Fishing Big Lake

One summer weekend, many years ago, I went fishing with my Dad and brother Rick to the largest lake in the White Mountains, Big Lake. It was early Saturday morning when we left the cabin with the boat and trailer in tow. We went through the reservation fishing and boating permit routine at the Honda convenience store. The Indians have a permit for everything. And yes, we picked up a few snacks to add to our food supply for the day. Dad always planed menus that fit these occasions which usually consisted of all the components required to construct salami sandwiches with accessories like Fritos Corn Chips, pop for the boys, Oreo Cookies and Coors beer. Apples and Oreos were a great combination for anytime snacks. Those tailgate or boat seat lunches and snacks were great.

The thirty mile drive from the store to the turnoff was as spectacular as usual, with the green shades of summer at every turn. The only breaks in the green were the blue waters of• A-1″ and Horseshoe Cienega Lakes and the lily white, vertical trunks of the Aspens just before you top out and enter the grass meadows at the base of the actual •white Mountains”. Many people call the pine country from Heber / Overgaard to Show Low area part of the White Mountains, but it isn’t. Show Low is known as the gateway to the White Mountains and rightly so, you can see them from there and in the winter months, they usually are white with snow. There are several mountains in the White Mountain Range and the highest being Mount Baldy.

The road from the turnoff to Big Lake is a typical forest road with a good gravel base with the traditional washboard ruts and pot holes that keep the driver alert and the passengers awake. Rick & I used to dose off from time to time, but that wasn’t due to the boredom of the drive. We stayed up too late the night before.

After the forty-five minute ride to Big Lake, we backed the boat trailer to the waters edge . We were now eager to get the boat in the water and start fishing. We untied the hold down springs attached to the stern, attached a rope to the bow of the boat, hooked up the motor and set the ores in ore locks. Dad backed the boat in slowly while Rick pushed it off the trailer when he saw it start to float and I hung on to the rope to pull it a shore when it cleared the trailer. So far, so good and everybody was dry. Sometime this is the time we slip and fall in the cold water, but not this time. We were a lot more comfortable with dry clothes when sitting in the boat fishing for hours at a time.

I started rowing the boat out away from the shore while Dad prepared the motor before starting. The gas line was hooked up; its priming bulb squeezed the correct number of times or until it was firm and Dad pulled the rope to start the motor. Nothing happened. He pulled it again and again. While Dad fiddled with the choke and carburetor settings, I started rowing up out in the direction Dad wanted to go. He was good a finding the best fishing spot and it seemed he could always catch fish when no one else around was. But for now he concentrated on the motor. Rick’s pole was rigged for spin casting with an F-5, orange with black dot flat fish. This lure had two treble hooks dangling off the back end and had a lot of action. It was fun just to cast it and feel the resistance when it was retrieved. My favorite still was the Mepps spinners size 0 (ought) or# 1, but I was still rowing.

Dad finally gave up and started rigging his pole. He fine tuned my direction of travel and then started casting his lure out the opposite side of the boat Rick was fishing from. It was a great day!

We were out about seventy five yards, which was three quarter of a football field, when Dad gave me a new landmark to aim the boat toward. To make the adjustment, I pulled on the right ore and then with a loud crack, the ore snapped in half, right where the ore lock bolt goes through the middle of the wood stock. So know we were up the creek without a paddle. Well, in reality, we were out in the middle of the lake in a wide row boat with only one paddle, which was basically the same thing as it takes two ores to row, row, row your boat, gently …. Well you get the picture. So Dad said, “Well, while we are here, we might as well fish” and so we did. After sitting in the same spot for one hour with no strikes or even nibbles, I decided to trade in my Mepps spinner for a lure a little heavier to cast it out a little farther. Changing lures was relatively simple as we used a little brass swivel that looked something like a safety pin but a little more twisted and had the capability of twisting in the center. It also helped keep the line from tangling up from the action of the lure. Dad and Rick were now using cheese and salmon eggs also without success. I selected a shiny, silver Cast Master. Not to fancy but you can cast it a long ways. With this new lure secured to my gold swivel I cranked back and left it fly. What a great cast. I started to retrieve it and suddenly a strikel I sharply pulled my pole back wh i le securing the line my in right hand to firmly set the hook. Snap! Did my line break? No, I still felt the fish through the line in my hand. What was wrong in this picture? Half of my fishing pole was sliding down the taunt line heading to the water. Wow, this was going to make a great fishing story! The fish broke my pole in half just above the ferrule coupling. So Dad and Rick reeled in there lines to make sure this pole busting trout doesn’t get tangled up and lost. So I slowly reeled in the line. It felt like it could be quite the catch . As I brought it close to the boat, Dad got the net ready. Just beyond the point where the line penetrated the water I could see some silver flashes from the lure and from the side of the trout. Dad first grabbed the broken end of the rod as it moved into reach. He held it up while I kept reeling in the line. But something was different when he was holding the end of the rod up. I thought I lost the fish. Then he said •1ook at that trophy” and then smiled and half way laughed, Dad wasn’t a hardy laugher. There on the end my line, firmly attached to my Cast Master was a six inch long trout. To top it off it was skinny, very skinnyf I was hoping it would get off my line to help me embellish this fishing story, but it was securely hooked and had to be landed. I could have cut my line, but good bye Cast Master. This fish was mine, my trophy.

After that we decided to head back to shore. It was going to take awhile with one ore being used as a paddle. We tried to use the other one but it was too short. From the bow of the boat, we took turns paddling three stokes on one side and then three on the other. When we finally made it to shore, we were all tired and ready to head back to the cabin. But first I had to clean my trophy fish along with a few Dad and Rick caught on the trip in to shore. We did have fish to eat that night, so all in all, it was a good outing. Remember the saying “The worse day of fishing is better than the best day at work!” And also, it’s those trips that things don’s go as planned ended up being the most memorable.

As Rick and I got older, we had less time to fish with Dad, but he had three younger sons that he could share fishing trips with. He loved to fish.

Hunting the Kaibab

Hunting the Kaibab North of the Grand Canon lays the Kaibab Plateau. To get there from Phoenix you head due north to Flagstaff, make a little jog to the east and then due north almost to Page, Arizona. The stretch from Phoenix to Flagstaff is very scenic and the view changes every fifteen minutes. You’re running flat through the desert with cacti and desert scrub brush as far as the eye can see, then suddenly you’re surrounded by mountains formed from extinct volcanoes. Then you are winding though steep mountain roods with sharp curves, and canyons to the left and then to the right, until you drop down to Camp Verde, crossing the Verde River see the giant cottonwood trees and the salt cedars. The air was permeated with fishy or musty smell of desert rivers. Not far from the river banks little farms of the Verde Valley hod flourish by growing all kinds of vegetables including great sweet corn. Cortez Junction was next, where you could turn and head West to Prescott and the little farming and ranching towns like Mayor or Dewy. But we continued heading north and found level, open grass lands where the deer and the antelope play. The buffalo are not roaming here, but they are up around Page, about three hours away. As the roadway starts climbing again, we are seeing and smelling cedars and juniper trees and can catch a little fragrance from their berries. All of scenery gives way white powder rock formations near the ancient Indian ruins of Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well. There are cliff dwellings and a National Park that are very interesting to see and learn about how the Indians learned to cope and flourish in a hostile wilderness as this.

Two miles down the road we find ourselves in ponderosa pines and can see the Red Rock Country of Sedona and Oak Creek beyond. There are many fishing stories I could tell about Oak Creek Canyon, but they are for another time. Right now we are climbing up to Flagstaff that sits 6 ,906 feet about sea level. We can see Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at an elevation of 12,643 feet. We then take I 40 four miles to the northeast and the head due north again toward Page.

Just outside of Flagstaff as you leave the cool pine forest, you hit rolling sandy hills barren of all foliage. It is barren that it resembles the surface of the moon. Before astronauts went to the moon they trained here and in nearby Meteor Crater. NASA went as far as finding areas resembling the targeted landing sites and then have the Corp Of Engineers lay out the size and location of the craters and then dynamite then to reproduce the shape and dept so they could practice navigating on foot in the space suites and practiced driving the lunar rovers. These is a museum on the edge of Meteor Crater to tells the whole story or should I say the hole stories.

Now we make a straight flat run through the most desolate land in Arizona. Across Deadman Mesa, past the Wupatki National Monument (pronounced Wupatki), up Gray Mountain which is the only hill in fifty miles and onward to Cameron. At Cameron the was just a deep crack in the earth’s crust formed by the Little Colorado that’s so deep it has to have a trestle bridge over it. This is worth a stop to explore for about five minutes. Not because it is so spectacular, but because you won’t see anything within ten miles of the road for the next 84 miles. It is flat and barren as barren could be. Interestingly though, walking out of this barren land you can see Indians in full traditional dress coming out from nowhere. They must have Hogan’s or other Indian dwellings just out of eyesight.

Not far up the rood we passed through the town of McNary where there was a large lumber mill with a lake to float the logs up to the mill. I had toured it with my family before when we had rainy days to wet to fish. I told Bob the story about my cousin Jim saving my brothers life, or maybe just from serious injury, when Rick fell through an uncovered, 24• x 24″ square opening in the mills floor. This hole was a scrap lumber chute that led directly onto a conveyor that would dump off-fall cuttings into a chopper a few feet away. Rick was looking up at the amazing sawing process when he fell threw the floor; quick acting cousin Jim grabbed him before the conveyor the–t-would have carried Rick off to the whirling cutting blades. That was a close call!

So now permitted and fueled, off we went to find a camping spot. We decided to camp near a pair of lakes called Shush Be Tou and Shush Be Zahze on the Apache Reservation. They mean Little Bear and Big Bear in white mans tongue. We found a perfect site, unpacked, pitched the tent. The camp kitchen was a chinch to set up. It which consisted of a two burner Coleman stove, lantern, water jug, cooking utensils and one small ice chest picked out to match the color of the car. You might ask, could a VW bug hold all of that stuff and two people? Yes it could when you have a good lugged rack that carried most of the bulky gear. You can’t get a heck of a lot inside a VW or its trunk. but that’s the price you pay for all of the benefits of compact cars.

The rest of the afternoon we spent fishing Shush Be Tou and the creek below the dam. Fishing was good and we had a great trout dinner. I loved to cook the trout in tin foil. I took each skinned trout, two for each of us. put a piece of wheat bread crust strip down the middle of the cavity, sprinkled a little salt & pepper all over, two squirts of Real Lemon, lemon juice and then sprinkled some Mrs. Dash to top it off. After folding the foil into a tight seam, depending on the size of the trout, they would need to be cooked 7 to 10 minute. I placed them ton hot coals with the seam up and they were done in five minutes if that tells you anything. Served up with baked beans and buttered wheat bread with some of the curst missing made a great meal. Oh yea, Oreos and coffee for dessert.

