Fishing: First Cast

By Ken Kempa

Posted on 2015-03-30 18:27:33

1966 was an incredible year for two very significant reasons. My Uncle Eddie, in his late-thirties, purchased a new Poppy Red Mustang Fastback, 2+2… and at the tender age of 9 years old, he asked me to go on my first ever fishing trip to Minnesota in that very special car. In early March, we pulled up on a cool sunny day, and there in his driveway sat his new pride and joy. He greeted us when we jumped out “oohing and aahing” as we poured over it while he proudly pointed out and explained all the cool features. More of an orange than a red, it had neat spinner hubcaps, a black interior, and a 289 V-8 with a sporty automatic transmission shifter on the floor. The 2+2 configuration had to do with the back seat. Quite a thing back then, the top half of the back seat could fold forward flat, creating a “Sport Deck”, giving you a flat surface from the tail lights to the back of the front seats. With the increased back seat headroom due to the Fastback body configuration, the Sport Deck allowed one to carry a fair bit of gear, like an ice chest, fishing poles, and an outboard motor, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Chapter 1: Eternity for a 9-Year Old

Later that weekend, he came over to our house in the Mustang. I was out in the back yard playing by the magnolia tree when he came around the corner carrying a fishing pole. Walking up to me, he placed the rod/reel combo in my hand.

My Uncle Eddie, in his late-thirties, purchased a new Poppy Red Mustang Fastback

“This is for you. I’m taking you with me on my fishing trip to Minnesota for a week in mid-June. There is a rubber practice plug on it, and you need to start learning how to cast.” My uncle was a fairly low-emotions man. To a young kid, he at times was just a little scary. He did not have a drop of anger in him; I never saw him raise his voice, holler, or get upset. He just was, at most times, a very stoic person and hard to read.

June… that was three months, almost ninety-days! That was sooooo long away! How could I possibly make it that long? I was excited and thanked him, but inside I was just dying at the thought of having to wait 90-days to go in his Mustang to Minnesota on my first ever fishing trip. To a 9-year old, that seemed like almost an eternity; it seemed like it might never come. Oh, how I wished inside that he would have waited until the week...

before. But his reasons were sound. I had to get in plenty of practice learning how to cast my rod and reel.

Fly Fishing

My new fishing pole! My uncle was a confirmed bachelor and had few areas of interest.As such, when he bought things, he only got the very best. The outfit he gave me was a Zebco Model 22 spin cast reel with an off-white, 5-1/2 foot Garcia rod. Brown line wrapped around and secured the ferrules to the rod, then it was fully coated in varnish, and had gold pinstripe lines just for looks near the ferrules. I have had fishing poles before- a straight 2-piece bamboo length with a bit of line on it… but never did I have a rod and reel combination! It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I am sure it cost ten or twenty times more than the simple tackle I had used before. The reel was fully enclosed in a stainless cover and had a thumb roller at the back to control line release when casting. With thumb pressure, you had to both release at the right time when casting, and stop the line from coming out after your lure hit the water. Otherwise, the spool inside would keep unraveling line inside, creating a bird’s nest that took considerable time to undo; I got very good at taking the front cover off and correcting my mistakes. Perhaps it was not the best reel to begin with, but there was no doubt the reel was the best there was at the time.

He showed me how easy it was to cast- for him- and I struggled and struggled in my attempts to duplicate his fluid, effortless motions. As he left, he instructed that I need to practice casting, and with accuracy, as he did not want to be losing lures from me hanging up in things that were not fish. The pressure was on, and I was determined to meet his high expectations.

Chapter 2: To the Maple, To the Dog

However, the Zebco reel was very difficult to master, due to the thumb control of the spool.

