For Dad it was about being in the place he loved best—Nature— his religion! He prized standing in a stream, figuring out how to best a trout. This was hugely personal with him and his self-esteem. He wasn’t happy until he could crawl inside his adversary’s brain and figure out a strategy.
One early spring day, back in the ’50s, he came home with a roll of gauze, some food color, string, a box of pearl tapioca—and headed for the kitchen stove. Humoring Mom, he announced he was going to make his own bait.
My history with bait was those slithery earthworms we had to dig up. I was fascinated and asked to watch. In a pan of water tinted a shade of salmon by the food colors, he began cooking the pearl-sized tapioca. When done, they were drained and cooled.
He then cut the gauze into small squares. Taking one of them at a time, he added a few of the salmon- colored tapiocas into the center and tied them all up with the string. Amazed, I asked him what they were and he replied, “Fish eggs! Bait!” (Wow! I wondered if this was going to let me off the hook of scrunching those icky worms onto my hooks!)
While Pennsylvania streams were our favorites, we always spent special time on Catherine Creek—just across the New York line. But for me, the favorite time with my family was the yearly trip to the Willoughby River and Lake in Vermont—usually a month later than in Pennsylvania.
Dad couldn’t wait to take his bait there. He was planning to do battle with those large lake trout that sometimes weighed up to four pounds each. The limit per day was five pounds or eight fish. Two good-size fish might do it.
Dad had just figured out how to get the best of the Pennsylvania rainbow trout and wanted to try out his strategy on the Vermont big boys. He felt smug enough to say to his Dad, “I bet you fifty cents against two dollars you’ll get at least a twenty-incher on the first day.”
Granddad wasn’t so sure and took him on.
On the home streams Dad knew that if he put the bait in the water and let it sink and flow in the stream’s current, the rainbow was curious enough that it would not strike, but just “nudge” the tapioca sack. If you could feel the nudge and yank your line at the same time, you could land the fish, but timing had to be impeccable. He was on the stream a total of thirty minutes when he had his limit. The other men across the stream had been there for two hours, and—nothing. Of course they were curious, asking what bait was used. They were shocked when dad said, “Tapioca.” While the fishermen from Pennsylvania and New York knew about tapioca, it was unheard of in Vermont. Because so much of the day was left, he decided he’d teach Granddad how to catch a rainbow. It was done in the middle of a dirt road with a rod and Granddad on the reel end and Dad on the bait end as the fish—a humorous sight! But Granddad learned the timing. They went back to the stream and within an hour Granddad also had the limit; and another disbelieving audience wanted to know what bait was used.
Dad reminded Granddad of their bet and pocketed the two dollars. Granddad said it was the best money he ever lost. In the meantime, word spread like wildfire in Barton, and both its stores sold out of tapioca in a day.