Cumberland Times-News

Columns

June 15, 2013

She’s the one who got away ... four times

Someone asked if I ever went as a kid to the Battie Mixon Fishing Rodeo, which is held each year on the C&O Canal in Oldtown.

The rodeo involves grownups taking youngsters out for a day of fishing.

As TV fishing show host Bill Dance says, “Do yourself a favor. Take a kid fishing.” Truer words have not been said. It’s hard to tell who has more fun.

I said I had not been to the rodeo, although I could have. It’s in its 65th year, and so am I.

Having grown up in Keyser, my introduction to fishing took place elsewhere — at the camp Uncle Abe and Aunt Fran had on the South Branch of the Potomac River, and at the farm ponds along Beaver Run Road near Burlington, where Frank and Mary Calemine lived.

A variety of grownups taught me how to fish, and each one had a different style.

Many years ago, my dad was written up in the Keyser paper for having caught the biggest smallmouth bass of the year, something in the neighborhood of five pounds, in the South Branch. A five-pound smallmouth is enormous.

My grandfather was written up in similar fashion, and the smallmouth he caught in the Smoke Hole was even bigger — six pounds and 24 inches long. He nailed its mummified head to a support beam in his garage, and I remember seeing it when I was a kid.

The biggest smallmouth I’ve ever managed was 3 1/2 pounds. It was a beautiful fish that put up an enormous fight.

The grownups in my fishing life introduced me to it in a way that guaranteed I would love it. They started me off fishing for sunfish, which will bite when nothing else wants to.

Except for my mom, our whole family loved fishing. Grandmother Goldsworthy waited until the day’s work was done at the camp, then put on her fishing duds and went to the river.

She loved to come back with a stringer of fish and show them to the others, particularly when they’d had no luck that day.

It has long been held in our family that no fish is as good to eat as one fresh-caught out of the river — particularly a nice-sized sunfish.

Abe refused to eat any fish, saying: “If there’s a whole plate of them, and there’s only one bone ... I’ll be the one who gets it.” And he usually did.

Dad never had any use for fish caught in a farm pond.

“They have a bottom taste,” he said.

We were at the Calemines’ camp when Mary brought out a plate of fried sunfish that had been caught out of their pond.

When Dad made a yuck face, Mary told him to try one. His eyes lit up and he said it was delicious ... just like they used to catch out of the river. What did she do to them?

“I soaked them overnight in milk,” she said.

Unlike my grandfather, father or uncle, Frank and I figured how to catch fish with an artificial lure. There’s a trick to it, and I learned it by watching fishing shows like Bill Dance’s.

The Calemines’ late son-in-law, Jim Hofstad, used to go fishing with Frank and me and his son, Anthony James Hofstad (who was named after his father, Jim Bosley — who was killed in Vietnam — and me). Because of Anthony, I can say that at least for a time in my life, I did myself a favor and took a kid fishing.

During what we called the Dog Days of summer, we went to the pond, never mind the heat. Most times, I caught several fish, but Jim had no more luck than I’d have had trying to get a date with Cheryl Tiegs.

“You (four-word Anglo-Saxonism),” he’d say. “How come you’re catching them, and I can’t?”

“I know how,” I would say, and that would only infuriate him more ... or what for a Norwegian-American would pass for infuriation.

I used a spinnerbait, which is an assembly of sinker, whirling blade, hook and rubber hula skirt.

Cast it out and let it sink for a few seconds. Retrieve it slowly by lifting the rod tip and let it sink again while you’re reeling in the slack line. Repeat the process as often as necessary.

When they’re not biting on anything else, they’ll take a spinnerbait while it’s falling freely and fluttering tantalizingly through the water.

I go over to that pond every now and then and do the same thing today, and it still works.

When nothing else would bite, we’d put a bobber on the line and tie on a trout fly to catch a tiny sunfish, which we put on a regular hook and used for bait to catch Big Sam.

Big Sam was a channel catfish who, the last time I caught and released him, was 30 inches long and weighed nine pounds.

Late in the summer when the pond was low, we could see bottom all the way across. When even Big Sam wasn’t hungry, we’d just watch him swim around.

One day, Jim said to Frank and me, “I thought there was only one big catfish in this pond.”

We told him there is only one big catfish in this pond.

“Look swimming along the far bank,” he said. I did that, and the hair started to rise on the back of my neck.

“That’s not a catfish,” I said. “A catfish doesn’t have a big long dark stripe down his side.”

I’ve seen him ... or probably her, because she-bass gets a lot bigger than a he-bass ... close-up. A number of times, she swam up right next to the bank, took a look at me and swam gracefully off, properly warned.

That bass was every bit as long as Big Sam and no doubt a good bit heavier. She made a circle in one half of the pond and he made a circle in the other half. Apparently they had settled any territorial disputes.

Four times, I had her hooked. When she jumped, she made a splash like someone throwing a cinder block into the water.

Four times, she got off. Each time, I had to go sit down for a few minutes until the shakes went away.

What became of her, I don’t know. Did somebody else sneak in there and catch her? Or did she just die with dignity of old age, which would be a more fitting end?

And I don’t want to know. Consider it a pleasant dream from which I will never wake up. Had I caught her, the dream would have gone away forever.

To my granddad, dad, Uncle Abe and Frank: Happy Father’s Day, guys. Thanks for takin’ a little kid fishing.

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