I religiously started practicing my casting that day and every day thereafter, for at least an hour at a time. However, the Zebco reel was very difficult to master due to the thumb control of the spool. In use, while holding the rod in my right hand, I would...

reach over with my left, and depress the stainless button on the top right side of the fully enclosed reel (allowing the spool to free-spin) while keeping pressure with my right thumb on the exposed back end of the spool at the rear of the reel. Slowly swing the pole back, and then whip quickly forward. At the correct moment in time, I'd take my thumb off, allowing the spool to free-spin and uncoil line off and out. The big trick was all in the timing. Ideally, my cast would head off to the 12 o’clock position dead ahead. Release my thumb too soon, and the rubber practice plug would go shooting off anywhere from the 5 to 3 o’clock position, way off to the right. Release too late, and the plug might cross in front of me and take off hard to the left. Achieving any measure of distance would come much later.

Miracle of miracles if I did cast straight out where I intended, the spool is unwinding at an alarming rate, and it’s time to use thumb pressure on the rear of the spool to stop the cast. Stop before the plug has landed, and the line goes tight and the lure snaps back at an alarming speed. Hesitate just a bit, and don’t stop the spool until after the plug has stopped, and the still spinning spool will cause a bird’s nest inside the reel. This requires taking the front cover off to untangle the mess. This was a lot to ask of an inexperienced 9-year old!

Then disaster strikes!

After weeks of practicing for proper thumb control, my next challenge was point of impact accuracy. I practiced casting to the edge of the evergreen, to the trunk of the maple tree, and to the base of the magnolia. Cast to the front of the peony bush. No, not the one on the right, but to the one in the center. Cast to, but do not strike, Tigger, our gray schnauzer. Now I was looking pretty good! After two months, I was up to making over 100 good casts per day, over 1,000 a week, with great accuracy and distance. Then disaster strikes! With less than a month to go, I suddenly realized that I have been casting standing up but will be sitting when in the boat!!!

Finally that special Friday morning comes, and Uncle Eddie shows up in his new Mustang

So I ran into the garage and got a small folding stool we use when camping that had a white canvas seat and crossing wood legs. My first cast from the stool, to a blackbird at...

almost thirty yards, landed close enough to give him a fright. Confidence restored, I continued with my daily casting regime. I had already gone through two or three rubber casting plugs, as eventually the line tore through the top. Also, as the line got fatigued,my uncle told me how you must start each fishing day by cutting off about two feet, so you have fresher, stronger line at the end, where it gets worked the hardest. A result of this was that I had consumed close to half of the line that originally came on the reel.Not to worry, as my uncle says, we will spool up with fresh line at fishing camp. All told,I had performed at least 10,000 casts in my backyard, and was highly confident of performing at a level that will make my uncle proud.

Chapter 3: Wise Uncle

Don’t keep asking me if we are there yet, OK?

Finally, that special Friday morning came, and Uncle Eddie showed up in his new Mustang, with the back seat folded forward, and the cavern behind the front seats loaded with some of the most wonderful things I had ever seen. A metal, dark green ice chest, huge fishing nets of at least three sizes, a collapsed round wire basket-type thing, at least three tackle boxes, a galvanized minnow bucket, a huge canvas bagged, medium blue Even rude outboard motor, a red gas tank with a hose and squeeze bulb inline, and of course, several fishing poles. We would be gone for only a week, but it seemed like I was bringing enough stuff for much longer. And of course, I brought my rod and reel- it was no longer called my “fishing pole.” Not after so many casts

.My uncle, for as little as he had to do with young kids, then did a very brilliant, yet simple thing. There the fully loaded Mustang Fastback sat in the street, just past the mailbox. As the nine-year old climbed into the passenger seat and buckled in, he turned to me and said-

“Look at the speedometer. Below it is a line of numbers. That is the odometer. It tell show far the car has driven. WHEN IT SAYS 1,655, WE WILL BE THERE. Don’t keep asking me if we are there yet, OK? Just lean over and see what it says, and you will know how far we still have to go.”

