A Punkin’ Creek Education

 

     I first learned to fish on the banks of Punkin’ Creek in Southeast Kansas.  My rig consisted of just a simple cane pole of about 8 to 10 feet in length, with about an equal amount of braided line (monofilament line hadn’t been invented yet) and a hook, sinker and bobber.  Bait was usually either worms which had to be dug, or live grasshoppers caught and stored in a bottle.  Landing a fish was by the “cornfield” method since there was no reel.  You just simply pulled up on the cane pole, lifting the fish right out of the water. If, in the excitement of the moment, you pulled up too hard and too fast, the fish would often land in the cornfield behind you.  Hence the term “corn fielding” as a method of landing a fish.   My Dad would usually take me on Saturdays when he was not at work,  but during the weekdays when Dad was at work, if I begged long enough, sometimes Mom would take me down to Punkin’ Creek and sit on the bank while I fished.

      Dad had the only “rod and reel” in the family, a very primitive model by today’s standards.  Since he could cast out farther with his outfit than I could with my cane pole, in my youthful naiveté, I naturally assumed he had a better chance of catching the bigger fish.  I recall on one occasion, Dad and I were fishing another small creek south of town.  I, of course, had my cane pole rig set out with the bobber about 5 or 6 feet from shore and wasn’t catching much of anything.  Dad, on the other hand with his rod and reel was casting 30-40 feet down the creek and had landed a couple small catfish.  I was not happy about my situation and was grumbling about how, if I only had a rod and reel also, I could probably catch some fish, too.  About that time my bobber went under and I grabbed my cane pole and gave a heave but the pole just about bent in half.  I wasn’t going to cornfield this one.  In fact I wasn’t even going to get it landed by myself.  Dad jumped up and ran over and just took hold of the end of my pole with the line in his hand and began backing up on the shore until the fish was out of the water.  It was a 6 pound carp.  I had never caught that big a fish in my entire life and I was about to jump out of my shoes with excitement.  Needless to say, I didn’t grumble anymore that afternoon about not having a fancy rod and reel.  It didn’t matter that we didn’t eat carp, it was enough just to have caught one that big and to have shared the afternoon fishing with my Dad.  

      Nowadays everyone seems to think that if you don’t have a $20,000 bass boat and about $10,000 worth of fancy rods and reels and lures, that you probably don’t stand a chance.  Little do they know.  Maybe they should’ve had the fishing education I had on the banks of Punkin’ Creek.

      That education has served me well over the years.  Once while on a trout fishing trip in Colorado, I hurriedly packed my stuff in the pickup one day and drove about 25 miles to my favorite trout stream to do a little dry fly fishing.  Upon arrival, I discovered that in my haste, I had left my fly rod hanging on the outside wall of our cabin.  Not being one to give in easily, I immediately started to take inventory of just what equipment I did have that I could press into service.  I did have an extra spinning rod and I did have an extra coil of fly line.  Bingo.  When fly fishing in a small stream, the reel mainly serves as simply a place to store extra line anyway.  Whatever line is out is all you really use and you don’t reel it up each time, rather you just pick it up with an upward sweep of the rod and then lay it right back down on top of the water.  So I just took the spinning rod, looped the coil of fly line around my right hand, and left about 10-12 feet of line out the end of the rod, to which I attached a leader and a dry fly and waded out into the stream.  Believe it or not, I caught a limit of nice trout that afternoon on dry flies, with my fly rod about 25 miles away. 

     Yep, my Punkin’ Creek education and a little ingenuity have served me well.  Just doing things simply.  Still enjoy it that way.  After more than fifty years of fishing, I’ve worn out quite a few outfits, but I still don’t own a rod and reel nor a fly rod worth any great amount of money, and I can still catch my fair share, that is, if they’re bitin’.   When they’re not, even $20,000 won’t change their minds.

George Hoke

 

 

            Ain’t But One Choice Here”

 

     Everyone who has ever hunted deer will recall with great joy and enthusiasm the memories of that very first deer hunt-- the date, the location, the weather, the sights, the sounds, the weapon, and various other things.  For me it was December 3, 1977.  But I don’t remember much except the weather, which was about 15 degrees, the fact that I didn’t see a single deer, and one other thing in the “various other” category.

