If you were catfish or a carp in Silver Creek, this was the time of year to make out your will.
The Kuhls were getting their fishing gear down from the garage rafters. And, with a few minor adjustments -- new line here, a broken bobber replaced there -- we'd be coming after you soon.
With a more than full-time job, eight kids and unending handyman duties, Pop was a busy guy so there wasn't really much time to go fishing. But on a warm spring night when he came home with that look in his eye and said, "Let's go fishing, buddy," the gear had to be ready to roll.
When I was very young, there were just bamboo cane poles. That's all we needed for fishing in a creek that was less than two cane poles wide.
"Don't need any fancy rods and reels," Pop said. Just a cane pole, a few juicy wigglers dug from the garden, some weeds to chew on while we waited for a whopper to pull down the bobber, and a heaping helping of patience.
The cane poles came in three sections. We unwrapped the line that spiraled around to hold all three pieces tightly together. Pop slid the pieces together, unwound the rest of the line and tossed it, with a big washer tied on the end, over the clothesline.
He ran the entire length of string between his fingers to make sure there were no frays. No 10-pound test monofilament fishing line here. Just the yellow string right off the spool in his carpentry toolbox.
It was over that washline that I hooked my first whopper. I held the business end of the pole and Pop grabbed onto the line like a big ol' catfish and tried to swim away up the sidewalk. The trick was to yank the pole as hard as I could just at the right time to set the hook. It took a lot of practice.
It was a fun game and Pop made a pretty convincing catfish. He should have won as Oscar but he got beat out in 1959 by Charlton Heston in "Ben-Hur."
After we caught all the fish in the creek, we started branching out into farm ponds. Pop decided that maybe rods and reels weren't such a bad idea. With a rod and reel, we could reach any spot in the pond without moving all around. It changed everything.
Pop bought a couple rods and reels at the salvage store. They weren't the nice, simple spinning reels you see today. They were the Model T's of reels with an open spool. When you cast and the bait hit the water, you had to grab the crank and put your finger on the string at just the right moment or you'd wind up with a big bird's nest on the reel. Until I got the hang of it, Pop spent most of his precious fishing time untangling my reel.
More than once, a fish struck while he was fixing it, so he dropped the rod, grabbed the string and brought it in hand over hand. Whatever worked. Meanwhile, I minded the trusy old cane poles we still brought along for just such an occasion.
When we got the rods and reels down from the rafters in the spring, they were a lot more work. We rewound them every year with the "real" fishing line. Pop wasn't about to let Ol' Whiskers get away just because some plastic string broke. My job was to wind and wind and wind till there was enough line on the spool to reach across Lake Michigan.
Pop taught me to tie good knots so swivels and hooks wouldn't slip.
Then came the good part. Pop tied a rubber eraser on the hook end of the line and we practiced our casting in the backyard. At first, we aimed for a bucket across the yard. One point for close. Three points for a ringer.
That was too easy. We stepped it up a notch, casting all around the neighborhood. At the Spencers' pump. Mr. Indermill's trash pit in the alley. The Becks' mailbox by the front steps (when nobody was home). Under buckeye trees. Between cars. Sometimes we had to let a car run over the line before we pulled it back in.
Once the neighbor's dog got hold of the eraser and made a bee-line for his pen. Pop said, "Let him run." He knew the pup would run out of gas before the line ran out.
By the time we actually went fishing, we were pretty good at casting right where we wanted.
And the neighbors felt a lot safer.