Never one to rush a story, Grampa cut a few strips of bait and tamped a little tobacco into his old brown pipe. He was making that half-shushing, half-whistling sound he made when he was happy, a lot like a big tomcat purring.
“Well Bobby,” he reminisced, “Quite a few years ago, before you were born, I caught a really big fish right off the shore here. It took me most of the day to land. It was a huge sturgeon—they aren’t legal to catch now. We beached it up by the railroad bridge yonder, and hauled it up for everyone to see. Took three of us just to pull it off the ground!
I’d never seen a sturgeon. My grandmother said there were still a few that you could see roll in the muddy waters, but I never saw one, let alone caught one, till I was a couple of decades older. But I loved the story and always thought about my Grampa fighting that monster.
Now I’m a bit older than he was that day on the river long ago, and memories fade, but sometimes strange things happen. My wife was digging through an old box of stuff in the attic. She was putting together some albums of certificates, newspaper articles and old pictures for the family. In between some old papers and books, she found a tiny black folder. I was watching basketball in the den when she handed it to me.
“I’m not sure what this is, but before I throw it out, I thought you should look at it first,” she said. Opening the dusty cover, I slipped back in time some fifty years. There, right in front of me was my Grampa, the most beloved figure of my youth, sitting on a plank in his old wooden boat, fighting something huge.
Gramps was wearing his felt fedora (he had several) and staring intently into the murky water. His rod was bent double, and you could see the gunwale of another boat nearby. The page had several different photos of the epic battle. The battle obviously had been going on for some time. We never took a camera to the stream so someone had obviously sent for one, and looking at the wakes, I’d guess that a crowd had gathered.
The water was much too dark to allow a good view of the whole fish, but a few shots show a splash and ripple that could only be made by something nearly the size of the boat. The photography was poor—consumer cameras were awfully primitive back then—and the black and white shots don’t do anything justice, but the excitement of the battle slammed right out of the tiny snapshots.
Fish on Display
Turning the page brought tears to my eyes. There was the great fish—partially covered with the sand it collected while being dragged up the bank—hanging from the old railway trestle. In the background you could see Grampa and a couple of buddies pulling on the rope, while some women were walking down the bank to see the monster in person.
There it was, the whole scene, much as I had imagined it: my beloved elder fighting with his greatest fish, the old man and the iron rod battling against that river’s Moby Dick. How big the fish was I’ll never know. I doubt he ever weighed it, and I never heard a measure. The picture, sadly, doesn’t have anyone close enough to the fish to judge height, but my guess would be in the eight- to 10-foot range. Certainly bigger than anything his progeny have brought to shore.
I don’t know if he had forgotten about the pictures or just preferred the telling, but my Grampa never showed me that little book. Maybe he figured that some day, when that little boy was an old man, he’d open the cover and take a trip back to a great day on a sunny river, and they’d be together again.
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Bob Ellsberg’s column, Fishin’, appears monthly in RV Life and rvlife.comResearch Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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