Sounds a Bit Fishy to Me: Let’s Take Turns

Sounds a Bit Fishy to Me: Let’s Take Turns

 “You Go First!” – John

James R. Aist

My good friend, John, introduced me to stream fishing when we were both students at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, in the mid-1960s. Stream fishing is where you walk and wade yourself up a stream and fish the relatively still and deep pools as you get to them, hoping to find an unsuspecting bass lurking within, just waiting for his next meal to appear. The best lure for this kind of fishing was a plastic worm with hooks attached by hand, as John had taught me. After I had tried stream fishing by myself, with just enough success to get “hooked” on it, John invited me to drive up into the Ouachita Mountains with him to try our luck up there. That sounded to me like a fun adventure, so one bright, sunny day we headed for the mountains.

John drove us up to one of his favorite mountain streams, and we soon discovered that this stream was nearly dried up. It was running underground between the “fishing pools”, coursing through the creek stones (gravel) from one pool to the next. John assured me that this wouldn’t be a problem, as we could just walk on the dry creek bed from pool to pool. And so we did.

When we arrived at the first pool, it was obvious that it was too small and narrow to be fished by two fishermen at the same time, so John came up with a brilliant idea. “I know”, he said, “Let’s take turns, and whoever catches the biggest fish for the day gets a “large coke”, compliments of the loser.” That sounded fair enough to me, so I agreed. After quickly surmising that the only suitable spot to land a plastic worm was right under an overhanging branch at the end of the pool, and assuming that it would be impossible to do so without getting the worm caught on the branch, John, with a sly grin on his face and confident that there was no way this pool was going to produce a catch for either of us, said, “You go first!” Realizing I had been outsmarted, I had no choice but to go ahead and give it a try.

So, stepping forward and taking careful aim, I anxiously cast the worm toward the calm, open water, just under the overhanging limb, at the far end of the pool, thinking “There’s got to be a good one lurking under there in the shade, and I can catch him if I don’t get my line tangled up on the limb.” The worm sailed swiftly through the clear mountain air and was heading straight for the intended landing site, when – alas and alack – it just barely flew over the limb, hung up there, and left my worm dangling helplessly about a foot above the water. Needless to say, John and I had different reactions to this development. John was elated that he had talked me into going first and was trying to suppress his laughter, while I was clearly bemoaning the fact that I had just barely missed my opportunity to catch the first fish, against all odds as it were.

So, admitting defeat on this first pool, I began to try and free the worm from the branch by making quick, small jerks on the fishing rod to get the worm to hit the branch on its way up and clear the limb without getting hooked on it. This maneuver caused the wiggling worm to dance up and down vigorously, with its tail splashing in the water on each downward motion. Well, as it turned out, there was a good-sized bass waiting under the branch, and this splashing action of the worm was more than he could resist. Just when I had raised the worm up about a foot above the surface of the water to make another quick jerk on the fishing rod to free it, the bass suddenly jumped straight up out of the water, grabbed the worm in its mouth, and fell back into the water, freeing the worm from the limb in the process! Really.

Now, I was as surprised as John was, and it was all I could do to keep my composure. But, in order to maximize the impression I wanted to make on him, I had to pretend that this remarkable turn of events was just commonplace for me and had nothing to do with dumb luck (i.e., “I meant to do that”). So, I just matter-of-factly reeled in my trophy and proudly held it aloft in John’s face as if to say, “Who’s laughing now, John?”

Well, we remained friends and fished on from pool to pool for a couple more hours that afternoon, and we both caught fish on the way. At the end of the day, I owed John a large coke for the biggest fish (He was, after all, the better fisherman), but I took solace in the fact that I had caught the first fish, against all odds. So, as it turned out, we both had “bragging rights” at the end of this fun-filled fishing foray into the Ouachita Mountains. And John enjoyed his large coke.

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Sounds a Bit Fishy to Me: The “Catch 2”

Sounds a Bit Fishy to Me: The “Catch 2”

 James R. Aist

Just a couple of years before, we had built our pond on Snyder Hill, near Ithaca, New York and stocked it with “baby” largemouth bass. By this time, these bass had finally grown to a length (ten inches) that was legal to catch, and I figured it was time to start fishing. So, one Saturday morning in June, my 10-year-old son, Greg, and I decided to go fishing for the first time in our new pond.

In eager anticipation, we gathered up our fishing gear and headed for the pond, just 100 feet from our house. Now, these young bass had never even seen a fishhook, much less an artificial lure, so we figured it would be easy to fool them using plastic worms that I had rigged with multiple fishhooks (My good friend, John, had long ago taught me to put a tiny hook right at the tail end of the plastic worm, just in case a small fish would decide to bite there). The water was clear enough for us to see the plastic worms – and the fish following them – as we reeled in the line. This was going to be fun!

