G. SAM PIATT
PDT Outdoors Writer
It’s disappointing and discouraging when we realize the changes in physical endurance brought by advancing years.
In my youth, I could swim the Ohio River over and back. Now I doubt very seriously if I could stay above the surface for a hundred yards.
Not long ago, while enjoying a family houseboat vacation on Cave Run Lake, I came down the slide on the back of the boat and started swimming for a point where my grandchildren were, it was probably no more than 70 feet away. Just over halfway there, I thought for sure I was going to have to call out for help. But, after pausing to tread water a bit, I made it.
I was wearing just a bathing suit. My friend and colleague Soc Clay had on shoes and clothes when his Old Town dumped him into the Ohio River on a recent fishing excursion with his grandson, John Henry Peining (daughter Carla’s son).
Yes, Soc Clay experienced a Sam Piatt kind of day. After realizing that he must have survived else he could not be writing about it to me, I laughed until my sides hurt.
John Henry had come to visit and wanted to learn about fly fishing. So on Wednesday before last they set out for Kinniconick Creek, where Soc caught that three-pound smallmouth on his fly rod in May.
People may think those outdoor writers who write stories for the magazines follow a script and always catch lots of fish and everything goes swell. Well, uh…why don’t I just let Soc tell you what happened:
“We strung up rods, made beadhead wet fly selections, and tromped off to the “riffle” on Kinniconick. It was mid-afternoon when we arrived at the riffle. The sun was hot and in a position to shine directly onto the stream surface. We commenced to work the deeper end of the riffle and John moved up the shoreline to cover even deeper pools ahead. There wasn’t a sign of movement on the surface- nothing. We worked the entire upper reaches of the riffle without catching a thing! Not a rock bass, sundad, creek chub, nothing!
“I found it very difficult to get back up the steep banks that were still wet under the shade of the big maples and oaks. Thankfully, John gave me a hand and we relocated to the lower riffle area of Spy Run. Beautiful water but no sign of movement on the surface. Even carp were dormant.
“We worked that area for about an hour before giving up and headed for the Hollow and Grandma Wanda’s fine supper of Grilled porkchops, mashed potatoes, green beans and a salad, and a wonderful deep-dish apple pie!
“Next morning, we hooked up the Grumman utility boat with the 9.9 Mariner and trolling motor and soon discovered it had a flat tire. Too excited to repair it, we piled the Old Town canoe on top of the truck and headed for the launch ramp in Portsmouth. I had switched the troller to the Old Town and loaded the 50 pound battery to allow us to test some of my favorite holes farther up river to see if the white bass were feeding.
“After testing the run-in from the old Erie to Portsmouth Canal with out a single bite on the wet fly patterns, it was time to try the mouth of Tygarts, where everyone has caught fish in years past. We didn’t!
“John wanted to work the upper side of the mouth from the shore. I put him on to the slick bank and he pulled the end of the canoe up on a mud-covered shelf. As he exited the bow of the canoe, the action caused the plastic hull to slide back into the water. No problem, even though the bow was reaching for Heaven. I touched the switch on the trolling motor, forgetting I had been running it at full power.
“The thrust from the motor sent the Old Town one-way, I over-reacted and aimed it in the other direction. The Old Town didn’t like that very much and decided to instantly turn upside down!
“In the water again. I thought how more than 76 years has not dampened my enthusiasm for fishing from a canoe. With all my clothes and shoes on I began doggie paddling to catch up with the still floating hull that had been half pulled beneath the surface by the dangling battery, the trolling motor and the rest of the equipment.
“It was tough to gain a purchase on the top of the smooth and very slick hull. Meanwhile, a second away, John had tossed his sandals and shirt and dove into the water and began an Olympic hand stoke that put him at my side in seconds.
“’You okay, grandpa,’ he asked as he grabbed hold of the half-floating boat.
“’Let’s get it to the other side so we can dump,’ I suggested, noticing the old river water was a lot warmer than it had felt earlier.
“It is incredible how slick a clay-covered bank on the Ohio can be. With my shoes still on, I made several efforts to get out of the deep water and onto the shallow shelf. John had hopped out as soon as he reached shore and came to give me a hand. It was the second time in two days John had helped me ascend steep, muddy banks.
“Finally, after pulling the canoe onto the shelf, we were able to right it and look for tackle. Several lures were floating in the creek and I suspect a lot more had sunk. Thankfully, the trolling motor still worked and the battery had plenty of life in it.
“Wet and muddy, we began our return trip to the ramp, stopping at two places to try our skills against fish that seemed not to be there. Then we went home. (Their trolling motor went dead and they had to paddle against a sturdy head wind most of the way back to Portsmouth). I was covered with mud and John had wound up with an experience with his aging elder that he will remember for the rest of his life!
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.