Early the next morning we set out to find Bog Tank where we heard the fishing was great! We loaded the ice chest along with the fishing gear and headed out. We picked a little back road that looked like the logical route to find our destination, a remote fishing hole with few visitors. It was a good, solid road bed even though it was a little wet from the previous morning rain-showers. The further we drove into the forest, the less used the road was. Up ahead we saw a clearing and the bright sun was highlighting the tall. green grass. As we broke into this clearing I noticed that the grass grew over the trail indicating very little traffic. Another twenty yards down this grassy path and saw water reflecting though the grass. Could we be getting close to Bog Tank? This path broke into a grassy clearing which was completely water soaked. This didn’t look like a tank! I didn’t think it would be a good idea to stop and back up because I felt my rear wheels losing traction. So I kept pontooning forward, then down through a dip in the road, which was more like a little drainage ditch, working hard to keep my momentum. I made a tight u-turn maintaining my speed the best I could and headed back toward the ditch. I tried to speed up to gain momentum to carry us through, but not enough. With drive wheels spinning and no forward movement the car was slowly sinking in1along with the reality that we were stuck! Here we were, in the middle of the forest, on a dead end road with no hope of a passer by to give assistance. Bob and I got out of the car to assess the situation. He cupped his hands to his mouth to form a bull horn and yelled “HELP!” We looked at each other and just started laughing. He new there wasn’t anyone within ten miles of us.

After formulating a plan of action, we went to work. The car was sunk down all the way to the fame. I had to start digging down into the bog with a short, lug wrench handle and appropriately shaped sticks to get the jack underneath the car. Bob was gathering tree branches that could be stripped down to use as a base to drive the wheels on once we raised it high enough. I dug down deep enough to get the standard VW screw jack under one side. With the jack in place, I worked the handle. Instead of going up, the jack was going down. The foot print of the jack was too small to push against the muddy bog. I lookled the trunk of the car to see if I could find anything with a larger base. There it was. I had left my sheet metal punch set, Whitney #5 jack in the car for some reason, but couldn’t remember why. All my other sheet metal tools were left at the shop as usual. Its metal case measured 4″ by 8″ and was 2″ deep. I took the jack out of the hole, placed the punch case in and sat the jack on top. As I worked the handle the punch case started sinking in the bog. Finally it stopped its descent and the car started moving up. It was working~! raised the wheel as high as the jack would go. Bob packed his stripped branches under the wheel and forwarded two feet to give some traction in anticipation of the car moving forward. If it didn’t, we would have a long hike to the highway.

After the second wheel was sitting of the branch foundation , we were ready to go. I was hard retrieving my punch box after each lift. I had to dig around it to allow a pry stick to wedge it up. The mud reluctantly released its grip with a sucking/slurping sound and up the metal box came.

The car was about five feet away from the watery ditch, the last obstacle before we hit hard ground. Bob was behind the steering wheel and I was behind the back bumper. We the engine revving and the clutch pressed to the floorboard, I gave Bob the nod and the car a shove. It started moving forward with the tires spinning. It was gaining speed until it the front end went down into the ditch. It started to slow down and then the front came up the other side as the back wheels dropped into the ditch. I was still pushing, the wheels were still spinning but the car wasn’t moving. I grabbed a nearby branch that was about three inches in diameter and six feet long. In one swift movement, I stuck it under the car and lifted it as a pry bar with my shoulder and the car started moving again. I jabbed the lever under one more time and with a great push car popped up the rim of the ditch as I yelled at Bob to gun it and don’t stop until you are on high ground. When the car came to a stop, Bob got out and said that was fun, let’s do it again. Then he let out his raspy laugh. We glanced back to the middle of the meadow and could see the aftermath of branches, jackets, a jack and a metal punch box. We gathered our belongings, threw them in the car and headed to ….. You guessed it, back to Shush Be Tou. We will leave finding Bog Tank for the next trip, the one we will take with a map in hand.

In Search of Bog Tank

In the summer of 1968, my buddy, Bob Staich and I had been planning a trip to the White Mountains for a weekend of camping and fishing. We had heard about a back way to get to Show Low through Payson and up on top the Mogollon through the Heber/Overgaard area where State Route 260 transitioned to a graveled for est road. So this promised to be a great back road adventure. We loaded my brand new, 1968 Volkswagen Bug and headed for the hills.

It was a great day for traveling with a few, light clouds in Phoenix just as predicted on the weather forecast along with possible scattered rain showers forecasted for higher elevations. It was about time of year for the annual monsoons to move into the state. The Saturday morning traffic was light all the way to Overgaard. We both had Monday off, so we weren’t in a hurry which allowed us to enjoy the deep forest of Arizona.

Just as the pavement turned to gravel there was a dark cloud hovering overhead that greeted us with a flash of lightning followed directly by a clap of thunder. A few drops of rain sprinkled do that felt refreshing through the open sunroof, but then suddenly the clouds opened up and dumped torrents of rain on us. So much for the open sunroof. We battened down the hatches, so to speak, and plowed forward. Plowed meant more that just pressing forward on a very muddy road. The tires were actually pushing mud aside and leaving our tracks behind as the rain was still falling. One major benefit of the VW Bugs, besides the great gas mileage, was the placement of the engine over the rear wheels. This weight pushing down on the wheels gave it good traction which allowed us to zip through the muddy mush. We did do a lot of slipping and sliding but under some degree of control. It was great fun even though I saw in my rear view mirror the reddish brown mud that was splattered on the sides of my new VW, eclipsing the beautiful British Racing Green color. A good car wash would unearth that Beetle soon enough, so we didn’t hesitate to continue down the muddy forest road through the little towns of Clay Springs, Pinedale Linden, and finally to break out on pavement when we intersected US 60 on the edge of Show Low town limits. What a great ride! We would decide on Monday whither to take the mud slip & slide back home or the 60 through the Salt River Canyon.

Rather than stopping in Show Low, we decided to head up to the little towns of Lakeside and Pinetop to grab a bite to eat before heading to the higher elevation camp grounds. There was a little place called the Hill Top Diner in Pinetop that I have had great breakfasts before, so we thought we would give it a try for lunch. They served up a great cheese burger with French fries and fresh, home made pie for desert. We justified this banquet by considering we would be eating camp food for the next six meals.

After lunch we headed to the Indian Pine Gas Station and Convenience Store to buy our camping and fishing permits for the weekend and top off the gas tank. Between the edge of the road and the gas pumps, there was a giant ponderosa pine tree laying in display of this fantastic, natural resource surrounding these mountain top communities. It had been timbered somewhere high in the White Mountains and brought here because of it size. It was about four feet in diameter and thirty feet long.

Not far up the road we passed through the town of McNary where there was a large lumber mill with a lake to float the logs up to the mill. I had toured it with my family before when we had rainy days to wet to fish. I told Bob the story about my cousin Jim saving my brothers life, or maybe just from serious injury, when Rick fell through an uncovered, 24″ x 24″ square opening in the mills floor. This hole was a scrap lumber chute that led directly onto a conveyor that would dump off-fall cuttings into a chopper a few feet away. Rick was looking up at the amazing sawing process when he fell threw the floor; quick acting cousin Jim grabbed him before the conveyor that would have carried Rick off to the whirling cutting blades. That was a close call!

Inaugural Vacation

My very first trip to the White Mountains came in the early 1950’s when Wagner Family only numbered five. This is the first family vacation I remember and it was spent in Lakeside, Arizona. I remember the trip there took forever. After leaving Phoenix, it seemed like we drove for a half a day through the desert when Dad said announced •well there’s Mesa”. After Mesa we had another long ride but I don’t remember the detai Is. I must not have been looking out the window. It was hot and we didn’t have air conditioning back then.

I do remember when we went through the tunnel at Queen Creek. It must have been the start of the •blowing of the horn” tradition that carved this experience into my memory. The only part of this inaugural trip to the White Mountains was the construction of the road going through the massive Salt River Canyon. This must have been when they were widening the road from two skinny lanes to two a little larger than skinny lands or maybe just adding guard rails. All I knew is that the traffic was backed up for what seemed like hours. That is when heard our first “Rickyism”. •Dad, why are we going so slowly? I can go faster on my tricyclel” or something like that. But we finally arrive. I wasn’t sure what country we were in, but it was green, cool and a neat place to be with tall trees.

Dad and Mom rented a little cabin which was one of four lined up perpendicular to the main road. It was a common arrangement of motel cabinets. This one had a small creek behind the property with several small pools providing a wet, great recreational playground for us kids. (I don’t think we knew it back then, but this was Billy Creek. Billy Creek is crossed every time you turn off of Buck Springs Road, which is the road heading back to Pine Top Lakes, to get to Sky Hi Road. The water going under the first culverts is Billy Creek). We didn’t spend much time inside this cabin so I don’t recall much detail. It may have only been a two room structure with one room being the bathroom and the other a kitchen/dinning/ living/ bedroom combination.

Everyday all the kids in the area met early at the ponds edge and played all day long. Swimming, some of the time on purposed, catching pollywogs and frogs and some half pollywogs and half frog combination.

I don’t remember food, sleeping, and all of the other activities associated with vacationing. I don’t even remember having activities with the whole family or what Mom & Dad did all day. I don’t remember if Dad even went fishing. All I remember is going to the creek, playing there all day with a lot of kids and then going back to the cabin because it was dark. Life was pretty good!

Going home was less exciting than the trip to the mountains. There were two highlights on the return trip. Seeing Tee Pee Motels in a secluded little town called Tempe and going over the saddle of twin mountains on McDowell Road called Papago Buttes and seeing the City Lights of Phoenix for the first time from that advantage point. They were glowing in the night sky but still ten miles away. We didn’t go down Thomas or Indian School roads back then because they were still dirt.

Hunting or Hunted in Cherry Creek

It was a beautiful October afternoon when we arrived at Cherry Creek area which is located about tens miles west of the 260 and nestled between the Verde Valley and the Black Hills. Cherry was another five miles down the road. At an elevation of 6,000 feet, we were in the cedars with a few cacti scattered around and only a few pines could be seen higher on the surrounding hills. We pulled up to a spot in this high desert paradise that would make a perfect campsite for the next three days. With the purple and black mountains surrounding us, it was spectacular. My Dad, Brother Rick and I were anxious to do some serious mule deer hunting. This area was chosen after Dad heard some favorable scouting reports from the boys at the shop.

We pitched the tent in a fairly flat area away from any washes as we were expecting a little weather that weekend. The soil was rocky, making the digging of a drainage trench around the tent a little tougher that usual but it was necessary if you want to keep your gear dry.

After camp was set up, we had just enough time to take a short hike to the west to see if we can kick up any deer. We had a little breeze blowing in our faces which makes a perfect condition for sneaking up on deer or any other big game animal. We decided to follow the continuation of the dirt road that we came in on as it was going in the right direction and the walking was easy. A mile down the road we hit a •T” intersection at what is called the Western Trail. We kick up a cottontail rabbit and a covey of quail, but no deer so far. We hiked north for a half a mile and the back east to the camp. That nice two mile walk will helped to get us limbered up for Saturdays hunt.

Back at the camp, we got everything situated and Dad started cooking dinner using the camp kitchen he designed and fabricated. In two equal sized aluminum chests, he put all of his cooking equipment, food and lantern and the other was a very large ice chest with several compartments to separate the various types of food. Dinty Moore Stew was always a favorite with dinner rolls. After dinner, we started a camp fire and relaxed by its warmth. Dad was sitting in his favorite director’s chair and Rick and I sat on anything else that would suit the purpose.

The next morning, Dad was up early and had bacon & eggs cooking by the time Rick and I dragged our selves out of out sleeping bags. The sun wasn’t even up yet. We wanted to get out early and get a good distance from the camp before sunrise to give us a better chance of seeing a deer. The fire ring had a few hot coals still alive so with some fresh kindling and a paper towel, Rick had a fire going. I was making toast by threading a piece of break on a fork and holding it over the single gas burner stove. This is what I call team work.

