Growing up, I thought the bounden duty of my parents was dreaming up menial chores to occupy my valuable time. My favorite work-avoidance technique was fishing.
As a child, there was no greater pleasure than sneaking away from leaf raking or lawn mowing to go fishing in the little creek behind my house. Lord, I wish I had a nickel for every bluegill, redbreast, and mudcat I coaxed from those slow-moving waters on lazy summer afternoons.
Fishing was simpler back then. Way simpler. Most of my terminal tackle was transported in my pockets or dangled from my belt loops. The one exception was my bedraggled hand-me-down spinning rod. I was still years away from affording a reel, but the “bare” rod made a wonderful small-stream fishing pole.
Occasionally, when I flipped a redworm or cricket near a mossy bank, I would coax a redfin pickerel (we called ‘em “pike”) into striking. These aggressive little predatory fish provided great sport and gave me ample opportunity to practice new cuss words when they inevitably clamped down on my thumb as I attempted to remove the hook.
Better yet, the catching of one pike always made it possible to catch more. With my half-bladed pocketknife, I removed the soft underbelly from my first pickerel and thereby produced the ultimate pike “lure.” The cannibalistic little devils couldn’t resist a shiny white piece of their own kind trailed across the surface near their lairs. Pike “maw” was the name my grandfather gave the bait.
I spent most of my formative years thinking my pike-belly bait was unique in its strangeness. However, it was nothing compared to some of the really weird fish baits I’ve seen fishermen using in the years since. It proves a noteworthy point: dedicated anglers are nothing if not adaptable.
Case in point: I once fished with a man who caught 43 nice channel catfish on small chunks of white soap. I was sitting barely five feet from him and had spent nearly 15 bucks on bait that netted me three fish barely exceeding finger length. Since then, I’ve taken note anytime someone catches large numbers of fish on anything out of the ordinary.
I’ve seen largemouth bass fall prey to strips of raw bacon and have witnessed huge bluegills taken on canned peas. An uncle of mine caught more than his share of fall-run mullet on whole-kernel corn and tufts of hair grass.
Even the noble, uppity trout often succumbs to offbeat baits. Consider rainbows caught on cooked elbow macaroni, browns lured with gooey cheese balls and brookies ravenously biting mini marshmallows. It’s enough to make a long-dead dry-fly purist turn over in his grave. On the other hand, it has also more likely than not inspired some really cool creations from trout anglers who tie their own flies.
And what of the lowly carp? My buddy Cletus Monroe catches them on Jello-soaked cotton balls. Monster carp are also taken on dough balls, peanut butter, and leftover potato pancakes. Could it be that carp leave the rivers to shop at the IGA after hours? I mean, none of this stuff occurs naturally in carp habitat, does it?
Some folks, even those who couldn’t be remotely equated with purists, don’t like the idea of such unnatural baits. I knew one old timer, for instance, who said, “If it won’t bite a worm or ‘minner’, I just ain’t foolin’ with it!” Contrarily, however, this same gentleman always spat a great big gob of tobacco juice on his bait offering before dunking it. Add to that the fact this same old angling curmudgeon lectured me for years about the advantages of plug tobacco over leaf. “Don’t never use snuff,” he advised. “Snuff spit just won’t stick to a worm like Bull of the Woods will.”
When I hinted that spitting on one’s bait might not be sporting, he grinned and explained that the definition of a sportsman is somebody who spends a fortune on fishing equipment and goes home empty handed because he doesn’t know the first thing about fishing.
With all due respect, I vehemently disagree with that opinion. It does, however, sometimes set me to wondering. Why, for instance, is my tackle box roughly the size of my mama’s cedar chest? And why is the dollar value of its contents at least two times greater than that of my truck?
Somebody pass me a chew of Red Man while I think about it.