“OK,” I replied. Gosh, that was simple. When it says 1,655, we will be there. So for the rest of the trip, there was a lot of silence in the car, as generally, my uncle was a man of very few words. And...

every so often, I would lean over and read the numbers on the “odeo-thing,” then sit back and figure how far we had traveled, and how far still to go to Kenadian Acres on Wasson Lake, in north central Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, and hopefully that many casts…

Chapter 4: Poppy Red Blur

It was four-lane interstate up through northern Illinois headed for the Wisconsin border. An almost ten hour, 600 mile drive, we would spend the night in Rice Lake, Wisconsin,and then arrive Saturday morning at Wasson Lake, near Big fork, MN. Way back then, it was four-lane highway up to Tomah, WI, then narrow curvy two-lane country highway the rest of the way. Right away, I could tell that my uncle liked to drive fast, very fast.Fast on a 4-lane was not too bad, but fast on a narrow 2-lane kept me in a constant state of alert. He regularly drove 10 mph over the limit, sometimes more. Then it happened. I experienced his first pass.

I held my breath during the brief but intense moment, truly feeling I had cheated death.

We came up fast on a slow car. Uncle Eddie would get right on their bumper, waiting for the oncoming car to pass us. He would tromp on the gas to get the transmission to downshift, bringing the rpms way up, but brake at the very same time to keep from up shifting to a higher gear. As soon as the oncoming car passed up, with barely a foot to spare, it felt like, he would jerk out from behind the slow car, take his foot off the brakes, and depress the gas pedal down to the floor. We would zoom out like a rocket past the pokey driver, see another oncoming car, and dart back into the right lane, just moments before it seemed we would have a head-on with the car speeding straight towards us! It felt like we cut back in again barely a foot in front of the car we had just passed. I held my breath during the brief, intense moment, truly feeling I had cheated death.

Getting into his car the next morning, I was extremely doubtful that I would even live to wet my line in Wasson Lake.

Nothing was said, just the AM radio droned on and on, playing what seemed like the same songs hour after hour. There must have been a very limited collection of records in the northern Wisconsin and central Minnesota rural radio stations in those days. This went on for the rest of the...

afternoon, and again for half the next morning. While passing cars was no problem, my fears intensified when the first log truck was passed using the very same- tailgate, jerk out, pass, jerk in-method was used.

Sometimes we even passed a log truck while another was barreling towards us. Honestly, I was terrified that I would be killed and never see my parents again. In a few years, when it was my brother’s chance to go up, he too relayed the exact same feelings about fearing for his life during the many tense passing moments. It amazes me to this day how a red Mustang brought out a side of my uncle I had never seen, and I could not have even imagined. Again and again, this 9-year old kept his mouth shut,enduring these harrowing moments. I did, with increasing frequency, keep leaning over and checking to see how many more miles we had to go, so my heart could finally slow down.

We spent the night in a small hotel in Rice Lake, WI, grabbing dinner at a local cafe. Getting into his car the next morning, I was extremely doubtful that I would even live to wet my line in Wasson Lake. The only good part was the farther and farther we got from cities, the less traffic we saw, and the number of times we passed dropped to almost nothing. Finally, I was able to enjoy the scenery and think about the upcoming fishing adventure.

Chapter 5: Almost There

Then we pull off the road into a little bait shop, with a single gas pump outside.

As we neared Grand Rapids, MN, my uncle said we were only about 45-minutes from the lodge and would be stopping for groceries. Stop for groceries! Let’s get to the camp! Sadly for me, we pulled into the Red Owl grocery store and went inside to get food for the week. Things were pretty tight at home with four kids, but it was soon obvious that Uncle Eddie liked to get good food, and lots of it. We would be eating well this week- peppered cut bacon over an eighth-inch thick, butter, jam, Bisquick, OJ, steak and eggs, chicken and pork chops. But I was dying to go fishing, and I was very happy when we pulled out of the parking lot.

No more passing, so I could really enjoy the scenery the last half hour. Thirty miles to go, twenty, ten, five. Then, we pulled off the road into a little bait shop with a single gas pump outside.

