Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Reunion in a Boat

   Larry dablemont outdoor column… 3-30-20 
         I headed for Lake of the Ozarks that morning last week under sunny skies.  When I got there it was raining.  Of course it was! Every time I have been fishing the past month it has been raining, or was about to.  That day it didn’t matter.  I was there to meet Bill Goldinger and Dennis Whiteside, two old college dorm mates from the good old days at University of Missouri, when we were kids.  In fact, but for those two I don’t know that I could say there were any ‘good ol’ days” while I was there.  I never was cut out for studenthood.  Eventually I was kicked out of that dorm.

         Dennis and I fish together all the time, but Bill Goldinger; neither of us has seen much of over the last 50 years.  He arranged the whole fishing expedition with a Lake of the Ozarks guide by the name of Anthony Ford, who is kind of a multi-species guide, and this time he was going to take we three old college friends grabbing paddlefish.  His boat was a big outfit with a covered canvas cabin, so we sat inside, out of the rain, watching big heavy rods in rod-holders, while we talked about old times and the rain pelted down.  Two big motors the size of whiskey barrels idled us along, and if we were to hook a paddlefish as those huge treble hooks sliced through the lake way down deep where our guide said hundreds of paddle fish congregated, we would hear the reels screaming and would jump up and fight a monstrous paddlefish.

         I figured it would take awhile but it didn’t.  I think we were interrupted in the middle of a good story about the time I set a mousetrap under Dennis’ bed with an alarm clock behind it set for three in the morning and Bill was quickly leaning back on a heavy rod fighting a heavy fish.  When Anthony gaff hooked it and hauled it in, it was a 45- pound male, better than four-feet-long from bill to tail.  Then a few minutes later he landed another one the same size and had his limit of two.  So Dennis leaned into the next one and by golly it was another 45-pound male about four-and-a-half-feet long.

         Truthfully, I have been there and done that.  As an outdoor writer since I was 19 years old, there isn’t much I haven’t done in the way of fishing and hunting, and I went on a paddlefish-grabbing trip once in Oklahoma.  We stayed on the bank of a river not far from the fire on that cold March night and the fellows I was with hooked a couple, but I didn’t.  Half froze and sleepy, I discarded the memories of that night as something you wouldn’t ever see me doing again.

         So there in Anthony Ford’s big boat, I told Bill and Dennis to land the fish when the reel went to screeching again, but they wouldn’t have it.  I had to land a fish!  I figured that somehow I would goof up and break the handle off the reel, or that I would drop the rod, or lose the fish before I got it in.  Or, heaven forbid, the one I would land would only be about half the size of the others.  But I took it when Ford pulled the rod from the holder.  Instantly I knew it was no fish.  It was hooked on a big log out there somewhere!

         But soon, the log I had hooked turned into some kind of fish, or perhaps an alligator.  I couldn’t fight the darn thing standing flat-footed on the deck in a pouring rain.  I was sliding backwards.  So I braced myself against the gunwale and did the best I could.  Ten or fifteen minutes later, I won the struggle and Anthony gaffed a fish taller than I was.  The fish was worn out and so was I. She weighed fifty-eight pounds and I remarked to Dennis and Bill that I had never landed a fish that size on a rod and reel and never would again.  I was wrong about that.  About a half hour later I stood out there in the rain and slid around on the deck fighting one that weighed 70 pounds.  To see all the photos from that trip just go to my brand new website, ( and enjoy yourself.  I would like to know who all you readers think has weathered the last 50 years better, out of the three of us.  The really good-looking younger guy is Anthony Ford, and if you want to fish with a guy you won’t mind paying, look him up on one of those little boxes folks buy nowadays for more than I ever had in my billfold at one time.

         Oh yeah, the sky broke open when we came in… the sun shined, and the birds sang.  Anthony cleaned the fish and told me stories about his run-ins with game wardens that can’t be printed here.  Those stories will be on my website with the photos, where I have more to say about our trip and this unusual fish.  And I will tell you why that 70-pound paddlefish was a one-in-a-million paddlefish like nothing Anthony had ever cleaned before.  Just don’t have room for it here.

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