On a side note...
This was in 1969, so I was about ten years old that year. I recall our catching bass predominantly on a lure called the Cotton Cordell Hot Spot whose lead weight in the head of the lure rattled somewhat. It was a design flaw, or a manufacturing one. Once we determined this was making a difference (those whose heads rattled caught more fish) we went into the tackle shop at the marina and opened every single chrome colored Spot box (chrome was the hot color at that time), held the hooks tightly in our hands and shook the lure to determine if it rattled or not. If it did, we bought it. If not, back into the box it went and set off to the side.
The tackle shop owner wanted to know what we were doing so we told him. He had no idea there was a difference in the lures so once we finished and had bought all of the lures we desired he went through and separated them into rattling and non-rattling types and colors. When we went back in later, he had priced them differently (rattling lures were a bit more). And so, it began...
Now, I'm not saying we discovered the rattling lures everyone uses today; I'm just sayin'....
Hubert Bonnie Stevens was his name, but everyone called him Steve. I first met him over a Christmas break when my Father and I, along with Steve and a couple of other co-workers of my dad, took a trip to Toledo Bend Reservoir along the Texas-Louisiana border. We would fish for a couple of days, catching Largemouth Bass and Crappie like there was no tomorrow.
Lloyd Perry, dad and I were in one little aluminum boat powered by a coughing, smoking outboard engine and Steve was in another along with Max and his son. We trolled a lure called a Spot along a road bed for two days, catching bass every single trip up and down this road bed. On one loop, I hooked something big. My little ultralight rod and reel bowed into a severe arc from the strain as I fought this monster. I would pull then it would pull back, stripping line I had fought hard to get onto my reel back out, forcing me to regain the line. We heard shouts from the other boat which was traveling opposite to us (East to our West) and saw Steve standing up in their little boat, fighting a fish as well. As I fought mine, I snuck glances at him and saw his rod bowed into a deep arc as his unseen fish battled with him.
After an eternity, or maybe ten minutes, Our fish had pulled the boats closer together until we could easily speak with one another.
"Mine's bigger!" I yelled.
"Don't think so, pup! Mine is!" Steve hollered back.
Then, when we were about fifty feet apart, our lines began to rise toward the surface.
"Mine's gonna jump!" I screamed.
"Mine too!" he yelled.
With a mighty whoosh, our lines came clear of the water to show...
Our lures entangled hook to hook, lines stretching away to our rods, tightly strung and sending water droplets flying off of them high into the air. We were stunned. We had been fighting each other!
I can still hear his laughter ringing in the air that day.
A man named Bonnie?
I once asked Steve about his middle name. According to him, Bonnie derived from a family friend of his parents who was named after William F. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. Apparently someone in that family thought Billy the Kid was a folk hero and thus someone they should name their son after; hence, Steve was named (indirectly) after Billy the Kid.
Oh, that family friend of Steve's parents? He was a preacher. A preacher who was named after an outlaw.
True story, my friends.
Steve, dad and I would spend the better part of the next twenty-five fishing together, from Florida to Canada and across the Four State Area. In calm, balmy weather and in horrendous storms, we fished. As my father was an orphan, Life deciding this at an early age, Steve became a father figure to him, and fulfilled the grandfather role for me as well. My maternal grandfather was alive, and I enjoyed being with him on his farm on the weekends throughout the year, but Steve was the go places, do things grandfather the other one wasn't. Grandpa Ray was the worker; take care of the farm, build items from steel grandfather; Steve was the fun, do, and set me straight grandfather.
Once, when I was still quite young, we three set off for some White Bass fishing on Grand Lake in the Twin Bridges area. Normally we went up Spring River in the morning, caught a good mess of decent fish (one to two pounds), came back and ate at the marina before setting off for the Neosho River in the afternoon. There we caught far fewer fish but they were always much, much larger. At this time the world record for White Bass was a little over five pounds; we often caught White's up the Neosho River in the four pound range. As I said, much larger.
On this day we had caught our mess of decent fish up Spring River by the old Seneca Piers, perhaps thirty or so before heading back to the marina around noon. After a lunch of ham sandwiches, chips, and Shasta Cherry Cola we headed for our beached boat and saw an old, grey-black woman sitting on a lawn chair, her line in the river with a bobber attached. She told us she was fishing for her dinner but as of yet had had no luck at all. A glance was exchanged between my father and Steve, and without so much as a by your leave or a do you mind to me our fish, stringer and all, were in this woman's hands.