And right by the register, was a...
galvanized metal garbage can stuffed full of horrible looking, cheap rod/reel combos (nothing at all like the setup Uncle Eddie gave me) that were priced at $3.99 for both… and the reel was filled with line!

Impatiently I squealed, “WHY are we stopping? We’re almost there!”

“To buy our fishing licenses,” replied Uncle Ed. Oh, I thought, that’s a pretty good reason. Inside, it looks like a small 60-year old hardware store, onlymost everything inside has to do with fishing.

There are nets galore, minnow buckets, colorful nylon, and chain stringers with snaps, cleaning boards, fillet knives, billy clubs for whacking the fish before you start gutting them, fish scalers, a cranky hand held tool that peels/strips the skin off a filet, hooks from small to large, single and treble hooks, fly fishing gear- little harry flies, floating and sinking lines, floating minnow lures, bubblers, divers, bass lures, plastic worms of every size and color, rubber floating frogs, floating surface lures with propeller spinners front and back, little harnesses for fishing with real frogs, spinners for casting, red and white stripped DareDevilspoons, carved Rapala minnow lures with two or even three sets of treble hooks, wild brilliant colored jigs for crappie fishing, jars of fish parts with skin and scales still on to be used as bait, small bobbers, plastic bobbers, wood bobbers, cork bobbers, sinkers you can pinch onto your line, plastic bags of egg sinkers, little plastic trays of small to medium-sized sinkers, where if you turned the cover, one would fall out, LARGE sinkers, ones you place on the end of a snap-swivel, oh, and silver and gold colored snap-swivels from so very small to substantial, wire leaders to keep fish from biting through your line, spools and spools of monofilament line in many colors, from 100 to 500 yards, braided lines, short to long rods, fly casting reels, bait casting reels, spinning reels, simple bamboo poles, hook pliers and special hook removers, so the Northern pike do not bite your fingers with their needle sharp teeth, pan fish wire mesh baskets to keep them alive at the dock until you can clean them, anchors and line, oars, mosquito repellent, Case pocket knives, Arkansas stones to sharpen hooks or knives, hatchets, axes, live bait like minnows, leaches, crayfish, tadpoles, red and earthworms, wax worms, meal worms, and more, mosquito spray, first aid stuff, hats and sunglasses, and...

flashlights and lanterns, mantles for Coleman lanterns, cooking stoves and cans of fuel, small propane tanks, candles, matches, oil hurricane lamps, porcelain covered steel plates, cups and coffee pots, screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers of all kinds, gas cans for motors, and two-cycle oil to add to gas for outboards.

And right by the register was a galvanized metal garbage can stuffed full of horrible looking, cheap rod/reel combos (nothing at all like the setup Uncle Eddie gave me) that were priced at $3.99 for both… and the reel was filled with line! That’s just about all I can remember. I stood there, my young eyes wide open, scanning around and taking in all these mysterious and intriguing things. Never before in my life had I ever been in such a magical, wonderful place that made me want to buy one of everything. Surely, if they made it, I MUST NEED IT!

My uncle talked me out of buying anything, saying he had more than enough for both of us for a month, as far as fishing gear. We got our licenses, bought some gas for the outboard motor, then headed down the now gravel covered road to heaven by the lake. Barely 4 miles down the road, just coming out of a curve, we see the official Kenadian Acres welcome sign on the right. Turning off onto a sandy road, we slowed to around 15 mph and slowly coasted into camp.

Chapter 6: Kenadian Acres at Last

To me it seemed like a very scary place, and did it ever reek of fish.

We pulled into camp,and I saw that there were five small log sided cabins in a horseshoe shape, and we parked right next to the nearest one, which would be our home for the week. We were immediately greeted by the owner of the camp, Ken.Then, I finally learned that the name Kenadian Acres is a play on the word Canadian,using his name instead- pretty clever. It was apparent right away that Uncle Eddie and Ken were best of friends. He has been coming up here twice a year for over 15 years.They kept talking, but I didn’t hear a word. Barely a hundred feet away and below us was the dock with four boats tied to it. I didn’t ask, but I told them I was going down to check out the boats..

