D. E. Larsen, DVM
When spring finally came in my third grade year and I was deemed old enough to fish in the creek by myself. I was nine years old that March. I am not sure why it took Mom so long to come to the conclusion that I was old enough. I knew every inch of the creek from our upper line fence, through our hill country and across to Herman’s field all the way to the bridge at the highway, maybe a distance of a mile or so.
My only problem now was school. The weekend only provided limited time at the creek. Dad had to drive the car to work. I figured that if I was sick until the bus was gone, Mom would have to let me go to the creek. Friday morning came, and Mom came upstairs to wake us boys up. The 3 of us shared an upstairs bedroom. My sister had the other room to herself.
“I’m sick to my stomach.,” I told Mom.
“Okay, you can stay in bed,” Mom said.
I laid there and listened for the bus. When I was sure it had pulled out and headed down the road I sprang from the bed. I was confident that the monster was not under the bed this morning because I had watched my brothers get up and get dressed. I made my usual trip down the stairs, bounding down several steps at a time, with a final jump from four steps up, trying desperately to touch the ceiling that crossed the lower staircase.
Mom was in the kitchen. I stood close to the wood stove, the only source of heat in the house. “I am feeling better,” I said.
“Oh, no you don’t, you go back to bed. You have to stay in bed at least until noon,” Mom said.
I had not counted on that, but that would be okay. Without a breakfast, I could get hungry early then go fishing in the afternoon, I thought as I headed back up the stairs.
Mom finally called me to come down for lunch. She had been working in the garden all morning. We had a large garden, about 1/2 acre. I was already dressed in my work clothes. We sat at the dinning room table by the window. Mom always liked to sit where she could watch her lilac bush, flowers in the yard and the distant traffic on the highway. There were seldom more than 1 or 2 cars during lunch. Today we had an egg salad sandwich and a small dish of canned pears. Not my favorite, Mrs. Lilly would be serving her chili at the school today.
This year was the first year that we had a school cafeteria. It was added on the back of the gym. All the mothers had worked with Mrs. Lilly during the summer and fall, canning stuff from the garden and all sorts of fruit. But my favorite by far was Mrs. Lilly’s chili. Only the chance of catching fish by myself would lure me away from that lunch.
I helped clean up the table after lunch. Summoned all my courage and then I spoke, “I’m feeling a lot better now, and I am sure bored.”
“You should have gone to school,” Mom said.
“Maybe I should go fishing,” I replied.
“Okay, you can go fishing. But you don’t go too far down the creek. If you can see the highway you have gone too far. And don’t you get yourself wet, you stay on the bank, and stay off the log jam.”
I was out the door in a shot. I grabbed the willow pole that I had cut and rigged last weekend from the cabinet on the back porch. I also picked up my little canister of tackle. I opened it to see what was left, 1 split shot, 1 hook and small, mostly empty, spool of leader. I would have to be careful in the logjam hole. Maybe I would avoid that hole today, I thought.
The pole was a cut willow branch about 5 feet long. I had cut a notch in the end and tied a length of line maybe 8 feet long. I tied a loop in the end of that line and attached the hook with its short leader there. One splint shot above the knot and the rigging was complete. This was precious tackle. This was all there was.
My brother and I would take the wagon on Saturday mornings and walk to Broadbent, about 2 miles down the road. We picked up bottles along the way. When we turned in the bottles at the store we got 1 cent for beer bottles, 2 cents for pop bottles and 5 cents for large quart size bottles. Mostly there were beer bottles.
With the money we bought our fishing tackle. Once in awhile on a good day there would be money left over for a candy bar or something. We could usually make the tackle last until the next trip but the logjam hole could eat a lot of tackle. That hole had the biggest fish. To fish it best you had to climb out on the logjam and fish down the cracks. Mom didn’t like to see us do that, but the biggest fish were there. Today I would fish at the falls and be satisfied. I picked up an empty tuna can from the trash and headed for the manure pile beside the barn.
We always just left the shovel stuck in the ground by the edge of the manure pile. If you could turn over a scoop of dirt by the edge there were generally enough worms for the afternoon. It was hard for me to turn that scoop. Sometimes when I was by myself I had to dig in the manure pile. The worms were small there. I jumped on the shovel to drive it into the ground and leaned back on the handle hard. It flipped up on large scoop of dirt, and it was loaded with worms. I filled the can quickly.