"Oh, Bless you!" she said over and over, tears streaming down her face. I learned right then and there that it feels good to help another human being, giving the fruits of your labor to another to ease their suffering.
We went out that afternoon and true to form, caught fewer but much bigger fish that afternoon. Every single one weighed between three and four and a half pounds. It seems God liked our gift as well.
Steve was a Quality Control Engineer for LaBarge for quite some time. He also had a woodworking business on the side, called Executive Nameplates. He would create nameplates for people's desks out of walnut, each letter being roughly two inches in height, width and depth. One year he made one for me for my birthday, using my nickname of Mike. When I graduated, he made one featuring my full name; I still have that on my desk today. With a White Pine insert along the front and that beautiful walnut everywhere else it remains one of the most treasured gifts I have ever received.
He also encouraged reading and got me started on the Conan the Barbarian series by Robert E. Howard. I had never read anything like these strange sword and sorcery books. I inhaled them and enjoy them still today. When the movie came out with Arnold in the title role, I went to the drive in to watch it. And while Arnold was not Conan in my eyes, he still was close enough for me to enjoy the movie.
Steve often told the story of how he met his wife Glenora. He was fishing near Vermillion Bay and had caught some Walleye. He was not very good at filleting them at this time and in fact was butchering them quite badly. As he fretted over the fish, he heard a woman's voice tell him
"You're not very good at cleaning fish, are you?"
He turned around and saw a vision of loveliness standing there, a smile on her lips as she watched him destroy those Walleye.
"Do you think you can do any better?" he asked.
"Move over and I'll show you a thing or two."
He handed the knife to her and said "If you think you're good enough go ahead." then stood quietly by as she deftly filleted each and every one of his fish in front of him.
He decided right then and there he better marry this girl. And he did. For the rest of her life they never parted. I still remember the day she passed, how horrible I felt both for me and for him. She was a delight, warm and kind with an ever-present smile on her face, eyes twinkling with an inner glow that comes from a close relationship with God.
I still miss her.
For years we would make the fifty odd mile jaunt to where Steve and Glenora lived on the border between Arkansas and Missouri (he drove this to and from work every day, snow wind or hail) and visit. I recall setting in a chair one cold day beside the fireplace an listening to dad and Steve talk about an upcoming trip to Florida. Steve's cat came over to where I sat and looked at me. After a moment of this staring, I asked Steve "What does he want?". Steve chuckled and said "Ol' Tom is telling you that you are in his chair." Oh, okay. So I got up and moved to another seat and sure enough Tom jumped right up where I had been, looked at me with the most hateful look I had ever seen before curling up in front of that fireplace. I had just learned where I stood in the pecking order of the household.
It wasn't long before Steve's dog came over to me and looked at me. "Steve, now the dog is looking at me."
Another laugh and "Now J.D. is saying you're in HIS spot!"
I moved. Again. To the floor.
You might be wondering what J.D. stands for. I was. I asked and was told "Just Dog".
That was Steve in a nutshell.
Not all of our trips were so fun and enjoyable. Once I had received permission from Steve to deer hunt his hundred acre farm along with another co-worker of his. This co-worker brought a friend along and the three of us spent opening weekend in a camper on Steve's place. We went out that first morning in his acreage behind the house and although we saw deer, we chose not to shoot the does and fawns. That afternoon we went down the road a ways to his larger property which was heavily wooded. We split up, setting a couple of hundred yards apart from one another and waited. Near dark we came back together and headed back to the truck having seen nothing.
Once at the road we noticed another car waiting nearby. It was a Conservation Agent and he got out of his car with a stern look on his face. Walking up to me he asked to check my rifle and license. The rifle was empty (as it should be at the road) and my license was in order. He then checked Steve's co-worker; same results. Then, the friend. Uh oh.
Seems the friend was from another state and had illegally purchased a resident deer hunting license. After some words I was able to add to my vocabulary for future use, he was summarily handcuffed and shoved into the back seat of the agent's car. Later I learned that he lost his gun, his car, and spent the rest of the weekend in jail. Seems they don't look kindly on out of state hunters buying an in state license in these here parts.
