GOING FISHING WHILE GROWING UP
And Then Going Golfing Too..
During the growing days of youth, between 9 and 14 years old, I frequently visited my step-grandfather on his 260 acre farm that had the Crooked River winding through the property. There were lots of good crop farming plots along side the river and great grazing over most of the rest of the farm. The river banks occupied most of my free time. On every opportunity in the summer I would fish all of the river and hunt throughout the remaining acres. In the winter time, I would skate on the ice with my .22 rifle until the Spring thaw. The clear ice was best for spotting and taking fish but they could be seen beneath the darker ice as shadows as well. I would shoot the rifle into the ice over the fish and the shock would stun the fish. Then the hatchet on my belt would come into action. I chopped a hole in the ice and retrieved the fish that were stunned. Not only did I bring a mess of fish home but I would bring squirrels and rabbits that I killed along the banks and adjacent fields. I also trapped for fur bearing critters during the winter. Mink brought $25 while the Muskrats resulted in a mere $1.50. A Raccoon pelt brought only 50 cents. Some years poacher/thieves would rob my traps. They had to get up early to beat me to the traps because I was running the traps before daylight since I had to be back home for school.
In the Spring, Summer and Fall, it was fishing by multiple hook throw lines overnight or fishing with rod and reel during the day. The most enjoyable and most productive fishing were the throw lines during and after a rainstorm with the creek rising. Sometimes I stayed out the entire night, running the lines every hour, sitting under a makeshift lean-to canvas shelter in the rain and enjoying every second of it while using a carbide lamp for a light.
During the warm summer months several members of the family would go seining in the river. They mostly used nets with about 2 inch sized mesh or a trammel net with its double net that trapped the fish in 6 inch pockets as they tried to punch through the smaller mesh net. The men would find where a tree had fallen into the river and set the seine up from the bank around the tree and into the bank again. A half moon shaped trap. Then everyone would get inside the seine and work the fish out from the tree limbs and bank into the perimeter net.
Huge Carp were taken that way. Few in the family liked Carp but many folks in town loved the big fish so they were caught and given to needy families and friends who liked the fish. I worked the holes in the bank for catfish and bass. The older men taught me how to reach into the holes and pluck the fish off a nest. I caught several fish that way until one day I reached into a mossy hole and mistakenly grabbed a Muskrat that responded by biting my index finger to the bone. The nerve on the finger was badly damaged and still tingles as a reminder to stay out of holes in the river banks.
Another pleasure was going under water and pulling big Blue Cats and Channel Catfish from under rocks and boulders in the river. I frequently hand fished one deep hole in the middle of the river where a huge boulder protruded about a foot above the surface. The base of the big rock was about 6 feet under water. I would take a couple of deep breaths and swim down to the bottom of the rock, reach under with the top of my hand brushing the bottom of the rock and find a fish. Then I would grab it by the head and bring it out of the hole and up to the surface. One day when I was about fourteen, I stopped by the special place in the river when an elderly man was fishing with a cane pole from the bank. I shed my clothes down to my shorts and swam out to the big rock. I dived down to the bottom and ran my arm into the hole. I palmed the top of what I thought was the head of a fish. I grasped it firmly and immediately felt jaws working against my grip. What a shock it was to realize that the head of a snapping turtle was in my hand. I was afraid to let go because he might snap onto my fingers. I pulled and tugged at the big turtle until my lungs were screaming for air. Scared, I then pulled with all my strength and the turtle began losing the battle. With my lungs burning I pulled myself and the turtle up the side of the rock and to the surface. I gasped for air as the turtle fought to get free. His claws were raking at my hand. I towed the huge turtle over to the bank, walked over to the old fisherman and still gasping, I asked him, "Do you like Turtle?"
The old fellow grinned and said, "You betcha, young fella! I love Turtle. Eleven different kinds of meat are in a Snapping Turtle." He had a ball of cord and wrapped it around the neck and then around the legs of the turtle. He was going to tie the end of the cord around a nearby willow. I brought my 22 rifle over and shot the Snapper in the top of his head behind the eyes. "Thanks," He said. "And, by the way, I worried you wuz a goner after you didn't come up when I thought you should've." That was the last time I hand fished that rock.
It was over forty years later that I demonstrated my hand fishing skills to my two teenaged sons. Mike, Chris and I had the first tee times at the Navy Los Alamitos Golf Course virtually every Saturday and Sunday morning when I was stationed at MCAS(H) Tustin, California. It is the same golf course where Major Woods and his very young son Tiger played at every opportunity. It is the course where Tiger Woods honed his golf until he was the youngest, greatest golfer in the world. A retired Chief Bosons Mate named Jake Woolsey was at the first tee at daylight waiting first in line to join our threesome. Jake was built like a front door. He chewed a bag of Beechnut chaw on each nine holes and spit like a Canadian Goose throughout the course. Jake had married a Chinese girl known as Hong Kong Mary on his last trip to WestPac. Any sea going squid worth his salt knew Hong Kong Mary had the contract to chip, scrub and paint the US Navy Pacific Fleet ships in port in exchange for each ship's garbage. Mary was a successful entrepreneur with hundreds of Chinese girls working for her. Jake took his bride back to CONUS and soon had a young baby boy with whom Jake probably later spent as much time on the golf course as Major Woods did with Tiger. Jake had the Navy lingo and often talked of "Drawing a Ration" from Mary.
One Saturday morning we played our round of golf as usual but I noticed the pond between #4 and #16 was teeming with Bullhead Catfish of the 1 to 2 pound size. At home afterward , I borrowed a bag of croutons from my Saintly wife and put them in my golf bag. I decided it was time to 'thin the herd of catfish.'
Sunday the golf started like always. Each of us had our golf bags on pull carts and always walked the course. We teed off at 7 AM with me jawing and Jake spitting. The boys usually shot par on most of the holes. Passing the pond on the fourth hole I noticed the big Bullheads were still working the surface. Two hours later we were on hole number 16. I hurried with my pull cart over to the edge of the pond. I took out the croutons and then arranged the heavy plastic bag in the clothes compartment so the golf bag wouldn't smell forever like fish. I kneeled down and tossed two hands full of croutons into the pond within 3 feet of the edge. Several catfish rushed to the bait. Selecting a big catfish, I reached out with an open right palm, placed the heel of my hand on the nose of the fish and lowered my fingers so the dorsal spine was in the groin of my index and middle fingers, my thumb was behind the right spine and my two small fingers were over and behind the left spine. All three barbs were dangerous. I raised the catfish out of the water and put it into the plastic sack in my golf bag. I continued to lift catfish out of the pond from my squatting position. A foursome on hole #4 stopped their game and watched me catch fish. They saw me stuff about 7 Bullheads into my golf bag and one of them came over to watch the action up close. In less then two minutes I had nine big Catfish in my golf bag. I zipped up the compartment and continued the golf game with Jake and the boys. I looked back and saw the interested golfer kneel down as though to catch a fish. I called out to my partners, "Stop and watch this guy try his luck."
The novice fisherman squatted down and grabbed a catfish. He made a howl and jumped straight up into the air. The fish flew about 8 feet into the air and maybe ten feet out into the pond. The hurt fisherman went into a hissing Hopi Indian war dance holding his right hand with his left as he tomahawk chopped again and again. We all got a great laugh out of that scene. We still talk about that day at family gatherings and laugh at the poor guy who thought hand fishing looked easy.