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.)