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Thursday, 19 September 2013

Fish Tales

By Janet Thompson

I'm the child of fly fishermen.

The dusty, one or two-lane Colorado roads in the 30s twisted, rose and dipped as they lured my folks to the best trout-friendly rivers. (Back then the roads were so narrow that when a driver approached a hill or a curve, they honked their horn to warn anyone on the other side that they were coming).

Daddy had scoped out the streams when he was setting telephone poles all over the rural western slope. For the phone company crew, landing temporarily in a small town for only a couple weeks, drinking in the bars, telling lies and fishing were the favored weekend entertainments.

The Frying Pan near Basalt, the Roaring Fork (I wondered how a fork could roar) near Carbondale and the Blue near Kremmling are the river names I remember because they always sounded so unique. And they held trout!

I will never forget rainbows, German browns and brookies are what Mother and Daddy caught. I don't remember ever hearing of anyone stocking trout streams back in those days.

I can still see both my folks in sturdy pants, cotton shirts, weather-beaten hats, well-used tan fishing baskets on a leather strap slung across their shoulders and rubber hip boots.

Fancy-footed, they carefully balanced their way over the slippery rocks to get close enough to the best holes. Sometimes a little pool was closer to the water’s edge where a hungry fish would slow down long enough to grab a nibble, rather than eating on the run.

It was an embarrassing calamity when a cast landed in a tree or bush on the other side of the river. If a hat blew into the water or another angler came too close that was terrible, too.

The operable angling etiquette was to stay far enough away from anyone else that you couldn't see or hear them. (There was none of this sitting side-by-side in a motorized boat using a fish-finder!)

The drill was to walk and talk carefully to make no noise over the mellow sounds of the ripples running in the river. Rural Colorado has always had an unusually clear blue sky and the terrain then was always rough and rustic. There were no airplanes overhead in those days. It could even have been lonely.

Little five-year old kids, however, are bored by scenery, inaction and quiet. Throwing rocks in the river (a favorite kid pastime) was the worst fishing sin anyone could commit. But ordered not to do so, is how I got my first important job.

Gutting and cleaning the fish kept me busy and out of trouble. I felt grown up and valuable, and like bicycle riding, it’s a skill one never forgets.

Mother always brought along the big iron skillet and a tin pie pan. After taking the grassy catch from the bottom of their baskets, she'd dip each fish in the pan of cornmeal. Then into the hot bacon grease they would go to sizzle, with heads, eyes, and tails attached. Some folks even ate the crispy tails. (We didn't).

If the fish was smaller or larger than about 6-8 inches long, Mother and Daddy released them. Never were they in trouble with the game wardens.

Most people have never heard if you fry a trout that soon after they are caught, as they warm in the skillet they take a quarter-turn up from lying flat on the surface and stand on their little opened tummies. Mother would carefully press them back down with her spatula.

Then we would all scarf out, right by the stream! Not surprising, I still LOVE trout! (I even used to think the Frying Pan River was named for my mother).

Clarence, another crew member, tied flies for a hobby and shared them with the others. I recall the names Royal Coachman and Hackles stuck in the felt at the bottom of the little silver tin boxes that Mother and Daddy carried in their pocket. No one would EVER try to tempt a wily trout with a wiggly worm!

* * * * *

Years later, the folks joked about how I had first shown my grandmother how to bone her trout.

“Look, Nana, you just lay the fish flat, cut along the back like this, set the top side over on the skin, then pick up the tail so you can pull the bones out all the way up to the head. See?”

It worked. And I ate her fish.


[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Thanks, Janet, for the trip down memory lane! I can relate, we only fished, and we fished the canals, lakes and rivers. I had my own small rod and reel and I managed to lose it in a lake early one morning, my heart was broken. Unlike today, no one bought me another one.

Wonderful writing, Janet

Another wonderful yarn. Thanks

Talk about a great fish story...great narration, love reading about real people's adventures..being a city girl, I only know of trout from menus in very nice restaurants...still about the most expensive thing you can order in NYC, besides Lobster, of course...I think I may mosey to my neighborhood fish market tomorrow and see what they are having on special...love the personal stories in these writings...

I loved your vivid descriptions. We never fished for trout in my part of Georgia but I loved sitting beside a lake or stream with my dad, throwing in my line from a cane pole with a "bobbin" floating on the water's surface and waiting for the bobbin to sink down, telling me a fish was nibbling on the line.

We lived in the Four Corners in the early 50s Janet, the big Navajo/Paiute/Ute Reservation in Monument Valley was my playground.

Despite the perception that it's a desert many a cold mountain stream rushed out of the surrounding mountains. I didn't fish but I loved lying on my belly on sun-warmed rocks and watch the trout idling in the pools below.

I also enjoyed watching a family of river otters who lived in the stream right next door to our house. They certainly fished!

Thanks for a well-written story which gave me a lovely jaunt down memory lane.

Lovely well-written memoir. I loved fishing with my daddy. After I was grown, years went by and then again I found myself fishing with him off a pier in Florida where they had moved. He had a little row boat and fished, with a buddy, for fresh-water fish in the many lakes and ponds. When we asked him, near the end of his life, what he wanted for Christmas, he'd say "All I want is a motor for my boat." Needless to say, we got that for him.

Like you, I grew up fishing and enjoying fish fries. (dinners where fish were prominently featured) But as I got older and more interested in my tan, I used to tie the line around my foot to wake me as I lounged in the boat. Those were delicious years and I kick myself that I never passed that on to my sons. Thank you for sharing.

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