For years we fished together in Canada on Lake of the Woods and sometimes flying in to a remote lake; sometime just the two of us in a small aluminum boat while the rest of the family flew around the lakes in their high speed bass boats. On one trip to Lake of the Woods Steve and I were consistently catching the larger crappie only to watch as my brother in law laid claim to them back at camp once we had combined the hauls for a photo op. No amount of hollering could dissuade my sister's husband from claiming that which wasn't his.
One afternoon, as Steve and I were slaying the crappie once more, he caught a really nice one; probably close to two pounds. As he began to place it on the stringer, he began to chuckle; a deep, sustained chuckle that went on for several seconds. He then reached into his pocket and brought out his pocket knife.
"Steve, what are you doing?" I asked. He chuckled even harder.
"Every night we watch as he claims the biggest fish in the pile as his. Well, I'm gonna break him from suckin' eggs!" And I watched as he notched the crappie's front left pectoral fin so it could easily be identified. "Now let's let him claim THAT one!". And with that, his loud laughter echoed across the lake joined by mine.
It was an interesting scene played out that evening. We could hardly contain our laughter, anticipating what was to come. We emptied our stringer into the pile and watched as everyone sorted out the biggest fish for the photo which was to come. And sure enough...
"Yep, that one right there fought me hard, I tell you! Snatched that jig right up and took off, fighting like a bass. Even jumped a time or two, if I remember right. Biggest of the day, maybe the week!"
With that, we let out our laughter full force. Gasping and crying we laughed and laughed and laughed until everyone else was getting mad. "What's so damn funny?" my dad asked.
Steve finally was able to control his laughter long enough to explain "I caught that crappie! I notched its fin so we could tell which one it was just to see who would claim it. And sure enough, Robbie did! Robbie, you just lied through your teeth! You haven't caught any of these big fish this week; we've caught every single one of them and you just got caught yourself!!"
We collapsed back into spasms of laughter and for a moment everyone else was still. Then they began to laugh, all but poor Robbie. He just stood there with a fish that wasn't his looking sheepish.
He never claimed another fish for his again.
On another day Robbie, Steve and I were together in Robbie's bass boat, casting for bass and pike on Lake of the Woods. As we eased along the bank I spied a beaver lodge on the bank. We all knew what that meant at this time of year: crappie. So I changed rods to my ultralight rig and ran the trolling motor close enough flip my 1/64 oz. jig under the branches and along the edge of the lodge. My casting being what it was, I got hung up on the first cast. As I gently pulled myself up to the lodge and under the branches of the overhanging tree I was able to see into the clear water below me.
So as I stood on the front of the boat with the tree limbs hanging down over me and them not able to see anything but my lower legs I dropped my jig into the water, caught a crappie and flipped it out of the limbs towards them.
"Put that into the livewell, will ya?"
I then caught another, then another before they caught on.
Steve hollered "Whoa whoa whoa! Now wait just a durn minute here! I ain't some lackey pickin' up your fish and puttin' 'em the well. Get outta the way and let me in there!"
So for about the next half hour, the three of us took turns. One on the front of the boat would catch a fish and rotate to the rear; unhook his catch; drop it into the well. The one in the middle would step up to the front and repeat this procedure. Then the one which had been at the rear initially would move forward. It was literally a cycle of the three of us continually rotating front to back to middle to front again.
We had never seen anything like; nor have I since. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and we had a ball. We probably caught a hundred crappie or more, keeping our daily limit of thirty each. Every single one off of that one little beaver lodge. And we all were laughing ourselves silly, looking at one another shaking our heads and saying "Can you believe this?".
An example of crappie fishing on Lake Of The Woods
Steve passed away some years ago at the ripe old age of ninety. He lived far longer than I thought he would once his beloved Glenora passed. The last time I saw him he had just had a stroke and could barely speak, but his eyes welled up with tears when I walked into his room. Words did not need to be exchanged between us; we had known one another long enough to simply look at each other and know.
I was not able to attend his funeral, being too far away to make it back in time and for that I will forever be saddened. But I know Steve is up there, probably casting a line into a beautiful lake or stream somewhere with the Angels, his laughter making them feel as happy as it did me. Take care, my friend and save a spot on the bank for me.