It was only about a...

50-foot walk to the top of the stairs. There were 15 to 20 steps going down, cut into the hillside with cross pieces of birch at the top outer edge of each step, to keep them from washing away. And the railing going down on only the left side was also a length of birch trunk, the white bark still on. At the bottom of the steps to the left, was a fish cleaning shack about the size of a bathroom. It had solid walls about 4 feet high all the way around, but then it was screen from that point up. There were no bright colors at all. Everything the shack was made of was a dark, dingy gray. Outside, at the top of the short wall facing the lake, was a rotating red/green light to help guide your boat back to the dock at night. To me, it seemed like a very scary place, and did it ever reek of fish.

Finally, with all gear brought in and put away, I grab my rod and reel and start heading out the cabin.

There were two boats tied lengthwise on each side of the dock just below the cleaning house. Powder blue, with red trim, I was surprised they were made of wood, not aluminum. To the left about a hundred feet, was a long walkout dock. Between the two docks was a simple sandy beach. Wasson Lake is around 450 acres and unusually has no public access. The entire shoreline (over 8-miles of it) all around was privately owned. There were only two fishing camps on the entire lake, and Kenadian Acres was one of them.

By now, I was so wired to get fishing that I dashed back up to our cabin and begged Uncle Eddie to grab the poles and get out in our boat. He replied that we first had to unload the Mustang and put all the groceries away before we could go out. I loved my uncle, God bless him, but he had no comprehension of how painful it was to a 9-year old, after waiting for 90 days, and 10,000 casts, to not hit the water right away. While I was so wired and high strung, he seemed to be moving like a sloth. Finally, with all gear brought in and put away, I grabbed my rod and reel and started heading out the cabin.

After 90-days of patiently waiting and 10,000 practice casts, I can hardly wait to make my first one for real.

“Whoa there! We have a lot of gear to bring down to the boat, not just your pole!”

So we started gathering up everything- three rods, three tackle boxes, a minnow bucket, the outboard motor and...

its gas tank, my red, white and blue, vertically striped life vest. It took two trips up and down the birch steps to move all this to the dock, and then there was the transfer into the boat and careful placement of this gear. Uncle Eddie mounted the motor, hooked up the gas tank, primeed it and had it running after only three pulls. Tons of blue-gray smoke came from the exhaust out the back. It was a strong and distinct smell that brings back great memories to this day. As I was sitting near the front and my uncle to the back, I untied the front dock line- he, the back. As we pushed off, it seemed like it would have been appropriate to break a bottle of champagne on the bow to christen my maiden voyage.

After 90-days of patiently waiting and 10,000 practice casts, I could hardly wait to make my first one for real. After we drifted away, about 30 feet from the dock, my uncle,sitting on the back seat so he could run the outboard, engaged the drive, and slid the throttle lever to full, causing the motor to roar to life. As we slowly picked up speed, the front end of the boat came up out of the water slightly. I leaned over the front side and saw water splashing out, away from the bow as we hit each wave. Spray misted my face; I felt the bright sun on my skin. The shore was covered in birch and evergreens. Loons could be heard calling in the distance. I felt as if I was getting a glimpse of heaven.

Chapter 7: Still a Ways to Go

As I have said before, my dear uncle was a man of few words, perhaps even fewer with a 9-year old. He never thought to tell me our plan for the morning, and how things would progress. Running at full throttle about 200 feet from shore, we are racing by what seems like excellent places to start casting and fishing. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr- the motor roars. Every place we go by on shore looks to be an excellent place to start casting. Still at full throttle, Uncle Eddie leans forward, opens a tackle box, reaches in and then tosses me a Mepps gold bladed spinner, having a brass beaded body, with a treble hook nestled in a tuft of squirrel tail hair. It has been his lure of choice for over 15 years. I excitedly put it on my line, confident my first cast is just a moment away.

