Often, when we are fishing with our angling buddy, we fall into competition with each other. Who can catch the most and the biggest? Who can claim bragging rights for the day?
And then there’s competition on a larger scale, when as many as a couple of dozen bass boats, each with two fishermen making up a team, go against each other in a tournament where the winners collect trophies and cash.
An upcoming column will feature two young anglers – Brady Howard and Nicholas Boggs – who are making a name for themselves in state and national tournament competition.
But today we’re talking about going fishing just for the fun and utter relaxation the sport offers. Remember those promises from the ancient texts: “God never made a quieter, calmer, more innocent recreation than angling,” and “God does not subtract from the span of our lives those hours spent at angling.”
Anyway, one warm day this past week I made my way down a narrow path through the willows to the sandy shoreline of the beautiful Ohio River. I was just under the bank from Beattyville, the little Kentucky village lying in the shadow of the Carl Perkins Memorial Bridge, which spans the river from South Portsmouth, Kentucky to West Portsmouth, Ohio.
I had parked my truck in front of Hobo’s home in Beattyville. I was hoping he could join me, as in days of old. But he wasn’t home.
So, I grabbed my rod and reel, a can of nightcrawlers, a canvas camp chair, a novel I was halfway trough and, as I said, made my way down under the bank to the river’s edge.
The first order of business was to use my trusty pocket knife to cut a forked limb and stick it into the soft sandy shore. The fishing pole is rested in the fork. And I placed a heavy rock on the butt of the pole. This is essential for bank fishing with an unattended pole in a river that has some big and powerful fish swimming in it.
Besides, everybody knows that if you hold the pole in your hands the fish won’t bite. They will hit only after you set the pole down and turn your attention elsewhere.
I baited the hook with a lively nightcrawler and flung the flat lead sinker far out into the river. The morning fog still clung heavy to the river, and I couldn’t see the sinker hit, but I heard it go “kerplunk.”
The line went slack and I set the pole in the forked limb and placed the rock on the butt of the pole. Then I pulled out the novel and sat down in the folding chair.
Lazy man’s fishing, this was. Very peaceful, relaxing.
This was the same spot where Hobo had sat many times.
And, where my father, Bruce, used to spend weekends after finishing the week living on the camp cars while keeping the tracks of the C&O Railroad in line.
He would set and bait as many as a dozen cane poles, then sit down with a good Zane Grey novel and wait for the fish to come to him.
I hadn’t gotten through two pages before something nearly yanked my pole out of the fork. It was a delicious feeling, reeling and not knowing what was on the other end of that line.
Turned out to be a channel catfish I judged would go six pounds. I removed the hook from his tough lower lip and released him to fight again.
Over the course of the next hour, as the sun burned the fog off the surface, I landed a sheepshead, two hybrids, three white bass, and another channel that was smaller than the first.
This would have been enough action, I knew, to have pleased Hobo.
I loaded up my gear and went to visit Hobo. I knew exactly where he would be.
Collier Memorial Gardens lies at the mouth of Kellen Hollow, just half a mile from my fishing spot.
In his later years, as Hobo saw two brothers and two sisters die of the dreaded cancer, he became a strong and active born-again Christian. He visited homes and hospitals, praying for the sick and anointing their heads with oil.
In the end, the cancer got him, too.
The engraving on his tombstone says: “Harold Hobo Cooper, Sept. 21, 1932 – June 23, 2002. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
And battled some dandy Ohio River cats.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 932-3619.