Doc Bertram and the 13-year-old boy

By G. Sam Piatt - Contributing Columnist



The late Dr. Herbert M. Bertram Jr. of Vanceburg, along with his father before him, slapped the bare bottoms of the majority of Lewis County’s 7,000 or so residents during his 70 or so years of medical practice.

But he managed to find time for his great love: the pursuit of the fishes. He built himself a huge lodge and a 10-acre fishing lake located two miles up Scaff Lick, along the Lewis County-Greenup County line. It was at about the halfway point between the Portsmouth hospital, where he at one time was the resident physician, and his office in Vanceburg.

The lake was loaded with bass and bluegill. As the lake aged the bass grew bigger. The first time he landed the Kentucky bass it weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces. When he caught it again two or three years later it was up to 6-9. Both times the fish was returned to the lake in good shape.

The state record Kentucky bass, caught in Nelson County half a century ago, weighed 7 pounds, 10 ounces.

He was satisfied he had an eventual new record growing. He wouldn’t mind getting his name in the record books.

A couple of years passed. One late July evening, from his small boat with the electric trolling motor, he cast a minnow-type lure down near the dam. He felt the vicious strike all the way down to his toes. The first time the fish swirled, he saw enough of it to recognize it as his Kentucky.

Hold on.

After a boat-moving battle, he was looking at a Kentucky bass that appeared to be considerably heavier than it was the last time he caught it. He rushed ashore, got the fish into a tub of water, and headed for a nearby grocery store that had a set of electronic scales he knew state fisheries people would recognize as official.

Alas, to his disappointment the fish was six ounces short of the record.

He hurried to get it back in the lake.

But this time she didn’t make it. She turned belly-up. The big snappers that inhabit the lake were enjoying the meal before he could even think that he should have had it mounted.


Each spring he had the lake stocked with some big brood rainbow trout from a hatchery down south. One day he called me and asked if I’d ever fished with a fly rod. I had never had one in my hands.

I arrived to find he had me a fly rod all rigged up. A few casting instructions from shore with the eight-foot rod and loose loops of line and I was ready.

On my second or third cast I hooked and battled in a rainbow that would go close to five pounds!

Doc and I formed a friendship that lasted through the years.


I went down to the lodge to interview him on his 89th birthday. He pulled a snapshot of a boy from his wallet, studied it for a moment, shook his head from side to side, and chuckled. The worn photo was overlaid by some mysterious letters and numbers.

“I hope he’s forgiven me,” he said.

I didn’t get it.

Pray tell, good doctor, what happened here? And who is the boy?

“We all know that every picture tells a tale, and this photo of a 13-year-old boy speaks volumes,” Doc said. “The overlying inscriptions are precisely what inspired this tale, and this will later hopefully become self-explanatory.”

The boy’s love of fishing began very early. He was nine when he battled and landed what was, for him, a monstrous muskie. He guessed its weight at 10 to 12 pounds. He released it to fight again.

At that age of development, the boy would accompany his father on fishing trips to Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

The boy grew to manhood, and over the next 75 years he enjoyed fishing trips from Alaska and Canada to Mexico and South America.

“Certainly, the world of fishing has been extremely kind to this boy. But I’m disturbed by these hieroglyphics that now overlie his countenance,” he said, looking again at the photo he’d pulled from his wallet.

Then came the confession: “His clumsy older counterpart recently fell overboard, wallet and all.

“I can only hope that after more than 70 years of residing in my billfolds he will see fit to forgive me.

“Look again – do you see forgiveness in his face?

“After all, I WAS fishing! And, as usual, took him with me.”


By G. Sam Piatt

Contributing Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at or (606) 932-3619.