Dad wanted to take the same trail we hiked the night before. This time when we head north on the Western Trail, we would go three or fore miles before looping around back to camp. As we stepped out on the trail with our flashlights in hand and rifles slung over our shoulders, Dad notice that there were paw prints on top of our boot prints from the night before. We had a mountain lion stalking us! We were the hunted!

Just of the Western Trail, we found a draw between to fingers of the Black Hills range. The plan was for me to hike up the west finger and Rick and Dad would hike up the east.

The dawn light now made the flashlights unnecessary. We moved into our positions as the sun poked up behind Rick and Dad. We all were sitting in front of small desert bushes to keep from being so conspicuous. After about one half hour, could see Rick waving his hands around. I thought he saw something but he was just talking and using his arms to emphasize his points. Dad quieted him down for a few minutes and then he was waving his hands again. I thought I would stand up a take a good look around. As a turned abound and looked up hill behind my bush cover, I saw a four point buck standing broadside with its head and rack staring right at me. Dad and Rick did not see it yet. Rick and I were sharing a German Military Rifle which was a $39.00 special, 8mm Mauser with a sliding, adjustable peep sight and sorry to say, never sighted in for accuracy on the gun range. Dad’s gun was the same type of gun, but sporterized with hand engraving, machined hexagon barrel, walnut stock four power scope and several other special features. He had sighted his in and it was accurate.

I quietly sat back down behind the bu. sh, and thought out my plan. My best position to shoot would be kneeling down on one knee. I took by position and squeezed off the first shot. It hit six feet down hill from the deer. It still didn’t know where I was at. Then buck fever set in. I would try to compensate for the last miss, but this time too high. I was wondering why Dad wasn’t shooting with his more accurate gun. So I kept shooting until the deer ran off over the hill. Later, I found out that every time Dad was taking aim, I would shoot and move the target before he could get an accurate shot off. Well, buck fever strikes again. After all the excitement, we headed back to camp to get a little lunch before we would try another area and strategy.

We loaded the car with the guns and a few snacks and headed east. Dad wanted to use a similar strategy with a few modifications. Rick with sit at the bottom of the draw for a half hour. Dad would take one side of the finger and I would take the other side, but this time without a gun as it was Rick’s turn. After Dad and I got into position, Rick would move up the draw and see if he could kick up a deer.

With every one in position, it was now time for Rick to start his move. Dad and I we watching for any movement as Rick moved up the draw. All of the sudden, a shot rings out. A minute later another shot. The powerful sounds were coming from Rick’s position. He must have spotted a deer. After all was quiet, Dad and I moved down to Rick’s position. Dad yelled •Did you hit a deer?” Rick called back with •No, I was just sighting in the gun! Dad and I were not happy campers after thinking about the effort it took to get into position. Sighting in the gun was a good idea after this morning misses, but I don’t think this was the right time.

Dad decided to continue up the draw over one side of the finger and back down the other side. Rick still had the community gun and was following directly behind Dad. I was bringing up the rear without a rifle. Dad stopped to take a good look around. Rick turned around toward me and then I noticed Dad had a funny look on his face and something looked out of placed. As Rick turned around, his rifle barrel swept by Dad’s right ear but catching his glasses and knocking them askew. They were barely hanging on Dad’s left ear. This triggered an in field, on the spot, gun safety course.

The rest of the weekend was uneventful but enjoyable.

Hot Time in Oak Creek

In the late fifties, Oak Creek Canyon was the major route to Flagstaff from Phoenix. This was when Oak Creek was a fisherman’s paradise.

One weekend Dad loaded my Brother Rick and me in his 1959, Chevy Station Wagon. This was Dad’s sport utility vehicle and we had taken it everywhere. It did not have air conditioning, four wheel drive, or all terrain tires, but it did have a luggage rack.

Being the major truck route to Flagstaff made this little, winding highway fairly busy all night long. At that time there weren’t many campgrounds in the Canyon. Most fishermen would take their spot on the narrow pullout that were sized to fit two to three cars at a time. There were little trails along the roadway leading down to creek banks some thirty to fifty feet below. Most of the fishermen would spend the day at creek side and then head back to the town of Oak Creek to spend the night in a small, rented cabin. But with Dad’s SUV we could spend the night right there and be up as the sun rises to hit the creek for the best trout fishing of the day.

The sleeping arrangement for the three of us was easy. Dad and I would stretch out in the back of the wagon, while Rick would lie on the front seat. His four foot frame fit there just right.

Cooking was all done on the tail gate and the dining area was the closet larger boulder you could find. Dad would leave the camp gear out during the night and move it in the back of the car during the day. On this Friday night, we finished our bologna sandwich dinner complete with Clover Club Potato Chips, root beer and Coors beer to drink. Rick and I had the root beer.

Dad fired up the Coleman lantern to give us a little light to help get the camp kitchen was squared away and he would use it to throw a little heat in the car, with the window all cracked open, of course. We all stripped down to our skivvies and climbed into the sleeping bags. Dad was shutting down the lantern as it was hanging on the coat hook. We watched the bright mantel do its familiar dance in concert to the distinctive hissing sound of the pressurized gas. The light would go dim, then bright, and then dim again and then usually out. But this time, for some reason, on the last part of going dim it stopped generating vapor fuel and started running liquid fuel around it base supporting the glass globe. Then suddenly, on its last spurt, it burst into flames rather than going out. Dad’s quick action of flinging the side door open, grabbing the lantern by its wire hanger, and jumping out of the car all at the same instant. The situation was under control but there was Dad, standing in his underwear, hovering over the lantern trying to turn the gas off. What a sight that must have been for the truckers going by.

The next morning before breakfast, we would all head down to the creek fish. Early mornings and late afternoons is the best time for trout fishing. At that time the fishing limit was ten for Dad and Rick & I being under the licensing age, we could catch five each. After fishing a short while and catching a few fish, we would head back to the car for a simple breakfast. After breakfast, dad would drop Rick and I off at our favorite fishing hole while he would fish his way down the creek where he was hoping for a trophy fish with some size to it. He was confident that we knew the creek and could entertain ourselves for hours. We also were near a few cabins that were located creek side and there were some kids staying there that we would pal around with. We had a great time.

After a day fishing, Dad decided to take us to town for a hamburger with onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles served up with French fries and a Coke. After the feast, he took us roller skating. There was a rink right next to the little cafe. Rick and I would good at roller skating using the clamp on type that required the highly prized skate key. The skates at the roller rink were real ones mounted right on the boots. This made skating easy and Dad was impressed with our skills. It was Dad that surprised us. He started skating at a pretty good clip like he has been skating all his life. We were really impressed when he was skating backwards on his second lap around, that was until he ran over a slower skater. I guess he didn’t have eyes behind his head. He used to tell us that when we were younger. Nobody was hurt except Dad’s ego. We all hand a good time. The next morning we were fishing early again. Dad was going to take a walk upstream this time so he left us at our favorite pool. We had learned the catch and release procedure early in our fishing lives. If were didn’t eat the fish we caught the day before, we couldn’t fish anymore once we hit our limit. Most of the fish we released recovered.

Dad was away for about an hour. When he returned he found Rick and I off to the side of our pool. There were about six men that moved in on our spot when they saw us catching fish. This made Dad made so he told Rick to take his pole and cast his line Rick over the center of the pool, knowing well the he would tangle all there lines. Rick did not let Dad down. What a mess.

After Rick was untangled, Dad took us down the creek where there was less traffic. Rick and I were back to the catch and release procedure. We both were using some thirty year old level wind fishing reels mounted on steel fishing rods that were not very up to date, but effective. One fisherman came by all decked out in a fishing vest, creel, rubber boots and a brand new fly rod with an automatic Johnson fly reel. He wanted to trade his new rig for Rick on fishing pole, as he had not caught any fish at all. Rick didn’t go for the deal even though he knew it wasn’t the rig, it was the technique and placement that counted.

Late in the afternoon we were all fished out and had topped off our limits. We cleaned our latest catch, packed them in the ice chest and headed home. We knew that we could look forward to several good fish dinners. Mom would freeze our catch after each trip knowing that we ate our fair share that weekend.

Black River—Black Bears

The Wagner Boy’s annual camping trip has been held for several years on the Black River on the border Fort Apache and San Carlos Indian Reservations. This area is very rocky, high desert. The main camping area had a lot of shade supplied by cedars, mesquite and some cottonwood trees and was well maintained but had no facilities. The road to the camping area is fairly rough but can be negotiated with passenger cars to a point just before the last camping area. A four wheel drive vehicle was required to get over the last embankment unless you didn’t mind taking a higher speed run at it a time or two. This camping spot has a unique location just above the confluence of the Black and White Rivers which then becomes the Salt River that in turn, runs through the Salt River Canyon. Both of these rivers originate high in the White Mountains. Coming from State Route 79, you pick up the turnoff half way between Cedar Creek and Canyon Day.

Jeff, Phil, Robert, Jim, Nichole, and Jason had arrived the night before we did. They had timed their arrival to be at one minute after midnight so they would not be violating their camping permit. I had to work all day Thursday, so Jeremy headed down Thursday night. We had special instructions from Phil on exactly where to find there camp. I mistranslated the part about coming to a big tree by the road and turned off the main road a little too soon. We found an area a little more primitive than their site but we were the only ones there. Jeremy and I pulled in about 10:00 PM. We towed the canoe trailer with Carol’s Explorer. That last embankment was too difficult to negotiate with the trailer, so our spot was the best spot for us. We pulled up to the edge of the river on a sandy beach. On one side we had a small hill that was solid rock. On the other side we had a stretch of sand, some large shade trees and a rock face of a small mountain. This beach area we were in would best be described as a wash. I’m glade we had a clear weather report.

Most of our camping and fishing gear was stored on the trailer along with two mountain bikes. Our clothes, ice chest and sleeping bags were inside the Explorer. I moved the ice chest to the back of the trailer and checked out the area with the beam of the flashlight. I realized what a great spot this was and we had it all to ourselves.

Sleeping in the back of the Explorer was very comfortable. My Dad, Brother Rick and I used to camp this way many times. It was less hassle than a tent but a little more compact.

I climbed back into the car. Jeremy was all ready in his bag and I was soon in mine. Just as I was dozing off, I felt a little movement in the car. It was more than Jeremy shifting his weight. Then I heard something hit the ground with a thud. I grabbed my flashlight and went out to investigate. At the back of the trailer, I found the ice chest tipped over and laying on its end with the lid ajar and some of its contents and ice lying in the sand. I scooped everything up, sandy ice cubes and all, and put it back on the trailer. I thought I may have left the ice chest hanging too far off of the back of the trailer and the melting ice shifted and unbalancing the load causing the chest to fall off. I didn’t want to lose any ice here in the wilderness and a little sand in the food is kind of a camping tradition, especially if it is windy when you’re cooking. So I got back into the car crawled back in the sack.

As the sun was coming up over the big shade trees, which indicated east, Jeremy was still sleeping. So I quietly got up, dressed and decided to do a little fishing. This water is a little warmer here than its White Mountain tributaries so we found ourselves fishing for small mouth bass instead of trout. I fished for about two hours when I spotted Jeremy stirring around. He loves to sleep in after keeping late hours the night before. I hadn’t set up camp yet and had no breakfast to off er. I ask him what he was hungry for and he said he just wanted something cold to drink. I asked him if he could go for a Dr. Pepper. He said OK so I went to the ice chest, stuck my hand in and pulled out a Dr. Pepper. “Jeremy, Look at this! I shouted. “You weren’t the only one with a thirst for something cold!” The Dr. Pepper can was empty and there were two ó” diameter bear teeth holes on the sides near the top. There were also holes in the lid of the plastic ice chest, were the bear grabbed it with its teeth to pull it off the trailer. We missed the opportunity to f i Im a great Dr. Pepper commercial. A day late and a dollar short.

