reel combinations while grandfather sat and watched. Grandmother took her cane pole to the back of creeks on the lake and fished shallows. Occasionally she caught a good-sized carp or catfish that happened to be in the area.
I usually caught at least 10 good bullhead catfish on worms. Looking back, I don’t remember catching anything on the grasshoppers. Then we would return home and I would prepare the catfish for frying to a golden brown. Those were some of my best days that I thought were gone forever with the passing of my grandparents.
I awoke from my daydream while Cole caught two more bluegill before his rod doubled under the weight of a bigger fish. He hooked a nice channel catfish that dove deep and made several good runs that made him strain while holding the rod tip up like he had been coached. The cat was stubborn and pulled hard, especially on the light tackle Cole was using. Sprig ran back and forth, occasionally staring down in the water to see Cole’s fish.
Finally the fish gave up and Cole landed his first catfish, just over a pound. He will catch bigger catfish in his life, but likely few will excite him more.
Sprig in the meantime studied the bucket of fish to see its latest resident. A bluegill splashed water in his face and he let loose with several good barks to address his indignity. He even stuck his nose in the bucket’s water and quickly removed it for more barking at splashing fish.
Cole caught a smaller bluegill that slipped off the hook and slid in grandpa’s boat that needed bailing from recent rainwater. Sprig almost dove into the boat and started looking for the escaped fish. Somehow the startled fish swam under an aluminum boat seat and Sprig started digging at the water, trying to find his new fish buddy. I decided to rescue the poor bluegill before Sprig actually did some damage.
Grandma opted to try her hand and quickly caught a couple more bluegills. We needed a couple more for dinner and Cole tried a new technique of dropping his worm to the bottom directly in front of our dock. He caught a pair of big bluegill very quickly and we were finished fishing for the day.
I made a point so Cole would understand that you only catch what you plan to eat. Catching more than you will eat in one meal is a waste of fish resources.
The fish were quickly filleted and potatoes peeled. Grandpa made his famous fish dip all the grandchildren love: mayo, pickle relish, horseradish sauce and ketchup all mixed together. There are no measurements, just mix and taste until it’s right. Then dip your fish fillets in this delicious sauce.
My hungry grandson ate his fair share of fillets and corn while leaving the fried potatoes because grandma had dared to include some green peppers.
The following morning we returned to the dock and caught then released a few more nice fish before quitting. I wondered if Cole would remember this trip or the hopefully many others to come in 50 years like I remembered those trips with my sorely missed grandparents.
Do you think the golden days of youth on a fishing bank are gone? Just take a kid fishing and you will return to those golden days that he or she will remember several decades later.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.