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Grandpa’s Lessons On Night Fishing

By Adam D. Kimbrough

It was a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon in June. My father and I were watching the St. Louis Cardinals beat the New York Mets on our new Magnavox 36” TV that Dad had brought home the day before. Even though it was a beautiful day, we felt it was our responsibility to properly break-in the new TV to make sure it was working properly and the women-folk wouldn't have any trouble watching their programs.

We sat perfectly content and consoling ourselves that we were performing our manly duty - or at least until the phone rang. We were already prepared for this minor inconvenience and Dad leaned to one side of the lazy-boy recliner that he was working so hard to hold down, and picked up the new “sword antenna” portable phone that was already sitting on the table next to him.

I was still intent on the game and really hadn’t heard much of the conversation. I usually don’t like to put any unnecessary information in my already “full of information brain” and find that any person who does so against my will should be convicted of “ear rape” and sent to prison. “Ignorance is bliss” and if a little chastisement is the result of that bliss, then so be it. Nobody asks you questions if they think you haven’t got the answer. Then you can watch the Cardinal game without interruption - at least until I heard the word “fishing.” My head ripped from the game and snapped quickly around in much same way most men randomly hear the word “sex” from a nearby conversation while eating lunch at the local dinner. Suddenly, the conversation that you had absolutely no interest or care in the world about hearing, became very, very, interesting.

“Isn’t it a little late in the day to be starting out?” Dad asked Grandpa. “No, it’s not to late – unless you drag your feet getting here.” Came the reply. “Well, it’ll get dark on us.” Dad protested. “That’s the idea” Grandpa explained.

Concerned that my 70 yr old Grandpa was losing it yet, too polite to argue, we went ahead and started loading up our fishing gear in the back of Dad’s 1978 Chevy Cheyenne (Dad later sold it because it was a gas hog but I really wish he hadn’t. I’d love to have that truck today.) and began the 30 min trip to Grandpa’s.

Grandpa already had the boat out and ready to go. We went in for a quick bite to eat and then we were supposed to head out. I was done with my food rather quickly. It made perfect sense to me, the sooner we finish our food, the sooner we get to fish and for an 8 year old boy, that can’t be soon enough. I went out to “check the gear” but really I was imagining the live well full of fish and thinking of the fun I would have during the fight to put them there.

Dad called out the front door where I was standing next to the boat. “What are you doing out here son?” Dad asked. “Nothing – just checking the gear Dad” came the pre-constructed/pre-rehearsed reply. Dad rolled his eyes and went back into the house while I returned to my pre-constructed/pre-rehearsal fishing trip.

Later, Dad checked on me again and again rolled his eyes and went back into the house. “What was taking those grown-ups so long?” I asked myself. “What could possibly be more important than fishing?”

Another Dad check. Accept this time, Dad called out to Grandpa. “Dad, we’re going to have to go, this boy is about to start fishing from the driveway!”

From this point I was like a Labrador retriever pup enjoying a series of “favorites”.
Car ride! My favorite!
Bait shop! My favorite!
I see the lake! My favorite!
Boat ride! My favorite!
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

We arrived at the lake well before dark, put the boat in, and headed out with Grandpa at the tiller. The whining crescendo of Grandpa’s 25 horse Mercury was like an orchestra to my ears as it signaled the start of the final leg of our journey. (Never mind the trip back, just get me there!) As we started to get up to top speed, I noticed Grandpa was busy looking back in forth, out in front of the fiberglass V-bottom boat. “What are ya looking for Grandpa?” I asked curiously.

Lesson 1: Safety First

“Oh, just making note of anything in the water we might want to avoid on our way back. It’ll be dark you know. The running lights on the boat are good but it’s still al little more dangerous in the dark. I just want to make sure.”
I looked around too, thinking, “there is water all around us, don’t they want to start fishing? “ Where are we going, Grandpa?” I asked. I mean after all, we were over water, why not drop our lines in here?

Lesson 2: Fish Like Structure

“There’s a hole over here not too far that has a nice drop off. I’ve caught lots of fish there. kinda my honey hole.” “What’s wrong with right here?” I asked, letting my excitement overcome me a bit. Over the motor noise Grandpa explained, “Nothing’s here for the fish to eat or hide. They like some kind of structure. Rock pile, brush pile, drop-off, plane crash, whatever. You have to fish over some kind of structure or we might as well be fishing here over this dead water, wasting our time.”