After a quick day time survey of the area, we decided to set up camp near a large shade tree 25 yards away. We unloaded the canoe and moved our camping rig up the wash to higher, level ground. It was a perfect spot and a great shelter from the afternoon sun.

As we were setting up the campsite, a couple of guys in a relatively new van stopped by and ask if we would mind them camping down by the river. We told them that would be OK. It was nice for them to ask. They actually set up right where we were the night before.

After setting up the camp and having a mid morning snack, we started fishing our way down the river and hopefully find the other Wagner Boys camp. We found the major camp ground a half a block away from us. Had no problem finding their campsite where Jim and Nicole just finished cleaning up the breakfast dishes. The other guys were off hiking somewhere.

A long the river adjacent to the camp ground, there was a long pool of water about thirty foot wide and one hundred feet long. It also had a sandy beach like bank on the camp ground side and a twenty foot shear, solid rock bank on the other side. This would be a great place for the canoe, so Jeremy and I went back up to get it. We could only paddle it short distances at a time and then walked it down through the rapids when the water got to shallow. Once we got it down to the long pool, paddling was great.

After a short while, we were getting a little hungry so we tied up the canoe and hiked up to our camp. We passed the men in the van and noticed that they had pulled one of the seats out of the van and set it right on the river bank. It looked like they were already for some night fishing for catfish.

The next morning, I got up early for some morning fishing before breakfast. I walked down past the van seat and noticed that the night fisherman left the catfish bait, fishing tackle box and various snack foods out on the seat. They were still sleeping and did not know that they had some unexpected company during the night. The bear had helped itself to the snacks, ate the bait, opened the tackle box and threw its contents around, and if that wasn’t bad enough, it ate big chucks out of the van seat and took a big BM right in the middle of it. A hunter or hiker would call that “sign”, I call it poop unless it was my seat, then I would call it xxxx!! I didn’t have the opportunity to see these guys faces when they got up, but I’m sure it was a site to behold.

The rest of the day, Jeremy and I spent fishing and swimming. We caught several small mouth bass on parts of crayfish that we harvested from waters edge. For Dinner that night, Jeremy and I had some Sloppy Joes that Carol prepared for us. With potato chips and pop, we were feasting like Kings. She also sent a freezer bag full of fresh peaches we picked from Snepps Farm in Queen Creek. They were prepared for use as pie filling. We had two graham cracker pie shells and a container of cool whip. We made only one pie for know and the second one we were going to share with the other camp after we cleaned up our camp kitchen. That would take about fifteen minutes because we put a KISS on our cooking. That means Keep It Simple Silly. Well actually it is supposed to be Stupid, but I resemble that statement. I prepared the pie, cool whip and all, and delivered it on my mountain bike along with Styrofoam bowls and spoons. That was a sight worth seeing all by itself because I had to not only ride a good distance up the hill in rough terrain with a lot of loose gravel, but had to control the downward descent into their camp. Almost lost it twice, but the pie was delivered successfully and appreciated by all.

The next morning we were up bright and early. When the sun goes down there isn’t much to do, so you hit -the sack early. Jeremy and I fished, hiked and generally kicked around all day. This is what a short vacation is supposed to be like. A lot of rest and recuperation or as the military calls it R&R.

I decided to fish my way down to the long pool where we left the canoe . As I hit the last rapid, I saw the canoe in the middle of the pool. It was still in the shade cast by the shear cliff and mountain beyond. There was a fishing pole propped up over the edge but the line wasn’t in the water. Phil was lying in the bottom of the canoe with his arm stretched over the edge and dangling in the water while in a deep state of relaxation, just drifting around. The morning breezes were picking up a little and pushed him around just enough to change the scenery but not location. I called out to see if he had a luck fishing there. He said he didn’t want to put his line in the water so he wouldn’t have to be bothered by a fish. He then invited us to join the other camp for steak fry. Phil had brought up the left over steaks from Roberts graduation party. I accepted the invitation.

Jeremy and I had planned to make home made onion rings to share. This would be the perfect opportunity. So that afternoon about 4:30 we started peeling and slicing the large, sweet Vidalia onions, mixing up the special batter and then prepared the large cast iron fry pan for the assembly line frying process. Jeremy would dip the ring in the batter and place them in the pan and I would watch them carefully and turn them at just the right time. We had to taste test a few to make sure we were doing it just right. With ketchup, it was almost a meal in it self. After we finished frying, we had a heaping plate of onion rings. We covered them and grabbed the ketchup and delivered them directly to their camp. This time we took the flatter route by the river and left the bikes behind. We were greeted by some hungry campers. They all had just returned from a long hike down the canyon to fish the lower end of the river. That is where all the big fish are. They catch one very large catfish but release it. They said it was too big to carry out. The onion rings were used as an appetizer and were gone in a short period of time. Jim, their chief camp chef made sure that no onion rings would be wasted.

After the steak dinner, we sat around a shared fishing and bear stories. The bears evidently were equal opportunity menaces. They made sure they gave all the campers sometime to write home about. Phil told us how he would have to lay a frying pan outside of his tent within a hands reach. He took a hammer to bed with him so that when he heard the bears coming near his camp, he would reach out and hit the pan with the hammer to chase the bears away. He did that all night long. In bear lingo, does that clanging mean “go away” or “time for dinnerf” No wonder he was relaxing in the canoe all afternoon.

Sunday morning we had enough time to do a little fishing, swimming and breaking down our campsite. It was a great mini vacation. Just as we were finishing, the boys came by. They hadn’t had lunch and were out of food, so we shared the last of our leftover Sloppy J oes. They weren’t going to be any better than they were right then. They liked our campsite. I could tell by there comments that we would have to beat them to this spot next year. You can’t put dibs on camping spots unless you’re sitting in it.

One year later— There we were, heading to the Black River for the annual Wagner Campout. This time Chad was joining us. We decided to spend the first night at the cabin in Pinetop and then on the way to Black River pick up our permits. The spending the night at the cabin was the best part of the plan. Finding permits was another story. We left the cabin early after a quick breakfast. We stopped in several sporting good stores in Pinetop and Show Low. No permits there. So we headed west on SR 60 thinking we could find a store on the Indian Reservation. Cibecue would be our next stop. Leaving Show Low we were back into the thick ponderosas forest. Suddenly we hear a siren and thinking I should pull over and let the emergency vehicle by, I noticed it was a Highway Patrol Motorcycle. Oh no! I was the emergency. A speeding driver. As the officer came up to the window I already had my drivers license, auto registration and insurance certificate out for his inspection. He asked where I was headed and I told him fishing. He said I was going 57 mph in a 45 MPH zone. I told him thought I was out of the town past that speed limit. He pointed down the road 100 yards to the increased speed limit sign. He told me I almost made it but he was going to just give me a warning. After he wrote the ticket and presented it to me, I told him “Thanks for nothing”. He chuckled and told me to drive safe. I look over at Chad and Jere my. They had a look of astonishment and disbelief that I would say that. So off we go, 45 MPH for another 100 yards then off we go.

We toured the town of Cibecue for about 30 minutes. Couldn’t find any stores open but we always wanted to see what was back there. There is a way to get to the lower end of Canyon Creek from there. We fish the upper end by the Mogollon Rim.

Our next chance to find permits would be in the bottom of the Salt River Canyon and the convenience store run by the San Carlos Tribe. If not there, then we would have to go to Globe where we knew they had them. At the store I ask the clerk if they had fishing permits for the Black River. She said not they did not sell them there. So that was discouraging. We walked outside. Chad was studying a big, engraved wood map of the Salt River Canyon and the San Carol Indian reservation. He pointed out the Black River Crossing; our destination is on their map. I went back into store and told the clerk that the Black River was on there map. She said “Oh, You want a San Carlos Permit! Yes, I do have them.” Boy, if it wasn’t for Chad studying that map we would be have lunch in Globe.

Buy the time we got to the Black River is was 1:00 PM. Worse yet, someone was parked by out favorite tree. Fortunately, they looked like they were just swimming and did not have any camping equipment set up. In a few hours they moved on and we moved in and set up camp. This time we had a tent as there were three of us. Fishing was good, R&R was happening and the food was great! What more could you ask for.


Epilogue (use deep voice when reading)

This is a rough sketch of some of the stories that are forth coming. They have not been completely edited or thoroughly thought-out but they are true. The names are real and only used to persecute the guilty. If your name is included therein, well, that is was you get for enjoying nature with the Wagner’s. For now that’s all. As the late, Former Arizona Governor Williams would say to close out his weekly radio address “It’s another beautiful day! Leave us enjoy it!”

There’s No Age Limit On Fishing

Angling has been around since God first made the earth, splashed on some water, threw a few fish in it and then created mammals, birds and man. We here in the US of A call it fishing. It seamed logical to me that since God covered two thirds of the earth with water, we are to spend two thirds of the time we have here fishing. I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet, but since my early years, I have been programmed to get to some body of water to fish every chance I get. Sometimes it is at great cost and peril.

My first fishing experience came in the early 1950’s, when my Dad and Mom would take our family to Encanto Park in Downtown Phoenix on Labor Day. Mom would pack a picnic lunch that she would serve on a large blanket under a shade tree. There would be entertainment at the old band shell and periodic announcements about the traditional fishing contest in the lagoon, how to enter, categories of the contest like biggest fish, littlest fish, etc., and description of the prizes. They had prizes galore! One traditional prize was a new bicycle plus fishing gear and stuff like that.

The Encanto Lagoon was originally created as a dual purpose resource. It made great recreational water for canoeing, fishing or just strolling on the dirt paths on each side of the lagoon. What many people didn’t know was that it served as part of the air conditioning system for Saint Josephs Hospital. For all air conditioning systems to work there has to be some method to reject heat. On small air conditioning units, it is an outdoor coil with a fan blowing through it. On large buildings it would sometimes be a cooling tower with water pumped up to a distributor where the water cascades over louvers with a blower increasing evaporation which cools the water by rejecting heat created during the refrigeration process. Refrigeration is the process of taking heat out of something and putting it somewhere else. In this case Encanto Lagoon was used to reject the heat. It’s water was sucked into the hospitals equipment room through a large underground piping system, where it cycled though a heat exchanger that would increase the water temperature twenty to thirty degrees and then it would be sent back to the lagoon where the heat would be rejected by the natural evaporation process of the lagoon. The heat exchanger kept the lagoon water separated form the water that circulated in the hospital. The final result would be a cool hospital and a warmer lagoon. Why was this important for you to know? Not to educate you with history and principles of air conditioning? Not to impress you with what I know, but to help you understand that this warm water pumping into the lagoon made a perfect habitat for bass, catfish and carp to grow to enormous size. It was a fishermen’s paradise right in the middle of Phoenix.

So back at Encanto Park, Rick and I did all the fishing with Dad’s supporting effort in keeping hooks and bait on our lines. He sat up his tackle repair and bait shop on the edge of the blanket under the shade tree where he would comfortably do his fishing rod maintenance including untangling lines. His favorite position while waiting for his next customer was to lie on his back with his elbows in the air while his hands supported his head. He could actually sleep this way, and that was what he was doing until a practical joker bird decided to drop a little surprise from the branch above. Another benefit of the lagoon water is to wash bird poop off of your forehead.

