It was early May 1968. I was digging through my father’s old tackle box and reminiscing. My dad and I had spent many days and nights fishing together. We caught every fish that swam in the Kickapoo River.
We wandered to the Mississippi and caught everything from mammoth sheep head to tiny perch. Every moment was etched in my memory.
I opened a reel box in the tackle box and just sat there and stared at it. I thought my mom had lost it or some bargain hunter had purchased it from my mom.
It was my dad’s favorite bait caster reel he used for catfish. I was immediately transported back one year in time. I closed my eyes and remembered dad and I preparing to go cat fishing.
I helped him line the reel. The odd multi-colored line was hard to get on the reel. I admired the reel handles that looked like they were made of clam shells. We put the reel on a stout rod. Dad told me there were monster cats in the Kickapoo and that was the gear we needed.
We cleaned dad’s lantern and replaced the wick thing. I was still too young to mess with gas and the lantern so I watched closely. Lots to see. A handle to pump up the gas intimidated me.
I waited patiently to go with dad to chase those ugly fish that fought like crazy. It finally got dark and we walked the thirty-three steps out our front door to the Kickapoo River. Dad had a specific tree he liked to sit under.
He baited up a couple rods and put them in the water. He put clip on bells on the rod tips to alert us of bites. The smells of the cat fish bait were awful. They ranged from rotten chicken liver to some kinda of putty that made me want to puke. I remember him telling me the more it stank the better.
He had a fold up stool he sat on. I sat on the ground leaning against the big tree. The big tree leaned out over the water. The root system was home for many fish. The cats were attracted to it because of the food that lived in the roots and for what fell out of its branches. The lantern was fired up and the tall tales began to be told by my dad. I didn’t have any tall tales to share yet but I was certain I would in time.
Cat fishing required lots of patience. I fell asleep leaning against the tree. The stories were exciting but I was tired and was unable to keep my eyes open. The next thing I knew it dad was waking me up and telling me the bell had just went off on the rod.
I practiced with the reel. I needed to know how to free spool when the cat first took the bait. I needed to know how to use my thumb to create tension just before I set the hook. Before we even went fishing dad and I practiced in the yard on setting the hook hard and hanging on tight so the powerful cats wouldn’t pull the rod out of my hands. The practice paid off. I caught three nice cats all by myself. Dad landed three really nice ones.
We went home and cleaned them. Because we caught so many, dad was going to share them with town folks. He actually had a sign-up list at the gas station. He supplied the town with cats, trout, pike and walleyes. Dad and I got up early the next morning and drove around town and handed out our catch.
These memories had happened the year before. I decided I would go solo this opener. My fishing partner was now chasing cats in the big stream in the sky. I wanted to carry on his fishing obsession.
I carefully checked the line for weak spots and tied on a treble hook. There was still some of that stinky putty bait left in the container one year later. My mom had sold my dad’s lantern so I guessed I would fish in the dark.
I grabbed the gear and the folding stool and headed out the door at dark. As I exited the house I saw people under my dad’s tree. There was a lantern going. I was really mad someone had beat me to my spot. I had to go see who was sitting there. I marched right over there.
There were four guys fishing. I recognized all of them. They were my dad’s fishing buddies. My mom had set it up for them to be there to fish with me. She was afraid I might not catch anything on my own.
There in the center of them was my dad’s lantern. They had saved a spot for my stool right in the center of them. I baited up and sat down in my dad’s spot.
The hours flew by. All of my dad’s friends told tales about my dad. The stories were wild and for sure embellished. The tall tales varied from deer hunting to cat fishing. The cat fish as big as the bath tub was my favorite dad story.
They all told me dad was the biggest whopper teller of all of them. They had all learned things from my dad. They even told me they didn’t like him at first when he moved into town from northern Wisconsin. He was a little too much of a know it all. They quickly found out he knew what he was talking about.
The night ended with me being given my dad’s lantern back. They all walked me back to my front door. I don’t even remember if anyone caught a fish.
My tree long ago fell in the Kickapoo and was swept away during a spring flood. It has been 50 years this fall that he left. The bench marks the entrance to "Memory Lane."