My best friend’s two sons have called me “Uncle Gerald” ever since they learned to talk. I’ve always considered the title to be an honor, made even more so since Mike insists that his firstborn, Hunter, is named after me, while number two son, Fisher, is named after him.
I’ve got very big shoes to fill in the uncle department. My first generation uncle, Bob Jacques, was a true prince among men, and he and my dad often team-fathered my three cousins and I in the best sense of that term. But whether my grandfather’s older brother is genealogically my grand uncle or my great uncle, Lester Allison was the greatest uncle any boy could hope for.
A lifelong farmer, he retired not too many years after I started needing the fingers of both hands to keep track of my age. Setting lines for catfish was his number one outdoor passion, and the technicalities of Kansas regulations being what they were at the time, I’ll just say he kept “several” lines set in the Solomon River, which bordered my grandfather’s farm, all summer.
For the benefit of those among you who aren’t setline fishermen, keeping enough bait on hand is a constant challenge. I don’t mean to imply he was only thinking about himself because he most certainly wasn’t, but mentoring a boy whose energy and curiosity were boundless had both emotional and practical benefits.
But wait. While some of the details might vary, the scenario I just described could fit 12-year-old Fisher Jenkins and myself quite well. Having finally figured that out, last Saturday I started turning could fit into did fit.
Fisher’s dad dropped him off at my place at 7:30 a.m., and we drove to a small gravel-bottomed creek a few miles from town. It had shrunk to a series of pools separated by barely flowing riffles — an ideal set up for seining. I gave my protege a brief explanation of the basics of what we were going to do, as I unrolled the first seine he’d ever seen.
We stretched the seine across the downstream end of a likely looking pool and walked it upstream to a rocky beach and pulled out. No one watching us would have believed it was the first time Fisher had pulled one end of a 15-foot seine, but neither this nor a subsequent attempt in another pool was sufficiently productive to justify our efforts.
We returned to the truck and exchanged the seine for a cane pole, a rod and reel and a can of worms. It took only seconds to discover that the sunfish and chubs we wanted were hiding around a pile of rocks and logs. Fisher quickly mastered the art of cane poling and refused my offer to let him use the rod and reel. We amassed enough bait for the next day’s planned jugfishing trip to Truman Lake in a couple of hours, and Fisher proclaimed the morning to have been one of his best fishing trips ever.
As it turned out, neither of us had seen anything yet. Defying Sunday afternoon’s triple digit heat index, Fisher, Mike and I launched my boat from a ramp I’d never used before, motored to a flat that looked good on the depth finder and spread out 27 jugs in a more or less straight line about a quarter-mile long. By the time we finished, there were already fish making a couple of jugs scoot and bob across the lake behind us.
Jugfishing is a team sport. Mike manned the trolling motor in the front of the boat and was responsible for making the final approach to an active jug — which isn’t always easy — and for handling the line on large fish. Fisher was positioned just aft of Mike and was responsible for hauling smaller fish into the boat unaided and for netting large ones. My duties included running the main engine, unhooking fish and rebaiting hooks. I tried pointing out that those last two tasks weren’t things the captain of the boat should be doing, but I got nowhere.
Fisher, who’d had a direct hand in boating every fish we caught, declared that we should use juglines every time we went fishing. I’m not sure he believed me when I told him things didn’t always go as well as they had that day.
The truth be told, I’ve never seen anything like it. We actually caught 37 fish: the 30 blue cats we kept, the four blue cats we released, a hybrid we kept, a channel cat we released and a small blue cat that was swallowed by a much larger one before we could get to the jug.
Fisher and I are going to try to go on a camping trip before school starts. I predict that being an honorary uncle will be a blast on that trip too.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]