When I was a kid in the 1970s, my grandparents bought 52 acres in Wright City. While not a huge tract of land, it was surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped woods. It was a kid’s paradise. By the time I was 10, I was allowed to carry a .22 rifle and would take it on hikes into the woods with my brother, Kevin, and many of my cousins.
At the back of the property, a highpower line cut a wide swath for miles. The highline was a place we would follow as we passed from one property to the next. If we heard or saw something in the woods, we’d investigate, always keeping the cleared area of the landmark in sight.
Roaming the woods was fun, but the central area where we all gathered was the lake. Grandpa Korando originally had four ponds dug out so he could separate the bass, catfish and crappie. Some fish were delivered by the Missouri Department of Conservation, while others were caught by the family and relocated to our ponds. Over time, grandpa trenched out the barriers between the ponds and made a small lake.
Over the years as I got older, fishing at the lake became a competitive thing with my family. My favorite time to fish there was in late summer. I’d spend hours chasing the enormous flying grasshoppers that ringed the lake. I knew they would attract the largest catfish that sat at the bottom of the lake but moved into the shore at dusk.
My fingers stained black with the tarry substance that came out of the grasshopper’s mouth, I’d put a lid on the coffee can they were contained in. Grandma always rang the dinner bell to collect my dad, uncle and grandpa, who were usually working on the many gardens or doing other tasks. I’d put a fresh grasshopper on a treble hook, cast the line and firmly place my pole in a holder.
I couldn’t wait to finish dinner because nine times out of 10 when I got back to the lake, my rod tip would be bent sharply and the line would be moving back and forth in the lake. The more the tip was bent, the bigger the fish. I’d grab the pole out of the holder and jerk sharply backward to make sure the hook was set. After a few minutes of fighting, the gray head and back of a catfish emerged from the water. The broader the head, the bigger the fish.
Once ashore, I’d be careful not to get stuck by the wiggling fish’s barbs on its side and back, or lodge the hook in my hand. A catfish barb leaves a sore spot that lasts for days. And back then, that meant a healthy dose of iodine or Mercurochrome, which hurt worse than the actual injury.
I’d run back to my grandparents with my catch held high and run into the kitchen to show it off. We had a fish cleaning station next to a shed by the lake and Dad and I would strip the skin off, gut it and filet out the large white slabs. By the next day, the fish had been consumed.
When I got a photo of a 10-year-old Festus boy who had caught a 50-pound catfish in a private neighborhood lake where his family lived, those memories came flooding back.
The Neckermann family has lived there for two years. Logan Neckermann has fished the lake many times, usually pulling catfish from it that weigh between five and 10 pounds.
On Oct. 13, Logan was fishing with his mother, Emily, and a neighbor at the lake. They were fishing off a dock and it didn’t take long for Logan to catch a catfish that was about nine pounds.
After that catch, Logan put a shrimp on his hook and cast it from the dock. It was a warm afternoon and after about five minutes of waiting, the 20-pound test line stretched taut and the fight was on. Logan struggled to reel the monster in and asked a neighbor to help.
“He said, ‘You catch it,’ ” Logan said.
As Emily looked on, she was worried Logan wouldn’t get the fish in.
“I thought it was going to get tied up on the dock and the line was going to get cut,” she said.
“I thought the line would snap. The line went limp and we thought we lost it,” Logan said.
When the fish emerged from the water, Logan used a net that was much too small to help haul it out of the lake. He’d fought his own Moby Dick for 10 minutes. He felt a sense of pride once the fish was landed.
“This is probably one of the biggest fish I’ll probably catch,” he said.
Logan and his family went deep sea fishing in Florida two years ago and he caught a shark. Catching big fish in the ocean is expected. Reeling in 50-pound catfish at a lake near your house is something different, more satisfying.
The thing about fishing is once a fish that big is caught, you always suspect that there are ones even bigger. Emily said someone has caught a 60-pound catfish there.
Stories about the “big catch” are usually met with skepticism. But soon after Logan caught his, he took plenty of pictures for proof.
My grandpa had a wooden sign that hung above the doorway from the kitchen to a mud room where you kicked off your dirty clothes and shoes after spending the entire day outdoors. It read: “Early to bed, early to rise, fish like hell and make up lies.”
When he died in 1993, I only wanted one thing from his house. One day after dinner with Dad and Grandma, as I was leaving, I ripped the sign down. That old fishing adage is in my home office now. It reminds me of all the good times I had, wandering our property, fishing until the moon was high above and the thrill of the catch.