Yesterday's Magazette

10 – Fishing Ol’ Miss

Fishing Ol’ Miss

By William D. Canavan

I’ve lived along the Mississippi River most of my life, and I was brought up enjoying its benefits, such as the re-emergence of the Bald Eagle (the hairy ones flew farther north, I guess there are more bird barbers up there or something), days spent boating, playing volleyball on the beaches, and learning the art of skiing on my face. I couldn’t get up on skis regardless of how hard I tried and I had a bad habit of not letting go of the rope. Also included in these benefits was fishing.

During my grade school years, my brother and I biked down to the river. He was always well in control of his equipment. I had to occasionally stop to pick up bobbers that would fly out of my tackle box when I hit the manhole covers too hard; or to cut the line that was screaming out of my fishing reel because somehow the hook I failed to remove from my pole had lodged itself into the tire of a passing bus.

On one specific trip, we reached the river early in the morning, grabbed our fishing gear and our ten-cent bottles of Coke, and hurried to start the long jaunt down the railroad tracks to what was known as Matlock’s Flat Rock.  It was a medium-sized slab of limestone that I assumed had fallen from one of the surrounding bluffs and slowly been eroded flat. I also assumed that another one might come crashing down at anytime and quickly erode us. I knew from science class that lightning never struck twice in the same place, but I forgot to ask about slabs of rock.

Throughout most of the summer fishing season, it was usually a contest between fishermen to try to get to the rock first, because a large percentage of the bank was covered with jagged, sandstone boulders put down by the Corps Of Engineers to control erosion (and they were hard on the butt). There were also weeds—lots of weeds—and when I say weeds, I mean big stinging nettles the size of mature oak trees. When I say stinging, I mean burning–ouch, these are bad, what’s happening to my skin, call an ambulance!–type of stinging. I had nightmares of nettles surrounding my bed at night. For those of you who have failed to experience a stinging nettle plant, be glad you failed. For those of you who choose to enjoy the experience–maybe the adrenaline junkies out there–you can go by yourself. It’s a big river, you can’t miss it, and I’m sure you’ll find the nettles. Take a Life Alert button.

Finally, we were at the rock, threading nightcrawlers on our hooks and watching intently. I was watching more intently then my brother because he was catching fish. Personally, I think he had some sort of a cult agreement with large mouth bass. He could catch them in a carton of milk if he felt like it, but that’s another story (fishing Ol’ Milk).

As the morning moved onward and I started to lose heart, my turn came.  The end of my pole twitched, and then more or less started banging around like it did when I had snagged that bus. I jerked my rod tip back to set the hook, and the pole jerked me back to spill my Coke. I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Get the net, get the net!!” as my brother tried to calm me down and explain that we never owned a net. My dad always told me I had “buck fever.” He used to say, “Bill, you’re going to pull the jaw bone right out of the fish if you keep that up.” I don’t ever remember any jawbones zooming by, but I remember ducking a few fish flying out of the water with their fins straight up and their eyes bugged out from culture shock.

Now, for those of you who have read any of my previous articles and think I fabricate certain details, I don’t recall how long it took me to get the thing to shore. It wasn’t, like, five hours or anything, but I was rapidly dehydrating and the length of my hair was an inch longer. When I finally got the fish to shore and pulled it up on the rock, I looked at my brother and he looked at me and said, “What in the hell is that?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but I’m not touching it!” What I was thinking at that moment was maybe I should jump in the nettles and find a big stick in case it started to talk to us. It had a dark, green-skinned head, intense black eyes, big slimy body scales and two mushroom looking antennae sticking out of its head. It did a few flops that reinforced my thoughts of beating it silly, then opened its mouth and smiled at me, revealing glimmering teeth. I immediately knew that if it got mad, it could bite straight through a padlock.

“I’m getting a rock,” I shouted.

“No, wait! What are those things on its head?” My brother was always inquisitive.

“How should I know? Let it alone, it might be radioactive!!” I might have been a bit nervous at that point.

“Let’s take it home,” my brother insisted (more like forced, I think I remember he used force).

On the way back to our bikes I asked an older gentleman what type of fish it was. He called it a dogfish and said the antennae were temporary during mating season. Hmmm. I later found out that was a slang term local fishermen used for them because they’re a scavenger fish that feeds on other popular game fish. Officially, they are called bowfins and according to information taken from the site of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, they are a contemporary of a dinosaur species indigenous to Midwestern Rivers, and actually have the ability to surface and retain air.

What amazed me most of all, now that I think back, was that the bowfin made it all the way home (miles), in an aluminum minnow bucket half full of warm river water. It was still alive enough to flop around in the yard and snap at my mom, who proceeded to beat its brains out with a stick before my dad buried it in the garden.

I’m sure the rock is still where it was, but I’ve become wiser in my choice of fishing spots to race to. I still swear to the fact that my brother made me take that fish home; however, I think it was more like hypnosis or something. The largemouth bass remains as elusive as ever for me and I’m convinced that my brother’s ability to still catch those fish can’t possibly be skill. You know, that was the only bus I ever hooked. I wonder what my parents would have done if they had found that baby sitting in the yard.

William Canavan is a part-time freelance writer and author, published throughout the U.S. and twice in Canada, which includes magazine circulations in Australia, Korea, Japan, and throughout the UK. He has written greeting card copy for several card manufacturers. He also received a “1st Choice Award”  from Yesterday’s Magazette in 1987.

Vol. 37 No. 3 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Fall – 2010

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