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Part One Hundred thirty-five

Randy Fratzke

Sitting On The Rock, Part 2

By Randy Fratzke

It took us about 30 minutes to get over to "Quaskie" as the locals called it. The name was short for Quasqueton, which had been shortened already from "Quasqueton on the Wapsipinicon." Anyway, there's a short, old fashioned, roller dam there, below where the old mill had set, only about four feet in height. Below it is a nice set of riffles and rocks and a stretch of water probably 80 feet wide tucked between steep banks. Very nice small mouth bass water, and not bad for picking up an occasional walleye or northern. About 40 feet below the dam is a large flatly sloped rock. Something only nature could place there. It's probably 6 by 8 feet, edges rounded smooth by the water and right smack in the middle of the river. "There's your rock, Fritz, just waiting for you", Mike said almost slyly.

"Sure, wade me out there, stick me on my rock and then go catch all the fish, right guys?"

"Something like that", Joe quipped, then added, "Let's get on the waders and get you there first, then we'll worry about catching."

So here's the site: Me, sitting on the rusting tailgate of Mike's old Chevy, as he calls it "Hog Hauler," putting on my old rubber, boot-foot waders while Mike and Joe make sure I don't fall off. Then Joe takes his turn, brand spanking new neoprene stocking-foots, guide-style, of course, wading shoes that haven't even had the felt soles scratched yet, sewn on equipment clips, the best, the nicest, the most comfort, - "The Joe". Next, Mikey. He slipped off his dusty Redwings, wiggled a couple of toes out a hole in one sock and put on an old pair of canvas high-top tennis shoes. Joe and I both just kind of shook our heads.

"What, like I can afford a pair of size 4x waders, besides, the fish don't care what I look like," he said defensively.

Joe just smiled and added, "I know and considering you usually out fish me and all my gear maybe I should buy a pair of 'bibbers' and tennis shoes and join you!"

"Right," said Mike, "Like they make Izod bibbers." The razzing was almost non-stop and I was laughing. The ribbing didn't stop at clothing either; the gear was fodder as well as the rods and reels, right down to the flies they'd each selected for the day.

We finally assembled everything and waded into the stream, Mike on the upstream side of me, "to cut the current" and Joe downstream as "catcher" in case I slipped on something. The whole process took about 20 minutes to get me to the rock. Then they waded off to either side and upstream and I took a few minutes to catch my wind and organize my equipment on my little island. Mike already had a hooked a bass and was laughing crazily and shouting, "Dollar, dollar, you guys pay again!"

A reminder of our old tradition of a one dollar side bet on whoever caught the first fish. Mike usually did. It was a good reminder. A beautiful warm, clear day, two great fishing friends and the first fish of the day. I sat there, smiling and watching as big old clumsy Mike, standing there in his Big Mac bib tops and tennis shoes, reeled in and gently unhooked the bass as if it were a new born baby. He didn't hold it up by its jaws or kiss it. He held it by the tail and under its belly, just above the water so Joe and I could both get a good look at it. Then he gently lowered it into the water, took out the hand from the belly, gently stroked it back and forth, holding it's tail, filling it's lungs with oxygen, then letting it swim off on it's own. "Nice fish", Joe yelled, I nodded my agreement.

Mike, beamed from the compliment, then yelled back, "Yup, just don't forget the dollar again this time!"

"What's the matter Mikey?" Joe yelled back, "You need a new pair of tennis shoes or something?"

I added to the razzing, getting into the spirit of things "I'm not sure about tennis shoes, but I know he could use some new socks!" Mike just laughed, cast out again, faked a "fish on" and got Joe going again.

As yet, I hadn't even cast a line. I was busy watching these two guys and their antics. I finally got things around and tied a #6 Clouser on, bass patterned, and let it fall into the water at the edge of the rock while I stood up and stripped some line for casting. As I was standing there I noticed the tippet had gotten caught in the current and was pulling the leader under the water. As I lifted the line to begin to cast, the line pulled taught, then headed upstream and away from the rock. "Fish on," I yelled. And set the hook.

Joe right away yelled over to Mike, "no way, man, Fritz is on a fake. He hasn't even cast." Mike started laughing, at least until he heard my drag clicking away. I brought in a small "snake" northern, about 18 inches long, all bone and teeth but a good fighter. I carefully used my hemostats to remove the fly and avoid the needle teeth and turned him loose.

"OK, Joe, your turn" yelled Mike, "Heck, Fritz is so good he doesn't even have to cast to catch fish and your over there with a $1000.00 worth of equipment and can't buy one!" The razzing and jokes continued. Mike caught two more without even moving from his original spot. Joe was still working a small slot between two rocks outcropping from the water, about 20 feet beneath the dam. I have to admit, his casts were as meticulous as his clothing.

I had caught a small bass and was in the process of releasing it when a blue gill took the fly, Mikey had moved to a new area and was busy casting when the shout came up from Joe, "Fish on!" Finally Joe had some action. We still couldn't tell what it was but it was big and kept taking his line toward the roller dam. His 6 weight was bent over and the line was cutting across the current like butter.

"Hold him" Mike was yelling excitedly, "don't let him get behind that rock! Watch out he doesn't get too deep into the dam water or you'll never see him!" The advice never stopped, I sat down on my rock and watched. Joe fighting back and forth with the fish, the battle ebbing and flowing. Mike never letting up on the coaching, as if it were his battle, his fish, his catch. Finally Joe unsnapped his net and slid it under the fish, there was one last run from the fish, and then Joe landed it. A nice, 5 lb. Walleye!

