The only team sport I remembered my dad taking an interest in was baseball. When I was a young boy he somtimes took me to watch other local men playing softball or baseball at a local field. To my knowledge Dad never played himself nor did he particularly encourage me to learn to play. On the other hand, Dad loved to fish and hunt, sports he often enjoyed sharing with his closest male friends. He had plethora of fishing equipment, enough for himself and anyone else in the family who would go with him.
By the time I was 10 or 11, he had taught me how to prepare my own pole with line and bait and how and where to cast out into the water. I remember his delight when he would take me to the park as a youngster to fish one of the small lakes where any hook with a worm on it would be swallowed up by a Sun-Perch as soon as it hit the water. Dad also had a rowboat that he’d take out on larger lakes or the nearby Marmaton River to fly–fish. Sometimes he’d put Mom in the back of the to fish and me in the front with my own cane pole, while he rowed us to the best fishing holes. Once there, Dad would pick up his fly-rod and begin whipping it in the air until he had enough line out to place his fly or lure in just the right spot to get a bite. In addition to his love for fishing with friends, he always enjoyed taking his family out fishing with him.
One of my favorite kinds of fishing involved taking the boat out on the river in the early evening to set out “trot–lines” and “limb–lines”. As I grew older, Dad would let me row the boat up the river from Stewart’s Dam on the lower side of Gunn Park, pulling in toward shore at various places spaced out along the riverside where trees or brush grew out over the river. Dad had a collection of lines cut about 3-4 feet long with a sinker and hook on one end, and a knot on the other end. He would tie the line to a low, overhanging branch so that the hook was near the river-bottom and then apply a variety of baits to the hooks. His favorite bait for these limb-lines were small Perch or Minnows that he’d hook by the tail so they could swim around enough to attract bigger fish.
After setting out 20 or 30 of these lines along the both sides of the river, we’d unroll one or two sturdy, light cotton ropes across the river, securely tying each end of the rope to a tree or bush on opposite sides of the riverbank. Across the length of the rope Dad had tied metal eyelets or rings, about 3 feet apart, to which we attached some of the limb lines, complete with bait and sinkers to hold them down in the water. This “trot-line”, so named because the gentle flow of the river’s current made it bounce up and down slightly as it flowed past the immersed rope, would then provide tempting morsels of bait all across the river where our trot-line traversed it.
By the time we finished setting out all of our lines and returned to where we had launched the boat it was fully dark. We’d climb out and Dad would produce a snack and a Thermos of hot coffee or chocolate for us to drink while we waited. I enjoyed these short breaks together with Dad because they provided rare opportunities for us to talk and tell stories.
Before going home for the night, Dad would fire up a couple of Carbide lamps for us to use for light, and we’d again board the boat and row up and back down the river checking our lines. This time we didn’t have to get back under the limbs to see whether there was a “catch” or not. If there was a fish on the line it would cause the limb to bob up-and-down an we knew there was a fish caught on it. Likewise, the trot-line would usually be bouncing from more than the current of the river if it had fish that had hooked themselves on one or more of the lines. After checking that all was ready for a night of fishing, we’d load our boat on Dad’s home-made trailer and return home to sleep in our own beds, or else on a rare occasion, retreat to our tent to pass the night. Early in the morning we’d return to the river to retrieve all of the lines and Dad would carefully lay them out on the deck of the boat to keep them from tangling. Those hooks that had caught fish were carefully removed from the their mouths and the fish were tied to a stringer that Dad attached to a railing inside the boat so they could stay in the water until we were finished.
These nocturnal fishing trips with Dad hold very fond memories foùr me because they were always very special, a time to get to know him in a very personal way. Although Dad has been gone for nearly fifty years, now, just remembering those nocturnal fishing trips with him always bring a smile to my face and a longing in my heart for just one more trip up the Marmaton River with him to set out lines.
Top Photo from MTB Project: Gunn Park Trails