Rick and I didn’t catch anything of any consequence to enter into the contest, but we had a great day of fishing at Dad’s expense.

My Dad took Rick and me fishing out of town a lot in our younger years. Our sisters didn’t fish and younger brothers were too young for the big fishing trips but Dad did take them to the local lakes as he did with Rick and me.

We all were good at tangling lines where we needed Dad’s assistance up until we reached the age of about tenteen. That’s the age when you want to show some independence and take care of your own equipment. Sometimes Dad would even have a problem if his line was getting old or he had a lure not spin and do a propeller number that would result in winding his line up where any slack would create a rat’s nest at his reel. But that’s what happens when you fish.

When Dad would take Rick and me to Willow Beach on the Colorado River just below Hoover Dam, he would swear that if he were fishing above the dam on Lake Mohave, and Rick was fishing below the dam at Willow Beach, that they still could get their lines tangled together. Willow Beach had tremendous trout in it. One New Years weekend Dad, Rick and I were fishing below the dam on a small sand bar. The water was swift so we had to throw our lines in from the upper end of the bar and then walk down the bank trying to keep up with our bait. Rick snagged on to a big trout just as he passed me going back up to the top of the sand bar. I stopped when I saw he had a fish on and told him to keep his pole up to put pressure on the line. Any slack would allow the fish the chance to get off. As the words came out of my mouth, he dropped his pole toward the water allowing slack in the line. Just then, I reached over and just barely touched his pole to indicate he should keep it up when the fish, with the opportunity to get loose, took it. Rick blamed me for the loss and I couldn’t come up with enough excuses to sell my defense. I touched his pole and paid the price.

As Rick and I reached our later teens we were going off on our own separate fishing trips. Dad started taking his next group of sons, Jeff, Doug and Phil. They probably have a few stories to share.

Years later the roles changed after Carol and I were married. Carol loved to fish. Chad was too young to fish so left him with my parents and went fishing at Willow Beach. Carol was pregnant with Heidi at that time. She found a spot where she could comfortable fish and was having great success catching trout. She called me over and showed me exactly where to cast my line so I could catch a few also. Not only that, she cooked them up and made a great fish dinner. I did help with the dishes.

Chad and Heidi did their part on fishing adventures to keep me busy in the fishing tackle and line untangling department. Heidi kissed the first fish she ever caught. She was a real animal lover. I could see her becoming a vet someday. Chad liked to fish for short spurts at a time. Then he would be off exploring or just constructing something with the rocks and twigs or finding lures that other fisherman lost. Then Jeremy came along. l–le took his fishing more seriously but also could entertain himself near the lake or stream building roads and playing with Chad and Heidi. You are never too young or too old to fish or at least pretending your fishing while you are out enjoying God’s creation.

Did this tidbit whet your appetite for what follows? Here is an accumulation of several stories that are very meaningful to me and my family. As a friend, you are welcomed to read along and imagine the beauty of Arizona and all the critters that are found here. If you are family, then I apologize in advance for any mention of you and yours in these stories. I hope I don’t offend anyone but I think I can get away with it because of my creative license, whatever that means. Sit back, put your feet up and enjoy a hot beverage while you adventure with us. If Jeff W. is with you, remember he likes his coffee extra black. Enjoy!

Oh yeah, if you find any errors in grammar or misspellings, I apologize for that too. I was going to go back and proof read, but it was too boring because I already know the stories. —LW

Arizona Boy Fishing In Florida

When I was in second grade, my family made a cross country vacation to the town where my Dad was raised, Dunedin, Florida, just north of Clearwater. What a long ride that was even in the new 1954 Ford Station Wagon with a forced air, evaporative cooler mounted on top of the front passenger’s windowM. y mother was in control of the temperature regulator. No, it wasn’t a thermostat. It was a rope that, when pulled, rotated a spring loaded cylinder filled with an absorbent material that rotated into a built in basin of water. With the absorbent materials soaked with water, the cord was released and the spring would return the cylinder into a position that allowed the forced air provided by the cars forward motion, to evaporate the water creating a cool breeze that would flow through to the passengers. It worked until we hit Texas and then it seamed the hot, humid air stayed with us all the way to Florida making the evaporative cooler not as effective.

Visiting with Dad’s family was OK and staying in a motel on the beach was nice, but I enjoyed fishing the best.

My Dad took me and an old friend of his out into the Gulf of Mexico. Since we were already on the ocean shoreline it would take only a half an hour to get to the marina. It started out as a bright, sunny day. The little boat we rented had two oars, one concrete coffee can on a rope for an anchor, two small coffee empty coffee cans and a small, red gas tank connected to the outboard motor mounted on the back of the boat. I sat in the front seat, my Dad sat in the middle and the old man sat in the back and was going to pilot us to the fish. This was my first experience fishing on the ocean. We headed to some sort of concrete wall up against a bank of dirt or sand. I’m not sure of its function, but Dad’s friend said he catches a lot of fish there, but they were small ones. We stayed there for a short time and then headed out to sea. I looked back at Dad and the old man and saw that they were intently looking straight ahead, kind of like leaning forward to make the small boat go faster. The bow of the boat was slapping against the small waves and the feel of salt spray felt refreshing to my face. The old man killed the engine and the boat glided to a stop but continued to rock as the waves went by.

My Dad baited my poll and told me to drop the line straight down. They did the same. The old man was the first to catch something. It was a strange looking fish in the water and wasn’t very big. When he lifted it into the boat, it suddenly blew up like a balloon. It was a puffer fish. I was the next one to catch a fish. It was exciting to feel it hit my line and make my reel spin. Dad reached over and grabbed the reel to stop it from spinning. Just then the steel pole bent down to the water and he said the fish is hooked. Dad showed me how to reel it in, not to fast but steady. Raise the pole and reel as you put the pole down toward the water. When I finally got the fish up to the boat and could see it was about as long as the little tackle box. Dad helped me lift it into the boat and onto the floor. The hook was firmly attached to its lip. Dad reached down with both hands to wiggle the hood free and then put the fish on the stringer. This was my first slat water fish.

With all of the excitement, I didn’t notice the clouds moving in. The waves were suddenly getting higher and what they called white caps was forming. The old man said it time to head back as he pulled the rope on the motor. It started with a puff of gray smoke and off we went. The waves were now getting us all wet and water was rising above the floor boards. Dad took one coffee can and bent a flat spot on the edge. He laid the flat edge down in the water near my feet and then scooped it forward and up. It only had a little water in the bottom which he dumped overboard. This he said was bailing out the boat and gave me a can. He took the second can and bent it in the same way. He started bailing near his feet were the water was a little deeper. We did this all the way to the marina. When we climbed out of the boat we were all soaking wet. By the time we got back to the motel it was raining. I was carrying around my big catch and even slung it toward my younger brother, Ricky, and hit him in the leg. He told on me and I got into trouble.

The next morning my uncle Rick came by the motel. He was stationed in the Air force in Georgia. We stopped by to see him there on the way to Florida and Dad had invited him to come for a visit while we were here. He wanted to take me fishing off of a nearby pier but it was still raining, He said it would be clearing up shortly. We went to a fishing tackle store in this old Plymouth. I remember its windshield wiper weren’t working too well and the window was fogging up. He had me wiping the passenger window with my hand to keep the wiper blades moving. When I stopped, they would stop. I think he was playing a trick on me by using the wiper switch to turn it of as soon as I stopped wiping.

At the store he brought what he called a hand line that was a piece of wood with a black fishing line wrapped around it, a red and white bobber attached above a large weight and the hook. He picked out a small container of shrimp to use for bait.

By the time we got to the pier, the sun was shinning again. I noticed that one of the small boats had a dead stingray in the bottom. They were only about the size of a ping pong paddle, but it was neat to see. When we got to the end of the pier, Uncle Rick baited up the hook with the shrimp and unraveled a big loop of line from the wooden holder which he held in his left hand. He then put the holder into my hands and asked if I was ready. I gave him a nod and he started twirling the baited hook, line and sinker around his head and then let it fly. As it did, he released the loops of line in his other hand until it was air born. Then as the line tightened with a jerk, the hand line holder flew out of my hands and into the water a long ways away. Uncle Rick said laughingly “I told you to hold on to it”. I told him I tried but it pulled too hard. We were now done fishing. We got back in the car and headed to the fishing store again. He bought another hand line but didn’t need the shrimp. We still had plenty of shrimp left.

Back to the pier we went. Uncle Rick went through the same routine of looping the line on the ground except this time he took the wooden spool with the remainder of the raps on it and threaded though every belt loop in my pants starting in the front going around the back and then out the font. Then he put the spool in my hand and said he was pretty sure I could hold on to it now. He was right. Out it went without any problems. After about ten minutes passed and without a bite or even a nibble, it started to rain again. Fishing was over for the day. As he pulled in the hand line he thought we had caught a small black fish. It turned out to be the first hand line we lost. We laughed as we gathered up the gear. threw the left over shrimp to the victorious fish and ran bock to the car.

Here’s a thought. What would have happened if a big fish, like a shark for instance, would have grabbed that stinky shrimp on the hook tied to hand line threaded through all the belt loops of my pants and clutched in my hands? How long would it take for the big fish to figure out that there was a bigger chuck of meat on the other end of that hand Ii ne and it doesn’t have a sharp hook in it? I think my uncle had it in for me early on in my life. That would have been almost as exciting as our boat ride the day before.

When we made our long drive bock to Arizona, I became ill probably as a result of our fishing experiences. I had to miss two more weeks of school. Darn!

Lake Pleasant or Unpleasant Lake

In the summer of 1962 my dad encouraged me to sign up for a Maricopa County Youth Work Program as a summer job. The county would randomly pick several hundred young men to work somewhere in the county park system over the summer in work sessions of four weeks for each youth. I was lucky enough to be drawn along with thirty other young men to work on Lake Pleasant for our session. They would have several other groups working one month intervals at different locations during the summer break from school.

This was my first real job other than mowing lawns, making label tags for my dad’s air conditioning company, or chopping weeds and sweeping floors and other chores at Dad & Mom’s industrial property in South Phoenix.

My five day a week work detail started the first week of July. My father would drop me off at Central High School in Phoenix at 6:45 AM each work day. With a sack lunch in hand, work gloves in one back pocket and a blue, cowboy type bandana in the other, I would board a school buss with the other young men along with our straw bosses who were about a year older and had worked the summer before as rookies and were invited back this year to supervise the new recruits. We also had two adult leaders and a bus driver. At 7:00 AM sharp we were off. If you were late, you would have to have your family take you to the lake or you missed out on a day’s work. I don’t recall anyone being late.

We would arrive at the Lower Lake Pleasant camp ground close to 8:00 AM. There was a snack stand with picnic tables near by that they used for headquarters. We didn’t have snack bar privileges before 12:00 noon each day. Our job was to extend the existing campground into an area that was adjacent to the lake but overgrown with underbrush and a wild mesquite forest. You could barely see through this tangled straw and twig fortress. One of our adult leaders was my P.E. coach from my former grade school. Unfortunately he recognized me and acknowledged that fact by calling out •How are you doing Wagner? You will help man the wheel barrels along with you, you, you, you and John; pointing at five other boys. Next he picked out the fire pit crew of six and then three other crews of six for sawing, trimming and raking. Each crew had a straw boss that he would call out my name as the sixth member of the crew. With everybody teamed up, there would be a mandatory, fifteen minute safety meeting and then we were dismissed to go to work. This is how each work day was to begin. Everyone was thankful for their job and eager to work.