"Hey, that's the fish I caught last week and released," yelled Mike.

"No way, that one you caught wasn't anywhere near 5 lbs., heck it was only 2 at the most!" was Joe's retort.

"It was at least 5, maybe even 6", was Mikes' come back. The bantering went back and forth as Joe checked over the fish and slid it back into the water.

"Here fishy, fishy, fishy" Mike cooed softly, as if he could convince a fish over his way.

By 10:30 we'd caught around 15 fish total and Mike announced it was "break time" and clambered across the stream and up the bank to his truck. He pulled out the box of doughnuts, a thermos of coffee and a couple of stryro cups and headed back out to the rock. Joe waded over and sat down on the edge of the rock and Joe climbed up on it and handed the doughnuts, coffee and cups to me. "Think I have a rock or two in the ol' tenny's" he said as he pulled off his shoes, his two toes still sticking out the hole in his sock. He pulled off his socks and laid them on the rock in the sun, rinsed out his shoes and sat them next to them. "Gotta warm 'em up a bit, maybe even dry them out," he said, pretending to meticulously smooth the wrinkles out of the socks.

"Right," Joe said, "wouldn't want to go back into the water with wrinkled socks. What would the crawdads say!"

We drank some coffee, ate the last half dozen doughnuts, sat and talked about the fish thus far caught. Most of the conversation was about the walleye Joe had caught this morning as compared to the one Mike had caught the previous week and whose was bigger or put up a better fight or who handled the catch better.

About 10 minutes into the break a horse drawn buckboard pulled along the shoreline with 6 or 7 Amish men and boys in it. The elder driving the wagon waved and asked how fishing was. "Slow, Mr. Yoder, pretty slow today. We don't have a fish on a stringer to show for our efforts!" Joe lied, but gave the elder his due respect.

"Well, Joseph, if my memory serves me correctly, you don't keep the fish you catch, just fish for the sport, eh?"

Mike softly whispered "Busted, Joe!"

"Eider dat or you not be using the right bait or eider you not be telling the whole truth, Joseph." He went on, "Now, which is it Joseph?" It was pretty obvious the elder and Joe knew each other. The younger Amish boys in the back of the wagon were giggling and whispering to each other.

Joe switched over to the Elders Amish brogue, "Eider I'm a gute fisherman or a bad liar, Mr. Yoder, a man can't be both!" We all laughed, the elder slapped the reins on the horse's rump and they headed on down the road. The kids all shyly waved, holding on their straw hats, looking like something taken from a Mark Twain book, with their bare feet hanging from the back of the buckboard.

"Whew, that was close!" Mike said. I asked why and they both told me about the week before when the group had not only stopped but also came down the hill hooting and hollering. Cane poles, bobbers and worms, they proceeded to out-fish both Joe and Mike and had kept everything, cleaning the fish right on the bank and packing it in salt as fast as the kids caught them.

We finally went back to fishing, we probably caught another dozen or so, changing flies from time to time. Clousers', crawdad patterns, black ants, woolly's, even a cricket and hopper pattern or two. Almost everything had caught at least one fish. Around 1:00 we took another break for lunch. Joe brought my lunch bag out to the rock and said they were going into local luncheonette for burgers and would be back in about 45 minutes. Asked if I needed anything brought back or if I'd rather go with them. "Nope," I said, "I'm happy right here on my rock, see you guys in a little bit. He waded over to shore where Mike was busy wringing out his socks. They headed towards town and I sat down and ate my lunch. Afterwards, I laid out my vest for a pillow, put my hat over my face and napped.

I was awakened by my two friends, standing next to the rock, singing "Sleeping on the rock by the dam" sung to the tune of Lou Rawls old standby, "Dock on the Bay." It was enough to wake the dead, God Awful! Enough to drive every fish for miles away. We all laughed. I asked about the lunch, and Mike just hung his head as Joe explained that they'd walked into the place, Mike carrying his wet socks in his hand and sat down on the chrome stools at the counter. The old cook/owner immediately came out, waving a wooden spoon at Mike, telling him to get his dirty socks off her clean counter. He had tried explaining that they were just wet and cold so he didn't want to put them on. About then she came around and saw he was also barefoot. Things went downhill from there. Mike had to sit outside and eat. No shoes, No service! He said he thought about putting his boots on but figured he'd already ticked the old gal off and he was hungry so he'd stay outside and eat.

We fished a few more hours, caught a few more fish, but mostly just had fun. Three big kids playing hooky from life on a sunny fall afternoon. Good friends, good fishing, good times! We headed back home, unpacked gear, sorted out flies and cleaned stuff up. Rachelle pulled into the driveway just as we were finishing up. Her first question was "Where's the fish?" Joe said that we'd released them all, like they normally did. She looked a little disappointed at them, then smiled at me and said, "well, since you didn't bring supper home I guess you'll have to take me out!" Joe and Mike both rolled their eyes, laughed and headed for the truck. Rachelle yelled at them before they got away to be sure and pick me up anytime for fishing and be sure to practice that catch and release thing the next time too! (She does like eating out.) ~ Randy Fratzke

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