News From The Woods - April, 2001


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published April 25, 2001

"The Tale Of The Fisherman"

Kids. What is it about kids? When they belong to someone else it's so easy to pass judgement, criticize, or even make you wish you had your own if you don't. But then, once you DO have one you begin to understand how complex life can become. I really do not know how the pioneers did it. With dad in the field every day that left mother in the house with not only all her regular chores, but also watching after sometimes three or four children of all ages. My wife tells me that when you have more than one child the children themselves act as sort of a baby sitter, watching out for each other and keeping each other occupied. I don't know if I buy that or not. It just sounds too easy.

Our son Robert is almost four now. The first year was tough, of course. But at least you can contain them at that age. Yes, they pretty much take constant attention, but at least they sleep a lot and lay around gurgling. At two they are "precious" and everyone wants to hold them. At three, a kid's energy level will drain the heartiest adult in about one hour. Robert started coming into his own awareness this year and then changed. Right now he is at the stage of asking "why?" for every single statement ever made by parents. I feel like I'm being "why'd" to death! I told myself I would be the kind of father that would take the time to answer all his questions, no matter how simple or complex. Well, wake up and smell the coffee, Bob! Even if it IS a complex question - like "Daddy, What are clouds?" - by the time I have formulated the perfect answer he's moved on to something else.

Robert is an exceptional young man and is (most of the time) a very good boy. But he IS a three-year old. And he's ALL boy. The only thing meaningful in his life at the moment is how big can nightcrawlers really get and how many rolley-polley bugs can he carry inside the house in one hand. Last month Jane's father brought a load of topsoil spiked heavily with cow dung from his farm over to us for our "garden project". Jane has been transplanting the overgrown flower bulb garden started by my mother years ago that has slowly had the life choked out of it due to overcrowding. The job is now 90% completed and the "cow poop pile" has dwindled down to a six by four foot patch covered with a tarp. Jane's dad ("Papaw" to Robert) happened to mention that this particular pile was a "worm gold mine" for fishin' worms. Well, that's all Robert needed to hear. At first we tried to protest but now we've just given up and allow him to happily sift through the dirt searching for nightcrawlers. It's sort of funny to watch vacationers drive by and see Robert sitting out in the pile of black dirt with his little plastic shovel. I can only imagine what they say about the "Arkansas Urchin" they saw one day! But the bottom line is readily evident in the coffee can he carries by his side at all times. It is literally filled with the biggest nightcrawlers I have ever seen, and I've seen some whoppers in my day. Some of these monsters are over 10 inches long and have an attitude. Just three or four of those can keep you perch fishing all afternoon.

And speaking of fishing, now that he understands the Way of the Worm, Robert announced that he was ready to go fishing. So I got him fixed up with his own rig. I have over ten rod and reel set ups handed down by my Master Angler Dad. I chose a small, lightweight rod with a lot of bend in it and attached a closed-faced Zebcor casting reel. I dug out the old bobbers I used to use myself, grabbed some small hooks from the tacklebox, and we took off for the lake. Since we have our own boat dock (where we keep our pontoon boat) I knew there would be some catchable bluegill lurking underneath the dock in the shaded walkways between the stalls. I also knew there were some lunker bass that had beds there but I didn't want to raise his hopes by telling him about those. Actually, I didn't know what to expect.

The first test of course was how he would react to the baiting of the hook. I was quite surprised when I demonstrated how to thread the worm on the hook, southern style, with the worm taking the shape of the hook and allowing just enough worm to dangle off the end so as to intice the hungry fish to bite. After seeing the operation I think he was actually too excited to ask about the worm, so I was spared that ordeal. I judged the water depth to be about 6 feet so I adjusted the bobber accordingly and placed the rig in one of the empty boat stalls and instructed Robert to sit down there and watch the bobber. "If the bobber goes down into the water you've got a fish and you have to jerk the rod up in the air to set the hook" I told him.

