Bow Hunting Catfish

stories of growing up in Kern County circa 1970

Photo by 123RF Light Poet

The Onyx Boys – “Bow Hunting Catfish”

In our friendship, it was usually Burt who would introduce some “new” activity to our motley collection of adventures.

I was out in our back garden area harvesting tomatoes and zucchini one Saturday morning when Burt popped up on his usual fence post.

“How much longer you gonna be? I got something I wanna show you,” he said looking at me.

“Give me another ten minutes and I’ll be over,” I replied. I took the veggies into the trailer and placed them in a colander, washed them off and left them in the sink.

“Going over to Burt’s!” I hollered as I went out the door.  Jogging over, I could hear this strange smacking sound, like someone was punching a hammer through cardboard. As I came through the gate, the sound made perfect sense.  Burt was standing, bow in hand, reaching for another arrow from a quiver on his left hip.

“When did you get that bow?” I questioned tinged with envy.

Without looking at me, Burt pulled back his arrow, took aim and fired. His target – a bale of hay standing on end – was about 20-25 yards away. A giant piece of cardboard was wired to it and Burt had spray painted his own bullseye about the size of a dinner plate. There were six arrows sticking out of the cardboard; and four of them were in that black bullseye.

“My dad’s brother used to bow hunt. He thought I might like to have his bows and arrows,” Burt replied with a smile.

“Wait, you said bows, as in plural. Where’s the other one?” I asked looking around. Burt pointed to the bed of the Rambler. I sprinted over to find a bow and quiver of arrows almost a perfect match to what Burt was using.

“That’s his old one. It’s only a 55lb compression bow,” he stated. I had no idea what that meant. I was just glad we had two bows and wouldn’t have to take turns.

“This is so cool,” I helped Burt retrieve his arrows and we lined up side by side.  Burt was much better at first, but as the contest continued, I got better and better.

“Why don’t we take these to the duck pond tonight and see if we can shoot some catfish?” Burt queried.

We met up back at Burt’s house just before it was getting dark. The catfish in the pond would sometimes come up to the lantern light on the water to eat bread chunks or just about anything we would throw into the water.

We set up the lantern and tossed in some crackers. I guess I got bored after about ten minutes because I was looking at the stars when… “Thwack!” Burt’s arrow shot into the water and then proceeded to start moving around.  He jumped in, waded over to where it wobbled and grabbed hold of it.

“Look at that,” he smiled holding up a nice catfish embedded on the tip.

“That’s not gonna happen again,” said Burt as he walked over to the Ramble. He returned with one of his fishing reels.

“Let’s each tie about 20 feet of line to our arrow and attach the other end to the bow. Then we can just pull the fish in. I’ve seen them do something like this in fishing magazines. They have some kind of fancy spool of line that attached to the bow. But this will do,” smiled Burt.

We attached the line to our arrows and our bows, tossed in some more crackers and took our positions.

“Here,” said Burt handing me a pair of cloth work gloves.

“What are these for?” I asked.

“So you won’t cut your hands pulling in the fishing line,” he replied.

This time I wasn’t gonna miss my chance. I had my bow and arrow ready. As soon as I saw a ripple under a chunk of cracker, I let fly. My aim was true and I saw the belly of a big catfish flash on the surface.

Well, my aim may have been true but my footing wasn’t. The next thing I knew, I was underwater. I fought to get to the surface. Sputtering, I crawled on hands and knees back to the dry bank. Somehow in all the commotion, my fishing line had wrapped around both my legs, pinning them together. I flopped onto my back and swung both legs out of the water and onto the embankment.  About five more feet of line, an arrow and a catfish followed.

I spit the pond water out of my mouth and just lay there looking up at the stars…again. Suddenly Burt’s grinning face blocked the view as he peered down at me.

“That,” he said, “was the funniest thing I ever saw.”

And then he added, “I would pay to see that again.”

I was about to to get mad. But then I started laughing and said, “How much would you pay?”

(this story first appeared in the November 2017 issue of The Cub – Bear Valley Springs, California’s newspaper. It was printed again in December 2017 in Caliente, California’s Country Reader, The Fence Post.)

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The Loooong Jump

stories of growing up in Kern County circa 1970

Photo by: Free Images

The Onyx Boys – “The Loooong Jump”

Some of the best times Burt and I had together were the times when we somehow escaped without seriously hurting ourselves. Unfortunately, we did, on occasion, require a hospital or doctor’s visit.

