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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A Harrowing Experience

English: Harrowing to incorporate straw near T...A Harrowing Experience

James R. Aist

We were living on a dairy farm in Cypress Valley, a very rural, unofficial community in central Arkansas. It was 1955, and I was 10 years old. My two oldest brothers had been allowed to do real farm work – i.e., working a field with serious farm equipment attached to a farm tractor – for several years. I, however, being only 10 years old, was allowed to do only lesser tasks that don’t really qualify one for manhood, as defined on a working farm. I could drive the family’s Farmall tractor down the dirt road to the General Store and back to pick up a few groceries, I could hitch a small, two-wheeled trailer to the tractor and distribute hay to the cows in the winter time, and I could help out in the milking parlor, “cleaning” the floor, mixing and “serving” dairy feed and operating the milking machines. But all of that is what makes you a farm boy, not a man, like Daddy and my two oldest brothers.

For some time I had been asking Daddy to let me work a field. I’m not sure that he knew why I was so eager to move up to field work, but I wanted to complete the “right of passage” to manhood, and it meant a great deal to me at that time. So, finally, Daddy agreed that I was ready, and he assigned me an entry level task to get started. I was to drive the tractor across the pasture to the woods, where I would find an “undeveloped” farm road leading to a small field nestled in the edge of the woods. This field had been plowed recently by one of the farm “men.” My task was, more specifically, to connect the two-wheeled “field harrow”, which had been left at the edge of the field, to the tractor, lower the tines of the harrow, pull the harrow across the field to reduce the large clods and clumps of soil left by the plow to a fine consistency suitable for planting, raise the tines and then pull the harrow back out of the field and across the pasture field to the main barn for storage. That sounded simple and straight forward to me, and so I set out to “git ‘er dun.” Finally, I was going to become a man!

Or so I thought. Everything was going according to plan until it was time for me to pull the harrow out of the field and between the two trees that defined the path to the farm road leading to the pasture field. Oh, wait, did I fail to mention that the harrow was ever so slightly wider than the tractor? Well, I found that out as I was trying to clear the two trees guarding the exit to the farm road. Apparently, I did not take the perfect angle in my approach to the opening between the two trees, and, sure enough, I managed to get the harrow lodged between the two trees as I attempted my get-away. Upon realizing what I had done, panic set in immediately. Can I manage to get the harrow dislodged and pull it triumphantly back to the barn as if nothing had gone wrong, thus sealing my membership into the coveted manhood fraternity, or would I have to leave the harrow stuck between the two trees and slink back to the barn with only the tractor, like a defeated dog with his tail between his legs? Well, try as I may, I could not free the harrow. After all, I was only 10 years old, and the harrow was definitely in the category of “heavy equipment.”

My return to the main barn was, to say the least, deflating and embarrassing. Daddy had to retrieve the harrow, and I was still not a man. And the worst part of it was that I had proven to the whole family that I was still only a farm boy! Then, to make matters worse, Daddy had just received his first assignment as an ordained Methodist Minister, and we moved away from the farm before I could get another chance to earn my manhood badge. But then, with time, I managed to get over it…or did I?

Postscript: I’ll bet that when you read the title, you didn’t see this coming!

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Fakin’ the Tears, Payin’ the Price

spanking photo: spanking spanking.gifFakin’ the Tears, Payin’ the Price

 James R. Aist

My brother, Johnny, and I are only 17 months apart in age, and when we were growing up together, we lived way out in the “sticks” of central Arkansas at first, and then, when Daddy became an ordained minister in the Methodist church, we moved from one small, rural community to the next. In the rural areas of Arkansas back then, we often were unable to make many other friends, and, when we did, there were days at a time when we were not able to get together with them. So, out of necessity, we did a lot of things together. Things like playing, arguing, disobeying Mamma and suffering the consequences.

Well, Johnny and I were about as close to being cute little angels most of the time as you could imagine, but every now and then we would mess up, get caught and find ourselves cross-wise of the family disciplinarian, who was, you guessed it, Mamma. Now, these were the days before “political correctness”, and so Mamma was hesitant to “spare the rod”, if you get my drift. When our transgressions were relatively minor, we would get off with just a short lecture and a stern warning. But, now and then, we foolishly crossed an invisible line and had to face the dreaded consequences: a meaningful whipping applied to our backsides with whatever was the latest, or most convenient, hand-wielded, wooden flogging device; usually a stick of some sort. But hey, at least this gave us yet another thing to do together!

After undergoing several of these painful and embarrassing disciplinary sessions over a period of time, we began comparing notes about a pattern we had noticed. Mamma would strike us, in turn, over and over – whap, whap, whap, etc. – until we could no longer hold back the tears, and then we would begin to cry. Well, now, we reasoned, if crying was what convinced her to stop the whipping, why don’t we just start crying with the first blow, even if we don’t really have to, and, cleverly, spare ourselves the remainder of the whipping? So, we coveted with each other to do just that the next time we were “in for it”, thinking we would surely get off easy. Keep in mind, now, that the timing of this little scheme was everything. We had to absorb the first blow; then, and only then, would we burst suddenly into tears and, magically, “make” her stop.

Well, sure enough, it wasn’t long before we were “in for it” again. As Mamma was herding us into the torture chamber to administer the inevitable punishment, Johnny and I gave each other a “knowing” look to make sure we were both on the same page with our plan to fake the tears. Now, you know as well as I do that a plan is only as good as the execution of it, and that’s where we got caught in the act…literally. Don’t ask me why, but we both, in turn, burst into tears just before the first blow, instead of just after it! Now our Mamma was no fool, and she sensed immediately that we were trying to put one over on her, much to our surprise and chagrin. We knew, right then and there, that this was not to going to end well for us. And so it didn’t; Mamma proceeded to give us the worst whipping we had ever deserved, and, trust me, the tears were real! “Ow, ow, ow…no, I’m not alright, thanks for asking!”

Now, the moral of this story is two-fold: 1) execute, execute, execute; and 2) don’t ever think you can put one over on a seasoned veteran like Mamma! The price of getting caught – and you will get caught — isn’t worth it.

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