Saturdays on the River

Happy Father's Day

It was still dark outside and a morning hush muffled movement in the house as my oldest brother and I joined Dad in the kitchen.  As always on those early Saturday mornings, Mom had packed us some sandwiches and was there to see us off before we left to go fishing.  A quick breakfast, then it was downstairs to the basement corner where rods and tackle were stored.  My Dad enjoyed Saturdays more than any other day of the week because that was fishing day.

One of nine children who grew up near the Miami River down on Stillwater Avenue, he loved the sport and taught his sons, well, most of them, to love it too. He was a strict Irish—Catholic father, a big man who played tackle for Dayton's first All—City Team. He loved his four sons and two daughters in his strict Irish Catholic way.  He was a true renaissance man, gifted with many talents, including drawing up the plans for the house we lived in.  With his stressful job as advertising manager for Dayton's major department store, he looked forward to weekends.  

It was special for Dad, and he handled his gear with almost reverential care borne of his passion and appreciation for the sport; his anticipation of the sun—flecked water on a sunny day, the irresistible weighted pull at the other end of the line.  As usual, he had a new lure added to his growing collection, this one like all the rest: absolutely guaranteed to catch fish.  They shared space with all the other sacred paraphernalia of the avid angler, all of it having its own particular, peculiar odor. 

Like most beginners, I'd started with a bamboo pole, a line tied to its end, baited hook at the other, watching a red and white bobber floating on the water, hoping fervently it would sink out of sight.  Then it was your basic Zebco outfit.  For this trip, I'd be using a new lightweight spinning rod and reel purchased at Art Shroyer's sporting goods store, fired up with recently—read stories in Field & Stream about trout fishing, illustrated with beautiful watercolors painting the perfect stream in my imagination.

Our fishing venues moved north up the Stillwater River, beginning at Englewood Dam.  While Dad would cast weighted bait into the spillway run, his sons fished for bluegills and sunfish in the big pool downstream, beneath the concrete and rocks, until we graduated to the 'adult place' and a spot near dad.

Next came the stretch around Ludlow Falls.

Today, we were making our first visit to a new place north of West Milton called Three Bridges. 

Morning was waning as we stopped at the bait shop near Englewood. As always, we bought night crawlers, soft craws and, if  Dad deemed them worthy, minnows.  Now and then Dad, succumbing to an attack of whimsy, would buy things like orange plastic worms.

We were driving through farm fields now, windows open, my brother and I scanning the skies for hawks.  Our noses detected the unmistakable pungent, earthy aroma of cow manure.  'Smell the country,' declaimed Dad, smiling at us.  We knew he would say just that, and we smiled back at him in contented expectation.  Feeling the same way, Dad broke into song, his lyrical baritone voice filling the car.  'Oh happy is the day when the airman gets his pay and he goes marching home...'  By then, we knew the words and joined in the chorus:  'Oh, he's got sixpence to spend and sixpence to lend and sixpence to take home to his wife...'

'Look!' shouted my brother, pointing across the field to our west.  Following his direction, I saw a red—tailed hawk aloft, circling on a column of invisible air, rising ever higher into pure blueness.

We had pulled off the side of the road on the north end of the bridge, parked and were now walking through underbrush over to the Stillwater, which at this place curved invitingly through the countryside.  Dad was looking for a particular spot, clear in his mind's eye, while my brother and I were just anxious to cast lures or bait.  'Right here,' said Dad, putting his gear on the ground of a man—sized grass—free area on the bank, overlooking a deep, slow—moving river section where he hoped channel catfish waited for his bait.

My brother and I walked downstream a ways toward the bridge where the river widened and there was room for two.  Here, the bank was bordered by water—smoothed rocks through which wound a barely discernable path.  There were patches of bare earth at the water's edge and more rocks could be seen beneath the crystal clear river, out to the murky shadows defining the edge of a pool.

We separated into our invisible fishing zones and prepared to do battle with the wily fish awaiting our casts.
Using the proper knot, I tied a small lure to the end of my 2 pound test line which no smallmouth bass could resist.  I cast it into sun—sparkled river that looked amazingly like the water—color trout stream in Field & Stream.  In my own fisherman world now, I cast again into the edge of the pool this time and felt the adrenaline—producing resistance on my line.  Minutes later I hefted a nice smallmouth bass, unhooked my lure from his lip and put him on the stringer.  I thought I would burst. 

We all caught fish that day.  It was a great day, a perfect Saturday on the river for all of us. As I fell asleep on the way home, my dad was singing.

John B. Dwyer is a military historian