Well, that lasted about 30 seconds. Right away he started moving the bobber in and out of the water. I tried to reason with him but those of you who have raised kids know how well that went. Oh, did I mention we took our black Lab with us? "Bear" is a family member and he LIVES for the lake. I made the gross mistake of taking Bear with us that day. So - imagine me, sitting there very quietly with my fishing rig in the lake while Robert is swishing his rod all over the place, and with Bear making his periodic 90 second returns with a big stick. I throw the stick and Bear dives off the side of the dock after it. Robert says "I think my worm is gone" and decides to (once again) pull it up and check the worm, who by now must be dizzy with the ups and downs of his poor lot in life. 90 seconds later, here comes a thoroughly soaked Bear who then drops the BIG stick (he weighs 90 pounds) on my foot and shakes. Drenched, I dutifully pick up the stick (muttering under my breath) and throw it as far as I can out into the lake. Bear jumps over me - knocking over my worm can AND my rod and reel - and gleefully dives off in the direction of the stick. Robert meanwhile has somehow gotten his hook imbedded into the side of the wooden dock (luckily it wasn't HIM). So I retreive the hook and once again place it in the water, only to turn around and be confronted by (you guessed it) Bear who is looking up at me with his big brown eyes and tail slinging water all over Robert, who has now laid his rig down and is gleefully throwing rocks from the shore over the entry ramp into the lake.

Well, this routine goes on for about 30 minutes. By this time I figure that no self-respecting perch would be within a mile of our area, but I was wrong! I guess some fish are REALLY stupid and deserve to be caught. We were just sitting there, between Bear visits, and Robert was by now hopelessly bored and gnawing on a candy bar. I looked over and couldn't believe my eyes…… His rod was laying down on the dock and the bobber was going crazy! without giving anything away I picked up his rod and gave it a snap and said "Robert, if you don't hold onto your rig you won't know if you even have a fish on!" and handed him his rod. He sat there for a few seconds holding his rod and I said "Are you watching your bobber?" He looked at it and it immediately went under the water. He looked up at me with a puzzled expression and then back down at the bobber and it again went under. He was stunned! He didn't know what to do so I said "Robert! You've got a fish on! Bring him in!" He tried to hand me the rig but I wouldn't take it and repeated "Reel him in ! Reel him in!" Fishing in water that shallow he didn't have far to reel. In about the time it takes to say "Bear! Get back!" he was holding up the biggest bluegill I have seen in recent years. That perch must have weighed a pound! Robert's eyes were as big as saucers. He was (for once) speechless and gasping for air. He just stood there, holding onto his rod with both hands and that fish hanging about 12 inches away from his face. And guess what? Daddy thought to bring the camera!

Somehow I managed to persuade him to release the fish back into the lake. He was reluctant as he wanted to show Mommy but I told him a picture would do just fine. I told him if he put it back he might catch it again some other day. After carefully removing the hook, I allowed him to examine it closely while I held it. It was a truly remarkable bluegill. It's color was vibrant red and blue and yellow. It really was a magnificant fish. Equal to any bluegill I had ever caught in this lake in the last 50 years. I was so proud of him. I allowed him to hold it long enough to allow it to swim out of his little hands back into the lake. He really wanted to take it home and put it in his empty fishbowl (that's another story) but I knew that wouldn't work so I persistently talked him out of that idea. We did pack up immediately as he had to rush back to the house and tell mommy.

The very next day, Sunday, Jane's folks came to visit. By this time he had told so many neighbors about his fish that by the time Mamaw and Papaw came over the "it was THIS big" story had grown by epic proportions. In true fisherman form Robert's arms move farther apart with each new telling of the tale. Papaw, in mock disbelief, said "Now, Robert, he wasn't really THAT big was he? I'll bet you didn't really catch a fish at all, did you?" Since I hadn't had time to get the film developed we had no "real" proof so Robert announced that if we went down to the dock this very minute he would prove that he was too a fisherman. And once Papaw opened the gate we couldn't close it so off we headed to the dock. The womenfolk stayed behind to prepare dinner. The menfolk consisted of Jane's dad, myself, Robert and his big brother Jeremy ("Bubba J"). So, each of us armed with rods and reels and our faithful can of nightcrawlers - we headed for the dock. But THIS time I had sense enough to lock Bear up in the house until we were out of sight.

I will now cut to the chase. I baited Robert's hook first and placed it into the lake for him. As we then proceeded to bait our own rigs we heard a commotion and turned to see Robert tugging on his rod! With complete disbelief we big strong adult males watched as he pulled up a nice size bluegill. It was almost as big and beautiful as his first fish. And Robert had that "I told you so" look in his eye as he proudly held forth the Truth. I truly don't know who was the more proud….. Me, Robert, or his grandfather! Bubba J was just so shocked that it happened so quickly! He hadn't even wet his worm. And that one fish is the ONLY fish "we" caught that Sunday. You can imagine what transpired when we returned home empty handed - except for the Master Fisherman.

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