I headed across the field to the falls. They were on Herman’s land but that was okay. I could hear the roar of the water as it spilled over the low falls, maybe 5 or 6 feet high. The hole here was deep and I could usually catch as many fish as I wanted here. Once in awhile I would catch one that was 10 or even 12 inches but not as often as at the logjam. With my pocketknife I cut a willow fork to hold the fish as I climbed down the bank. I had carried a pocketknife since I was 5 years old. All the boys at school had a pocketknife, we often played mumbley-peg at school during recess and lunch.
When I got to the hole I sat on the rock ledge beside the falls and threaded a worm on the hook, pinching off the excess worm. If the fishing was good I would need all the worms I had. I stood up and drop the line into the water just outside of the bubbles made by the falls. As usual, there was no wait, I had my first fish almost as soon as the worm hit the water. I quickly unhooked it and broke its neck with my finger in its mouth and bending its head back. Then I placed in on the willow fork. I touched up the worm on the hook and added a little more worm.
Returning the line to water, there was another fish, again, almost instantly. In a half hour time I had a dozen fish on the willow fork, all of them about 8 inches long. I was sure I could easily catch a dozen more, but I wanted to catch some bigger fish. The logjam was about 3 holes down the creek. It was the last hole before the road was in view. I thought I would skip the 3 holes and go right to the log jam. Mom would never know.
It was good weather and the sun was out; the logs were dry. I liked to fish from the two large logs near the downstream edge of the logjam. They were the easiest to stand on and had a good gap between them. It always seemed that the bigger fish were under those logs. I lowered my worm into the gap between the logs. Again, almost instantly, there was a hookup. This was a bigger fish than the others, I would guess 11 inches. It took a little longer to tend to fish at this hole because I had to go to the bank each time. In the next half hour I had a total of 4 more fish, all between 10 and 12 inches.
I lowered the wormed hook into the water between the logs. This time there was a funny tug on the line. I raised it again, slowly. A large trout followed it toward the surface before sinking back into the depth of the water. This was a large trout, maybe the largest I had seen in this creek. My heart raced and I lowered the line back into the depths of the water. Bam! There was a big strike on the line. I pulled and the fish pulled. The willow pole bent almost double. He slowly came to surface and the water between my feet exploded. He made a strong dive. Again I pulled and he struggled. Then my pull was against dead weight. He must of wrapped the line around a snag. I was sick, not only was I about to lose this fish but I was going to lose the tackle also.
When I looked over the downstream edge of the log I could see the large trout still on the hook, struggling against the snag. If I could get down there, maybe I could catch him by hand and maybe even retrieve my tackle. I laid down the willow pole and went back to the bank, moving down the creek to a point I could get into the water. The water below the hole was not deep. The water was very cold. As I approached the hole I could see the trout. He was hung up on a small branch on a short piece of line. When I got close enough to reach him I was in waist deep water. I reached in and grabbed the fish, when I got a finger through his gills I was able to unhook him.
What a prize. It was probably 15, maybe even 16, inches long. I got him to bank. He was too big for me to break his neck. I took my pocketknife and severed his spine at the base of his skull. After adding him to the willow fork, I returned to creek to try to retrieve my tackle. I found the stick the line had been wrapped around but it was not the now. There was another hook imbedded in the same stick however. When I retrieved this hook it still had some line attached and a split shot. I was able to reach the willow pole on the log. I pulled my line up with no problem.
This had been a great afternoon. Not only had I caught the biggest fish in the creek but I was coming home with more tackle than when I left the house. I gathered everything up and headed for the house. Even with the sun out, I was already chilled. Mom was going to be upset, but she would feel better when she saw this fish. I remember how excited she was when my oldest brother caught a 20 inch fish in the river last fall.
Mom was waiting on the porch as I crawled through the fence into the yard. She had her hand on her hips and a frown on her face. Mom never got really mad. She just said she was got disappointed.
“I thought I told you not to get wet!” she said.
“Mom, I couldn’t help it, this big fish almost got away,” I replied, holding up the willow fork filled with fish.
She took the mess of fish and started for the kitchen. “You get out of those wet clothes and get in by the fire before you catch pneumonia,” she said.
I stripped down on the porch and put my clothes in the hamper by the wringer washer. Now I was really cold. I scampered into the kitchen and huddled up to the wood stove.
“You bring your shoes in behind the stove, I will get you a blanket,” she said.
I ran out, grabbed my shoes and returned to the stove. As I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders, I could start to feel the warmth return to my body. It had been a great afternoon.
Monday morning, as I was hurrying out the door to catch the school bus, Mom handed me a neatly folded note.
“Here is your excuse for Friday, you give it to your teacher when first get to school,” she said.
On the bus I took the note out of my pocket and carefully unfolded it. It read: “Please excuse David from school last Friday. He was ill.”
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