Lesson 3: Get Anchored

Finally! We were there! The Mercury began it’s long decrescendo as we approached our fishing spot. First, the anchors had to be perfect. No, we couldn’t just throw the damn thing out in the water and expect it to keep us in the same spot. We had to have two anchors, one on each end and they had to be perfect. As we were still motoring forward, Grandpa dropped his anchor and let out several yards of anchor line. Dad stood on the front of the boat with his anchor poised over the water. “Now Son!” Grandpa hollered over the motor noise. Kersplash! Dad threw his anchor as far out in front of the boat as he could. The motor stopped. Grandpa tugged on his anchor slowly at first to slow our momentum, then to finally stop us. Once we were stopped, Grandpa pulled on his anchor rope to back us up. As we went backward, the front anchor rope became taunt, and then we released more anchor rope on the front end. When finally this maneuver was all said and done, we had two anchors in the water and extended out away from the boat.

Lesson 4: The boat can’t move.

Grandpa explained, “When the lights of the boat shine down into the water, it gathers plankton. Which in turn, gathers small water insects, which gathers small baitfish, which gathers game fish. The whole process shouldn’t take more than 30 min. If so, we’ll move on but, if the position of the boat changes, the position of the lights change and that’s no good.”

As the sun went down, the lights came on. Grandpa had two Coleman gas lanterns that he hung over the side of the boat. He just sat each lantern on one side of the each end of the boat and tied a string from the top of the lantern to a screw that he put below in one of the rails of the boat. He let them lean over the side to shine the light into the water. He then put aluminum foil on our side of each lantern to keep the bugs on “their side of the lantern”.

After we had the lanterns ready, Grandpa dropped the submergible lights. “I heard these work good but I don’t know. Guess we’ll give’em a try.” We dropped one light down on each end of the boat and hooked them up to a spare battery Grandpa brought along.

At this point, it was again, more waiting. While we were waiting, I decided to have a pop to pass the time. A few minutes later, as you might have expected, this eight-year-old boy hopped up on caffeine and sugar, had a little trouble sitting still.

Lesson 5: Shut up!

I found myself moving around, talking loud, and getting way too excited about anything that moved. “Look, minnows!” I said as I stood from my seat. I knocked over a pair of pliers lying next to me. The pliers landed with a thunderous boom on the bottom of the boat. Both Dad and Grandpa got onto me at the same time. Grandpa saying, “Sit down!” and Dad telling me to “shut up!” It’s funny; when we have kids we teach them to walk and talk. Later, we tell them to sit down and shut up!

At last, Grandpa divided out the bucket of shiners that we had stopped to buy at the bait shop on the way to the lake. We each had our own bucket and Grandpa dipped a few minnows in each. We baited our hooks and dropped our lines. “Let it go to the bottom and then take it up 3 or 4 reels” Grandpa told us.

Lesson 6: Set the hook.

After a couple of minutes, the end of my pole began to make the familiar twitching of a fish taking the minnow. I felt the fish pulling and I began to reel. I reeled and reeled until the fish came into the light. “Oh boy son, you’ve got a white bass!” Dad announced. Then just before I brought him up through the surface of the water, I lost him. A wave of disappointment rushed over me. There was nothing to do, but catch another one. “That’s why you set the hook.” Grandpa told me. “You have to really get the hook in there or he’ll throw it and you’ll lose a lot of fish.”

Cuss words raced through my head, but I kept silent as I licked my wounds and started to shaking off the embarrassment of losing a fish by a rookie mistake. After all, I’m a great white fisherman, just like Dad and Grandpa – right?

The action continued well into the late hours until things finally slowed down. We went back to the boat ramp at a crawl, being careful to watch for anything in the water. Dad stayed on the front of the boat shining a spotlight around to see where we were going and looking for any obstructions in the water. Meanwhile, I took my flashlight and lifted the lid of the live well. I’d never seen so many fish. The final count was about 30 crappie, 20 goggle-eye, and several more bass. (Disclaimer: these numbers have not been verified by any other person other than the fishermen who caught them. Total numbers may be slightly inaccurate. After all, I’m telling a fishing story here!).

I was told it was after 2:00 am before I went to bed, though, I don’t remember going to bed. My last memory of the evening was getting into the truck and laying my head down on Dad’s lap as we pulled away from the lake thinking, “When are we going again?”

Over the years I’ve enjoyed many more fishing adventures and still apply Grandpa’s lessons. I don’t get any more lessons now. A couple of years after this fishing trip, Grandpa passed away from pneumonia. Just last year, Dad passed away from cancer. Maybe someday I will have a son and perhaps a grandson to pass on the lessons that they taught me. Until then, I’ll have to content myself on the vivid memories that I have made with missed loved ones and the lessons that have been ingrained in this 8 year old boy’s heart.