Some people remember the first fish they ever caught. Not me. If I had to guess, my first piscatorial baptism was likely a bluegill taken with a night-crawler under the traditional red/white bobber. Fishing and hunting were normal activities for our family. I suspect there was little fanfare when one of us kids caught our first fish.
What I do recall was the transition from fishing with live bait to artificials. This was as much a right of passage to manhood as getting my first Daisy BB gun or learning to drive a stickshift.
As mentioned in a previous post, in my family kids didn’t get to fish with artificial lures because the chances we would lose them exceeded the probability of catching fish with them. Lures were relatively expensive and not readily replaced. Since most of our fishing seemed to take place on farm ponds, most of our tackle shopping back then was in small town hardware stores. Fishing tackle selections in those stores could be sparse, so losing a favorite bass plug could cause a serious rift in the father-son relationship if the elder couldn’t find a replacement Lucky-13, Jitterbug, or Hula Popper.
Rather than entrust me with holy grail bass plugs, I was allowed to use a fly rod and inexpensive panfish poppers. They were inexpensive, so dad was happy. They were artificals so I was happy.
My only instruction for casting the poppers was dad telling me “kinda pop it like a whip” (which probably explains my casting stroke to this day). I tied an overhand knot in the end of the flyline, then attached a length of mono with a double-overhand knot above that to create a jam knot. Another double-overhand knot secured my popper, and I went fishing.
Grandpa’s pond lay just south of the farmhouse, over a pasture fence. At the far end of the pond there was a weed line that I was able to cast just beyond, and there let the popper sit. Usually that was all it took for bluegill and the occasional bass to attempt to dismember it. If not, a little pop of encouragement did the trick.
The first time I tried poppers, small frogs crowded the shallow muddy flat at the inlet to the pond. My popper did a fair job of emulating those little morsels, which the fish were keyed on. I spent the day catching fish with regularity. Between the aggressive ‘gills and my “snap it” cast , my cork imposter was nearly a naked hook by sunset.
I wasn’t worried. The hardware store opened right around the time grandpa finished his milking
Post script – that old flyrod and reel are still in my possession. They are talismans of an simpler time. Handling them transports me to a place that no longer exists, save in my memories.