by Jim Two Crows Wallen
It was always a bone jarring experience when Granddad decided to go fishin on the Osage River. It was about an hour trip from Granddad’s to the river. It was over some of the roughest gravel roads, narrow lanes, Ozark rocky cow paths, and finally deep ruts across private lands into thick woods, I still don’t know how Granddad got that 3/4 ton Chevy pick-up through all those obstacles. But we always made it into a little clearing that led down a very steep embankment with a huge mud slough on your right and there straight in front of you was the Osage River.
Sometimes it was just Granddad and me, sometimes my Dad or Granddad’s best fishin buddy, Siebert Weaver came along. Carrying Granddad’s John boat down that slick muddy bank wasn’t much fun. And if Siebert came we had to carry his five horse Johnson outboard motor to the boat. After several trips up and down that steep bank carrying our fishin gear, our lunches and the large cooler filled with live perch for our trot line bait we were ready to go.
If Granddad and I were alone I sat in the back of the john boat. If Siebert came with us I sat in the middle with Granddad in front and Siebert and his 5hp Johnson in the back. The first thing was to either paddle or motor around a large island that was right where we put the boat in.
Once we got to the South end of the island we would put out our trot line stretching it from the point of the Island to the bank on the opposite shore. 450 feet of line with 225 very large treble hooks. Each hook baited with a perch that weighted as least a pound.
The river was probably 500 feet wide and Granddad said the catfish would always choose to swim up the deep side of the river around the island. Granddad was pretty sharp because we always caught lots of big catfish on that line. Sometimes if the river was high we would bait limb lines. A limb line is where you tie a single trot line and hook to a limb hangin over the water, baited with a perch or a piece of cut bait. We used gar or drum for our cut bait.
Once on a limb line we caught a 475 pound mud cat. He would have weighted more but by the time we got to him he jumped so high out of the water tryin to throw that hook out of his mouth, that he wound up in the top of that cottonwood tree that we had the limb line tied too. It took us a week to saw down that 95 foot tall tree. We figure he lost at least 200 pounds bein' out of the water that long.
Sometimes if the river was low we would throw out some jug lines with those large treble hooks and live perch or Granddad’s very special worms for bait. We were always successful on either. A jug line would be an old gallon plastic bleach bottle. When it was empty it would float on top of the water. As soon as the fish took the bait, it was caught. But a big fish could pull that jug a mighty long ways.
Once we had to follow one big flathead 98 3/4 miles up the river before he tired out. I loved watching that limb line shaking violently, a jug bobbin up and down, or the water boilin in circles at the far end of the trot line. That told me there was a big fish on the line. When I was about ten years old, on a Tuesday towards the end of July, Siebert, Granddad and I had made our way to the Osage hoping to catch some large flatheads or whitecats.
After baiting our trot line we decided to do some fishing for perch along the shoreline so we could rebait our line late in the afternoon. It was about lunchtime when Siebert hooked a large fish. We were fishin over a gravel bar where a bridge had long ago crossed the river. The old gravel road that led to it was still there but, the bridge was long gone.
Someone had pushed an old car into the river from the gravel road and it sank in about eight feet of water. When the river was clear you could see the old rusted body of the car. When Siebert hooked that big ole fish it headed straight for that car and got his line hung up on that bucket of rust. Siebert didn’t want to lose that much meat so he gave the fishin pole to Granddad and told him to keep the line tight.
He quickly took off his shirt, trousers, and shoes and slipped into that eight feet of water, telling Granddad and me he was going to catch that fish by hand. He carefully followed his line down to the car, but that day his luck was all bad, the fish had locked the doors and rolled up the windows. Siebert came up saying it was just gar anyway.
After that we just ate our lunch. Granddad and I always had the same lunch. Granny would pack in a metal lunch box like I used to carry to school. A can of Vienna sausages, a thick slice of Colby cheese for each of us and a package of crackers to share. The thermos was filled with ice cold well water from the Bentonville, Missouri, community well.
I don’t remember what Siebert would eat. But I do remember he brought his lunch in a brown paper bag. We were almost finished with lunch when we noticed just a few yards from the boat a big mouth bass kept hitting the top of the water so we decided to float the boat downstream to see what he was after. There was a grasshopper sitting on a weed hanging over the water and that bass just kept hittin that reflection in the water.
Very quickly I threw out a line with part of one of Grandad’s worms and that big ole bass struck that worm. It took a little while but I finally caught him. Because it was July and so hot Granddad said we had better go ahead and filet him and put the meat in the cooler we had brought the perch in. Granddad and Siebert cleaned that ole bass, the filets weighted 8 poundseach,and when they opened him up he had 52 grasshopper reflections in him.
Reflecting back on it, it was quite a fish. Some of you may not think that story is true but I was there. I think one reason Granddad had such good luck using fishin worms was that he raised his own. He took those big ole river worms that we dug out of the slough’s of the river bank and crossed them with night crawlers he got out of his truck patch.
They were the best worms I ever used. They were tough like river worms and bigger than night crawlers. We ended up with nine pound sixteen ounce worms. Those worms so excited the fish they always had a smile on their faces even when they got caught. It was that same smile some of you have on your faces right now.
It was mid-afternoon when Granddad using about a half pound of one of his famous worms hooked the biggest perch that I ever saw. It was so big it started pulling the whole boat upstream against the current. Now if you know anything about fishin you know that, pound for pound a perch can fight as hard as any fish. Several times it jumped high into the air trying to flip that hook out of its mouth.
Finally with a 20 foot gigantic flip in the air, doing a half gainer with a twist, it spit the hook right back at my Granddad. Siebert while that fish was still in mid-air, grabbed a lead sinker and his brown lunch sack and began drawing a picture of that perch. I don’t know how much that fish weighted but the picture he drew weighted 5 3/4 pounds and that was after Siebert had eaten his lunch. Siebert was some artist!
By now it was getting along in the evening and we had drifted quite a ways down the river. It was time to check the trot line. As we started upstream the fog began to roll in. Now river fog can be some of the thickest fog there is. It soon got so bad that I couldn’t even see Granddad or Siebert right there in the boat. Granddad and Siebert discussed the situation for some time and decided to keep making our way upstream and maybe with any luck we would run into the island across from where we put the boat in.
I got to tell you despite the fog, fishing was pretty good for all three of us caught a nice mess of fish, nothing big, nothing weighing over 100 pounds. It wasn’t until about 9:30 the next morning that the fog began to lift that we discovered that we were still in the johnboat and it was sitting in the back of Granddad’s truck, and most of the fish had been caught after we had come ashore.
The boat had sometime in the night snagged our trot line and drug it on shore and those sharp Ozark flint rocks had filleted all 47 catfish that had been caught on that trot line. We picked up the filets, took up the trot line and headed for a bone jarring ride home.
Which just goes to prove you don’t have to water to catch fish. You just have to put your audience in a thick fog, and have a lot of wind to get them out. I think some of your funny bones have been jarred because I see that nine pound sixteen ounce worm smile on your faces again.