Remembering the Good Old Days
A line from an old Statler Brothers song asks, “Whatever happened to Randolph Scott, ridin’ the trails alone?” Since I was born shortly after the Industrial Revolution and there have been lots of changes in my lifetime, I wonder about stuff like that too. Not about Randolph Scott (since he would be about 130 years old, I assume he rode into the sunset long ago), but about how fishing has changed since I was a lad.
Hunting hasn’t changed much. We still go into the woods and fields and take game just like ol’ Dan’l Boone did. Guns haven’t changed much in the last 100 years or so. If someone asked me, “Whatever happened to that old Krag-Jorgenson you used to deer hunt with?” (I don’t think even the Statler Brothers could make a hit out of that), I would reply that it’s on the gun rack in my den and I still deer hunt with it. It’s a model 1898 .30-40 bolt action with an appendage on the side for a saddle scabbard strap. Without that little piece of metal, it is basically the same as any rifle that came out of the factory this year.
Oh, there have been a few modifications in firearms, but I wouldn’t call them improvements. They came up with the downward shell ejection. I didn’t much care if a hot casing went down the collar of the guy on my right. Now, as improbable as it is, I have to worry about one going down the front of my pants. They have replaced beautifully grained wood with hideous plastic, but nothing earth-shattering. Technically, shells are still loaded with smokeless powder. Not much new there.
Game animals certainly haven’t changed. Deer still see me before I see them. Doves can still fly faster than I can fire my 20 gauge. However, fishing, fishing gear, and fish have changed dramatically. Whatever happened to fishing in the good old days?
For instance, whatever happened to stupid bass? The first bait-casting reel I ever used was spooled with black braided nylon line so thick a WWF champ would rupture himself trying to break it. A fish could see it 30 feet away in muddy water, but I still caught stupid bass with it. I got many of them on an old Sonic. It was a yellow lipless crankbait with a black lightning bolt emblazoned on each side. I’ve studied baitfish all my life and I’ve never seen one whose scales looked like the symbol for electricity.
“The first bait-casting reel I ever used was spooled with black braided nylon line so thick a WWF champ would rupture himself trying to break it.”
Whatever happened to rubber worms? Not plastic. Rubber. They had the flexibility of a stick, but they were virtually indestructible and I caught lots of stupid bass on them also. Unless you had an obsessive-compulsive disorder, making decisions was a lot easier back then, because rubber worms only came in two colors: black and red. Since you could barely pull them off the hook with a pair of pliers, you only had to have a couple. If on the off chance one tore, you simply held a match to it, pressed the tear together and voila! Brand new, though slightly discolored, rubber worm.
Whatever happened to trading coupons for fishing gear? My Dad smoked cigars and saved the little bands wrapped around each stogie until he had enough to send in for a rod, a reel, a tackle box or a minnow bucket. Brand names. All via the U.S. Postal Service. He outfitted the whole family. That stuff would be so expensive today you would die of lung cancer before you saved enough for a cricket cage.
Whatever happened to snakebite kits? They were little cylinders made from hard rubber (probably left over from the worm molds) that pulled apart to make two suctions cups. Inside was a tourniquet, a razor blade and a set of instructions. The latter was so lengthy and complicated that you would have succumbed to the venom before you finished reading them. Basically, they directed you to tightly tie off the affected limb above the bite (with the shoestring provided), make deep “x” incisions on the bite marks and use the suction cups to extract the poison.
The instructions were exactly all the things we now know not to do. Anyone who actually used the kit would have probably gone into shock bled to death or set the stage for a future amputation, but having one in your tackle box gave you a sense of security, false or not. Had I ever been bitten though, I am sure the snakebite kit would have never even crossed my mind. I would have screamed and run in directionless terror until I collapsed and died.
Whatever happened to fishing cars? Not everybody had one, but they were fairly common. Of course, no one wanted to take the family sedan or station wagon off-road, so sometimes Dad and/or his teenage son would rescue a 20-year-old clunker from the junkyard and get it running. It was beaten to hell anyway, so you didn’t mind taking it across cow pastures, down logging roads, or through creeks to get to your favorite fishing hole.
Parents of teenagers also used them for birth control devices. They would only let their sons or daughters go out on a date if they were in a fishing car. The idea was that it was difficult to get romantic in a vehicle with dried fish scales stuck on the backrests and the occasional Number 6 bream hook embedded in the upholstery or the stench of dead crickets and rotting red worms wafting from the glove compartment or back floorboard.
A Turner, a Pincher and a Pounder
Fishing cars, by their very nature, were forever breaking down, so everyone had a few tools under the front seat. My friend Ducky Jones had a 1940s something Nash and his tools of choice were a screwdriver, a pair of pliers and a hammer. His girlfriend called them a turner, a pincher, and a pounder. God bless him, Ducky loved them dumb. When his Nash quit running, for some reason still unbeknownst to me, it responded well to a few well-placed smacks of the hammer to the engine block.
“Fishing cars, by their very nature were forever breaking down, so everyone had a few tools under the front seat.”
One night while we were on a double date. The old Nash quit and we coasted to a stop. Ducky’s girlfriend turned to him and said, “Well, I guess you better pull out your pounder.” In the back seat, my date and I looked at each other rather incredulously. It took several moments for the implications of that particular suggestion to register. Shortly thereafter, he became known around school as Lucky Ducky.
Whatever happened to those huge wooden topwater lures? Today, we measure the weight of lures in quarter ounces. Way back when I think they measured them in pounds. I remember having a Lucky 13, a Torpedo and a Jitterbug that I know were six inches long. They were outfitted with three sets of welded treble hooks they use today for mako shark fishing. I suppose they went the way of stupid bass.
Whatever happened to wooden boats, steel spinning rods and porcupine quill float? I wonder about stuff like that. In addition, I wonder, whatever did happen to Randolph Scott?