Friday, July 06, 2012

A Fish Story Repost

(Originally posted prior to my hitting the reset button here at Fire & Hammer. A story of family, fun, fishing, and the one that got away.)

I suppose everyone who has put a worm on a hook has a story to tell of the one that got away. The fish story was once a tradition, sort of a rite of passage, for every American boy living within a short distance of any body of water. I have many fond memories of weekends spent on the banks of various Indiana rivers, pulling up catfish and carp with my grandparents and the occasional cousin who dared heed the early morning wake up call. The trek with poles and equipment at the ready was not one for the fainthearted. The day’s catch would decide whether or not it was all worth the trip. But there was always the one that got away. For me that one measured at least 100 feet long. Yes you read that right; my fish story involves a catch that was about 100 feet long.

I must have been fourteen or perhaps fifteen at the time. We lived with my mother’s parents and I had become a regular on their weekend fishing trips. Once or twice a month during the summer we would spend Thursday evening checking the tackle boxes and making sure the lines weren’t tangled. My favorite rod was black with blue trim, mounted with an old Zebco reel. Don’t quote me but I believe it was a 202 or a 232 or something of that nature. She was my first real fishing pole and no one else (other than grandpa) was allowed to touch it.

I was the weird kid who loved spending Friday evening at the bait shop searching for mill worms or perhaps crickets or blood worms. Grandpa always had a list ready, having calculated exactly what we needed based on what he expected us to catch. This particular time we had to buy extra as my mom and one of my uncles decided they would come for the ride, along with my brother and two cousins. Grandpa knew we would need extra bait to account for what would be wasted by mom and uncle, so we made sure to get the right weight in worms.

That night we packed the equipment into the back of grandpa’s old Chevy Cheyenne pickup. This was a real pickup, a 70’s model designed strictly for work. Comfort was at best an afterthought. The long bench seat was made to keep the driver upright but not comfortable, just high enough to help the driver see over the hood. It had two large fuel tanks, enough capacity to ensure a full day’s work even at 10mpg. To combat boredom during a long drive this workhorse came with a perfectly good AM radio and a single but powerful speaker, able to play loud enough to drown out the road noise and roar of the huge V-8. (To be honest, I didn’t mind the sound of the V-8.) She could hold all of our fishing gear in her bed and still have room for a twin mattress. It was a good thing that mattress was there or else we children would have to sit on metal tire wells for the duration of the ride with the old white camper top protecting us from the elements.

With the Chevy packed I headed for bed with a warning to mom and to my Uncle, who had planned to stay up late with friends playing cards and enjoying the start of the weekend. Knowing grandma would be ready long before the rooster rolled over, I warned them that it was best to turn in early. Adults don’t like to be told it is bed time, especially by a teen, so I was quickly dismissed and told I should move away if I wanted to see the sunrise. So there I was a fifteen year old going to bed early on a Friday night, knowing something big was in store as I was determined to have my best catch ever.

The wakeup call came around three, or was it two. I dressed and found a good seat for the show to come when my grandparents would wake the rest of the gang. They griped and complained, my uncle claiming the fish were not up yet. They suggested letting them sleep till breakfast, not knowing grandma had been up much earlier and breakfast was already packed and waiting in the Cheyenne. But even at their ages they could not resist mother’s call. Somehow Grandma had us all in our places on schedule as grandpa fired up all eight cylinders and the pickup moved off. That trusty old Chevy easily got us to the river before the crack of dawn.

For most of the day I caught nothing. Mom refused to bait her own hook and never left the folding cot she brought with her. Uncle disappeared, saying he needed to get away from the less serious anglers. Based on his meager catch at the end of the day I suspect he found someplace quiet to sleep off the card game. Grandpa and grandma found their favorite spots, each able to monitor three rods at the same time and come back with a sizable catch. The others stayed near the truck, trying their luck in an area where they did not have to walk. Left on my own, I decided I needed to find a different spot and that is where the story took a strange turn.

From the top of a large rock I cast my line. From there I could hear others successfully pull good sized fish from the water. I however had no success. When finally something tugged on my line I reeled only to find what looked like a baby lobster hanging with one claw while pulling chunks out of my worm with its other. I shook it back off into the water only to learn later that the thing was a crawdad and, according to grandma, I should have kept it for bait. But I figured it too small to be worth my time and moved to another spot down the river under a bridge.

There I cast my line once again, only to see the worm fly off just as the hook hit the water. Realizing I was the one wasting our bait I set another worm on my hook, making sure this one was secure. With a flick of the wrist my Zebco let loose, hook line and sinker took off for their target. But much to my surprise they never came down. I looked back to see if I had hooked something or someone. The answer was no. I followed my line to see what had happened only to discover something I never before noticed about bridge construction.

It seems that some bridges are built on a frame of I-beams. These beams are connected in such a way as to support the weight of whatever might drive over the bridge while allowing for expansion and contraction as the temperature changes. These I-beams sometimes have spaces between them and the bottom of the bridge deck and as it turns out a well placed cast can carry a hook right over the beam but below the bridge deck, leaving it dangling above the water. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just reel the Zebco back in and re-cast. I tried only to find a small hole in the I-beam.

I had hooked a bridge. I estimate the length to be about a hundred feet. Of course it could have been longer or shorter. I was much smaller then and bridge estimates were not my forte. It had to be some sort of record for length and I was the one who caught it. And as she cut my line loose, Grandma told me it was a one in a million shot. She and I would laugh for years about the bridge that got away. Too bad the state of Indiana would not let me take it home for a trophy. That is how the big one got away, just one of many fun times during a lazy summer fishing trip.

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