My Greatest Catch
I wish I could remember the first fish I caught, but frankly I cannot. According to my mother, her barely year-old son was sitting on her father, A. J. Aschenbeck’s lap. He was helping me hold a willow pole, line and hook baited with a worm. According to her, I giggled with delight when I hooked and pulled out a monstrous 2-inch-long sunfish. From that point on, I was hooked on fishing. My grandfather I fished every opportunity, and back before I started grade school that was nearly daily!
Since that time many years ago, fishing has “figured” prominently in my life. During my wife’s and my start at Wharton County Junior College and then Texas A&M University, times were thread-bare and our cupboard mostly bare. When time permitted, we fished local streams and stock tanks. I cleaned and she cooked or fried just about every fish we caught. Whether or not we had a decent meal often depended upon our ability to catch fish, particularly outside of the deer hunting season when we subsisted on venison.
Our family grew to include two young daughters, whom we taught how to fish as soon as they could hold a cane pole. Thankfully, in time wages increased and fishing became less important in terms of procuring a meal. But we still fished every opportunity we had.
Moving forward to a time as a wildlife biologist, I spent a summer near the Arctic Circle on the western shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay banding snow geese. On a reconnaissance flight, which was supposed to simply be an overnight trip to find a suitable camp site for us to move our banding operation to, the DeHaviland Beaver dropped me alongside a remote stream. With me, I had a one-men tent, my sleeping bag, a half-pound of dried apricots, my hunting knife, an over-under shotgun for protection from polar bears, my ultra-light fishing rod, a packet spinner baits and raingear.
Shortly after I was dropped off on the tundra wilderness, fog rolled in. Fog so thick I could scarcely see 6 feet. That first day I fished for fun catching Artic grayling nearly every cast. I ate a handful of apricots for supper. The second day the fog got thicker. Late that afternoon I realized it might be several days before camp could be moved. I ate half a hand full of apricots, leaving about 20 for meals yet to come. Late that afternoon I caught, skinned and filleted an 18-inch-long grayling. I was not particularly a huge sushi fan, but I was darn hungry. The raw fish tasted…like raw fish!
The third day the fog got even thicker. I was glad I had raingear. It kept me reasonably dry. That day I ate four apricot halves, caught many more grayling and filleted three, one for each meal. Raw grayling was starting to taste “better.”
I will not bore you with detail, but for four more days, I subsisted on 2 dried apricot halves and all the raw grayling I could eat.
I was truly proud of some of my catches, which included world-class grayling; huge, nearly a long as my arm. Each day I liked raw graying even more than the day before. I will admit though when the fog lifted and our camp moved to where I had been stranded, I truly did enjoy a hot, cooked meal!
Moving forward again, I had long wanted to fish for billfish. Finally, I got the opportunity. Fishing with the Hughes Family out of Port Aransas, I was able to catch a really nice sailfish, which we promptly tagged and released. The boat captain said it was 68-inches long. I was thrilled. Finally, I had caught a billfish.
Other great fish I had hoped to someday catch included blue marlin, a 70-pound plus catfish and a hundred pound plus alligator gar. Fishing a stock tank in South Texas I had caught two 10+ pound black bass, actually on the same day, so I had early covered catching a big black bass. Earlier too, I had caught as mentioned big grayling and on a caribou hunt in Nunavik a near 40-pound lake trout.
I got lucky while fishing off-shore out of Port Mansfield with three friends, Jim Zumbo, Rick Lambert and Mike Snyder. I was able to hook and land, after a long tiring fight, a 108-inch blue marlin that we promptly released. I was thrilled!
Earlier that same year during the winter I had quite a day on Lake Fork in northeast Texas fishing with Michael Littlejohn. I caught three blue catfish that day: one weighed 38-pounds, another 55-pounds and the biggest weighed a whopping 74-pounds! Another goal and objective achieved. These are great catches as far as I’m concerned… Hopefully this summer, fishing with alligator gar guru Chris Moody, I will record another great catch!
As mentioned great catches indeed, but not what I consider my greatest…
My daughter Beth and I recently attended the 2021 DSC Virtual Auction and Event Watch Party at Conroe Taxidermy. A “Siberian winter storm of the century” was blowing in, in full force. We left the party after getting reports roads were starting to ice. Our hour and a half trip home was thankfully uneventful. But by the time we pulled up in front of the house slushy snow/ice/rain was falling and making things miserable.