Each straw boss took their crew to tool up at the equipment compound and then headed to their assigned work area. We had to leave all our lunches in a big refrigerator at the snack shop for safe keeping and also so there was no snacking. It was time for work and work we did.

Twenty-five feet away from the thicket to be renovated was the fire ring. We were to chop, saw, trim, shovel, rake and shape a new picnic and camping area out of this chaos of entanglement and burn the debris. We all worked like an assembly line with wheel barrels hauling the piles of trimmings and mounds of grass mixed with weeds to the fire ring which at times had flames ten to twenty feet tall. We would dump our loads within seven or eight feet of the fire or what ever distance the heat of the fire would permit and then the fire crew would feed it into the flames at a controlled rate. It was hot and those boys deserved the extra ration of water. I was thankful I wasn’t working the fire even though it was a way to get extra water.

All water was rationed out by the straw bosses at the rate of one cup per hour unless you worked on the fire crew. Then you would get one cup each half an hour. We all had our own stainless steel cups that gave the water a little metallic taste, which was actually a good thing. We grew to appreciate and even look forward to that tasty, icy cold water from the big galvanized water jug. We also learned that if we left the last sip in the cup, we could pour it on our bandana and use it to cool our faces awhile before it would evaporate. Some boys were buying extra water rations from some of the straw bosses for fifty cents a cup. If you had the money, would be well worth it.

By 11:30 AM we were pretty well bushed, no pun intended. At that time we all gathered at the fire ring around the heat of red hot coals. All the chopping. trimming and racking tools were put away. It was time to put the fire out. Part of the crew with flat shovels would go down and stand in the lake. Another part of the crew with round shovels would take their position at the fire ring, while the wheel barrel crew would transport water from the lake where it was shoveled in by the flat shovel crew, run up the hill to the fire ring by the wheel barrel crew who dumped it where directed by the round shovel crew as they churned the ashes and coals to contact the water. The most strenuous part of this process was running the wheel barrels up the hill with my X PE coach yelling at you as you run by ·Keep the handles down and the pick up the pace!” Every once in a while some would have the handles up too high and the front reinforcement cross member would catch on a rock and the back of the wheel barrel would flip over with the operator doing a handstand on the handles as he became air born. All work would stop for a few minutes due to the uncontrollable laughter.

Once the fire was completely out. all the tools were put away and it was time for lunch. This was a good thing, but not the best part of the day. After lunch and for the rest of the afternoon, we would have R&R. Rest and recuperation. We could swim, fish, play water games, hike around and just enjoy the lake and campground until it was time to get on the bus at 3:00PM for the trip home. And better yet, we got paid for this time, a full eight hours pay. What a great experience for me and all these young men going through this program. Hard work, hard play and good friendships made, and to be paid for it all!

The bus ride back to the High School seamed twice a long as the ride to the lake that morning. At the school. I would hang around until my sister Judy could pick me up after she got off of work At that time she was driving the family station wagon and it had air conditioning that felt great all the way home. Dad’s company cars have not had air conditioning by his choice. Go figure.

Hell’s Gate

In the summer of 1963, my dad planned a fishing trip to Hell’s Gate located at the confluence of Tonto and Haigler Creeks. Both of these creeks cut through steep canyon walls and form pools that are ideal habitat for trout. It is a tough hike but made more difficult carrying camping and fishing gear on your back.

Joining the party was his business partner, Bud Burnett, his long time employee, hunting & fishing partner, Joe Savatone, and me, a young high school kid looking for adventure. We planned that trip weeks before departure. Back packing equipment was not readily available so we improvised the best we could with what we had. Much of it was army surplus and our standard camping gear including a two burner Coleman stove, lantern, and our combination camp kit with four complete table settings, two pans, one skillet, coffee pot and all of the interchangeable handles. We had visquene plastic for ground cover or protection if we had inclement weather. One backpack was dedicated to food and kept cold by the frozen steaks reserved for the last night’s meal. Other foods were your standard canned foods like beans. corn, peas, spam, soups, coffee, hot chocolate, soda pop and beer. Breakfast foods were breads, rolls, carefully packed eggs, frozen bacon and fresh fruits like apples and oranges. Fritos and Oreo cookies were in plentiful supply because of their tight mass and pack ability. A lot of taste in such a small morsel. Our noon meal staple, lunch meat wasn’t frozen but would be kept cold by the steaks and bacon. Dad found two simple back pack frames for us at the Yates Army Navy Surplus store. We attached some old army packs on them and then lashed everything else with nylon cord. On top of the pack we secured our sleeping bags. We would wear our heavy jackets to help cushion the bumps and ridges of the gear and besides, there was no other place to put them. We all were loaded to the hilt.

Bud drove his own car and brought his Bassett Hound along. He was going to head back to town a day early. Joe came along with us in dad’s sport utility vehicle, a 1962 Chevy station wagon. Since 1954 his cars were always station wagons.

We met at 7:00 AM at the Knotty Pine Restaurant in Payson were we all had pancake short stacks, egg over medium and bacon. They all had coffee, but I was still a growing kid, so I had milk. The milk must have been powdered because it didn’t have that good whole milk taste, but it was still good enough to wash down those syrup soaked cakes. Hmmm! After breakfast we convoyed to the end of the Hells Gate Jeep Trails that ran on top of Apache Ridge at about 5665 feet above sea level according to the bench mark on our map. We strapped on our packs and headed out of the foot trail toward Hells Gate. Buds dog took off in the opposite direction and didn’t come back to join us. Bud wasn’t concerned. So down we go, not knowing what to expect, looking forward to a great adventure. A short distance down the trail it veered to the east and lead us across Hells Gate Ridge and then sharply down into the canyon. I not sure the name of the canyon but the surrounding canyons were Salt Lick, Bull Tank and Leo Canyon. It wasn’t name on our map, but I’m pretty sure it is called Hells Gate Canyon.

One interesting note about Leo Canyon is how it got its name. In 1927, Metro Golden Mayor was transporting it mascot and logo, Leo the Lion, to New York, on a campaign junket or promotional event. The plane carrying Leo crashed in this rugged area. Miraculously the pilot and Leo survived. With Leo still in its cage, the pilot walked out for help. On his trip out, the pilot stopped to refresh himself at a small, natural spring, now called Lion Springs. The plane and cage remained at the crash site for years until it was finally accessible by vehicles that could haul it out. It was sent to Las Vegas where it somewhat restored and put on display. Back on the trail, we were traversing a rocky, steep grade where we could see the Tonto creek about fifty feet below. If a person would slip, it would be a long, bumpy slide t the cold water churning below. With the heavy backpacks shifting at almost every step, one had to be most deliberate where to place ones foot. Just at the most precariously place in the trail, a small, scraggly manzanita bush approximately two feet tall, split the middle of the pathway. To get around it, we would have to place our right hand on an outcropping popping out of the upward slope, hold our left hand that was clutching our fishing rod straight out for balance and then swing our left leg over the bush. Dad was leading the way, followed by Joe, then Bud and I brought up the rear. As Bud swung his leg he yelled out “Ouch” or some four letter word, I can’t remember for sure which one it was. “That didn’t feel good” he said as he shook his head. He paused for just a minute to shift the weight of his pack, and then carried on. My legs were a little shorter which made clearing the bush a little harder. but I managed. So we continued down until we were at creek side. Our path lead up, around and down and back up again as we negotiated our way toward the actual Hells Gate which was 1,681 feet lower than where we left the cars. The hike actually only was about three miles but it felt like ten.

We found a fairly flat place to set up camp about twenty-five feet above the creek. It was flat for about twenty feet in each direction with a little down his slope toward the creek and had few rocks and a good dirt cover. Some surrounding areas were all rocks and no dirt. We were fortunate to have this spot for camp.

In the middle of our camp we set up a fire ring. There was plenty of wood around to keep a fire going all night. This would help keep the critters away, we hoped. Dad and Joe fished while I gathered fire wood and explored a little. Bud was sitting on a fallen log watching Dad and Joe maneuvered their way from pool to pool. We had a spectacular view of the surrounding, rugged canyons and forested mountains beyond. It was now about 2:00 PM. when we decided to take a lunch break.

After lunch we were all just kicking back and taking in the view. Bud was experiencing some pain below his right knee where he twisted it back on the trail. He said he thought it would be best if he would head out and back to Phoenix. Everybody agreed. I was volunteered to carry his pack out for him. I was more than happy to do it. He hadn’t unpacked his gear. so we left right away.

We took our time hiking out as we were in no hurry and we didn’t want to risk further injury to Bud’s leg. We made several rest stops up the steepest part of the grade which was actually all the way up. Just as we topped out we could hear Bud’s basset barking in the distance. It must have been chasing a squirrel or something. By the time we got to Bud’s car the dog showed up. He probably smelled up coming. Not because we stunk, but because of their tremendously acute sense of smell, it think. Maybe we did stink. But we did get Bud to his car, his dog made it back from it own adventure and I was headed back to camp. By the time I got back, Dad had a little fire going and our camping gear spread out. The black visquene plastic was set up as ground cover and folded over to cover our sleeping bags. He had strung a rope across the bags to create a low slung tent to help us keep warm. Joe was lying in the dirt, digging up the ground with his big hunting knife. He had removed a few sharp rocks that he added to our fire ring. His excavation was about six feet long, two feet wide, two inches deep and about four feet from the fire. Every once in awhile he would lie in this hole on his back and then squirm around a little. Then he would roll out of it and onto his knees to dig a little more. He finished his handy work just in time to help with dinner. The sun was setting over the canyon walls and its light was fading quickly. I could smell tonight’s entree, Dinty Moore Stew, which was served up with buttered rolls and peaches on the side. Do I need to mention Oreo Cookies for desert or is that a given when you know we had them in our grub bag.

After dinner, we all pitched in cleaning up the dishes in the creek. We only had enough drinking water for our consumption. The final rinse of the dishes was in boiled creek water. We were pretty efficient in our domestic duties. We did use some of our precious water supply for camp coffee and hot chocolate.

It was getting late in the wilderness which means about 8:30 PM. We were relaxing around the fire sharing hunting and fishing stories as we don’t sing or play the harmonica. Joe started raking hot embers from the fire ring into his excavation. He was making what he called a ·hot sack·. This was an old cowboy trick to keep warm on a cold night. He spread the embers over the entire hole. He then covered it with all the dirt he scooped out. He left out the rocks of course. His sleeping bag was not a bag at all. He had two wool blankets fashioned to make a bed roll just like they used on cattle drives. He placed the bed roll over his hot bed of coals and climbed in for the night. Dad and I slipped into our store bought Coleman sleeping bags situated between the fold of the visquene plastic sheet. We were all extremely tired and we right to sleep. When we got up the next morning we found that the fire was out and it was very cold. Dad poked me and pointed over at Joe who was still sleeping. He was as warm as toast and had frost on his black bangs of hair fluffed off of his forehead. The hot sack did its job. Dad got up and started a new fire. Joe got up and put on hot water to make camp coffee but not before he drained a cup on the hot chocolate powder in my cup to help entice me to get out of bed. It worked along with seeing Dad’s fire taking off. Dad started up the Coleman stove and then made his famous quote he used often •Now we are cooking with gas!” Must of come from his military days. My job was to make toast by threading bread on a fork and holding it over hot coals pulled away from the fire. On occasions where we didn’t have a fire, we would hold the bread over the stoves flame. Did never was interested in buying the Coleman toast rack that fit on top of their stove . Breakfast taste better in the out of doors.