I guess you could consider me an “athlete” because I played sports year round. Burt didn’t. Well, he played a couple years of football and track and one memorable year of basketball. But Burt never did like someone telling him what to do. That, and the fact that practice and games took up valuable hunting and fishing time.

I was over at Burt’s garage one morning helping him load shotgun shells when I started talking about my recent accomplishments at my last track meet. I let him know my long jump of 16’5″ earned me a tie for third place. I also pointed out that I had beat his best jump of the year before by three whole inches.

“Yea, but if I was on the track team this year, I would out jump you,” Burt stated rather smugly.

“Well, I guess we will just have to see who can jump further, won’t we?” I replied

” Sure. Just name the time but for now, let’s hike up Camel Mountain to test out these shotgun shells,” Burt said.

At the top of Camel Mountain was a small natural valley where we often would go and target practice. The area was covered with pine cones which we would line up on the ground as targets. When we finished blowing the pinecones up – the shells worked perfectly – Burt said, “We can see who can jump the farthest right here.”

He was staring down the mountain as he spoke, “Let’s run, jump off of this rock and see who lands the farthest down the mountain.”

The back side/east side of Camel Mountain was pretty much just sage bushes and dirt.  As I stood on that rock, I actually didn’t see any problem with Burt’s idea. One quick game of rock, paper, scissors had me jumping first.  We drew a line in the dirt about 15 yards behind our launch spot, the rock.

“The ground’s good and soft so we should be okay,” grinned Burt. “Whatcha waiting for?”

I backed up to the starting line, took a couple of deep breaths and took off. I hit the launch rock and leaped out into the air.  About 20 feet later, best we could figure, I came back down to earth. I landed on my feet and butt almost simultaneously and immediately rolled head over heels a few times before I came to a full and complete stop.

“You all right down there?” came Burt’s voice from above.

I stood up, turned around and smiled, “Nothing broken.  Now beat that!”

I no sooner got those words out of my mouth when Burt, complete with Tarzan yell, flew off the mountain above me.  I watched in awe as he sailed past me and disappeared behind a giant sage bush about ten feet further down the mountain.

“Holy Smoke, Burt, you really went far,” I yelled down to him.

I expected to hear him bragging back to me about how he crushed me, but I was met with silence instead.

“Burt, buddy, you okay?  Talk to me, buddy.”  Again, not a sound.

I jumped up and made my way down the mountain.  When I came around that sage brush, I saw Burt lying face down, not moving.

“Burt,” I screamed as I made my way to him. Just as I reached him, he raised himself up and rolled over onto his back. He was spitting dirt out of his mouth and blinking his eyes.

“What happened? Does anything feel broken?” I asked looking my friend over.

“How long have I been out?” were Burt’s first words.

“I guess maybe 20 seconds, maybe 30. I don’t know.  You sailed over this bush and everything went quiet.”

“I remember landing and flipping forward and then…nothing,” Burt said as I helped him into a sitting position.

I hiked back up the mountain for our hunting vest, shotguns and gear and came back. Grabbing our canteen, I helped him wash the dirt and blood off his forehead.

“You’re gonna have to wash and clean these scrapes out completely when we get you home,” I said as I unloaded the guns. “Let’s go down this side and walk back home around the mountain.”

We ended up making it back to his house. I did ask him if he wanted me to run ahead and get the Rambler to pick him up. He declined but he did place he left hand on my shoulder for balance.

Burt’s mom was working in her flower bed as we came walking up.  She took one look at Burt and pointed to the car.

“Put him in while I get my purse,” she said.

“He tripped and knocked himself out,” I explained helpfully.

“Tripped? Well, we’ll see about that,” she snapped as she backed out of the driveway.

Naturally I went over to check on my buddy when I saw them return a few hours later. His face and forehead were covered with a bandage.

“Doc says I got a mild concussion. Said it coulda been worse. Thanks for telling my mom I tripped. I told here we were hiking down the mountain and I didn’t see a root sticking out of the ground. If she knew how I really knocked myself out, she would’ve whopped both of us.”

“I’m glad you’re okay. I don’t think I ever want to long jump off a mountain again,” I said.

“I dunno. I have a plan for next time,” said Burt with a grin. He walked over and picked up his motorcycle helmet and his dad’s 100 foot construction grade tape measure.

“Besides, we have to know how far I jumped!”

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Skipping School

stories of growing up in Kern County circa 1970

Photo by: Free Images

The Onyx Boys – “Skipping School”

Looking back, I feel sorry for those principals, vice principals, and security personnel who were at the high school when Burt and I were there. It wasn’t that we didn’t like school.  We just liked hunting and fishing a whole lot more.

