Cane poles and bluegill

Ready to go…

When I was a boy, my paternal grandparents lived in a tiny, 100-year-old house on the outskirts of Buchanan, Michigan. It was here where Grandma and Grandpa would often look after me on those occasions when Mom and Dad had things to do. And one of my favorite summer adventures while spending time with them was a cane pole fishing trip out to Weaver Lake. Now, with the warm days of summer fast approaching, I thought it might be fun to share with you some of my recollections of those trips. So, let’s see how well my memory works here. (That’s a joke, of course; we all know how well my memory works.)

Okay, picture this: it’s an idyllic summer afternoon, circa 1956. I am about ten years of age and spending the day with Grandma and Grandpa. I’m perched on the steps of the porch with elbows resting on my knees and my chin in my scruffy hands, idly watching popcorn clouds with flat bottoms slide slowly across the sky. The heat of the day is tempered by a light breeze that tousles my hair on its way to the open windows of the old house, where it gently ruffles the sheer white curtains inside. It’s just another lazy, hazy summer day.

And I’m bored.

My elderly grandfather, seated in his porch chair puffing on his ever-present pipe, notices my deep sighs and pops the question: Would I like to go fishing?

* * *

These trips typically began with the harvesting of a coffee can full of nightcrawlers from the soft, loamy soil around the perimeter of the old, dirt-floor garage out back. Then, Grandpa would organize our gear and load us up in his big, four-door Buick for the ride out to the lake. I would usually be assigned shotgun (with Grandma in the back seat) so that I could stick my arm out of the rolled-down window and hold onto the fifteen-foot cane poles that were roped to the side of the car.

And off we would go.

Weaver is located just east of Clear Lake Road. Back in those days, a rutted, dirt drive led up to a seemingly unoccupied old cabin situated on its southwest bank. Walking onto the porch, one would find the dried and dusty heads of several large-mouth bass tacked to the exterior wall, presumably hooked in those very waters long ago, along with a wooden box with a slit in the top for our honor payment. The payment was for the use of one of the rowboats tied up to the narrow, dilapidated dock behind the house.

It’s well-known that the scariest parts of flying in an airplane are the takeoffs and landings. And, so it was on these fishing trips, where Grandma’s ingress and egress from the vessel were, often as not, heart-pounding events. Grandma, who was getting up there in years and had put on a few pounds, was a little unsteady on her feet. So, standard procedure was for me to get into the bow and hold the boat steady as Grandpa helped her step down from the wobbly dock into the wobbly boat (tough enough even when not wearing a dress—grandmas didn’t wear pants in those days. At least, not my grandma).

Once everyone and everything was situated, we would shove off. And with the rhythmic squeaking of oarlocks and the occasional splash of an oar, Grandpa would propel us across the lake in search of a suitable fishing spot.

As the boat cuts through the mirror-like surface I reach down from my post in the bow and drag my fingers in the warm water, mesmerized by the wake until Grandpa finally slows our progress and nestles us into a small clearing near the lily pads. Time to drop anchor.  Next, we break out the poles, bait our hooks (I had to do Grandma’s—she did not like those worms) and, in eager anticipation, drop our lines into the calm water. Then all is quiet for a while, except for an occasional splash—probably a frog leaving his perch on a lily pad—and the eerie murmurs of conversations from other anglers, wafting across the water on the still air.

No action. Lift and try another spot. Still no action. Lift and reset the depth of the float. Nothing.

And then, suddenly, a bobber begins to bob, pushing concentric ripples across the surface and causing a heart to race. Then, with no warning, another bobber is suddenly dragged completely under, triggering a reflexive and unnecessarily strong jerk of the pole to set the hook. What fun. And even with all the wild swinging of poles, tangled lines, hooks lost to the lily pads and yet other hooks attached to lines flying precariously around the boat, no one gets hurt and Grandpa never once loses his pipe.

These trips almost always resulted in a catch sufficient in number to earn a skillet-fried fish dinner that evening. Grandpa would scale and clean the fish while Grandma readied the kitchen. There is no tastier fish than Bluegill.

As a side note, I don’t recall how or where, exactly, Grandpa cleaned our catch. But I do remember that when my dad would take us out to one of the many lakes around Buchanan, upon our return he would carry the pail of fish into the garage and place a board across the top of it. He would then take another pail and turn it upside down, where he would sit, shirtless, while scaling and gutting our catch on that board. I was only as tall as he was when seated, so my job was to stand behind him and smack the mosquitoes on his back as he worked. Funny the things we remember. Assuming my memory works at all.

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6 comments

    Nicely written, I could easily imagine being with you on that fishing trip! Love your sweet Buchanan memories. Small town – Big heart.

    Diamond Lake, scads of blue gills, lots of throw backs (if they did not swallow the hook), lots of scales and guts afterward but then I did not like the bones in the meat. Back then I preferred frog legs over
    those boney fish, but the catching and worm crucifixions were a fun challenge, not to mention
    trying to out do my sister. JMK.

    Elegant and thoroughly evocative. I think I could actually smell the water and feel the sun on my face. What a delightful time machine you possess. Thanks for a much needed trip back to a simpler and lovelier time.

    Dear Skip,
    Who knew what poignant words would come from the heart of a small boy from Buchanan, Mi.. Thank you for gently reminding us of the smell, and sounds of our youth.
    Gratefully,
    Noel DeSomer

    Two songs come to mind, Memories (Elvis) and Gone Fishing (Bing & Louis). Nice to remember the good old days of fishing with family.

    Bill Pipes

    Thanks for the trip back home. Lots of great memories in that great town of Buchanan we called home. Thanks again for sharing

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