Monday, November 22, 2010

Bullshistory fish stories.

Okay, I’m way too busy for this, but I can’t resist a good fish story. Fish stories and my family go hand in hand. When we were all kids we were raised on lots of fish, deer and wild game. Some of it was even legal. All of these stories have origins before 1935.

Olmarnriver said... (paraphrase)
Ed Downing said the largest salmon he'd heard tell of was a ninety pounder ["caught by an Indian" ] out of Jackson Valley who promptly traded it for a sack of flour.

Oregon said:
Most likely a small sack of flour for a 90 lb. downstreamer.
who promptly traded it...

Then here’s the story I told:
Don't knock downstreamers, That's how we ended up in Garberville.

Seeing as how we are now telling fish stories, the Branscomb’s have a story about my, and Oregon's, great grandfather Ed Branscomb catching a fish in Ten Mile Creek in Laytonville. The creek ran by his house, about a hundred yards away. They used slip point spears to catch fish back then. NO, it wasn't legal, but the creek ran through the family ranch for miles in both directions, so it was hard to tell an old-timer that he couldn't fish in his own creek.

The spear has a barb that is attached to a rope, that barb slips off when stabbed into a fish. Typically you tie the other end of the rope around your wrist, so as you are fumbling to put down the spear shaft on the river bank, the fish doesn't get away.

Grampa saw a big fresh fish so he stabbed it. As he was putting the spear shaft away, the fish came to the end of the rope. They say that the rope came tight so hard and fast that it lifted grampa clear off his feet and into the water. The fish drug him through the pool and out the lower end. My grandfather Roy caught grampa Ed bumping through the riffle, and heading into the next hole.

They say that it took three of them to land it, and that Grampa was lucky that he had someone fishing with him or he might have ended up in the ocean.

The typical ironic ending to the story is that they didn't weight the damn fish, and weight is the first question that anybody asks. They do say that when they cut the head off, it completely fit a peach lug! The guess is about 60 lbs!

I don't know what is wrong with my family, but they never have an ending to their stories. My uncle Ben tells a story about a great Indian battle in the Laytonville valley. When asked who won... (Drumroll) Nobody won, they went home because it rained! Just don't expect big endings from my families history stories.

Then… as a I often do, I fact-checked my facts with my mother. She is a great source of facts about history, but, just like all of us, her memory adds her own twists to things. She is good on the things that were important to her, but crummy on the things that she wasn’t really involved in. I also remember that she traumatized my childhood by pointing out a different rock as “Black Bart Rock” every time we went to Ukiah. Laugh, but ALL the kids in the fifties had outlaw heroes. My was “Black Bart, the Gentleman Bandit, and PO8”. A really cool outlaw, but it frustrated me to no end to not really know which rock that he hid behind! Crap! I did not know where the “REAL black Bart rock was. Woe was me! The good news is that the new freeway took it out. It doesn’t bother me anymore!

Now back to my fact checking… Mom says that she remembers Grampa Roy using both hands to hold up a fish. It came up to his chin, but the tail was laying fully flat on the ground “laid out in front of him”. She said that “the fish was wider than he was”. She said that they did weight it, but the scale only went to 50 pounds and it hit the end with a thud when they tried to weigh it. She doesn’t remember the peach lug story, but she did say that a lug of peaches was much larger then, than now.

She went on to say that the fish might have been caught down by Leggett, but she is not really sure who or where it was caught. She said that she thought that grampa Roy caught the fish and that is was around 1935, he was fishing alone and almost got pulled in. She said that maybe it was two different fish, there were MANY large fish back in the 30's. The good news is that she distinctly remembers the fish.

Like I have often said, every South Fork of the Eel history stories have at least 5 versions.

I should also say that nobody ever tells a Laytonville fish story without invoking the name "Ed Downing" so there you have it. A South Fork of the Eel story with a beginning a middle and an end.


Anonymous said...

No fish stories?
Well, I did post this on fb but wanted to reach some of the more sophisticated folks out there.
For y'all that are feelin' lean this year I want to remind you that roadkill is an excellent choice for Thanksgiving.


Fred said...

Thanks. I've always wanted to ask you if Ten Mile Creek had fish in it, but was waiting for an appropriate topic to ask. Now I know.

Anonymous said...

I used to catch trout out of Ten Mile.
My cousin john and I would start at the feed store and fish for 3 or 4 hours and then walk back home through Jim and Peggy's place. Dang, that was back in the late 50's and early 60's.
Later on in time there was a fish pond at Ben mast's old place and when there was a hard winter the ponds overflowed and the crick had a few of those 18 to 20 inch rainbows in there. I think that was when they came out with those "Super Duper" trout lures, worked great I tell ya.


spyrock said...

there's a movie out there called big fish starring albert finney. his son doesn't really believe his fish stories but when the old man is sick he dreams that he carries him into the water and the dad turns into a huge fish and swims away. when the actual funeral takes ploce all these people in his dad's tall tales show up and the son thinks this is true. so i flash on getting a call from a lady whose brother just died who left her some fish ponds. she is telling me i can have some fish for removing some water hyacinth for her. i go there and there is enough hyacinth for 10 semi trucks and the pond is so big that there is no way i'm going to catch any fish. and right when i'm out there in 4 foot of water this 3 foot tall huge fish swims by me real fast and scares the crap out of me. i'm not sure how long it was maybe 5 feet. it looked like some big fish in the ocean but it was a japanese koi. to make a long story short. maybe that fish was that lady's brother.

Ben said...

