Fishing Poor But Maybe Not
What follows is a bit long but it is the truth, every word. There is no need to embellish--it will stand on its own. I hope you enjoy a bit of the Life and Times of Bob Lawless.
As a boy of 13, I had a interesting episode or two when I lived in a mining cabin
up in the high country of Colorado with my two other brothers, one 11 and the other
15. There was no amusement, there were no people; and except for each other, and
of course fishing, there was not much to do. But if you are a young boy and left
largely alone with no supervision, you are rather busy all the time.
We had no electricity, no running water, no modern facilities of any type. We had
an ancient stove to keep us warm and an outhouse for a toilet. We never washed.
My brothers and I lived in one cabin and about a half mile or so distant was a
smaller cabin in which my mother and my younger sister, age 9, lived. My father
was more than a hundred miles away looking for work in Denver. The cabins were
located next to an old gold mine about 14 miles from the nearest town, Idaho
The log cabins were OK except for the fact they were insulated with old
newspapers and then a covering of some sort of red cardboard with nails with
washers on them holding everything in place. But the rats, some really big ones,
had chewed tunnels all through the walls and at night it was difficult to sleep
because of all the racket they made. We kept a bucket of stones by our beds to
throw at them to sort of shut them up and gain a little respect. We were always
afraid that they would eat us after we were asleep. Dog tired, we slept anyway.
Our biggest problem was food. We didn’t have any. If my father sent up his
unemployment check to the post office in town, we would try to hitchhike in, get
the check, buy the groceries, and get back home somehow. Often we walked the
full 14 miles, lugging the bags of food, and yes, it was all uphill. No, it was more
like up steep hills, switch backs, in fact mountains, and we lived just below the tree
line where life was starting to slowly die out. The groceries were not much since
the check was only for $18.00, but sometimes we would hike to town and there
would be no check at all.
So we had to fish to eat. It was about the only protein we got. For starch, my
mother made corn meal mush which she fried in lard and that was about it. Fish
and mush and sometimes mush and fish. But sometimes there was only mush, three
times a day for weeks at a time.
As kids, we didn’t know we were poor and just living on the edge of the food
chain. So we would fish, but the fishing was not all that good, almost always small
brook trout, no more than ten inches. We kept everything, even the three inchers.
There were some better fish in a private lake below the cabins from which we
would steal our dinner if we could get away with it. My rod was an old Bristol Bay
telescoping steel rod which was billed as a fly rod but it took all my might to cast it.
I had a Martin automatic reel which I thought was pretty spiffy. The enameled line,
cracked every few inches, was horrible to throw because it was probably a 3wt. line
and the rod needed at least a ten. I tied all my own flies because we had no money
and because I had learned to use a fly tying kit I got for Christmas several years
Fishing was tough because I had to crawl on my belly through some thick brush to
reach the water. Actually, my main problem was not how to catch the fish, it was
how to escape being caught myself. I was chased by a horseman several times but I
could squirt through some brush where the horse would refuse to go. It was always
a close call. I was sort of the rabbit and he the fox and I don’t what the trout were.
Carrots I guess. I was so afraid of getting caught that I didn’t really enjoy the
fishing all that much. The cowboy shouted at me that he knew who I was and that
he was going to kick my ass. But it never got kicked.
There was this resort of sorts with a big lodge and fancy cabins about a quarter of
mile down the road. It was quite expensive and catered to the rich. It was a dude
ranch in a beautiful mountain setting, except for the rag- tag, filthy children who
lived in these ancient cabins along the trail to the high country. Every day, the
“cowboys” (actually, they were the sons of tomato farmers and the like) would
come by with their string of horses, hauling the dudes up to the glacier and to the
beautiful lake below it. They had to ride past us and we would stare at them with
our dirty faces and ragged clothes and the cowboys would be embarrassed because
of us. Somehow we just didn’t fit in to the romance of it all, the image of this dude
ranch life style.
The riders never looked us in the eye. They were wealthy people and I had this dark
notion that the rich never look at the poor; we just didn’t exist. We should have
begged them for change just to bum their ride but we were too proud to do so. The
poor do not beg. At least we poor didn’t beg.
But we did steal. One winter, my father got a job as the caretaker of the resort so
that the regular caretaker could go on vacation. A sad mistake for the resort. We
turned all the slot machines (illegal at the time but over looked if you were a good
old boy) upside down and shook all the money out of them. My father was angry
when he caught us and said we had to turn all the money over to him so he could
return it. I guess he never thought of the idea that he could just put the money back
in the machines. No, better that he should keep the money for the safety of it all.
They had a big bar, of course, and my father stayed drunk 24-7 until it was all gone.
I mean he cleaned out the whole bar. We ate the marachino cheeries.
We used to fish for rainbows through the ice in front of the main lodge. There was
a hole in the ice where the lake spilled its excess through a stand pipe. We would
drop stolen salmon eggs (the resort had a small tackle store from which we used to
“borrow” stuff) down into the black water and we could see our line race away
under the ice. We’d haul them in with the rods and reels that where there for the
dudes to use. Sometimes these trout , mostly rainbows, would reach 14 to 15
inches, and we would throw them on the road where they froze solid in just a few
minutes. My father and my mother loved to eat fish and they had all they could eat
for the time we were there.
We broke into a room that had some .22 cal. rifles with scopes and we hunted all
the time, killing anything we could. A few squirrels, some song birds, a few
marmots and some porcupines bit the dust. I even shot a spider once.
We spotted a big mule deer buck one time on the side of mountain just above the
resort and we ran to get our father. He hauled out a 30-40 Craig which he was told
he could use if the there was any trouble. Well, apparently the buck qualified as
trouble even though he was six months out of season and my father had no license
to hunt. The range was well in excess of 500 yards. He dumped the magazine but
the buck just nervously walked out of sight.
We were too lazy to crawl up the mountain to look for blood. I don’t know why we
didn’t get our .22 pump guns and lay down a real field of fire. Maybe it was
because our father didn’t know we had broken into the room where they were
stored. He wouldn’t have approved.
Finally we all got busted when the caretaker returned who was livid about it all but
my father said that he didn’t know nothing from nothing. He pointed as us as if we
were the guilty ones, and we just stared back from filthy faces, knowing better than
to contradict our father. I think the sheriff would have been called in but then there
was the issue of the illegal slot machines. Maybe just tough the whole thing out
would be the best course to take. The caretaker would have to explain it all to the
So we fished, we shot things and we roamed the mountains well above timberline.
All in all, it was a hell of a good life.
Bravo Bob! You made my morning by reminding me about the wild boy in all of us, in an angler's life that boy never dies.
I like your comment so much I may steal a line of it for my book title, "In an Angler's Life, The Boy Never Dies." Hey, I like that a lot!
Bob, the OK so you get a dozen flies!:hehe:
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