I Fished Once
This was an experience in my early childhood that predtermined my attitude toward fishing.
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After using my paper route money to fund the purchase of a nice men's bicycle to use not only for delivering papers, but to widen the path of my explorations on and about the Michigan State University campus, I began to spruce it up with my earnings from this summer's work.
It was a used bike, but I was very proud of it and had taken it entirely apart and painted it blue and dubbed it the ‘Blue Racer' for a reason that escapes me at this time.
It was the summer of 1950, I was 9 years old, and Dad was attending school here in Michigan , while working nights to support our family of five, so any cash expenditures could only be made after careful consideration of the options. I was earning a small amount each week from the paper route and had told Dad that he could share my allowance with my two sisters while I was working. My little sister was delighted, but the middle sister would still ask me to give her some additional money for her own use. Fat chance! She was a pain in the butt some times.
I was a careful with my money, only spending it on the bare essentials. Essentials like multi-color streamers for my bikes handle bar grips, reflectors for both the front and rear fenders, small mud flaps, the occasional baseball, and a trinket or candy for that special friend that smelled better than my ball playing buddies.
I had one special friend that lived in the same barrack apartments that we lived in, and he and I would spend the summer exploring all that we could find and work our way into. Sometimes the results were not what we expected.
Early in the summer, we were riding our bikes along side the train that ran several blocks away from out apartments on its way to deliver coal to campus power plant. We could only go so far, and then the train would cross the Grand River , and we would have to stop and turn around and find something else to do with our time. On occasion, we would put down our bikes and approach the edge of the ravine, and looking down at the river rushing under the bridge, and we would pick up a stray lump of coal and toss it into the river. We would occasionally spy a fish or two and expressed a desire to see is we could catch a fish, but we knew less than nothing about fishing and by default we moved on to other endeavors.
One day, on our way home from some adventure, we passed a couple of college students with fishing poles and a string of fish between them. We rode over to them and asked them how do you fish? They snickered for a moment, then glossed over the details of the sport, and headed on their way. They only discussed the methods of attracting fish by baiting the hooks and lowering it into the water and moving the pole in an inviting manner in an effort to get the fish to bite, and little else.
We looked at each other and thought we could do that, right? We had no fishing equipment, and little money between us, so we decided that we would take a ‘survival' approach to this thing called fishing. We scoured the university dump, where many a treasure had been found before, and began looking for any thing we could use for our expedition into the wild. We settled on two broomsticks, a roll of string and went home to ask for two safety pins to use for hooks. The students we got our instructions from told us about using worms for bait, but the weather had been very warm and hot, and we could not dug up worms anywhere. We thought we might have to give up on this fishing thing, as we could not figure out what to use for bait, so we pulled up our bikes and got off and sat on the curb in front of a local lunch eatery for the students to mull over our next move. My friend looked over and said ‘lets try that' as he pointed to a few French fries that had been dropped on the side walk.
Why not?, We liked them! Maybe the fish would as well.
We got back on our bikes, loaded up for an expedition with broom sticks, string, safety pins, and now bait. This was going to be cool. When we got to the bridge we searched, and not finding a path or clear spot to get down to the river, we discussed it for a moment then decided the only way to get to the water to fish was to go out on the rail road trestle and fish from the middle of the bridge.
It seemed like a good idea to us, but the gentleman attending to the entrance to the power plant on the far side of the bridge had a different view of our situation, and yelled at us to get off the bridge.
That hurt our feelings. After all we had done a lot of work to get to this point in our adventure, and we were determined to pull it off, no matt er what. That damn attitude would not always serve me well throughout my life, but I was stuck with it! We both had it at this moment, and retreated out of site of the power station guard to ponder our next move.
After a few minutes of intense scouting and planning we decided on our plan. We had noticed that the rail road trestle had been built on two very large I-beams that were supported in the center by a tall concrete support, and figured that if we could get under the trestle, we could walk out to the center support by walking along the inside of the I-beams on the top ledge of the bottom flange, and shuffle our way out to the center of the bridge, and sit on the concrete and fish from there.
So far, so good, we had made it under the trestle, only to find that the flange was not wide enough to support either of us, even if we tried to shuffle sideways. I suddenly had a plan for this very situation. If we put the safety pins, string and two French fries in each pocket, we could use our broom stick fishing poles as support by pushing them up against the I-beam on the other side and shuffling sideways and the poles would prevent us from falling off the narrow I-beam flange.
In hindsight, I truly believe that might be the least intellectual thing I have ever done, but with the limited decision making I had done up to that point, it was not obvious at the time.
We forged ahead and made the move and we finally made it to the center of the trestle only to find that by dividing the string that we had cut in half, it left neither of us with enough string to reach the water below. We clearly had misjudged the height of the center support that we were sitting on, and the revelation that the string was not long enough to reach the water also elevated the degree of hurt we figured that we would encounter if we were to slip and fall.
Not wanting to go back across that narrow ledge of steel with nothing to show for it, we decided to tie the string back together and toss our only dime to see who would get to use it first. You guessed it. I flipped it and it hit his shoe and fell into the water below. It seemed like it took longer than we thought it would for that dime to break water. I was holding the dime and he was holding the poles, so he went first. He pulled out his safety pin attached a flattened French fry to it and lowered it to the water. This fishing thing was pretty darn boring if you asked me, as he never even got a bite or a wiggle, and my turn provided the same results. We discovered that I had one more French fry than he did, so we decided to give it one more try. I tossed it down the side of the concrete one last time, and it immediately felt different than before and my buddy said to look at that, I had a fish.
No freakin' way, I thought. Now what do I do? The string was 10-12 times longer than the pole and with the fish on the other end we were both pretty nervous about getting it up here with out it falling off. We took turns reaching down and grabbing the string and eventually got the fish into our hands, but now we couldn't figure out how to get it off the safety pin. We finally got that handled and was ready to head to the house to eat that thing.
But now we had another issue. How were we going to carry that fish with us while using both hands to steady ourselves from falling into the river below? It was my fish, and I wanted to carry it, but where? I decided to put the string and my safety pin in my left pants pocket and I put that fish in my right pants pocket. The fish was only about four inches long, so it all went in the pocket, and off we went.
It seemed much more nerve wracking on the way back than it did on the way out, and we chatted with each other to disguise our fear and moved as quickly as we could. All of a sudden I felt like I had to pee. It had been a long time out over the water, but it seemed a little early to have this urge until I discovered that damn fish was still alive and was now trying to extricate him self from my pocket and all his thrashing was provoking my little friend, and making me very uncomfortable. I had to use both hands to support myself with the stick, and could not reach down to make any adjustments to anything.
I could hold back no longer and let it go. Down my pant leg, into my sock and soaking my tennis shoe on my right foot, making that foot slippery and raising my concerns about a safe return to land. We made it, and when my buddy saw the wetness on my right leg, I just swore and told him the fish did it.
We got home late in the afternoon and took it into his house intent on eating our first catch. We had not received instructions regarding the preparation of this feast, so we only did what we had already seen done by our mothers. We put a frying pan on the stove, turned up the heat, poured in some grease and gently laid that entire fish in the frying pan. He immediately started to jump around, so I used my fishing pole to hold him still until he quit moving. When it got brown on the bottom, we turned it over and cooked it until that side was brown as well. We took it out of the frying pan, cut it in two, and I decided since it was my fish, I would get to eat the head and he had to eat the tail.
We each took one bit, and spit it out, threw everything in the garbage can outside and looked at each other and decided neither of liked this fishing thing very much.
To this day I don't eat seafood.