It was the dead of winter.
A cold late February day.
A thin sheet of ice covered much of Kinniconick Creek. ‘
The fisherman had to use an oar to break some of it loose to launch his boat.
But there was enough clear water here and there to allow for casting the heavy plug from the boat to the shoreline.
Although conditions were less than favorable, Marcus McCleese of Olive Hill, fishing with his buddy, Arnold Greenhill, who manned the dip net, was about to catch one of the biggest muskellunge ever to come from the Lewis County stream.
Fishermen have sought to do battle with one of the stream’s famed muskie since he days before the Civil War.
They would book a room at the Kinniconick Hotel, which sent out a carriage to carry them the six miles over the mountain from the steamboat landing and later the train station at the Ohio River town of Vanceburg.
The hotel still stands, near the junction of State Route 59 and State Route 343, offering a view of the stream from the big front porch.
BACK TO THE STORY
But back to McCleese.
And I apologize for this being the kind of story where she said he said, but I have never got to interview McCleese.
However, Mrs. Roe of Roe’s Grocery in the Camp Dix community, verified that McCleese brought the muskie into her store to weigh.
“Our meat scales didn’t go high enough to weigh it,” she said, “but we measured it. It was 52 and one-half inches. He came back later and told us it weighed just a fraction over 31 pounds.”
McCleese told Mrs. Roe that he and Greenhill were fishing Goodwin Eddy.
He was throwing a spoon – probably a Johnson’s or a Daredevil – when the fish hit.
He said he and his buddies had been fishing Kinni all winter, even on the morning when the temperature dropped to 14 degrees and they had to break ice to get their boat in.
Anyone who boats a fish like that under such fishing conditions deserves a nice catch and should not be considered lucky.
Kenny Ratliff, who ran Ratliff’s Grocery in South Shore, and who, along with his fishing buddy, Boyd Ratliff, landed several nice stream muskies over the years, most of them from Tygarts Creek, said he had heard of Goodwin Eddy on Kinni.
After hearing of McCleese’s catch he told me he was certain he had raised the same fish the year before while fishing Goodwin Eddy.
He said he got a good look at the whopper when it swirled in the wake of his plug right near the boat.
They never managed to hook it.
Back years ago, a rumor circulated about a Kinniconick muskie nicknamed Old Ironsides, so called because of all the hooks he had ingested after smashing plugs and breaking lines of anglers who dared to think they could bring him in alive.
His weight was estimated at near 50 pounds.
The record muskie coughed up by Kinni is attributed to Muskie Joe Stamper, who lived most of his life in a cabin on the banks of the stream.
He told me – and I believe he told my colleague, the late magazine writer Soc Clay the same— that his fish weighed 32 pounds.
It fed a dozen people with some left over.
The Kentucky record muskie weighed 47 pounds and was caught from Cave Run Lake.
The world’s record – as recognized by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin – weighed 67 pounds, 8 ounces.
It was caught by Louis Spray in 1949 from Lake Court Oreilles in Wisconsin.
Kinniconick Creek is on of three streams with muskie populations that flow north into the Ohio River.
The other two are the Little Sandy River and the before-mentioned Tygarts Creek.
All three empty into the big river along a 35-mile stretch.
All three have given up catches weighing 25 to 30 pounds.
Anyone who has lived into their mid-80s must stand amazed, like me, at the changes that have taken place in their lifespan.
Growing up in Beattyville, an Ohio River village within the limits of south Portsmouth, the paddle wheelers still plied the river in our front yard and the big steam locomotives still rumbled past our home in the back yard.
I remember the big black water tank with its swing-out spout, where the steam engines, which seemed to breath a life of their own, stopped for a long drink to convert to steam.
We boys explored the tank, of course, which stood about 30 feet high, with a ladder leading up, and had no handrail around it.
One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), captured the big locomotives in motion in her poem, titled “The Railway Train.”
I like to see it lap he miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop — docile and omnipotent —
At its own stable door.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619