     I had never deer hunted before.  The only things I knew, or thought I knew about deer hunting, I had read in Field and Stream and Outdoor Life magazines, both of which I was to later discover by actual experience, were greatly flawed in their presentation of deer hunting.  Deer hunting as portrayed in those magazines was as if it were simply a matter of mapping out your hunting territory, assuming the location of the deer within your area, (as if they always stay put), checking the wind direction and then stalking the deer until you’re somewhere within 300 yards or so, being careful not to twitch an eyelash or step on a broken twig, and then shooting a Booner with a well placed shot shortly after first light.   According to the magazines it’s also a great help if you’re near an apple orchard and you’ve had your first good killing frost, because deer love frostbitten apples.

    Unfortunately, I was hunting in McPherson County, Kansas, and most of those magazine stories were about somebody in New York or Michigan or some foreign place like that.  Kansas deer, as I was to later learn, don’t necessarily read the maps, nor the stories, for that matter, and stay put where they’re supposed to.  Oh, and also there weren’t any apple orchards within 30 miles or so.  Suffice it to say at this point that I had a lot to learn about deer hunting, but then I guess everyone has to start somewhere.

     The main thing I remember about that morning was that it was really cold, about 15 degrees or so and a brisk north wind blowing.   I had planned to sit on an old fallen log in a waterway about a quarter mile from the road, as I had seen deer tracks there, so I assumed with my magazine wisdom that was the place to be.  Because I knew it was going to be cold, I had dressed with just about every piece of hunting clothes I had at that time, which in 1977 were very primitive.  Thinsulate had not yet been invented.  About the only thing I had that could be called thermal was a pair of long johns which was the first layer of many which I was wearing.  The entire get up of several layers was finally topped with my “insulated” hunting coveralls.  I had on some hunting boots in which were about 6 pairs of socks.  As I recall I may have had to jump off the dining room table into my boots in order to get them on that morning with that many pairs of socks.

     I had prepared for just about everything that I could think of with respect to deer hunting.  The one thing I hadn’t prepared for was what happened immediately upon arrival at my hunting spot following the 30 minute or so drive from home.  I had of course prepared the proper “deer hunting” breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, juice and coffee at approximately 4:30 AM that day as all the magazines had suggested.  The one thing the magazines never tell you is what happens after you eat that kind of breakfast and have a few more cups of coffee on the way.  As I pulled into the gate at my hunting spot, it became apparent to me that there was one matter that was going to need to be addressed before I went in to sit on my log for the day.  Being about a quarter mile from the fallen log, I judged that to be sufficient distance to answer the call of nature before embarking, as I figured I was going to be there most of the day, and I knew the matter would not wait that long.  To give the magazines a little credit, they did all give a suggested list of equipment to bring along on your deer hunting expedition, all of which included a roll of toilet paper, which I had dutifully packed away in behind the seat of my truck.  So out came the roll and underneath a big hedge tree I went.  Found what appeared to me to be a suitable spot and started to disrobe.

     Did I mention it was a bitterly cold morning?  I had not at that point in my deer hunting career, discovered the art of half undressing in the dark under a hedge tree with a 15 degree north wind blowing.  In fact I don’t believe I had ever experienced anything quite like it, but I knew that it was just going to have to happen, experience or not.  With a half dozen layers of clothes on beginning with long johns, and a pair of hunting boots that it would have taken a small army to pull off, the only logical choice I had was to leave the boots on, and just drop everything else as best I could.  To say the least there was a fairly substantial pile of clothes gathered up around my ankles up to about knee high.  It was pitch dark.  

     I’ll omit the rest of the detail here as to my activity there for the next few minutes, except to say I was by necessity in something of a hurry for two reasons.  One, it was time to get to the stand, and two, I was experiencing a 15 degree north wind on parts of my body that had never experienced it before.  In a matter of about one minute or less, I was about to begin the arduous task of reassembling the layers of clothes and buttoning up.  But it was very soon apparent that a major mishap had indeed occurred in the pitch dark under the hedge tree.  My long johns did not seem to be in quite the best condition as they would need to be to go back next to my shivering body.

     As I stood there wondering what the next move should be, I thought of a few possibilities, the worst of which was to start to remove my boots and then all of the layers in order to finally get down to the long johns.  With a cold north wind blowing, I was having a very difficult time convincing myself that that was the right thing to do.  In fact it took me approximately one and a half seconds to decide it was not going to happen.  But I did want to get to the deer stand and get there soon.  To borrow a quote from Henry Kissinger, “The absence of alternatives clears the mind marvelously.”  My logical mind kicked in about that time and I said to myself, “Well, ain’t but one choice here, and not a very good one, but it’s about to happen.”