We took up our positions on either side of the swimming dock I had built on the far side of the pond, where the deep water was. Then we began casting, slowly reeling in our plastic worms so as to make them rotate, giving the impression that they were wriggling their way toward the bank. With my very first cast, several bass began to follow the lure, and one of them bit the worm near the middle and got hooked. So, I quickly jerked the rod to “set the hook” and reeled him in immediately. After catching another bass on my second cast, I noticed that even after a bass was hooked, other bass would continue to follow and nip at the “wriggling” tip of the plastic worm, where I had strategically placed the small fishhook.

After landing a bass with each of my first three casts, I was filled with confidence, pride and mischief. It was then that it occurred to me how I might impress Greg with my advanced fishing skills. So, I told Greg to watch my next cast, because I was going to catch two fish with one cast (shades of Babe Ruth and his famous homer, for you Yankee fans). At first, he thought I was just kidding around, but I confidently, and at the risk of appearing braggadocios, insisted that I was not. What happened next both blew his mind and vindicated me.

I cast my plastic worm out as far as I could toward the middle of the pond. Right away, a bass struck and got himself hooked toward the middle of the plastic worm, and I set the hook. But this time, I didn’t real him in right away. Instead, I “played” him for a while (i.e., I let him swim back-and-forth trying to get away). The idea was that if I played the first bass long enough, then one of the other bass would continue nipping at the free end of the worm and also get hooked, on the tiny hook at the tip. That way I could catch two bass with one cast. So I did, and I did; I caught two bass on the same worm with just one cast! That was thrilling, indeed, the more so because the water was clear enough for me to see the entire episode as it unfolded.

Well, Greg was duly impressed, and I was both impressed (with myself) and relieved that I had made good on my brag. We had really good fishing that day, and for the next few months as well, because the bass had not yet caught on to the ruse that we were perpetrating on them with artificial lures. But, all too soon, the bass began to grow out of their naiveté and catch (pun intended) on to us. That’s when we, too, had to become smarter, in order to catch them with any regularity. But, we never forgot that epic first day, when the bass were young and naïve, and we could have our way with them, even to the extent of this “two for one” fishing tale (which, by the way, is truly a true tale, really).

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Lazy Day Destinations – Joe Rock

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Lazy Day Destinations – Joe Rock

 James R. Aist

Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with many fond memories of favorite places, especially when it was summer vacation and I could just pick up and go by myself, or with a friend or two, on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

When I was around 12 years old and my family lived in Evening Shade (the real one, population 315 at the time, not the fictional one on the TV sit-com), one of my favorite places was “Joe Rock.” Just across Highway 11 from our home in Evening Shade, and about a ten minute walk down a winding farm road (see photo at upper right), was Piney Creek, which ran clear and warm in the summer until the dog days of August set in (During dog days, clumps of dead, brown algae would rise from the creek bottom and float down stream, making the water less appealing). If you made a right turn when you reached Piney Creek and followed along the creek bank for maybe 50 yards or so, you came to Joe Rock. Now Joe Rock was a real rock of rather large proportions (perhaps 5-6 feet across and rising above the water line about 3 feet) that was just sitting there in Piney Creek with water swirling all around it. Joe Rock was the sight of an inviting swimming hole, because, over the years, the water current had carved out a depression in the creek bottom around the rock, and the water around Joe Rock was about 3-4 feet deep, suitable for shallow diving from atop this solitary boulder. From the bank, Joe Rock looked like you might expect any large, over-sized rock to look, but it was no ordinary rock. Under the water, hidden from view, were three “legs” that extended down in tri-pod fashion from Joe Rock, keeping it suspended above the creek bottom about a foot or so. I’ve never seen anything like it.

This unique feature conferred a fascination on Joe Rock that added to the excitement of each visit. We enjoyed donning swimming goggles, “diving” down, swimming underwater around Joe Rock and peeking between its “legs” at each other. And that’s how I discovered that there were often one or two large-mouth bass lurking around and between the “legs” of Joe Rock, using it as cover.

Well, one day I decided it would be fun to see if I could spear one of those bass and take it home for dinner. So, the next time I left the house and set out for Joe Rock, I snuck a cooking fork from a kitchen drawer and fully intended to impale one of the bass on it. And sure enough, when I got to Joe Rock and slipped into the water, there were two unsuspecting bass just swimming lazily in and out around the “legs” of the rock. I took a deep breath, slowly submerged myself under the water and stealthily approached my prey so as not to spook them. After a few tries, I finally got close enough to one of the bass to make my move. With all my 12-year old might, I thrust the fork violently toward the unsuspecting entrée, but, alas, the fork just brushed him aside without even leaving a mark. That’s when I realized that one’s arm can move a lot faster through air than through water; I just wasn’t able to generate the fork speed required to pierce the elusive prey.

I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that I would have to return from my fishing expedition empty handed, but I didn’t let that minor setback keep me from enjoying the rest of my swim. After all, the bass did make each visit to Joe Rock that much more exciting, so why not just leave them be, for everyone to enjoy? And so I did, and they did.

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