Grandpa Jacob’s Fish Stories: Part 1 — Mike The Muskie
Grandpa Jacob’s head looked like a collection of porcupine quills. Even at the age of seventy-two he had a fine, full head of hair of a glinting silvery color. While blessed in older age with that lush growth, he was cursed by the orientation of the hair. For most people hair lies politely on the scalp, but Grandpa’s hair sprouted up and out from all sides of his head. No amount of Brylcreme could get those suckers to lie down properly. Hatless he looked like a Brillo pad.
Rarely was he hatless though. Grandpa drove a hack for a living, and wore a variety of caps and hats while he worked. That was an odd sight indeed, because the hats never fit well enough to cover the quills. Lord knows what his patrons thought, although I suspect more than one recalled the line from the Bob Dylan tune — Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat, which goes: “balanced on his head like a mattress on a bottle of wine”.
Hatless, or wearing his working hats, Grandpa was a sight. Nothing, however compared to his recreational hats which he wore when he was on his own time. Jacob’s recreational hats were all connected in some way to fishing, his real passion. There were straw hats with fish hooks on them, and wide brimmed ones and smaller ones, but they were all clearly connected to fishing. The combination of ill-fitting hats and a brillo type head was such it left people always distracted, wondering when exactly the hat would be blown off his head. Of course he wore these hats when he was fishing, which was often.
He’d fish every chance he got. He’d fish in ponds, and streams, and lakes and rivers. He’d even practice fishing by standing out on his lawn with his rod and reel practicing his casts, while his old cat, Marmalade, chased the lure he used for practice. Mercifully the hooks had been removed. I remember grandpa from when I was about six years old, so it’s no small surprise that I thought that “catfishing” meant what my grandpa did on the lawn. I only learned there was such a thing as “cat fish” when I was twelve or thirteen. I was always a little slow on the uptake.
Well, Grandpa’s love of fishing got passed on to his son, my father, then to my mother, and then it sort of got tangled with me, a little like snarled fishing line. I “got” the fishing bug, but it didn’t take. Once I discovered other things, like books, and girls, and sports and girls, my enjoyment dimmed. But before it dimmed, I’d be bundled into the car for almost weekly trips to the lake to “fish”. Mom, Dad, my sister Eve, and Grandpa would pile into the Ford (which coincidentally had these strange protrusions on the back called fins), and off we’d go. My sister would whine (she was about eight, I remember), and I’d whine just to be in tune, and we’d ask “if we were there yet”.
We all know how annoying THAT is. Two whiny kids in the back asking that dumb question every 3 minutes, when the trip is only 45 minutes and everybody knows exactly how long it is, and when they will arrive — that was serious pain for my parents.
Add in Grandpa’s fish stories. You see, the one thing Jacob liked to do almost as much as fishing was to tell stories about fishing. And he’d fill in the driving time to the lake telling them. Now granted that he’d been fishing for some sixty years so he’d had a lot of time to devise his fish stories, but many of them just plain sounded the same. The type of fish would be different, or the places, but ultimately there are only five plots for most fish stories in the entire universe. When he started “a goin on” with those stories, my sister would crank up the volume on her whining machine, and there was a whole lot of blowing out of air where my mother and father sat. I suppose they figured he’d drown out our “are we there yet” questions, so on balance, they decided to offer no objections to the fish stories, even if they’d heard them a dozen times.
Grandpa had another, special kind of fish story, though. It actually was a sixth plot for fish stories, but then again, mostly it didn’t have any fish in it. Once a year, like clockwork, Jacob would fall out of a boat, plunk into whatever body of water the boat was on. In living memory, he never missed a year. He’d fall out, sometimes while tending weeds on the outboard motor propeller, sometimes leaning out too far to net a fish (you see, sometimes there were fish involved). He didn’t really need a good reason for falling out, or even a cause for the tumble. He just did. So, once a year, we’d all be treated to the sight of my grandpa thrashing around in the water, usually chasing his hat, which had dislodged, and even, on occasion smoking the cigar he often enjoyed while he was fishing. He got wet. The hat got wet. The cigar never got wet. Go figure. Another thing hard to figure — he never, ever made any sound when he fell over. One minute he’d be there leaning over the edge of the boat, and the next he was gone. We’d have to look for him.
Anyway, he had a lot of “falling out of the boat” stories too.
Grandpa had a favorite fish story, or rather a collection of stories that revolved around a single fish character, first referred to by the words “magnificent muskie”, but later simply called “Mike” as he, apparently, became an honorary member of our family. Here’s one of Grandpa’s Mike the Muskie stories.
Grandpa: “Bob, me boy, you know what a muskie is, don’t you?”
Me: “Well, of course I do, you tell us every week. It’s the biggest kind of fish this side of the Mississippi, you say, and the smartest this side of the specific ocean, and the toughest fighter this side of Mamma Ali and…
Grandpa: “Ok, ok, Bob, who’s story is this anyway. Hush up for a moment, and I’ll tell you about the very first time I met up with Mike the Muskie, long ago, when I was in my prime.
Well, Bobby, it was way before you were born. Your Dad and I went on a fishing trip way up North. So, we’re sitting in this rowboat, which is all we could afford to rent in those days, and we’d caught a bass, if I recall, and one three pound shrimp of a Walleye, and it was getting time to get the muscle in and get back to the shack on shore, that was all we could afford back then, too.
Now, we’re just sittin’ there, and I coulda swore that something hit the boat, because there was this real hollow thunk, but there wasn’t anything else around, and there weren’t no rocks or anything. Looked over the side, and couldn’t see anything at all. Bump, she goes again. Then bump, bump. And then I see this fin in the water, the biggest darned fin I ever seen on a fish, and then I see this shadow, and I swear it was the biggest Muskie I’d ever even heard about, or more truthful, ever even dreamed about. Forty pounds if an ounce, you know. I thought, ‘nah’ can’t be a fish that big, the size of a tree log. But it WAS a fish. It was Mike the Muskie.
Well, now I want to get a better look, and I swear, he wanted to get a look at me too, because he swam back to the boat, and bumped it again, one time, two time, three time, and than swam BACKWARDS and sat there kinda hanging, and looking at me, waving his side fins at me. He wasn’t looking at your Dad, or the boat, he was staring at me. So, I inched a bit closer so my face was closer to the water, and darned if that ole fish inched forward. And I inched again, and he inched again. I inched so far that my ceegar (cigar) was almost touching the water.
Then all of a sudden, as gentle as could be, that fish stuck his big ole snout out of the water, and snatched that stogie right out of my mouth. Now, me, I’m real mad, and I make a grab at him, and next thing you know, I’m flying out of the boat, and there I am chasin’ round for my favorite fishing hat, my cigar floating in the water about a foot away, and there’s no fish in sight. Gone. Plumb gone. Darned if I can figure how a fish the size of a log can disappear like that, but God’s truth, he was gone.
Well, I’m treading water, and thinking, ‘I don’t mind falling in the water, heck I do it all the time, but I’m darned mad about losing a half-smoked cigar to a darned fish.’ Climbed back in the boat, since I’m real good at that, and it was then I promised myself that I’d catch that fish. And it was at that moment that it seemed that Mike the Musky promised himself that wherever I went to fish, he’d come around, flaunting those huge fins and bedeviling me until my dying day. So, that’s the first time, and it’s how it all started. I’ve seen Mike dozens of time, and he’s seen me as many. Don’t matter if we fish the Raisin River, or Lake St. Francis or the Baskatong Reservoir I keep finding him, and he keeps finding me.”
….to be continued (Better follow me)
…or can you guess what’s next? (Leave comment)