The rest of the trip consisted of fishing, eating, sleeping and a lot of relaxing. It was another great adventure in Arizona’s wilderness.

Oh yea, Bud got back to town safely. He had an x-ray taken of his injured leg. His tibia (big bone) below the knee was split length wise. Here he walked out on a broken leg and didn’t really complain. His only complaint was that we all shared his steak on the last night camping.

Lake Powell Adventures & Misadventures

One of my Dad’s favorite places to fish was Lake Powell. My brother Rick and I used to accompany him on long weekends to that beautiful lake. Glen Keith from Dad’s office would also come join us. You might recall, he had a problem with night vision. When the sun would start going down, he would have to use a flash light to get around. Something about the rods and cones not right.

I remember when they first started filling it up after they completed the Glenn Canyon Dam in 1963. We would put our boat in at the Wahweap Marina and cruise for miles to find a place where we could actually get out and explore or just for shore leave if you know what I mean. Its sheer canyon wall rose 1000 feet straight up. To find a place to camp on the lake was a challenge in itself.

These early trips to Lake Powell were fishing bonanzas. We all were required to have not only an Arizona fishing license, but also a Utah license because much of Lake Powell was located in Utah. The big advantage for us was with two licenses we were each catch two limits of trout and bass. We were mostly fishing for trout and but there was an abundance of both fishes. Trout were found in the deep, colder water while the bass preferred the warmer, shallower waters.

We enjoyed setting up camp in the brand new camping area near the Wahweap Marina. There wasn’t much shade yet, but the newly planted trees gave promise for future camping. But the sparking clean restrooms were most appreciated.

Our favorite fishing spot was up near the Glenn Canyon Dam. We would spend much of the day trolling at the base of the sheer canyon walls until we came to the floatation barrier that keeps boaters away from the dam’s face which could be a dangerous place at times. At that point we would drift in these deeper waters and allow our lures and baits sink lower until we catch something. Then we would try to find the same level again.

On this trip we had one of Dad’s company’s electronic thermometers us plus Keith’s fish locator that he made from a “do it yourself” electrical kit by “Heathkit” It was a mail order house that put together kits for TVs Stereos, short wave radios, etc. Keith was into electrical gadgets. He rigged up the electronic thermometer with 100 feet of cable attached to its probe so that it could give us the water temperature readings down deep. The theory was to find the location and depth of the fish with the fish locator and then drop the temperature probe cable that had black electrical tape markers every five feet. If there were fish at 50 feet by reading the water temperature, we could tell if it was trout or bass. Then would know what bait to use. The theory worked great and we caught a lot of fish with this system.

Keith liked fishing for trout with waterdogs which was what we normally like to use for bass. These little critters are actually called salamanders and are like a fat, slippery lizard without scales. Keith’s theory was to put an 8 inch long waterdog on his hook and catch a killer, 36 inch trout. That never did work out but pulling in that lunker bait may have been almost as much as a thrill of pulling in a small trout. Sometimes bigger is not better. Anyway, we did catch a lot of fish.

Our most successful fishing was at night. After we had our evening dinner back at the campsite, we would clean up the dishes and tidy up the Wagner camp kitchen. This was dad’s shop made unit that he should have patented. Years later Coleman came out with one similar to his, but a little smaller.

For me, night fishing wasn’t that exciting. It was a great social event exchanging fishing and hunting stories, but the technology we had with us and the fact the Keith had night blindness didn’t work out too well for me.

We knew the trout were schooling about thirty five feet down. The trick was to get the bait to that level and then wait for a strike. Everyone in the boat had open face spin casting reels except Keith. He had an Ambassador 5000 that was more like the old hand me down, old fashion level wind reels Rick & I got from dad when he moved up to spinning reels. Our rigs were so old that they even had solid metal poles while all the new rods were made of fiberglass. But that is another story for another time.

With our Coleman lantern hanging above us on a Geri-rigged aluminum pole, we baited our lines and started to fish. To get to the proper depth of thirty five feet, we all back our spinning reels off one turn and then measured that length of line. Dad and Ricks reels would put out twelve inches of line for every slow, full hand crank backwards. My favorite, miniature ultra light rig was only nine inches per backward crank turn. That would allow Dad and Rick get to the proper depth before I could get there. The greater problem for me was Keith’s Ambassador 5000 with a heavy weight on the end of the line would peel out two feet of line with every completed pass of the line leveler from left to right and back to left. So while we are counting our slow, backward turns, Keith would mutter •two, four, six, eight”, and continue to thirty-four feet and the one more pass to thirty-five feet. At thirty-five feet, he would stop for a minute while we all were still counting our reels down. Then he would hook a fish and say “Cliff, I think I got one!” Dad would then say “Boys, pull in your lines so Keith can land his fish!” We would all get out lines in and since I was sitting closest to Keith, I manned the net and helped Keith get his fish in the boat. Dad and Rick would start backing off their reels while I unhooked Keith’s fish and re-baited his line. Dad and Rick had theirs lines heading back down when I would drop Keith’s baited hook in the water. If they were lucky, they could be down near the fish before Keith started back down. After a brief search, I would find Keith’s fish and put it on the stringer and then put it overboard, back into the water to keep the fish alive and fresh. By the time I got my line back into the water, I would hear Keith say •thirty-two, thirty-four and Thirty-five.” After a moment of silence, he would say “Cliff, I think I got one!” Dad would say “Boys, pull in your lines ……”. You know the rest. Well, I didn’t get much fishing time. Then to add insult to injury, Dad said •Larry, since you’re not catching many fish, I think we will let Keith catch some of your limit.” Well, that’s the way it went the rest of our night fishing experience. Maybe that’s why I enjoy spin and fly fishing from creek side or lake shorelines. If I’m going to be in a watercraft, I would like to be in a canoe. But Keith was Dad’s good friend and I was glade he could enjoy night fishing even with his lack of night vision.

Getting back to camp after hours of night fishing was a problem for all of us. We had a bright spotlight rigged up on the bow of the boat that could detach for handheld use with a coiled power cord. It worked great most of the time in open waters but where we were would be traveling through the steep canyon walls we couldn’t set the passage way because of the seer cliffs looked solid in all directions. It would be like going through a maze and not being able to see an opening to the left or to the right until you were standing right in front of it. It made for slow going, but once your break out into Wahweap Bay getting back to the landing was easy. The bad news was that Rick and I would have to clean all the fish, most of which we didn’t catch. Well, it’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Rick and I were getting quite good at it.

The next trip to Lake Powell, it was just Dad, Rick and I. This time instead of camping near the marina, we loaded up the boat with all the camping gear and headed through the narrows of Navajo Canyon into Gunsight Bay. It got its name from two peaks on a butte that resembled a ·v· type gun sight. This butte was called; you guessed it, Gunsight Butte. We found a sandy beach area near the mouth of a cove just across the bay from Gunsight Butte. With this great landmark, it was easy to find our way back to camp even late at night. Each morning we would start out fishing this cove right after breakfast from shore. After an hour or so we would head out, trolling our way to several likely spots to catch some bass, but trout could also be in these waters when the water temperatures are right. Half of the day would be spent trolling and half spent drifting or anchored for still fishing. We would head for shore a couple times during the day to use the natural facilities and do a little shore fishing. I enjoyed shore fishing the best and this also gave you a change to do a little exploring.

Late that afternoon we headed back to camp. The bad news was that we didn’t catch any fish. The good news was that Rick and I didn’t have to clean any fish! That night Dad was going to cook up a giant can of Dinty Moore Stew complete with buttered bread and a cold glass of milk. Dad would also serve up some pear halves with Oreo cookies for desert. Tasted pretty darn good, especially out in the fresh air of the wilderness camp. Dad would make a little camp coffee for himself and hot chocolate for Rick and me.

After dinner was over and the camp cleaned up, Dad positioned his favorite canvas directors’ chair in the back of the boat that was tied up to a small bush on the shore with the bow line. He and Rick were rigged up to catch some cat fish using stinky shrimp, chicken livers, dough balls or a combination of them all. Rick was fishing off the point that formed the mouth of the cove. I was lying in my sleeping bag, as I was not much in for night fishing. I heard Rick getting all excited about something. It turned out as he was heading to the point with bare feet; he stepped over a small stick on the sandy path. He thought it looked odd or saw some movement. So he turned around to take a closer look with the lantern shinning directly on it. When you carry a Coleman lantern around, there isn’t much light shinning under it due to the shadow cast by it fuel reservoir. As Rick bent over for a closer look he shouted that it was a snake, a rattle snake. In fact it was a side winder. It slithered off the trail leaving an “s” pattern in the sandy surface of the path. When the sand got deeper on the side of the trail it stopped and then with a wiggle and a shake. submerged out of sight. The only thing you could see was its little eyes on top of what looks like horns sticking out the top of its head. This is how it lays in wait for its prey to come by and then it strikes. It does not rattle before it strikes like many other rattlesnakes do. Rick rocked it to sleep so he wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. I didn’t forget about it though.

I went back to sleep. but this time with my sleeping bag scrunched over my head to close the top opening. The wind was picking up and whipping the branches of the scrub bushes around. One was rubbing the back of the tent making a soothing sound. It may have been more like a distraction taking away the thoughts of the sidewinder.

It seemed like I just dozed off when I heard dad yell out my name. I quickly got up and looked out of the tent. There was Dad in the back of the boat trying to start the small trolling motor. The large motor had the battery run down and the backup battery was not connected yet. Rick was sitting on the bow of the boat with the anchor rope in his hand. He evidently had snagged his fishing line and wanted to push the boat out. away from the shore to get it loose and not wake up Dad snoozing in his chair. Dad felt the boat rock when Rick jumped on the bow after pushing off. Fortunately they were being blown parallel. to the shore line. I quickly slipped on my tennis shoes without taking time to tie them. I started to run down the sidewinder path with only a flashlight I snatched from the camp table as I went by. Rick stood up on the bow and threw rope toward me. It fell about five feet short of my grasp. He retrieved the now wet rope, coiled it up and gave it another heave. This would be his last shot of getting it to me. This time it shot over my head and slapped me on the face as it fell. The weight of the water gave it a much better flight. I grabbed on to it, stopped and stopped the boats motion toward the middle of the lake and then pulled it as hard as I could back toward shore with the wind working against me. Dad sat down in his chair and said “Rick, don’t you ever do that again!” Rick picked up his rod. reeled in his line that was now free, then jumped off of the bow and onto the shore. We pulled the boat back up to the camp and tied it up to the bush. I went back to bed while Dad and Rick continued to fish.

The next day, we had high winds all day. We fished close to the shore lines and up into several coves around Gunsight Bay. One thing that people do not realize, is with the size of Lake Powell, the wind creates white caps and swells similar to the ocean. To get back to our camp from the other side of the bay, Rick and I would take turns driving the boat with our head sticking out of the unbuttoned section of the canvas top. The splashes from the bow of the boat slamming down on the water after cresting a wave would be picked up by the wind and driven into our exposed faces. We would try to maneuver the boat to drop down easily, but that wasn’t always possible. On time while Rick was driving. we slammed down so hand that it broke the rivets out of Dads stadium boat seat. Smaller boats than ours would be a risk of swamping. We finally made it back to camp and fished the few coves close to our camp without any more misadventure.

