Bob Menzies – Springfield, MO
Admit it, we’re all guilty. We all tend to hold our proudly caught fish forward with the arm fully extended so that when the camera clicks, the fish looks larger than it really is. It’s a matter of perspective, a revered fishing tradition.
Yet I have rarely considered how our perspective also changes with the passing of time as one grows from a child to an adult. Consider how a huge fish looks in the eyes of a child. Imagine the excitement, the thrill.
Recently I passed through the old neighbor where I grew up. I was amazed as I walked down the street of my old block where I had ridden my bike with reckless abandon and played some pretty outstanding baseball (at least in my dreams). I was amazed because everything seemed so small. The “huge” field at the end of the street where we played ball was gone. The small lot I now surveyed was a pale shadow of the grand field of my childhood memories. What had happened? I had grown and my perspective had changed.
Surely the same is true of fishing. It’s a matter of perspective. Last week I heard a story that reminded me of what it feels like when a little boy catches a big fish. The story comes from Paul Henderson. Paul is now 91 years old and still sharp as a tack. Paul has the distinction of serving our country as a Navy seaman in both theaters (European and Asian) of World War II. He is an avid fly-fisherman and has been fishing in the trout streams of Southwest Missouri for the past 77 years. Paul grew up in Monett, MO and managed one of his favorite streams, Roaring River, back in 1949. Of course, after so many years of fishing experience, Paul has some amazing stories. This story took place in 1933 when Paul was just 10 years old.
Paul was fishing with his father and Uncle Ether on the Tennessee River near Benton, KY. Uncle Ether was an experienced fisherman and skilled at handling a boat. They set out in the 22-foot long rowboat and cast out their lines.
Time passed and Paul began to pull in the trout line and re-bait the hooks. Suddenly, the water next to the boat began to swirl and foam. Uncle Ether immediately grasped what was happening and called out, “Ease up on the line.” He then told Paul’s Dad how to land the great fish churning the water beside their boat, “Grab the gills of the fish and pull it into the boat by laying back and hauling it onto your chest.” Paul’s Dad did exactly that. He pulled the monster from the water and laid back into the boat. The fish was now laying on his body in the bottom of the boat! Amazingly, the fish did not move. Later, Paul would learn that the heat of his Dad’s body calmed the fish. It must have seemed like a warm sand bar in the middle of the river. Uncle Ether instructed Paul to cut the line – Paul’s line, the line that he was pulling in (hey, this was Paul’s fish!) – from the giant Yellow Cat’s mouth.
They rowed to shore in quiet amazement, careful not to startle their whale. Finally, after they arrived at the dock, they put a large rope through the fish’s gills. Only when they hoisted the fish up by throwing the rope over the branch of a tree did the fish begin to thrash. As the fish dangled under the limb, it writhed and jerked with such violence that it cut deep grooves into the branch. The giant Yellow Catfish was taller than Paul and, at close to 60 pounds, weighed about the same as well.
Paul’s eyes gleamed as he told the story. Although 81 years had passed, it seemed that for Paul it was only yesterday. I wondered, in Paul’s memory, how big was that fish?