In front of our home is a “storm drain” right where I park my pickup. I parked there thinking it would be easier than negotiating our icy steep driveway.
On our way home, my daughter had laid my cell phone on her lap. When we stopped in front of the house, she opened the door to get out. She felt, then heard something falling out of the pickup. I heard her say, “Oh my gosh, thought I dropped my phone….thankfully it’s in my coat pocket…But something fell out of the truck when I got out…” She followed that with a frantic “Daddy where’s YOUR phone?” Followed by an even more frantic, “Daddy I think your phone fell into the storm drain!”
With that, I grabbed a flashlight, laid down on the pavement where I could shine into the storm drain. There eight feet below lay my cell phone. The storm drain opening was too narrow for me to crawl into it. And, even if I could drop to the bottom, there would be no way to crawl out.
“Houston, we have a problem!” Pondering my dilemma, the rain/snow/sleet started falling harder…
My daughter frantically called her sister, whom I am certain was more than thrilled to answer the past midnight phone call. “You did what???? Oh my gracious, what did Daddy do or say?…..Yes we have one of those thingamajiggies you can pick up stuff with on the ground without bending over…but it’s only about as long as your arm….” Beth relayed her sister, Theresa’s, response.
What to do? I remembered my 6-feet long wooden dowel tripod shooting sticks. Perhaps I could reach down with them pinch the phone between two of the legs and bring it up high enough so I could grab the phone. After an hour of trying I decided it was not going to work. Sleet and freezing rain continued falling….
I walked back into the house to get dry raingear. Walking past my office, I saw a painting by Larry Dixon of a red salmon I had caught on an Alaskan grizzly bear trip. I remembered occasionally accidentally snagging a red or dog salmon with a barbless hook. YES! Now if only I could find a rod and reel, with a hook. Most of all my fishing gear I keep on my property 26-miles south of where I live. Thankfully I had recently brought home a spinning rig in preparation for a white bass fishing trip in northeast Texas with Luke Clayton and Jeff Rice. After considerable looking I found a lead-head jig, tied it on and headed back to the storm drain. Even though it was sleeting and raining, thankfully it was freezing when hitting the ground. There was no runoff into the drain!
Again, I laid down on the pavement, peered into the deep drain, then pitched the lead head close to where the phone lay and with my retrieve tried to snag the hook into the phone’s soft rubber cover. Accurately casting in truly limited space is not easy! In spite of getting close, dragging the lead head jig across the phone I could not snag it… Now what?
Then I got the bright idea to simply tie the lead head jig directly onto the last ferrule about a half-inch from the end of the rod. Possibly if I could reach the phone, I could hook the soft rubber case that way. Several stretched attempts failed, and I was truly wondering if I would ever be able to retrieve my phone from the storm drain. And all the while, I knew more rain, ice, snow and near zero weather was headed our way.
I decided to give it one more chance before calling off the “rescue operation” or trying something else. By now I was really cold, sopping wet, utterly miserable and totally frustrated…
Before my last attempt I suggested Beth go buy some super glue, perhaps if nothing else I could reach down with a long stick, with glue attached to the end and have it “stick” to the phone. If it worked, we could worry about how to dis-attach it later. That would be the last straw…
By now ice covered her pickup door and windshield. She was having a hard time getting the ice off of the windshield and opening the truck door.
I said a prayer and dragged the lead head jig next to the phone. This time the hook caught. I cautiously dragged the phone a few inches. It stayed hooked. Now only if it would stay caught so I could raise it to where I could grab it. In the past I had hooked and then lost fish. Hopefully that would not happen this time.
I missed with my first attempt to grab the phone as I raised it toward the narrow storm drain opening. Trying to hold the rod in one hand, my flashlight in my mouth and keeping it pointed toward my catch, then trying to grab the hooked phone while wedged again the storm drain opening should not be impossible…only nearly so! Thankfully the hooked phone held tight and allowed a second attempt.
This time I caught it. The battery light was flickering. I called my daughter just as she was driving away. “I just made the biggest and best catch I will ever make…I got the phone!!” Just then my phone died…
Regardless of what is going on in the world, there are always small things, of beauty and splendor, for us to enjoy, admire and appreciate!
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