Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bobbers Grow on Trees

“ Bobbers Grow on Trees”

  I have a grandson who is of fishing age. I don’t mean 4 or 5 where they can’t do anything correct and you’re always helping them with something that drives you nuts. I’m talking about my grandson, Damon, who is 8. Taking him fishing for the past few years brings back memories of when my grandpa started me out fishing.

  I remember my first fishing pole. It was a pushbutton reel on a well-known company’s kids fishing pole. The inventor of the size of these kid’s poles had the right idea. If it had been any longer it would have poked the eyes out of every adult who was teaching a young one how to fish instead of getting poked in the chin or chest now and then. If the pole was any shorter the kid using it would have lifetime scar marks on his/her shoulder blade from the hooks ripping through the kids shirt on the back cast and then throwing the line forward. The rod was off white with a bluish/gray reel. Though my grandfather taught me how to use it I don’t think he ever used one. Gramps always used an old fly rod. I’ve never seen him fly fish in any sense of the word though. He’d put a worm on a bare hook and fish it that way. He would tell me to push the button on my reel as I tilted the pole backwards. After throwing it forward leave go of the button. I’m not sure how long it took me to master that pole but I can tell you what happens when you do it wrong. Maybe it will bring back memories for you.
  If you leave go of the button on the reel way too soon, you end up with the hook snagged onto your pant cuff and line running over your shoulder to the top of the pole. If you leave the button go just a little to soon, the line, hook along with the split shot goes straight up in the air and you better duck because where the hook and split shot lands is anybodies guess. If you leave go of the button a little late the hook, split shot and worm falls about 3 ½ feet in front of you. This is adding 3 feet for the length of the pole. Even throwing it correctly would only land about maybe 12 feet in front of you. With a couple more split shots it will go further but you’ll never know if the fish are biting. If you really try to wing it, the worm flies off to the next county.
  The drag was totally useless. Every one of those poles I get to help a kid out with I find the drag will work sometimes but most of the times not. The drag wheel itself is rendered useless. You can turn that thing to the end in either direction and the drag, if it works, is the same. I’ve seen many-a-times as a kid goes to cast, releases the button and the worm goes one way while the empty hook and sinker dangles from the top of the rod.

Taking Damon out fishing and watching him cast reminds me of all this. It’s a good feeling. One Sunday, after the first day of trout, Damon and I were fishing side by side. Well maybe a few feet apart on the little trout stream. The same stream my grandfather taught me to trout fish on and likewise I taught my kids to trout fish on. He was doing well casting and keeping an eye on his line. So I would take my eye’s off him once in awhile just to see if I could catch a trout and find the place where they were all laying. I happen to look over towards him and he had moved down from me about another yard or so. He evidently tried casting his worm underneath an overhanging branch and had gotten it hooked on the branch. There he was, he looked like a puppeteer and the tree branch a marionette. Every time he’d tug on the fishing line the branch would straighten out towards him. When he’d ease up, the branch would return to its original state. Back and forth, back and forth.
“What’s up, Damon?”
“Got snagged in that tree.” He said with a rough tone of voice.
“I’ll get it out though pa-pa.” he murmured
  With that he proceeded to walk backward with the pole-pointing strait towards the branch he’d got stuck on. With fishing line getting tighter and the branch bending higher.
“Stop Damon” I yelled. I left go of my rod and was about to tackle him when he actually stopped. It must have been my tone of voice.
  I got between him and the rod and slowly took it out of his hands just waiting, now, for the hook to release.

I could just imagine him pulling hard enough that the hook would have disengage from the branch. The two split shots with enough force, flying back like pellets being shot out of a pellet gun, smacking him between the eyes, just above the bridge of his nose, practically knocking him out. I couldn’t imagine what my daughter might have said to me, bringing her son back with two craters in the middle of his forehead swollen and black and blue.

 Every year the Marionville rod and gun club, I belong to, has a kids fishing derby for all kids 5 to 12. This is in June on Sunday. We sell tickets for raffles and get donations. The president collects all the funds and goes down to the local department store and buys a mess of fishing rods and tackle. Each kid, at the derby, receives a rod, tackle box or so on. Also when the kids sign up they receive two tickets, one for a soda and one for a hot dog. This all happens in Cooks Forest at the kids fishing pond.

