Back in May of 1991, at the end of our senior year of high school, my friend Bill and I decided to go to the Little Missouri River near Medora, North Dakota. It was only a thirty mile drive, so we weren’t in a real hurry. After school I would go next door by a tree grove and dig up some common earthworms. There weren’t any nightcrawlers in the area, and no bait shops within an hour drive, so we used good old fashioned earthworms. Bill got some frozen smelt at the local grocery store and some necessities (soda pop, seeds, chips and, although illegal for me at the time, cigarettes).
After packing the car with poles, tackle, and lantern, we were off and away. Bill was probably the only one in my class who would tolerate going fishing with me. No one else in my class really liked to fish, and neither did Bill for that fact, but he would go just to keep me company and also to get out of our small, 1200 population sized town. People just really didn\’t understand my obsession to fish.
We arrived at about 6:00 p.m. and dragged all our stuff the 200 yards down to the river, then hurried to put the poles in the water. Well, at least I was in a hurry; Bill took his time. After just a few minutes I had hooked some chubs that were between 8-10 inches long and put them in a metal basket I had for small catfish. After half an hour I watched Bill grab one of the bigger chubs. He cut it in a few places, put it on the hook and walked down river 50 yards. He then cast his line out, walked back to “camp” and laid his pole down on the ground.
The next hour or so I caught 6 or 7 catfish, all under three pounds, on worms and smelt. Bill never got a bite, even when he placed his worm baited hook within a couple feet of mine. Then the fishing slowed and it started getting dark so we decided to get some wood to build a fire. Hours passed and nothing, nothing, nothing. At about midnight, after Bill had tripped and stepped on the pole that he had cast halfway down the river half a dozen times, he decided to just stand it up in the sand. He said at least we won\’t step on it and break it. Time passed and we started to get tired of talking about cars and girls.
We had just started on another subject when we heard a huge splash down river. A few seconds later we heard another splash! It sounded like someone had thrown a stick in the water. Bill decided to get up and check the pole that he had baited with the chub. He turned and yelled that his pole was gone. We both stood on the bank in astonishment. He then came up with a plan to get it back. I heard his plan and said go ahead if you want. I personally believed it was a lost cause. He took his other pole, put a heavy sinker on it, and began casting and reeling down the river side.
He was about 60 yards down river, and, before long, he began to yell and scream that he had it. I thought that he was just snagged and then he yelled (with a few obscenities tossed in there) that his line had broken. He came running back and told me to grab my big reel, a small saltwater reel, and come with him. After about five minutes of listening to him beg, I dug in the tackle box and picked out the biggest pike spoon I had, about 8 inches and 4 ounces. I added a fairly large sinker and tied everything up. We walked down to where he had left his pole and he directed me where to cast. Even though I had cast this pole many times, I wasn\’t very accurate with it. I casted and wasn\’t even close to where he wanted it to be, so I ended up walking down river about 3o yards. By this time the camp fire was just a tiny speck because we were at least 100-120 yards down river. We were as silent as could be, don\’t ask why, but we never said a word. I decided to reel very slowly to make sure I dragged the bottom real good. I really didn\’t worry about a snag or hanging up because of the 40-pound line and the river being pretty much all sand.
After about three minutes of reeling, I thought I felt something. At first I ignored it, but then I felt it again. Sure enough, I had snagged the rod by the very top guide hole. Bill quickly grabbed the rod and started reeling. We could hear the sand in the spinning reel just grind and grind. He finally picked up all the slack line and said that he thought something was on it. I ran back to camp to grab the net and lantern. When I returned he was still fighting that fish. About 15 minutes later we could see a glimpse of what appeared to be a huge fish. I was standing in waist-deep water with net and spotlight in hand just waiting to net this catfish. When we finally got it up on the bank, reality sunk in of what we had just been through. We started laughing so hard that we had tears coming down our faces.
We got back to camp and weighed the big fish. Ten pounds on the money. We sat down and had a few cigarets and continued laughing at what had happened. Even though we didn\’t get another bite the rest of the night, it was a very well-enjoyed night.
When we got back to town we told my father about what had happened and he laughed right along with us. Now that I think about it, that reel never did work again, even after taking it apart and cleaning it up. Looking back, that has to be one of my fondest memories of fishing, even though bigger fish have come and gone over the years.
Another great story from a true Ultimate Sportsmen, thank you Shawn.