Summer swelter keeps most people home instead of fishing. The old adage is, wait until early morning or late evening when the summer heat is finished boiling surface temperatures and sucking oxygen out of the water – the old way of thinking.
However, Grandma Cat and her grandsons fish whenever the chance arises. All the boys have to do is ask. Grandma Cat seldom turns them down when they have a doable request.
The boys couldn’t arrive until midday just after July 4, and the thermometer read somewhere in the middle 90s. Tucker, 9, Cole, 7, and Grady, 4, came with a plan – catch fish, and then swim while grandpa fillets. The next phase of their agenda was to have fresh fish for dinner, including grandpa’s famous fish dip. They had spent several days dreaming up this summer day’s activities.
Soon each boy had a piece of hooked nightcrawler on the bottom. Thankfully, a tree lent shade from an unforgiving barrage of sunbeams – for about five minutes. The earth rotated and sunlight unmercifully beat down on the dock and its occupants.
Tucker and Cole almost immediately caught nice bluegill and their baits were returned to the water. Grandma Cat fished too, hoping to hook a bluegill for Grady to reel in.
Sprig, the yellow Labrador retriever, ran back and forth on the shore, waiting for another fish to sniff and then bark at.
Occasionally the boys laid down their rods and investigated the shoreline, looking at small fish in the shallows, trying to catch crawfish or just sitting under the shade for a cool drink. Grandpa and Grandma made it a rule years ago that kids can stop fishing and go exploring, long as it’s safe and they stay in sight.
Suddenly Grandma Cat felt a heavy, slow tug, set the hook and felt nothing moving. She jerked on the submerged object two or three more times and found it was solid and not giving.
“I’m hung up,” she called. “Come over here Grandpa and help me get loose.”
Suddenly the log or rock she was hung up on started moving swiftly to the left. Her rod doubled and the reel’s drag started slipping out line. Grandma Cat had hooked the biggest fish she had ever fought with only a kid’s Zebco rod and reel and 4-pound test line. The rod was bent well beyond its design.
“Help,” she shouted at Grandpa.
Grandpa was retying a hook and finally realized the drama that was taking place on a mid-90-degree day. He rushed over and commanded Tucker to get the net. Tucker used his youthful speed to get the net to Grandpa very quickly. In the meantime, Grandma Cat was in “one heck of a fight” reeling when possible and holding on when the fish took out line.
The fish moved toward the next boat dock and all three grandsons ran to that dock for a better look.
“It’s a monster,” Cole said after seeing the fish flash by.
“I just saw its white belly, Grandma,” Grady said.
“Hang on Grandma,” Cole shouted.
The fish ran back toward Grandma Cat, clearly trying to swim under a docked boat. Only then was it apparent that this was a channel catfish of good proportions. Some of my fishing buddies would call it a “hog.”
The good fish continued fighting, savagely bucking the light equipment and giving Grandma Cat the best fight of her fishing life. She continued reeling and hanging on, expertly keeping her rod tip up when possible. The catfish occasionally dove and pulled the rigging down with remarkable strength.
The fish made one last lunge to the left and then started losing energy after about an all-out 10-minute run. Then the next problem surfaced with the fish. First the hook was in the top jaw, but grandpa could see it was slightly bent, a big fish hooked on a small bluegill hook.
The net was too small, creating another problem. The big cat caught new life and dove every time Grandpa tried to slip his fingers under its gills. This happened three times before the big cat was secured.
Grandpa dropped the catfish on the floor of his boat and everybody gasped at its size.
“About 7 pounds,” Grandpa said while lifting the catfish. “But look at the length of that fish. It’s a nice one.”
The catfish was clearly a female that had laid its eggs. It might have weighed a pound or two more before the spawn. But Grandma Cat and her boys didn’t care. They were all excited and both bluegills were released. There was plenty of catfish for dinner.
Grandpa filleted the catfish while the boys swam; their plan had come to life. The fillets were thick with nice white meat that was quickly soaking in saltwater to remove any blood or impurities.
The boys heartily emptied the platter of catfish fillets at dinner with beans, potato salad and Grandpa’s famous fish dip (there is no recipe, just mix horseradish sauce, ketchup, sweet pickle relish and mayo to taste). A fresh blackberry dessert with ice cream topped the fine dinner off. The boys gave Grandma Cat a round of applause for catching and then cooking dinner. She could only smile and laugh at them.
So will the boys remember this trip 30 years from now? Who knows, but memories are made when you take those kids fishing.
– 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.