The kids fishing pond is fed by a small stream of water called Tom’s Run. I’m not sure what water volume constitutes a stream, creek or run. Tom’s Run I believe is correctly named. Tom’s run starts about five miles upstream from the pond. It starts as a trickle in the northern part of the state forest. It continues to pick up feeder streams to make Tom’s Run a little bit more than a trickle. It flows through the forest woods at first and than enters through a gully of an out-cropping of boulders and rocks. From there it meanders though the woodsy forest again picking up a few more feeders. It weaves its way slowly declining through fir trees and hemlocks that shade the stream through most of its course. It finally enters a picnic area, complete with upgraded pit toilets and a small shelter. Picnic tables are set up in strategic points along the picnic side of the Run. From that first picnic area there is a gravel gaited forest road that follows the Run upstream to almost the beginning. This gives the fish commission-stocking truck sufficient access- ability, in any inclement weather, to stock the Run at least three times after the first day of trout season in April through May. This is a great tourist attraction. It also gets fished heavily as you can imagine.
  I have visually seen the guy on the stocking truck hand buckets of trout to fishermen who are willing to help stock. The retired guys helping during the weekdays, while the rest of the people are working at real jobs, are about in there fifties or sixties. They take a bucket down to the Run, in front of their older brother or dad, and empty it in a pool of water that you can spit across. I would say that 75% of the trout stocked that morning either end up on a stringer, sore lips or accidentally fouled hooked, or released by the evening. The scars that the trout escaped from the cement runs at the hatchery may now be scarred from scraping across the stones or gravel from the bottom of the Run trying to escape the fishing pressure.
  From the picnic area the Run flows under a forest road than through another picnic area. Again lined with picnic tables on one side, while on the other a hiking trail. Most of the Run can be jumped across, without getting your feet wet, to get to the other side. Other places to cross are a few wooded planked swinging bridges. The Run than winds it’s way behind State Park cabin rentals, under a canopy of hemlocks and trees, through another out-cropping of rock and boulders and spills over a cement brake which empties into the kids fishing pond. Tom’s Run from it’s beginning to end is very picturesque.
  The pond is separated in two portions by a paved bridge that leads to the rental cabins from a small parking lot. On the other side of the bridge, down stream, the Run is dammed. The total length of the pond is maybe about 150 yards long. That’s about 75 yards on each side of the bridge. Upstream from the bridge is fishable on both banks. There’s a small tree that juts out from the bank on the left close to the bridge. A few trout usually hang out there to get away from the bright sunlight. The down streamside of the pond is fishable from the right side. The wall of the bridge declines to a level wall and a few short feet than abruptly ends. From there sand banks the right shore to about where a wooden fence starts just above the breast of the dam. This is what creates the pond. The left bank is interrupted by a runoff from the mountainside. A person can maneuver their way about 20 yards and then the bank is impassable because of the steep slope. A wooden fence with a warning sign let’s anglers know where they must stop and go no further. From just beyond this point a huge hemlock shadows over the pond by a long bough that overhangs about six feet or so from sure and about three feet above the water surface. A lot of trout hang out here. From below the dam the release water flow about a few hundred yards more into the Clarion river.
 The kids fishing area only, from just behind the rental cabins to the dam, was stocked with about 200 brook trout Friday and a few Palominos in anticipation for the kids fishing derby. The fishing starts at the sound of a whistle, Sunday at noon. I stand on the bridge, which is the best vantage point to watch this whole fiasco, waiting for my daughter to bring my grandson Damon. They live about two hours away so they may not get here until around 1 or 2:00. Which might be better. Now you need to picture this.
  Along with their parents, uncles, aunts, grandparent and legal guardians the kids stand waiting to wet a line. There are about 120 to 150 kids between the ages of 5 to 12 surrounding the pond and upstream of the kid’s area. With fishing poles in hand and baited with an assortment of worms, mealworms, maggots and minnows, both alive or dried and salted. The MC comes out to the bridge, with a bullhorn, and thanks every one for coming out. He announces that the biggest trout caught will be mounted for free by a local taxidermist. There is a fish cleaning station set up beside the soda and food tent. He reminds all the kids to pick up a free gift before leaving. “Get on you marks, get set, fish!!!” He than blows the whistle.

