Fishing Memories with Grandma

Learning how to fish with Grandma created priceless memories.

| July/August 2017

  • Fishing memories had a lasting impression on the author.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth
  • Learning how to fish was one of the biggest accomplishments for a country youngster.
    Illustration by Dennis Auth

Growing up in southeastern Ohio in the 1970s, I had ample opportunity to spend time in the outdoors. None of those opportunities were more alluring to me than fishing. I can remember fishing trips with my parents when I was just 5 years old. Unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was a child, and my father didn’t retain his interest in angling. It was up to me to learn, any way I could, the many intricacies of wetting a line.

Aside from the tips I found in Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, and the few times friends’ fathers took me under their wing, I was pretty much left to my own devices when it came to learning anything new about fishing. However, I was fortunate in that I had a grandmother who was patient, loving, and an ardent pan fisherman — or should I say, pan fisherwoman?

To an 8-year-old, my grandmother’s wisdom was legendary. She was an outdoors woman with a lot of experience. She was a serious naturalist, which helped in her herbalist endeavors, and she was a “sanger” of high regard. The term “sanger” means she was a hunter of ginseng, a very valuable and profitable healing plant whose roots, even back then, would net a tidy sum. She also raised an impressive herb garden and two vegetable gardens, as well as laying hens, that to a small boy seemed as large as domestic turkeys. But all this paled in comparison when she took to the water in search of the one fish she felt worthy above all others — the bluegill.

Back in those days, any fish to me was fair game. It didn’t matter if it was a largemouth bass in a farm pond or a trout in a crystalline pool in a storied river. If it swam, it was worth my attention. However, my grandmother felt the bluegill was the gamest fish that swam, and she was as old-fashioned in her angling ways as she was in the rest of her outdoor endeavors.

Her equipment would seem sparse to the modern angler, who might own a forest of rods and reels to match an untold number of lures to entice even the wariest of game fish. I can only imagine what she would think of today’s bass boats. Her choice of equipment was a cane pole that must have been at least 8 feet long, no reel, and a 10-foot length of black Dacron line she kept coiled up around the end of the pole. A long-shanked Aberdeen hook was attached to the other end. Her bait was a simple earthworm, or as I knew them growing up, a “fishin’ worm.” But it was what she attached to her line that made her style of fishing so attractive to a boy like me.

Most angling today is done without the aid of a “strike indicator,” except in the few instances when used in nymph fishing for trout. My grandmother felt that the red-and-white bobber was paramount in the pan fisher’s arsenal. She attached it a few feet above her hook, depending on the water’s depth, and carefully lobbed it a few feet out into the water. I would watch, mesmerized as the ripples from the bobber’s landing would dissipate, and within seconds the bobber would begin its tantalizing dance. Unbeknownst to me, my grandmother would wait for some indeterminable time and then quickly pull a flopping fish out of the water and onto the bank beside her. She would eye it for just a second, deciding whether it was big enough to keep, and then deftly remove the hook. A few went back into the water, but many found their way into the 5-gallon green pickle bucket that was her combination creel and seat. Within a few hours on any given afternoon, she’d fill the bucket half full and bring the fish home for cleaning and freezing. I never remember her going home empty-handed.



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