“I like to start here every trip. Go ahead and cast just short of the weeds.”

As I have said before, my dear uncle was a man of few words,...

perhaps even fewer with a 9-year old. He never thought to tell me our plan for the morning and how things would progress. Running at full throttle, about 200 feet from shore, we were racing by what seemed like excellent places to start casting and fishing. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr- the motor roared. Every place we went by on shore looked to be an excellent place to start casting. Still at full throttle, Uncle Eddie leaned forward, opened a tackle box, reached in and then tossed me a Mepps gold bladed spinner with a brass beaded body and at reble hook nestled in a tuft of squirrel tail hair. It had been his lure of choice for over 15 years. I excitedly put it on my line, confident my first cast was just a moment away. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr- the motor still roared. We continued at full throttle without a word being said. Hundreds of yards of pristine, fish choked, new shoreline came into view, and we kept going past it. WHAT WAS GOING ON? Soon hundreds of yards of by passed shoreline turned into miles of shoreline gone by. We kept going by and going by perfectly good places to start fishing. Wasson has over eight-miles of shoreline, and my uncle seemed determined to motor on by most all of it. I felt like a roaring boiler, ready to blow. The anticipation was killing me. Finally, after over 15 minutes of full throttle boating, the throttle was backed way down, the front of the bow settled back down into the water, and we were approaching the far end of the lake. We were still around 100 yards from shore where the water is deep, but at the edge of a floating weed bed. The motor was finally killed.

“I like to start here every trip. Go ahead and cast just short of the weeds.” Uncle Eddie finally spoke his first and only words.

Chapter 8: First Cast

The sun was low in the sky and shinning on my face. I was facing towards the bow,looking slightly to my right. All of my practicing had come to this- my first cast. Holding the Garcia rod in my right hand, I reached over the stainless Zebco reel with my left,and pushed down on the spool release button on the top, right side of the reel. I applied the correct amount of thumb pressure to the back of the spool, raised my right arm fully back, then whipped the beautiful Mepps spinner forward, hoping to place it exactly at the edge of the weeds. The entire, very expensive, and finely crafted rod and reel Uncle Eddie had given me 90 days ago, somehow left my hand and plunged into the...

deep clear water, right off the side of the boat, with a large splash!

Terror struck deep in my heart! I leaned over the side, almost falling out of the boat,and desperately tore at the water’s surface with my outstretched hands and fingers.The water was very cold. The bright sunshine reflected on the beautiful Garcia/Zebco combo, as it fluttered side to side, deeper and deeper down into the clear, cold water,and eventually disappeared when the sunlight could penetrate no further. Uncle Eddie turned around.

“It just came out of my hand… I’m sorry.”

“What was that splash?” he barks.

“My pole- I threw it into the lake on my first cast…”

“Why the hell did you do that?!?!?” he growls.

“It just came out of my hand… I’m sorry.”

Chapter 9: Quiet Trip

The outboard was fired up, and we turned around and went back to the dock. Barely a word was spoken. We walked up to the cabin, but got in the car instead, and drove off down the sandy road. We pulled into the bait shop and got out. Going inside, my uncle walked up to the counter, reached over to the galvanized can and pulled out a $3.99 rod-reel combo. I felt so humiliated.

Back at camp, we grabbed some lunch, and then he told me that we were going out again. I was so very scared- what if it happened again. Once in the boat, I realized that would be impossible. My dear uncle pulled out a 5-foot length of cord, tied one end to my rod and the other to my life jacket. It sure was a pretty simple fix to not ever again throw things overboard.

He made me use the cord tied to my pole for the next three fishing trips. In a way, it became my security blanket. On the forth fishing trip I later made with my uncle, I showed up with the cord already tied to my rod. He said I didn’t need it anymore, so I hesitantly took it off. I never, ever again threw anything else overboard. Until the day he passed, Uncle Eddie and I would both roar in laughter whenever either of us brought up my first cast. I was truly blessed to have him in my life.