KIDS ALWAYS SEEM TO ACQUIRE nicknames and one of mine was Fishcake. I was often fishing as I grew up in the Town of Austerlitz starting about 1950. Our family members had multigenerational area farms and most hunted and fished. Local game and fish fed many rural families. My grandfather, “Gramp” took me with him on fishing trips to our farm streams and ponds and started teaching me fishing necessities as far back as I can remember.
There was rich soil near the barns, and he looked for very green, grassy areas to dig for earthworms or as we called them “fishworms.” He dug with a spade fork while I held a tin can and as he turned over the sod, I grabbed the writhing worms and dropped them into the can. You needed the right type of can or the big ones could escape. Adding some dirt, grass or leaves made them feel safe and they stayed put.
For trout we used a stealthy approach to a stream. Trout could spook if you put a shadow over the water or caused vibrations from footsteps. We looked for a pool spreading out from a little waterfall or deep water flowing under a bank and tree roots—places where a big trout could hide or feed. I learned to grasp a wriggling worm and thread a hook through it, so a fish had to take the disguised hook and not just nip off the tail. Our pond sunfish were good at this. The tip of the pole didn’t cast an alarming shadow, and Gramp would hide behind a tree and flip line and worm into the stream’s current above the target area. The worm would be carried by the current and it was a wonderful sight when a trout shot out and grabbed the bait. Gramp flipped up the tip of the pole and “set” the hook into the trout’s mouth. Then the fight was on. The finer clear leader between the hook and the line was fine so the fish wouldn’t see it, and it was rated for a certain weight so the fish needed to be allowed to swim and jump until it tired and could be safely reeled in. This was the most exciting part, and the size of the fish could be assessed. Then I got ready for it to be flipped up on the bank. Gramp would put his foot on the fish secure it and knock its head on a rock to kill it. He cut a small branch about two feet long with a smaller twig at the end like a hook. The dead fish was put on it by threading the long end through the mouth and out the gills. The fish was secure against the branch hook and more could be strung on it if we were lucky.
We progressed down a stream like this, and we usually went home with our supper. I learned to clean the fish and “Gram” was ready with a skillet. Rolled in cornmeal and fried in butter made one of our best spring meals. Good luck to all our area fishermen and women.