Readers’ letters to the editors with stories of fishing and family, and tips on gardening.
Fishing has been a lifelong desire of mine. It all started around age 5. My grandfather on my mother’s side of the family took me fishing. Back then, casting an open bait-casting reel took incredible skill to prevent a gnarly rat nest from appearing in the fishing line. So my grandfather would throw the bait out into the lake. It was fascinating to watch the line fly off the reel as the handle whirled backwards at a blinding speed. Then, just a split-second before the bait hit the water, his thumb would act as a brake to the spinning reel. It took me many years and countless snarls to perfect that technique.
With a little instruction, my fishing career began. The sensation of anticipation — which I never lost over the years — built up with every turn of the reel. When that first fish popped up out of the water and dangled on the end of the line, it was the most exciting thing a 5-year-old boy could experience with his grandpa. The first catch was a yellow-belly bullhead. I caught hundreds more in the following years, but that first bug-eyed fish with horns and feelers still stays with me. Anytime I got a whiff of anyone going fishing, I would somehow weasel my way along.
Catching the fish started the journey, but cleaning the fish enhanced the experience. The first time I watched someone fillet a fish, I knew I just had to learn how to do that. It was at a cleaning table when a couple of old fishermen came in with a 10-gallon bucket full of perch. They cleaned a perch in the blink of an eye, like it was no big deal. Both Dad and I asked for instruction on how to do that. The next time we traveled off on a fishing trip with our filleting knives securely packed, we were ready to look like experts.
As the years passed, I fished in all different bodies of water: both oceans, many different states, and Canada, to name a few. The ocean fishing put bonito and flounder on my list. Wisconsin added monster walleye, and high-altitude Nevada produced the best-tasting trout. Bluegill, sunfish, pumpkin seed, crappie, large- and small mouth bass all put fishing above all other pastimes in my life.
It’s been a great journey, and the best part is that it’s not over yet.
My brother, sister, and I always stood in awe of the stringers full of the day’s catch that Grandma and Grandpappy Stapleton brought home from their jaunts to Grand Lake near St. Marys, Ohio. Inspecting each fish, they pointed out identifying marks and colors: bright shades of yellow on the sunfish and bluegill; dark spots and stripes on the bass; shiny, soft skin and stinging “whiskers” on the catfish. Grandpappy’s favorite was crappies, the silvery, speckled fish as big as his hand that did not take lightly to being caught.
We begged them to take us fishing. Grandpappy wasn’t sure. Three giggling, laughing, squirming children full of questions was not his idea of a relaxing day of fishing. Grandma, on the other hand, must have remembered her own feelings of freedom as a child allowed to tag along to the creek for fishing and frog hunting with her brothers. Grandma prevailed.
My family album contains old, black-and-white photos of us in pigtails and T-shirts with long cane poles in hand. We would line up like baby birds for Grandma to bait our hooks with those feisty little red worms. A few minutes later, and we’d be coming right back: Bluegills are very agile at slipping worms off the hook.
We shouted with glee, jerking the pole dozens of times until sometimes, just once in a while, we caught one. All poles were temporarily abandoned to inspect the catch, watching with pride as Grandma removed the hook and added the fish to the wire bag sunk in the water close to shore. We stole back to that bag often, lifting it up to make sure our fish were still there. All the while, Grandpappy sat at a safe distance giving Grandma a look that said, “I told you so.”
Grandpappy cleaned any catfish caught, and Grandma cleaned the rest, filleting the larger ones and leaving the smaller ones whole. Supper was always fried potatoes, bread and jelly, and crispy fried fish. Grandma somehow always made sure we each got to eat the exact fish we caught.
As Grandpappy grew accustomed to our noise, and we grew accustomed to standing still, waiting patiently for the bobber to sink with a tug, they took us farther from home. Our favorite place to go was Kiser Lake.
Today, my family loves to fish, Kiser Lake being our choice for calm, soft hours of light, fresh air, and water. My son’s tackle box weighs more than he does. It’s full of multicolor lures with catchy names. My husband is a little more conservative. He has the same size tackle box, but not quite the assortment of flashy colors and feathery delights.
As for my tackle box, well, it’s old and small, and when I open the lid, it doesn’t sparkle. There’s no problem choosing lures — there are none, save a few painted lead heads my son put in there when he felt sorry for his mom. The tiny compartments hold two sizes of weights, two sizes of hooks, and a few bobbers. That’s all I need with my old pole.
Oh, yes, and the red worms. They are still feisty. I still lose a lot to the bluegill. But then again, I’ve found more to do than just fish. Just like my Grandma, I enjoy sitting on the bank, listening, watching, waiting.
Reading your note, we can’t help but feel an itch to wet a line, Connie! Awesome stories, and a great reminder about how memorable fishing trips are for youngsters. – Editors
I always enjoy your stories in the beginning of the issues. I’ve only had a subscription a few months, but before that, I often picked up the magazine at Tractor Supply.
My husband loves to fish, and we are blessed enough to have two ponds out back of the house full of crappie and catfish. He doesn’t get to go down there as often as he would like, but he’s instilled a love of fishing in our kids, and they have passed many happy hours down there.
“The gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing” — I absolutely love this. It’s a reminder to take a break, take a breather, and spend time with family. To sit and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer, both for the body and soul. I think, if I can make it work, I will try to construct a cross stitch pattern to keep this quote forever.
Pamplico, South Carolina
I like to start seeds early for my vegetables in little expandable peat pellets or cell trays, but there’s not room to add tags for each type of plant, and making a chart just doesn’t work for me — the trays get mixed up, turned around, I lose the charts, or something else foils my plan, so I came up with the idea of using colored plastic toothpicks to identify each seedling. You can get hundreds of them for a dollar or two at the grocery store. Just stick a same-colored pick for each variety into the pellets or cells after you plant the seeds, tape or clip the same color pick to the seed envelope they came from, and store them away.
I prefer using wooden picks, but I find that the dyes fade from the moisture, and you can’t tell the colors apart after a few weeks. When you have to up-size the pot or transplant to the garden, just move the pick alongside the plant. You’ll always know what you’ve planted. Incidentally, the mini greenhouses that I use to start my seeds in are actually rotisserie chicken containers — my grocery store deli gives me a few for free each year. Each one holds 20 peat pellets
In the article “The Latest Buzz on America’s Honeybees” (May/June issue), the parasite Nosema apis was named incorrectly. Rather, we were referring to the Nosema ceranae parasite in the article. We regret the error. – Editors
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