A hundred and some kids, mostly at the same time, hurl their baited lines into the pond. A hundred and some kids hurl their baited lines into the pond all at once!! It is a sight to behold. Bobbers of all different shades and colors streak through the air like a bunch of deflating party balloons over the pond. An orange wooden bobber, the size and shape of an egg, gets pitched from the right bank up from the bridge from where I stand. At the same time a plastic red and white bobber gets flung in the opposite direction from the left bank. Somewhere near mid center the two collide in mid-air. The plastic bobber explodes in fragments and peters out coming to rest on the pond water as the red stem that’s left sinks under the weight of the split shots. The wooden bobber continues it’s gradual decent and plops with a splash, scaring any living thing near the entry point, into the previous calm water. Tears of laughter fill my eyes. I can imagine the trout scurrying in every direction to keep from coming in direct contact with lead shot. A few hats enter the water, a kid is held back from the bank by his parent. An assortment of hooks can be seen being retrieved from sweaters, shirts and blouses.
  A fish gets caught and lines get tangled. Excitement fills the surrounding area. Boy, I’m glad Damon’s not here yet. Within an hour there is more amusement than can be experienced anywhere on TV.
  I look down into the parking lot and here comes my daughter with my grandson, Damon. He’s got on an oversized sweatshirt, baseball cap and black rubber barn manure boots. A kids fishing pole with a red push button, bait casting reel.
“Are you ready to fish, Damon?” I ask
“Sure pa-pa Jerry”
  I step aside so he can squeeze in between the kids on the bridge to fish. I put on a split shot and bait his hook with a wax worm. Show him the fish beneath the bridge and tell him to just let the line drop down into the water. He does just that.
“You think we’ll catch one pa-pa?”
“Sure we will, but you got to be ready”
  After a while with out any bites he’s getting kind of bored. We try a few different baits but so far none is working. The fish are pretty well spooked. He wants to move from the bridge but I convince him, since we can see trout, this is still the best place to be. I just feel it’s better right now to fish off the bridge than to fish off the bank and him starting to cast in the middle of nowhere with 50 some other kids doing the same thing.

“What’s that pa-pa?”
“What’s what?” I asked
“What’s all those things in the tree?” he asks

He points into the air at a tree on the near left bank facing the dam. I look and chuckle; as I’m surprised I didn’t notice it before. There stands a tree just beyond the runoff entering the pond. There has to be at least 30 some bobbers hanging from it. It looks like an oversized Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The bobbers are dangling from fishing line. When the wind blows, If you listen close enough, you can hear the clicking noise of the plastic bobbers hitting each other. There are bobbers of all shapes and sizes. Some have been up there so long they're faded from the sun. Like the red ones are now a dull pink and the green are a drab lime color. There are bobbers up there so old you probably can find some of these in an antique store costing you up to $3.
“Those are bobbers up there”
“How’d they get up there, pa-pa?”
“That’s a bobber tree” I hesitated, “Bobbers grow on trees” I reply
Damon hesitates. “Are you teasing me pa-pa?”
I chuckle “Yes Damon, I’m teasing”
“The bobbers got up there because some kids weren’t watching what they were doing and weren’t casting properly”
“Even the one way up on top?”
  There was a bobber so high in the tree, the kid who threw that up there had to have had at least 30 feet of line out. Maybe I’m exaggerating just a little.
“I guess he must have been casting for birds with a worm on a hook”
We both laughed at my reply.
“Can I put one up there, pa-pa?”

 I was stumped by his question. I was looking at the tree as a misfit, a bunch of mistakes. I was looking at the tree as a comical expression of misfortune. On the other hand, Damon was looking at it as a symbol, an idol. A statue that represents a presence of being here, like a signature in a guest book. Like when you would go down by the river with your girlfriend and carve your initials in a tree. Than later in life, returning and seeing the initials and remembering you were there once before. You just can’t seem to remember who the other initials are that accompany yours.
  Maybe he’s thinking if he puts one up there this year, next year he can find it and maybe in future years see how long it stays there. He can come back in twenty some years with his son and say “son, see that oblong yellow and orange bobber up there?” “I threw that one up there when I was a tad like you are now!”
“No Damon” was my first response but after thinking it over I said. “Well maybe later when there are not so many people around.”

 We fished until about 4:00. He ended up catching a few brook trout after all. We had a little picnic and he got his new fishing pole. He had fun with the rest of the kid’s and that’s what it’s all about.


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