I just had a close friend, Walker Smith, send me a letter he received from his father, Robert, that brought a tear to my eye. It spoke of his life and the importance fishing played in it. He spoke of wading streams with ultralight tackle, gathering his own bait and having a small tackle box that was jammed with odds and ends. For him, fishing was a life experience unlike anything else.
Anglers know the mystical relationship with the water and the fish and the joy they see when solving the puzzle. It has very little to do with wins and losses, tournament success or what boat they have. Rather, it is the stories that result from those experiences.
Tournament wins are fleeting and honestly are shallow when compared to catching fish off shore, learning a new technique or taking a buddy who hasn’t experienced what outdoors brings. Fishing is all about stories and smiles.
I remember very little about what accomplishments I have had in tournaments. Sure, at the time, it’s rewarding and caps things off when it comes to competing, but the stories I remember are the ones where my buddies and our dads visited Harold’s Pond, Hump Campbell’s Gas Station for a bottle of pop and a candy bar, or riding our bikes and fishing Six Mile Creek.
I can’t tell you what we caught or how many, but I can tell you about sticker bushes, throwing dirt clods and skipping rocks.
Our equipment started with a cane pole, a bobber and a can of dew worms. Dew worms also are called night crawlers, but “dew worms” just seems more appropriate to me as they were found following a heavy rain or on a heavy-dew morning. We never worried about getting dirty or a scratch here or there and always had to take our shoes off before getting in the car or going into the house.
The stories make things bigger and it just goes along genre. Today I never see kids with ball gloves and fishing tackle strapped to their bikes. It was just part of it for us. We invented ways of strapping our gear on our bikes with string, wire and rubber bands. Velcro and bungee cords didn’t exist, but boy they would have been welcomed.
We had coaster brakes on our bikes, no fancy hand brakes like today and it made it simple to just hang our gloves over the handle bars. We had wide seats, took off the fenders for some reason and our bikes were heavy by today’s standards. Schwinn was the top of the line, but most of us got ours at Montgomery Ward or J.C. Penney. When our dads were working or busy, we had to improvise and our bikes allowed us to ride to faraway places, like two miles out of town.
Lunches were the best part of our trips. Peanut butter and bologna were staples and we never worried about a little dirt on anything we ate. We called them sack lunches and a treat was a frozen candy bar or a Twinkie. It, too, had a place on our bikes.
Lunches were always eaten before lunch and a trip to Blakeman’s grocery store after pop bottle hunting was always in order. Fishing was the excuse, but I never remember keeping a fish or cleaning one from one of our trips. Life was pretty simple and we didn’t have to have expensive things to have fun. A broomstick and pea gravel made our batting eyes better and we spent hours hitting those rocks into nearby corn fields.
“Combat” was a show on TV then and we spent hours every day playing army after fishing or playing a ball sport. It wasn’t so taboo as it is today and caps, cap guns and firecrackers were an easy purchase even as a youngster. Sitting on the bank of the pond or creek, we built forts and were always throwing something. We made games of kicking a can and throwing rocks out into the lake. I think our arms got better for baseball as a result.
Fishing was just part of our lives. Our dads made baits from lead, cheap Eagle Claw hooks and deer hair called "Crappie Killers" that I am not sure ever caught a crappie. The upgrade to our tackle arsenal was bought at Blakeman’s or we made it.
The trusty old Zebco 33, a 5½-foot rod and bobbers that were actually made of cork, was about all we needed. Grasshoppers, crickets and frogs worked well when we couldn’t afford or find worms.
The nostalgia of those days may be foreign to kids today, but we lived for them. Thanks, Robert Smith, for bringing them back to me.