Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Fish Story

{Based on a post I originally wrote before restarting the blog.}

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 rite of passage for every American 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 and streams pulling up catfish and carp with my grandparents. The day’s catch would decide whether or not it was all worth the trip but there was always the one that got away. On one of our trips the one that got away measured at least 100 feet long.

My fish story began just as all of our fishing trips would, by spending Thursday evening helping grandpa check the tackle boxes. We also made sure all the rods were ready. My favorite was black with blue trim. On it was mounted an old Zebco reel. Don’t quote me but I believe it was model 202 or a 232 or something of that nature. She was my first real fishing pole and nobody (other than grandpa) was allowed to touch it.

I was that weird kid who loved spending Friday evenings at the bait shop searching for night crawlers or 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. For me these runs to the bait shop were about seeing what was new in the world of fishing. For grandpa the trips were about seeing old friends, many of whom he had known prior to retiring from his work near the blast furnace at U. S. Steel. Eventually, once the conversations ended, we would buy our supplies and load everything into the back of grandpa’s old Chevy Cheyenne pickup.

That old Chevy was a real pickup, a 70’s model designed strictly for work. Comfort was at best an after thought, the long bench seat made to keep the driver upright but not comfortable. It had two large tanks with enough fuel capacity to ensure a full day’s work even at 10mpg or less. This workhorse came with a perfectly good AM radio and a single but powerful speaker which played just loud enough to drown out the road noise and roar of the huge American made V-8. She could hold all of our fishing gear in her bed and still have room for a twin mattress. Why a twin mattress? Well this served as a seating area for me and my cousins, a great alternative to sitting on tire wells for the duration of the ride under the old white camper top which covered the truck bed.

The wakeup call came around three, or was it four, in the morning. I dressed and took my place in the truck, ready for a pre-dawn chance to convince a school of fish to try one of my worms for breakfast. But for most of the day I caught nothing. Grandpa and grandma did fine, finding their favorite spots where each was able to monitor three rods at the same time while hauling in a sizable catch. The others in our party were determined to stay near the truck, trying their luck in an area where they did not have to walk. My cousins were fine with catching nothing but I needed to find my own spot where I could actually pull something out of the water. It was after I moved up river that the story took a strange turn.

From the top of a large rock I dropped my line into the water. When finally something tugged on my line, I reeled in only to find what looked like a baby lobster. This thing was hanging on my line with one claw while he pulled chunks out of my worm with his other. I shook it back off into the water, only to learn later that I should have kept that crawdad for bait. But I figured it too small to be worth my time and moved to another spot where the river crossed under a bridge.

There I cast my line once again, only to see the worm fly off just as the hook hit the water. Embarrassed at wasting bait I set another worm on my hook, making sure this one was secure. With a flick of my wrist the Zebco let loose. Hook, line and sinker took off for their target. Much to my surprise, they never came down. I looked back to see if I had hooked something or someone. That is when I discover something I never before noticed about bridge construction.

It seems that some bridges are built on a frame of I-beams. These I-beams sometimes have spaces between them and the bottom of the bridge deck. As it turns out a well placed cast can carry a hook right over the beams and below the bridge deck, leaving the line dangling above the water. No big deal, I figured, I’ll just reel the Zebco back in and re-cast. Bad idea as doing so allowed my hook to find a small hole in one of the I-beams.

I had hooked a bridge. I estimate the length to be about a hundred feet. Of course it could have been longer as I was much smaller then. It had to be some sort of record for length and I was the one who caught it. 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 my fish story. Would you care to share yours?

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