Salt Creek wasn’t a river, not even much of a creek, but then I wasn’t much of a fisherman.
In sixth grade, I was old enough to have a reasonably long leash from Mom, but young enough to still revel in a bicycle as my wheels.
The bike was rather cool actually, a Schwinn with sport handlebars and the twin tube frame. My Dad got it as part of some trade he did on a car, got me out of my old 20″ into a 24″ – a real bike in my eyes.
All Around Town
That bike took me all over town, to visits with a few friends I had by then, the library once or twice a week, downtown to the bookstore and the soda fountain, and often to my favorite place, the University Old Campus, full of aging buildings, discussion circles, a pedestrian trestle over the train tracks, all mixed with venerable oaks, elms and maples, and venerable professors.
Photos from Old Campus
But fishing fascinated me. My uncles would brag about their fishing trips. I’d go to the little sporting goods store downtown – most of the stores were downtown in those years – and look at the rods and reels, the lures, tackle boxes; I’d hear the regulars talking to the owner about their catches, too young to realize that all fisherman exaggerate, and dream of my very own fishing adventures.
Flea Market Find
A lucky visit with my Dad to a flea market produced an old rod and reel I could afford, $3 if I remember correctly, and rummaging around the garage I found an old tool box that Dad said I could have for tackle – I was in business! Now I needed tackle – hooks, lures, bobbers, split shot, and a stringer for the big ones I knew I would catch.
That had to wait a bit. After the big outlay for the rod, I needed a few weeks of paper route earnings – most went into my college savings and some to help Mom with the stereo payment – but by Memorial Day I’d saved about $5 for the store trip. I bought hooks, two bobbers, split shot, and a stringer, with enough left for one small lure, a Worden’s spinner. A modest collection, but I felt proud.
Now, where to fish? The small lake outside town was too far away for a bike ride, along highways, and the store owner insisted you needed a boat to catch anything. Prodding him a little, Salt Creek came up, but the owner declared that the only fish in it were suckers. A customer said there were a few bass and pan fish in some parts. But he might have been “exaggerating”.
Checking the Map
I looked at an old map discarded in the basement and found where Salt Creek crossed roads, marked three spots that were accessible to me and my bike. Each included a moderate hike from the road, but that only made the adventure better. One Saturday afternoon after chores, I asked/told Mom about my plan to go fishing – she reluctantly said OK – and I was off.
I had a paper bag with a few snacks, a can with a dozen worms dug from the shady part of our yard, my rod, and the rusty tackle box. I quickly discovered that riding a bike with even a short rod was an interesting proposition, especially with my clumsy nature.
But I got to the creek after a twenty-minute ride and a five-minute hike. Fortunately I had worn my old shoes – back then I only had one pair of good school shoes plus a pair that I had almost worn out – because the walk in was muddy. Salt Creek turned out to be eight feet wide, shallow and buried in a thicket. But the soft sound of running water and the not-so-soft smell of standing water assured me I had taken a risk, which made it an adventure.
Who cared? I was there to fish. The swampy habitat and the mosquito squadron that found me shortly after I arrived were not about to stop me. I tied a hook on the line, added a few split shot, threaded a worm on the hook – which turned out more difficult than I thought it should be – attached the bobber and cast to the middle, letting the whole rig drift downstream until I couldn’t see it past all the trees and brush. Then I reeled in and did it again. And again. And again. So many times that I lost count, but I was Fishing!
Later, I found a way through the scrub and pushed upstream a bit to a new spot. This spot was deeper, slower, and the bobber could actually do its job. More waiting, less drifting and reeling, suddenly the bobber dipped gently, twice – and I set the hook. Or thought I did. Small fish play with you and a hard hook set just pulls the hook away from the fish.
Most of the worm was gone, so I sacrificed another and tried again. Sure enough, another nibble and another loss of the worm. Three more tries and I finally hooked the fish, a small pan fish of some sort, definitely not a sucker, but just as definitely too small for the stringer.
Time to Go
The sun was dipping past the trees and the mosquitoes were attacking with the fury they save for dusk. I knew I had to hurry to be home before I got in trouble. I quickly packed up, fought my way back to my bike and rode like mad to get home. Mom seemed a bit perturbed, but no punishment for being just a bit late.
I washed, cleaned the bits of mud from my shoes, gave her a quick summary of the trip, then headed to my quiet spot in the basement to make a few short notes on the afternoon and evening.
It was not the only time I would fish Salt Creek – I now had my secret fishing hole that I fished another dozen times. I even got the opportunity to fish the lake outside of town on a few occasions. Later years would bring more fishing opportunities and adventures – many more. But as with countless life activities, the first experience makes the deepest impression into the mind, an event to look back on, compare other experiences with, for a long time.
As life went on, the fishing perhaps got better, but never more memorable!
© Rod Robinson