May 10, 2018

Crickets and The Smell of a Cigar…

My formative years (1-10) were spent in Menomonee Falls, WI with my mom Ann, my dad Jerry, my sister Marcia (7yrs older) and brother Bill (6yrs older). My family was like “Leave it to Beaver,” Mom took care of the house, meals, laundry, dog, my hermit crab, us kids, and of course, Dad when he was around. 

My father, Jerry, was an Insurance adjuster first and supplemented “our” income with working at our cousin’s gas station “Roskopf’s” as well as driving school bus. My father’s biggest passion has always been fishing, and back in those crazy years it was no different. Dad had a 14’ Alumacraft (which Bill still has) with a 1966 9.9 Johnson flattop outboard on the back. It sat on a typical yellow boat trailer and may have been the best cared for part of our family.

My first real memory of fishing is from when I was probably about 5-6 years old. We got up before light and got ready for our day of fishing. Mom made us breakfast and we had a lunch she had packed for us with food, drinks, napkins and a garbage bag. Dad had the car already attached to the boat when my little groggy body stumbled into the driveway. I am not sure if Bill was with us that morning, as he had a paper route. 

We hopped in the car and drove to my dad’s older cousin, Leander’s house to pick him up for the day. I remember driving around the house to the back and under an orangish light sitting on the steps, there was Leander. Leander had his poles, lunchbox (one of those old black ones where the thermos fit inside the lid and your lunch was in the lower part), and a coffee can. I asked him why he had a can of coffee? 

He responded with a smirk, “Jimmy, it’s not full of coffee, it is full of crickets”. 

Confused, I asked, “Crickets?”

 He said, “Yes, Jimmy, there is no better bait for bluegills than crickets.” 

We drove out of the orange light of Leander’s driveway for the 45-minute drive to Pine Lake. I’m sure I slept, as Dad and Leander chatted about previous fishing trips, politics, family and friends.

There were also a few special times when my dad picked me up after school with the boat attached to the car! What a great surprise, we were going fishing.  

Pine Lake’s landing was not much more than a gravel ramp off of the gravel road in those days. Dad backed in the boat like an expert in my eyes… I would fall over scooting backwards on my bike back then, and he could back up a trailer! Leander and I held the boat and waited while he drove up the road to park the car on the side of the gravel road, and had to walk a ½ mile back. I am not sure what we talked about for that 15 minutes, but I am sure I was not saying anything too stunning... I was 6.

Well, with a cloud of 2-stroke smoke, out we go, wow, what a great start to the day! When we stopped to fish, Dad and Leander got me set up with the usual bluegill setup, Zebco 202 with a bobber, a split-shot, a hook and a juicy crawler. When Leander was getting set up, I remember watching this old, but detailed man, getting his gear set up and at the end putting a cricket on his hook. I remember all of us catching fish but I think Leander was catching bigger “gills” than us. 

Leander said, “Jimmy, here, grab a cricket and give it a try”. 

I was horrified. I had no problem with a slimy worm – but a cricket? I’m not touching a bug! I know Leander put a cricket or two on for me.  I sure know I never did. 

About mid-morning it was time for lunch – so we stopped fishing and Dad got out our lunch and Leander got out his lunchbox. We sat and had lunch in the boat and I am sure we talked about that morning's fishing. After I had eaten my lunch, Leander reached into the bottom of that lunchbox and brought out some candy bars! Talk about topping off a little kid’s day.  

From that day on, I knew if Leander was fishing with us, my sweet tooth would be satisfied.  And, even if that magic black lunchbox wasn’t along, he always had something in his shirt pocket.

I got over my cricket fear… On another afternoon trip, we picked Leander up at work. Leander was a plumber and outside of the shop was a big pile of pallets. Leander and I hunted crickets in those pallets until dad told us enough was enough. I think I almost had as much fun doing that as fishing that day. This may have been one of the things that turned me into a hunter in later years?

For many years my brother Bill, my Dad and I would spend days on Pine Lake chasing bluegills and anything else that would bite. Bill and I hooked our lines on many trees and many docks, (mostly me… trying to best my big brother), trying to get that perfect cast for the best gill. My dad, Jerry, was a very patient instructor, never complaining about snagged lines or having to re-tie our hooks. The times on Pine Lake made me into the fisherman I am today and also makes me appreciate the moment every time out. Most of our outings were in the evening, I only can recall that one morning outing. 

Pine Lake’s landing was at the east end of the lake and the lake narrows into almost a channel coming into the landing from the west.  As you came towards the landing on the boat, the shoreline on each side and associated lily pads and weeds got closer. With our usually prevailing westerly winds we always had following seas. In the evening on our way in, Dad was always puffing on a cigar.  I don’t know how he always timed it, but it was always just a stub when we got to shore.  However, we could always smell it coming to the landing in the waning light. I was never much help in those days at the landing, there were frogs to chase, shoes to get wet, and mosquitos to get bit by. 

Whenever I smell a cigar to this day, it takes me back to a setting sun, a narrow channel, and a very happy man with a stub of cigar in his mouth running that Johnson, knowing he had passed on his passion to his kids. 

One of these days, I am going to spend an afternoon on Pine Lake fishing with crickets and at dusk motor to the landing with my dad in the front of the boat as I smoke a cigar smiling.