By Ken Root
Mid-summer and hot days bring out the fisherman in me. I consider fishing “purposeful loafing” with the remote possibility of providing food for dinner. The best part has been the process of getting ready to go. This year, as I have relocated close to the Mississippi River, I am finding the preparation to be a bit more strenuous and a lot more expensive.
My fishing tackle evolved over the years. I went from a cane pole, my father’s equipment of choice, to a spin-casting set, which included a fiberglass rod and a Zebco 202 reel. Then I became a serious bass fisherman and purchased a graphic rod and a Zebco 33 reel in stainless steel. There was even a “fish and float” period where I had waders and a tube to get into places where the monsters were lurking. Most were still there when I left.
The progression stopped as my kids became old enough to fish, and I spent most of my time untangling lines and keeping their hooks baited. In recent years, I’ve had a few excursions where the equipment was furnished and the fish were netted, cleaned and frozen. I found the whole thing a bit disorienting (past column “Fish out of Water”). Now I’m ready to enter another era that I call: “Grandfather versus Perch.”
Cabela’s has wonderful stores. They have a place where you can hang your clothes and run naked through the 27 aisles of rods, reels, artificial baits, Creme worms, jig heads and hooks. I have never had an anxiety attack, but there was a moment in the spinner bait aisle where I could sure sympathize with those who become overwhelmed by their surroundings.
The merchandizing is astounding. Nothing is just a “worm” or a “casting bait.” They have names from “Mister Twister” to “Livin’ Eye” to convey their realism to the buyer. Who cares what the fish thinks? By the time a lead head jig goes in the water, the catch has already been made and the profit is in the bank.
I bought a specially priced rod and reel that had a combo savings of $40. That is more than both of the old Zebco sets combined! I also bought a tackle box with 80 compartments in a triple fold design that “will pop open and spill ever’thing when it is full,” according to the sympathetic sales clerk as he scanned 17 items I purchased just to make sure I had the right bait for the right water for the right fish.
They have also learned from the hardware stores how to package large quantities of items you need in small quantities. I bought 72 brass swivels, 36 nickel-plated crane snap swivels and 24 ball bearing-crosslock snap swivels, in black. I estimate I will use four to six of each per year so I am set until I’m 100.
Keep in mind I have yet to wet a hook. Speaking of hooks, there were 25 styles in another anxious aisle. I finally bought the “snelled” hooks like we found in my cousin’s tackle box when I was 8 and fishing on Bear Creek with my dad. I bought the small package of six.
Why am I doing all this now? Next week my grandchildren arrive and I plan to be ready for them. I fear the artificial baits may not work so I purchased worms locally. The lady asked, “What kind do you want?” Oh, no, they don’t just have “worms,” they have five different types plus leeches!
Of course, I need a fishing license to be legal with this activity. I learned that I can now purchase a lifetime license in Iowa for just $52.50. You have to be 65 to get it and doing the math, I will only have to fish for three years to break even. If I live to be a 100, it is even more attractive.
Bank fishing was our only means of access in the cane pole days with Oren, my father. But this river is wide and there are islands out there with all kinds of ideal habitat. The only way to get to them is by boat. So, I’m now looking at an investment that makes the new rod and reel pale in comparison. Still, thinking of the grandkids on the deck of a pontoon, the freedom to cast off from land and drift across lazy water plus the early evening social gatherings of the future, I’m justifying it more each day.
Eventually, I’m going to put a hook on the line and attach a metallic “Mister Twister” to cast precisely into the murky waters and bring out a new state record. For now, I’m going to open the colorful packages, load the tackle box and dream about being 8 years old and fishing with a cane pole and bobber pulling out fighting little sun perch out of the creek on a sunny afternoon.
“I’m goin’ down to the river.
Got a cane pole in my hand.
Got my red worms in a Maxwell House coffee can.
I’m gonna sit under a shade tree on the river bank
Where it’s cool.
I’m gonna close my eyes and dream and let the cork bob away my blues.”
Marshall Tucker Band
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 39 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send mail for him to High Plains Journal.