Outdoors column: Steve Lekwa writes memories of ‘Real Fishing’ with Grandpa Doc

Steve Lekwa, Naturally Speaking
Special to the Ames Tribune

A few older folks still remember my grandpa, Doc Lekwa, from Story City. Not many know that he often wrote poems in his spare time.

A collection of his poems known as “Doc’s Idle Hours” was first published in 8.5x11-inch mimeograph form in a paper-bound volume of 85 poems. Most of the poems were written in the 1940s and ’50s, including some that he wrote while at sea as a naval surgeon during World War II.

I have several copies of “Doc’s Idle Hours” and recently noticed a small blue paper marker sticking up between pages of one. I opened it to see what was marked and found a poem called “Real Fishing,” which was written in January of 1955. It was about taking his two grandsons, my brother and me, fishing. I would have been 5 years old and my brother was 3 on the day about which he wrote.

Grandpa cut each of us a pole, maybe 7 feet long, from a thicket of willows. Some old black Dacron line was tied to the end. He tied a hook and added a cork bobber on each rig. My brother and I got into an argument about who would use which pole and who got to sit on a nearby log while we fished.

We were on a sandbar beside a bend in the river and Grandpa showed us how to swing the line out into a pool below a small riffle just upstream. Sometimes the bobber started to move and we’d haul back on the pole too early, missing the bite in the process. We learned to wait until the bobber was pulled under to set the hook.

Grandpa recalled the first fish I caught. I jerked the line so hard that it went into a nearby tree, but the little chub fell on the sand. Grandpa had to untangle my line from the tree and get my fish onto a stringer while we peppered him with questions. I was so excited that I ran home to show off my trophy.

There were more afternoons down by the river with Grandpa as we little boys mastered the art of fishing. There was no way to tell what might be on the line when the bobber dipped under. We caught “yellow-belly” bullheads, sunfish and chubs with an occasional larger carp or channel catfish using our primitive willow poles and the bamboo “cane poles” that soon replaced them. Most of the fish, even the bony little chubs, were cleaned and ended up in the frying pan.

Grandpa’s poem ended this way: “No doubt he will become a real fisherman with expensive motors, lures and pole. Yet he will never forget the ‘real fishin’’ on the bar at the Old Bull-head Hole.”

The cane poles served well for a year or two until they were replaced by our first fiberglass poles with simple fishing reels that we couldn’t cast nearly as well. The old cane poles with no reels never suffered backlashes that took minutes to untangle, but it was the price of “progress.”

Those reels were replaced with our first Zebco spinning reels after a couple of more years. Those freed us from backlashes but allowed us to cast so far that we often snagged in roots or limbs on the far bank.

More than 65 years have gone by and I now have a small boat, a motor and a tackle box full of lures. I even have grandkids of my own that I love to take fishing. Grandpa wasn’t always known for his patience, but I will always remember the patience he showed as he taught two little boys to dig worms, bait our hooks, watch our bobbers and even clean our little fish.

And I’ll never forget “Real Fishing” with my grandpa on the bar at the Old Bull-head Hole.