Written by John Giffin Tuesday, 06 April 2010 18:54
One would think that I, being the son of a former Kansas Wildlife and Parks fisheries biologist, would be a good fisherman. But I am not. In fact, I might be the worst fisherman ever.
It began when I was about 5 years old. On the first fishing trip I remember, my late father, my mother and brother and I placed our gear in the back of “Old Yeller,” my father’s 1972 yellow GMC?pickup truck, and headed down the country roads of Greenwood County to the ranch pond of a family friend.
Once we arrived, my father baited hooks for my brother and me and we commenced fishing.
Shortly after casting out, my line started to whistle.
I?had the big one.
Whatever was on the other end of my line nearly jerked the pole out of my small hands before my dad could come to my aid. We fought the enormous beast as he helped me reel it in.
When the line’s end neared shore and the pond-dweller emerged from its muddy habitat, I shrieked in fear and ran for cover behind my mom.
Peeking from behind her, I witnessed the most terrifying sight I had seen to that point of my life: a huge, treacherous snapping turtle.
My dad roared with laughter as he handled the monster—its pinchers flailing and snapping, looking for a small, blond-haired boy to devour.
Through the rest of my childhood I enjoyed several other fishing trips with family, including a number of summer “work” days on Fall River Reservoir and Toronto Lake with my pops.
It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized how bad of a fisherman I was.
As my father’s health declined and my schedule grew busier, our once frequent trips to the water’s edge became fewer and further between. So, I found some new angling buddies—my friends.
During summer weekends, it was not rare to make the one- to two-hour trek from Wichita or El Dorado to the secluded federal hunting and fishing land along the beautiful Fall River between Eureka and Fall River Reservoir.
Most of the time the only thing we accomplished was drinking beer, but we always hooked a few sunfish (Kansas perch) for bait and pulled in a small channel cat or two, which we always threw back.
But one summer we got serious. Most weekends we took our meager earnings for the week—after the bills were paid, of course—and set out for Greenwood County with a bunch of equipment. This summer, one of us was going to nab the big one. It also was the summer I proved I had no skills when it came to serious fishing.
The day started at 5 a.m. near Mossy Ford in the sticks of Greenwood County, but sunshine became dusk and dusk turned to night.
With a fire roaring and neither of my two compadres or me getting even a nibble, my shad side-baited line began to bounce.
I watched the tip of my pole dip once, twice, three times, four. Then it jerked so hard my pole nearly disappeared over the 15-foot embankment. I jumped up—slightly off-balance from the carbonated beverages I had been enjoying that night—grabbed the pole and pushed the button to let the line go with the fish.
The creature took it, trying to find every tree limb along the way. When I finally decided to fight it to shore, my line, wrapped around every tree that had ever fallen into Fall River, snapped.
Devastated, I threw my pole and plopped down in my chair—deciding to cool off a bit before giving it another go.
My second chance never came.
Minutes later, one of my buddy’s pole began to dip. Well aware of the events that had occurred moments earlier, he jumped up and began his pursuit into summer fishing lore.
He coaxed and battled, and eventually—with the help from our other fishing friend and me—made his way down the makeshift dirt stairs carved into the embankment to the water’s edge.
When I shined the flashlight toward the water, the biggest, ugliest head and shiny eyes emerged. It was the big one.
My friend grabbed the mammoth flathead by the inside of his mouth and we proceeded up the makeshift stairs with the help of a rope we had staked that morning.
Once we got the monster to our camp, my ecstatic friend held up his trophy for a Polaroid shot. The thing stretched from the ground to the armpits of his 5-foot-9 frame.
Happy for my friend, I said, “Nice fish.”
He said: “He could of been yours if you had any skills.”