To be perfectly honest, some days we just ditched for a couple periods. Say, if Burt had a test or if some paper was due in one of my classes.  However, on other occasions, we had no intention of going to any classes and pretty much ditched the entire day.

I was daydreaming, looking out the door into the hall when Burt suddenly appeared. He mouthed the word “restroom” and kept walking. I immediately raised my hand to use the restroom.

“What’s up, buddy?” I said as I walked into the restroom.

“Let’s go fishing above Kernville. I heard they stocked it with rainbow trout this morning. I will meet you in the parking lot after this period.”

I quickly ran through all my classes in my mind, concluded that there was nothing of importance I would miss and said, “See you in 45 minutes.”

Everybody knew if you wanted to ditch, you waited until 5-6 minutes into the class, then left quickly. Usually the principal and vice principal were not in their offices at this time. They liked to walk the halls, saying hello to various classes and to catch any kids hiding in the bathrooms. Our escape went off without a hitch and we were soon on our way to Kernville.

We passed Kernville and selected a spot just above Camp Owens, a juvenile detention camp for boys, and headed for the river.

“What do you think we should use for bait?” I asked as we stared out at the water.

“I heard rooster-tails and salmon eggs were hot last week,” replied Burt.

I wasted no time and tied on my favorite rooster-tail. This one had black, red, and orange feathers.  It actually looked like a real rooster’s tail. Burt also selected a rooster-tail. He tied on a bright, solid red one.

On just my second cast, I hooked a nice, hard-fighting fish.

“Fish!” I hollered over to Burt who was just a bit ahead of me on the riverbank.

I brought a nice 12-13 inch rainbow in and quickly put him on the stringer. Burt and I usually tied our stringers to our belt loop and stood in the river or lake to fish.  I did just that and cast out again.

“Fish,” I yelled again as I snagged my second fish.

Burt was looking at me when his line went taut and his pole bent severely.

“Me too,” was his reply.

I landed a second rainbow around the same size as before. Burt also landed a nice rainbow.

We moved on, fishing our way down river. After about thirty minutes, we were each down to needing one more for a limit. With our next cast we each somehow selected the exact same spot; our lures landed within a foot of each other.

“Sorry, I will…fish!” I yelled as my pole bent double.

Burt was about to say something when “Wham!” his pole snapped towards the water.

“This is cool. We will both limit out at the same time,” Burt smiled back at me.

We each played our fish across the river.  Burt’s fish came in first, a nice fat 14-inch rainbow. I followed soon after with a slimmer, 14-incher of my own.

“Nice call, buddy. We each limited out in just over an hour,” I said as we high-fived each other.

“Let’s head back to the Rambler, put these babies in the ice chest, grab our lunch, and eat down by the river,” suggested Burt.

We walked back to the Rambler, put our fish on ice, grabbed our grub, and we were just heading down to the river when Burt grabbed my arm and started jogging up river at an extremely fast pace. I knew something was up so I ran along the trail following Burt without saying a word.

We had run for a good quarter mile when Burt stopped and tilted his head back to catch his breath. I did the same and once I could manage it gasped, “What was that about?”

“Didn’t you see him?” Burt asked.

“See who?”

“The principal. He was walking up from the river following the same path we did.”

“Do you think he knows we are here?” I asked in disbelief.

“I don’t know, but he wasn’t carrying a fishing pole. I think he had a camera,” was Burt’s reply.

Before I could answer, Burt added, “Come on, let’s go see what he is up to.”

We jogged back towards the car and looked out through the bushes along the river. Our principal was nowhere to be seen. We waited a good twenty extra minutes.

“Looks like he is gone. Come on. Let’s get to the Rambler and get home,” stated Burt.

We made it to the car and drove home.  All the way, we kept looking behind us for anyone following us. Once home, we cleaned the fish and started shooting some pool.

“Man, I hope he didn’t get any pictures of us, cause if he did, we are dead meat. He will suspend us for sure,” I said.

We played a few games but Burt never said much.

The next day of school, I was sitting in class when I got the strange sense someone was looking at me. I looked through the door to see Burt. He held up a roll of film. After school, I asked him how he got the film. He just smiled that Burt-smile and held up a key.

(this story first appeared in the August 2017 issue of The Cub – Bear Valley Springs, California’s newspaper. It was printed again in September 2017 in Caliente, California’s Country Reader, The Fence Post.)

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