Random acts of kindness are practiced everyday. You seldom hear about this type of action on the evening news because it’s not financially devastating, politically significant or otherwise considered newsworthy. Yet, kindness toward a child may still be remembered many years later.
Random acts of kindness are practiced everyday. You seldom hear about this type of action on the evening news because it’s not financially devastating, politically significant or otherwise considered newsworthy. Yet, kindness toward a child may still be remembered many years later. This column is my way of thanking a very special fisherman who was kind to me 43 years ago.
My buddy, Bob and I both loved to fish in those simple days when dad and mom still paid the bills and school grades were our biggest worry. Our homes were close to a lake and we made housewives angry daily by stomping through flower beds and other treasured flora while reaching our best fishing spots.
Painstaking hours of research uncovered cherished places where fish gobbled down baits offered on bronze-colored hooks like sacrifices to the fishing Gods. The fishing bug bit us during our formative years when girls were still little more than an idle curiosity. We earned money by mowing lawns or shoveling snow to buy fishing tackle.
We constantly studied fishing articles from old periodicals that had been handed down from a neighbor and sometimes the local barber before he tossed them in the trash. Titles like Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Fur, Fish and Game, Argosy, True and other classic magazines enticed us with photos of huge largemouth bass jumping with a lure tucked in their jaw like a cigar in my fat uncle’s mouth. Big bass were still a mystery we were trying to solve. Bluegill and catfish continued to hold our attention because they would eat an earth worm or crickets that were unlucky enough to crawl within our reach.
The local Sports Show in January was one of our favorite times for fighting Spring fever and the expected “sick of school” flu. We loved to explore each booth, including lure companies that were still privately owned. Magazine articles had taught us names like Heddon, Shakespeare and Arbogast Lures who always had booths at the show, free brochures and occasionally real treasures like key rings. The Gods of fishing picked this righteous night for me to find the Arbogast stand.
Fred Arbogast, inventor of two of the world’s best top-water lures, the Jitterbug and The Hula Popper, died in 1947, six years before I was born. My father and grandfather had always caught bass with his Hula Poppers on our farm pond, so I paid close attention to outdoor stories about Arbogast’s president, Dick Kotis who continued to manage the company. The older, well-tanned gentleman was featured in magazine articles and Arbogast advertisements. He rated up there with Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, at least in my mind.
So, it was a complete shock to see the legendary Kotis standing in his booth on that winter night in Kansas City, being ignored by the passing Sport’s Show crowd. I remember the conversation as if it happened yesterday.
“Uh, Mr. Kotis,” I stammered, not used to meeting famous people.
“Yes, son, what can I do for you?” he answered in a very professional, deep voice.
“Well, I, uh, just wanted to say I like you lures and have read about you in magazines and stuff.”
“So, you like to fish?” he asked.
“Well, yes sir, I do, mostly with worms under a bobber, but my buddy Bob and I catch a lot of bluegill and an occasional catfish.”
“Yes, bluegill and catfish are fun to catch,” he answered, no doubt amused. “Have you ever caught a largemouth bass?”
“Only small ones, on worms I dug up in my mother’s garden.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “My boss told me to give a couple of our best lures to a special fisherman and I think you may be the one. Here are three for you to try and then let me know if they work better than your mother’s earth worms.”
I stood there in the middle of a passing crowd and admired the items of beauty in my hands while not realizing that he actually was the boss at Arbogast. This legend of fishing had given me a Hula Popper, a Jitterbug and a Hawaiian Wiggler. Each reflected absolute beauty under plastic confines and yellow packaging that I wish he had autographed – but who knew about that at age 12.
“Uh, thank you sir,” I stammered, still in shock. “I can’t wait to try them.”
“Just don’t ever stop fishing kid,” he said.
I moved away in shock to find my buddy, Bob who had wandered another direction and stood in line waiting for a corndog behind a portly woman and her three ignorant looking kids. My pal looked miserable.
“Bob, I just met Dick Kotis, and he gave me three lures,” I blurted out. “You need to forget this and get over there now in case he has more.”
“All right, but let me get my corndog first,” he said, clearly more hungry than anxious to meet a legend bearing gifts, a mistake he regrets to this day.
We quickly returned to the Arbogast booth while Bob chewed on the corndog. By then some young guy had replaced Mr. Kotis. Bob talked to him, but didn’t even receive a brochure or a key ring. My dad drove us home that evening; me with my prize lures and Bob with indigestion.
The Midwest finally thawed out four months later. Early on a Saturday morning I walked to the shoreline of my father’s farm pond where the surface was smooth as glass. I didn’t know how to tie a good fishing knot in those days and quickly attached my treasured Jitterbug on old 10 pound test with several granny knots. I examined the lure and line like an expert angler and took a step towards the pond.
Next came the moment of truth I had envisioned over and over again during most school lectures. The time had come for me to launch my prize into a pond of hungry largemouth bass. My Zebco 202 and matching rod strained to cast the lure that was considerably heavier than a bobber, hook and worm.
The heavy lure splashed down beside a stump. I reeled once, “KER-PLUNK.”
A big bass hit the lure, made a solid run that made my Zebco 202’s drag make a sickening kind of grinding noise and “TWANG” my line broke.
I watched in horror while a heavy “V” split the surface as the bass stole my treasure. The Hula Popper lasted longer, two casts, before another good bass ripped up the surface with a ferocious attack. I managed to hang on for four good runs until “POW,” my line broke again.
A tear streamed down my cheek as I tied on the Hawaiian Wiggler, sort of an early type of spinnerbait and my last prized lure. I quickly wiped off the unwanted moisture from my cheek and cast out toward an old log. I managed to reel the lure several feet, feeling the satisfying vibration it made.
The next strike was much lighter and I managed to land a bass that probably weighed about a pound. I quickly secured the flopping fish on my stringer and cast out again with hopes of catching one of the big bass that no doubt still had my lure in its mouth.
I felt the vibration one last time just before the next bass hit and “PING” the line broke. I lost my three treasured lures in less than 30 minutes. I had waited four months for a devastating lesson that would haunt me until the end of time – change my fishing line.
I glanced around the pond’s bank to make sure no one was close by before really letting a stream of cuss words fly. After all, I was 12 years old and boys didn’t cry under any circumstance – we cussed, unless adults were around – then we pouted.
I have lost hundreds of lures since that day and have forgotten about most, except for the three that were given to me many years ago by a legendary gentleman. Mr. Kotis died and his lures are gone but 43 years later I still remember his parting words to me, “Just don’t ever stop fishing kid.”