Dad sure loved fishing here at Lake Powell. Some people were unhappy about the dam being built and will be for years to come. If it wasn’t for the dam backing up into all these canyons, very few people would be able to come here and see the sights. Rainbow Bridge is a magnificent sight to see, but with out boat it would take a lot of gas to get there. They are talking about putting a refueling station there to make it more accessible to smaller boats. The big cabin cruisers have no problem getting there and back on less than a tank of gas. Great Uncle Adam has a boat that sleeps twenty-one. He has invited us to up sometime when he is up here, but that never worked out.

Sometimes You Can Catch More Than Just Fish

Another one of fishing experiences that Dad had to endure happened on Lake Pleasant in 1966. Dad, Rick and I were fishing the shore lines for bass or anything else that would take our lures. This time, we all were using a newly introduced lure that mimicked a large minnow, a favorite bass food. It was called a Reppela and made in Sweden out of a light wood painted with glossy minnow colors & patterns, a plastic water wing attached to the front underside to make it dive deep and two sets of treble hooks, one in front behind the wing and one in the back at its tail.

We would cast this lure up toward the shore line where it would float until you started to retrieve it. The water wing would send it down like a submarine with the shape of its body making it wiggle like a live minnow. Being so light, it would take a lively whip of the fishing rod with good wrist action to get it to sail through the air for the maximum distance. That is how it is supposed to work in theory.

My brother Rick had another theory. If he could swing his rod back and then use his arm and body strength to project this lure through the air, then he would cast it much farther than using the finesse of rod and wrist action. The only problem with his method is it is a little out of control. If you were in a boat by yourself, this wouldn’t be that much of a problem. When you are in a boat with two other fishermen, look out. Well, I didn’t look out. Rick reared back on his rod and let it rip. The double trebled hooked, hand crafted in Sweden, lure caught me it the forehead with one of its back treble hook barbs. Rick kept trying to cast and couldn’t figure why his rod wasn’t coming forward. He looked back to see what he was snagged on and saw me grabbing the Reppela and trying to pull it out with both hands. Nothing doing, I was hooked good and wasn’t going to get away. Dad stopped me from pulling so he could assess the situation. He tried backing the hook out with his fingers, but the hook was planted pretty deep and barb on the end of the hook was doing its job in not letting me go. The only recourse was to push more of the hooks shank through the meat and out of my forehead so he could get his fisherman’s pliers in position to cut the barb off. If this wouldn’t work. then he would have to do a little meat cutting or I would have to wear this lure until we could get to a hospital emergency room, hopefully soon. I didn’t want to fish all day with a hook in my head. I don’t think I could concentrate. The wire cutting blade was not on the end of the pliers, but closer to the hinge joint making it necessary to pull a little harder on the lure to position the tool for the cut. At this point, that didn’t matter to me because my forehead was numb. I was happy to hear the snip of the barb and seeing the lure leave my line of vision. I was free! It wasn’t until a felt a trickle of blood running down my forehead from the hole left by the hook, I felt my head spinning and everything fading to black. I was on the verge of fainting, but didn’t. Dad put a Band-Aid on the wound and we when back to fishing.

Considering the many times we went fishing, we were very fortunate not to be hooked more. Usually it was our clothing that was confronted with the barbs. Occasionally when we were baiting up a bare hook or taking algae, grass or leaves off of the lure, you would turn loose of the line but with tension from the rod would thrust the hook into your finger. The hook was rarely deep enough to require the pliers’ procedure. But that is the risk you take when you play with sharp objects.

Getting There Is Not Always Half the Fun!

In 1966 my Dad was pulling our boat to Roosevelt with his new Jeep Wagnoneer. It wasn’t quite brand new, but a 1965 demonstrator model he bought with only 13,000 miles on it. It was a great car for towing the boat with its 327 cubic inch, V8 motor and three speed automatic transmission. We turned off the Bee Line Highway onto a familiar dirt road that led to the lake. It was a downhill grade from the highway for the first five miles. The drop in that distance in about 1,000 feet which was gradual most of the way except one big drop off at the base of Baker Mountain. That is where the road becomes extremely rutted due to the •wash boarding• effect caused by the rain water falling on a road surface and washing the dirt away in little rivulets ( my word for mini rivers) running parallel to each other, perpendicular to the roadway. Besides the bumpy ride, the tires of the car and trailer if you are towing one start jumping up and down and actually leaving the road surface on the up motion. Then you lose steering control of the car as it slips sideways. If you a pulling a trailer, it tries to pass you in a maneuver called “Jackknifing”. To prevent all these bad things from happening, you best slow down to a speed that you feel you can control the car at. Sometimes the wash board sneaks up suddenly and you don’t have a chance to slow down. Dad was going about twenty-five to thirty miles an hour when suddenly we hit the wash board. Looking out the drivers side, back window we saw a boat just like ours trying to pass us. Dad had two choices. One was to let the car slide in the jack knifed position off of the roadway and down the steep embankment until it came to rest on its own accord or to drag the side of the car the opposite side of the road where the mountain was cut away leaving a rocky sheer wall. Well, he chose dragging the mountain but it took two time hits to get the car and trailer straightened out. The good news was that we were still on the road. The bad news was that the back fender of the Wagnoneer was completely creamed. Dad didn’t let this little incident ruin our fishing weekend. We completed our journey to the campsite, launched the boat and fished away as usual.

Roosevelt Lake -1967. Mark Tomich and I borrowed a car his Dad, Gus, had just sold to a friend. It had a trailer hitch and wiring all rigged up to tow Gus’ ski/fishing boat. Gus also had a fourteen foot aluminum fishing boat, both he acquired in some kind of super deal. He was always on the look out for a good deal to negotiate. One time he got me such a good deal from Wilson Camera for fifty rolls of Super 8 movie film for our Europe Adventure, that when we got back, I had to pay Wilson a little more to bring the deal up to their cost. So back to Mark who was a relatively new driver and this was the first time he towed a boat trailer. He did a great job getting us to the Roosevelt Lake turnoff. As we headed down the steep dirt road I told Mark about my Dad’s little accident the previous year. I even pointed out to him the spot in the road near the base of Baker Mountain where the Wagnoneer jackknifed and explained how the little sheer wall on the right side Dad used to drag the side of the car to straighten out the rig. Just as we got to the bottom of the big incline where the terrain flattened out in the Roosevelt Basin, I spotted some serious washboard road coming up just ahead of a sharp bend in the road. I’m not sure if I said it out loud but the thought in my brain was screaming that we were going a little fast for this bend especially with the washboard ruts just ahead of it. Mark thought he could negotiate, a trait he inherited from Gus, the turn, but the washboard ruts were too much to overcome . So as we came sliding to a stop with Gus’ boat and borrowed car in the jackknifed configuration, he looked at me, took a big swallow and said •Did I break anything?” We got of car and surveyed the damage. The rear of the car was undamaged, the boat was still on the trailer and trailer was still hooked on to the ball of the hitch. This was all good. Sometimes when the trailer tongue receiver jumps off the ball and the safety chain keeps the rig from becoming completely detached, the boat and its contents get a rough ride with all kinds of bad things happening. If the chain comes loose, then even worse things happen. We lucked out this time. Everything appeared to be in tact.

I told Mark to pull the car forward to see if it the car and trailer would straighten out all right. He did but it didn’t. The jackknife caused the tongue on the trailer to bend at a 45 degree angle. There was no way to straighten it out at the lake so I had to drive it as it was. You noticed I said •r! Mark didn’t want to have anything to do with driving it right then. The trailer pulled ok except for one thing. The wheels of the trailer were riding two feet off of the right side of their normal track. That meant that to keep the right wheel of the trailer out of the gutter I would have to ride the left wheels of the car on the very center of the dirt road or on the dividing yellow line all the way home. But again, that did not keep us from fishing.

Two weeks later. Mark wanted to take another stab at fishing. This time we took my dad’s Jeep Wagnoneer and Gus’ small fishing boat. To break the jinx of Roosevelt Lake we decided to head to Lake Pleasant. The county had just replaced the old boat ramps with new, steeper ramps to make the access easier for the large speed boats they wanted to attract for the national races.

As we pulled up to the ramp I was able to make an easy u-turn and started backing down the ramp. As usual, I stopped about forty feet short of the water so we wouldn’t be blocking the ramp while we transferred the gear from the car to the boat. After removing the hold downs that secured the boat to the trailer for transport, we were all set to launch. I started backing the trailer down to the water while Mark was heading to the bottom of the ramp to guide me back. The ramp was now so steep the boat started moving off the trailer. I didn’t want to step on the brakes because the trailer would stop but the boat would keep moving on the roller guides. What is the law? • A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion,” I think Newton was the first one to figure that out or at least, proclaim it. Well, he was right. I beeped the horn so Mark would turn around and see the predicament. He did and started to run up hill to reach the back of the boat just in time to prevent the second bounce. The first bounce was just enough to bend the prop and break the mounting bracket on the outboard motor. Mark and I looked at each other with funny expressions on our faces. Then we broke into the ·oh Poncho! Oh Ciscot routine from the old western •Toe Cisco Kid” when at the end of each episode, they would both laugh at the outcome and say the •oh Poncho, Oh Cisco” lines. What was Gus going to think? How can you have two boating disasters within a span of three weeks? We also did not let this incident spoil our trip. We fished all day with little success.

So here was the strategy. Mark was going to tell Gus that the boat was over at the Wagner’s house. We would take it in to Big Leo, the owner of Leo’s Marine, who has worked on both the Tomich and Wagner boats. As a matter of fact, my Dad bought our boat from Big Leo. So I dropped off the boat on the following Monday. Leo ordered the part but it would take about a week to get it from the factory. I was going to pay for it because if felt responsible for not taking into account the steepness of the ramp and beside, I had a job and Mark was still a senior in High School. So the plan was in place and we would tell Gus about this adventure after we had the boat fixed good as new.

That Thursday evening I got a call from Mark. “Larry!!” “Yes Mark.” “My Dad knows that we broke his little boat!” I ask him how that was possible. Mark had called Big Leo to see if the part came in for the motor mount. Leo told Mark that after Gus got the trailer straighten on the other boat, he called him to see if he could get his boat in for a tune up. Leo said someone wanted to borrow the boat to go skiing that weekend. Leo said that he told Gus he was booked up until the following Monday. Gus was disappointed. Then Leo told Gus he already had one of his boats in the shop now. Gus said that was impossible. Leo told him that it wasn’t impossible. Do you know a guy by the name of Wagner? Whoops! The cat is out of the bag. Mark wanted me to get over to his house quick.

When I got over to their house, Mark greeted me at the door. He did not want to face his Dad alone on this one. I went into their family room where I found Gus sitting in his easy chair/recliner where he was reading the newspaper. With his friendly half chuckle and friendly grin he greeted me. After my nervous “How are you Gus” Then without much hesitation I came right out and told him that we knew that he knew after he talked to Big Leo we had broken his second boat in the matter of three weeks. Gus smiled with that “all knowing” smile on his face. He had no problem with all of the events and understood why we wanted to fix the bracket and have the prop straightened before we told him we broke his second boat. Gus has always been great at sharing what ever he had with anyone who needed it. You couldn’t ask for a better friend.