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

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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.

(To enjoy more of my TRUE TALES, click HERE)

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

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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 we 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).

(For more of my True Tales, click HERE)

What Kind of Rabbit Is that, Jack?

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What Kind of Rabbit Is that, Jack?

James R. Aist

When I was growing up in Arkansas, we always had beagle dogs, and we always hunted rabbits with them. At that time we (the dogs and us, that is) had never seen any kind of rabbits except cottontails and, rarely, the oversized version of them, swamp rabbits. But, the cottontails were by far the most common and easily accessible, because we had to drive to a distant swamp to hunt the big ones. Little did we know at the time that there was another kind of rabbit slowly making its way eastward into Arkansas from Oklahoma and Texas, the jackrabbit. And, for sure, we had never, ever seen one, until one day…

My family was living in Elm Springs, about 6 miles from Springdale, where I was attending high School. My oldest brother, Art, was visiting us, and we decided to go rabbit hunting. I knew of a good place within walking distance, so we let the dogs out of the pen and started down the road to a nearby field that had a mixture of grass and brush, with a small woods on the back side. Off we went into the edge of the field with shotguns loaded and dogs in a frenzy, as they always were when we took them hunting.

Now our trained beagles would automatically begin hunting for cottontail rabbits once they saw us heading into a field or woods, guns in hand. With noses to the ground, they would search feverishly and anxiously here and there in hopes of “jumping” a rabbit that was hunkered down somewhere, hoping that we would just pass it by. When the dogs would begin to pick up the scent of a cottontail, they would get highly agitated and begin to making little yipping noises as they got closer and closer to the rabbit. Then, suddenly, the rabbit would make a run for it, hopping away lickety-split with short, rapid leaps, the dogs running at top speed after them and baying loudly with each breath. The chase was on! Now, a cottontail can always run faster than a beagle at first, but if the dogs can stay on their scent trail long enough, the rabbit will tire and the dogs will catch up with it. Note that all during the chase, the dogs are baying as they continue to get the scent of the fleeing rabbit. And when we would shoot a cottontail that was on the run, the dogs would run up to it, smell and “mouth” it for a moment, and, when they could not get it to get up and run any more, they would lose interest in it and set out to find a fresh rabbit that would run. That’s how it usually goes with beagles and cottontails.

But, this time it was strangely different. The dogs began to behave like they had picked up the scent of a rabbit alright, but they weren’t yipping. They continued to follow the scent cautiously until a rabbit “jumped” and began to run away. They gave chase, but running at about half speed, not making even a peep. Right away, we knew this was no ordinary rabbit, and a kind that we had never seen before. It was much larger than even a swamp rabbit, had oversize hind legs that launched it on very long, relatively slow strides, and had huge, long ears that flopped back and forth with every leap. The dogs followed this rabbit silently and at a distance, like they weren’t really sure that they wanted to catch up with it. Normally, we would raise and fire on a rabbit as soon as we had a clear shot, but this time we just stood there for a moment, watching this spectacular, alien creature run and the dogs follow along silently at a safe distance. It was an amazing sight to see.

Then, this jackrabbit made a fatal mistake, turning slightly to his left in his haste to get away, giving Art just enough separation from the trailing dogs to make a safe shot. His aim was true, and the jackrabbit rolled to the ground, dead in its tracks as it were. Uncharacteristically, the dogs stopped about ten feet from the fallen jackrabbit, afraid to get any closer to this strange-smelling beast. They circled around it with their eyes fixed on it, just in case. The entire scenario was, to us, bizarre, to say the least, yet very exciting and memorable.

So, we carried this odd creature home and proudly showed it off to the rest of the family. They were duly impressed. Then we “cleaned” the jackrabbit, cut it into pieces and cooked it in the usual fashion: rolled in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and then fried with Crisco in a cast-iron skillet. And guess what it tasted like…wait for it…wait for it… It tasted like…rabbit. Now, why in the world would you assume that I was going to say it tasted like chicken? A rabbit is a rabbit is a rabbit, after all. And, uh-THA, uh-THA, uh-THAT’S all, folks, because that was the first and only jackrabbit we ever ran across in all our years of hunting in Arkansas. And we killed it.

(For more stories and tales by Dr. Aist, click HERE.)

Déjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

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Déjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

James R. Aist

If you have cats, you know that they are consummate creatures of habit. And it is often said that they usually forget things after a few weeks. Well, this true story may well be proof positive of those two kitty characteristics.

It all happened on Snyder Hill, just a little southeast of Ithaca, in upstate New York, about 15 years ago. We had two cats, Bonnie and Clyde, but we had to let Clyde “go” because he became mean and unruly. That left just Bonnie, whose personality blossomed after Clyde’s departure, especially her assertiveness. And it was a good thing, too.

One hot summer evening (yes, it does occasionally get hot in upstate New York, believe it or not), Bonnie and I were in the living room when we heard a neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was approaching the living room window, which was open, with only the window screen between us and him. So, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats in like manner. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. Suddenly, Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the screen. I knew that something violent was about to come down, so I summoned my wife, Janet, to come quickly, so she wouldn’t miss out on the ensuing encounter.

Just as Janet entered the room, the intruder leapt onto the screen with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the screen in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a few moments, but suffice it to say that there was no love lost between challenger and defender. Then, realizing that there was no way that he was going to get at Bonnie with the screen separating the two of them, the would-be intruder gingerly relinquished his grip on the screen, dropped to the ground…kerplunk, and slinked away into the night. Convinced that she had won the day, Bonnie then abandoned the screen and returned to her place in the living room, as proud as a peacock. And we, too, were quite impressed and proud of our vicious little attack cat.

But, that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Fast forward a few months. It’s now Fall, the nights are cold, the screen was up and the glass sash was in its lowered position. The evening began innocently enough, but we were in for some exceptional entertainment. Bonnie and I were, once again, in the living room when we heard the same neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was, once again, approaching the living room window, which was now closed, with only the window glass between us and him. So, again, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. By this time, I was already saying to myself, “No-no-no, surely he wouldn’t, not with the glass in place now. I don’t know if I can survive the intensity of the ensuing laughter if he were to do that again.” But, just in case, I beckoned Janet into the living room once again, so she wouldn’t miss out on the fun. Anticipating what might be coming, we were already about to burst out in laughter when, low and behold, it happened.

Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the glass. As anticipated, the would-be intruder leapt onto the glass with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the glass in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a split second, but that pose didn’t last long. Like Wiley Coyote who, chasing feverishly after the Road Runner, failed to make the turn just before the cliff and was briefly suspended in mid-air before crashing to the ground…kuh-thump, so, too, these valiant feline warriors seemed suspended in time for a brief moment before the reality of gravity set in, and, bug-eyed and terrified, they came crashing (more precisely, sliding rapidly) down. At this point we were so consumed by uncontrollable laughter that we had zero concern for Bonnie’s well being following her fall. But, not to worry, we finally regained our composure to find that the couch was soft and had afforded her a perfect landing place. I can’t say that the other cat fared as well, though.

And that was the last we heard from this unwelcome, wannabe intruder. I guess his memory must have lasted more than a few weeks that time!

(For more True Tales on my website, click HERE)