     The only way to get those long johns off without removing the rest of my clothes was to cut them off.  So I just whipped my razor sharp hunting knife out of its sheath and proceeded to cut off my long johns just below the knee as that’s far down as I dared to be cutting with that knife without risking ripping the rest of my clothes to shreds as well.  Did I mention it was still pitch dark?  The combination of pitch dark, a razor sharp hunting knife probing around inside your clothes next to your skin, and a situation like I had is not a combination that will survive even the slightest degree of error.  The magazines all said to make sure your hunting knife was razor sharp, and mine was.  And it was a good thing too.  In nothing flat those long johns were donated to the landscape underneath that hedge tree, that is, all but the lower leg sections which I was still wearing.  The rest of my outfit was soon buttoned and zipped back together and off to the fallen log I went.  The next difficult part was when I got home that evening, explaining why I was wearing long johns only from the knees down.  I’ll admit it did look rather strange.  

     Didn’t see any deer that day, never figured out exactly why, although I have a pretty good idea.  It was to be a very memorable beginning to a deer hunting career that would span about four decades.  I’ve had a lot of other deer hunting experiences, but for some reason that one still sticks in my mind as though it were just yesterday.  Just thinking about it still makes me shiver just a little.   At least I now know you don’t have to find any frostbitten apples to have a memorable deer hunt.  The only frostbitten apples anywhere near me that morning were the ones I soon rescued from the 15 degree north wind.

 

                   The Old German Swordfighter

     When I was about to enter college, I was introduced to my second mentor and fishing buddy (after my Dad), my wife’s Grandpa.    As I had never known either of my own Grandpas, I immediately “adopted” her Grandpa, or Witt, as he was often called.  No one loved to fish any more than Grandpa.  It was but a very short time after my wife and I had first met when Grandpa invited me to go fishing with him.    

     Over the next several years, Grandpa and I became fishing buddies of the first order.  Both of us would rather fish than eat, and often that’s exactly what happened, except for maybe a baloney and bread sandwich on the pond bank occasionally.  Even after college and starting my career, on numerous occasions, I’d get off work, call up grandpa and say, “Hey, wanna go fishing?”  He’d usually answer, “Well, if you twist my arm just a little bit.”  Then after about a half second pause, he’d continue, “OK, that’s enough, what time you gonna be over?”  My wife and I would pack the fishing gear, Grandma would make us some sandwiches, and off we’d go for the evening.  

     I still cherish the years I was fortunate enough to spend with Grandpa Witt, the only grandpa I had ever known.  I learned a great deal about channel cat fishing from him as well as a few words which I never figured out exactly how to spell.  These words were most often heard shortly after Grandpa discovered he was hooked up on a dead tree under water.  Even if I was on the other side of the pond, the words could be heard echoing across the waves.  The best translation I could give would be,  Confounditsonofabitsindagnabittrelim,” although it never seemed to come out exactly the same every time.  I think it may have been an old German word which was coined and passed down from his forefathers, I can’t be too sure, as I never learned to speak German.  The only part I was ever fairly sure of was the part at the end that sounded something like “tree limb”.  That would usually be a pretty good indicator of what was going on. 

     The first sound usually heard shortly thereafter was something similar to the sound of a helicopter warming up its rotors.   This was caused by Grandpa flailing the tip of his rod back and forth something like the slashing motions of a sword fighter.  The next thing usually heard was grandpa’s line snapping and the lead weight on his line hissing through the air at close to the speed of sound, then the sharp thud as it hit his pickup.  Grandpa always claimed those dents were from a hailstorm, but I suspected otherwise.  At least I knew the storm never originated in the clouds, though admittedly there was a substantial amount of turbulence associated with it. 

     At that point, the better part of his frustration was usually over, since at least he wasn’t hung up any more, and he would simply rig up and cast out as close to the dead trees as possible once more, as that’s where the big ones always hid out, he claimed.   Even though he knew there was the possibility that he would be doing this all over again in a half hour or so, the tempting thought of that one really big old channel cat was just too much to resist.

      Hard to not just love somebody with that kind of determination.  My kind of grandpa for sure.  I’m not really sure just yet, but it seems to me that this kind of zeal is perfected mostly with age, though it may be that some overt effort will also assist in the matter.  I’m still working on it and hoping to get it all perfected, as I’m now about as old as Grandpa Witt was when we first started fishing together.  I fully expect that one day soon I’ll have it all together and be able to pass the traditions on to my own grandsons.  Things that valuable should not be just taken for granted and cast aside.  For some of the simplest things in life are the very best.  I do regret, however, that I’ll probably never be able to speak the German like he could.  But I am getting close to perfection on the sword fighting moves.