In the fall of 1971, Jack King, the shop teacher at South Fork High, caught a salmon (a male) at the hole just above the Meadowwood south of Phillipsville. The fish weighed 57 pounds and was not the largest Jack had ever caught. I was staggered by his feat and asked what he used. Typically of Jack, he showed me exactly his setup and described the spot he cast to in the hole. He also told me that the sun put the fish down and to wait 'till the shadow of the western hill covered the river and the fish started to roll before casting. He had never met me and after talking a bit asked me to his house so he could teach me how to tie flies. What a remarkable and generous guy. He would walk into his classroom in the morning, throw a couple of steelhead in the sink and clean them before the first bell. Despite the fact that he was very much human, I considered him a supernatural being. I still do.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Jack. I wonder what he did with the fish? I'm sure he was vegetarian.


Dave Kirby said...

About 5 years ago I was showing property on the north bank of Ten Mile just where it bends east from 101 and a 20 LB hen came powering up a shallow riffle. Good stuff. The late Elbert Burkhardt claimed there were large
Catfish in the Green Monster at Myers. They hit crawlers in muddy water. He said he landed one with the mouth the size of a coffee can.

Johnathan Wilson said...


I still go down the creek from Jim and Peggy's. We still get some nice fish out of there.

Peggy likes us to go down there, and then we usually take the fish to Bud Bowman and let him take the ones he wants, which results in a afternoon, and sometimes lunch or dinner talking with Bud.

Robin Shelley said...

Except in those days, Oregon, it was Emmett's place... LOL!

Joe said...

I guess it must have been 30 years ago today that I stopped along Lighthouse Road, about halfway between Petrolia and the mouth of the Mattole. There I saw that the Steelhead had started to run. I went home and got my gear and Nancy wanted to come along. So, late in the afternoon, around sundown or a little after, I hooked a nice steelhead. After a good fight and carefully bring the fish over to the rocky bank, Nancy went down to net it and grabbed the line. The fish got off and went on its way. Now, those were pretty hard times for us. I was teaching some classes at HSU, but the pay was lousy, and not enough for us to live on. It is a little hard to imagine, but we felt that we could not afford a turkey, and Thanksgiving dinner was looking like it might be spuds without gravy. We were pretty disappointed that night as we went home to our little cabin at Virginia Mast's auto court. Early the next morning I went to the same hole and tossed in my offering to the fish. There was an immediate replay of the previous evening's adventure, except that Nancy was not there to grab the line, so I brought in a nice sized steelhead. We and our kids shared the fish in one of our most memorably thankful Thanksgiving days ever.

That was 30 years ago. I just recalled that I was fishing about 100 yds from the spot where I caught that one in NOV of 1949. That time I hooked and lost one. It is kinda fun to be able to look back on things that happened 30 or more than 60 years ago....

Thanks to you all for sharing your memories. I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

Ross Sherburn said...

You folks keep on swappin' stories,I sure enjoy them!!!

I have a picture that was taken about 1915,east of Covelo.The pic shows some Salmon caught in the river,But i can't find the Damn picture,maybe tomorrow???

Ernie Branscomb said...

I'm really enjoying all the fish stories myself.

Ross, keep looking for that picture.

Joe, It’s really good to hear from you again. Your story reminds me of many times when I was a kid that we had fish for dinner. Most people back in the 50’s lived of the land, creeks, and what they had canned, or picked from the garden.

When I was 11 years old, my dad was logging out Sprowel Creek. (Named after the Sprouls. The newcomers changed the name for us) As we were driving out toward the logging show, we spotted some very large salmon in a riffle. Large salmon in the riffles was not an uncommon sight in the fifties. My dad jokingly said “why don’t you run out there, jump in the riffle and catch us one of those fish for dinner.” In a heartbeat, I was out of the truck, down the bank, and sneaking up on a good clean fish with a fir limb bat in my hand.

My plan was to sneak up on it, bat it in the head, and bring it back. Simple… Just as I swung at it, it lurched forward. It went up the riffle about 6 feet, turned around, and back down the riffle it came. I reached down to grab it. I don’t know what made me think that I could grab it, but I tried. It knocked me clear over into the ice cold water. I could hear my dad and his partner laughing uproariously. They said “get it Ernie, don’t let it get away!” I got determined that I wasn’t going to let a stupid fish beat me. I made two flying tackles on the fish as it scurried back down the riffle, with me jumping on it every few feet.

Finally, it got away, and down in to the hole beneath the riffle. My heart sank, knowing that I had been beat. By then, my dad and his partner were laughing so hard they couldn’t get their breath. Damn! Just as I was about to go up the bank I saw the fish slide up onto the shore at the far side of the hole. In it’s panic the fish swam through the hole and up the other side. I ran as fast as I could, back across the riffle, down the shore on the other side. The fish was flopping franticly, rapidly edging back to the water. I got there just as it hit the water. I started kicking it back up onto the shore. It was swimming upstream parallel to the shore with me kicking at it all the way. I finally got it up on the beach and drug it away from the water. I remember the laughing stopped, but I could hear my dad yelling at me. He was saying “CAR! CAR! There’s a car coming!” I grabbed the fish and dove over a log that had washed up on the edge of the creek bank. It was still flopping around, so I grabbed it in a bear-hug.

Thank-god for loggers, if hadn’t been for that log I would have been caught for sure. I might have even been one of our logs. Anyway, we had to go back home with the fish, and so I could change clothes. Mom wasn’t too happy that I was a mess, but we had fish for dinner that night.

The fish weighed 30 pounds. I weighed it. A thirty pound fish can beat the hell out of an 11 year old kid. You can guess how I know.

Johnathan Wilson said...

HAHA, Ernie, that is defiantly something to be proud about!

That story reminded me of going down the little creek that flows in front of the old cabin that Billy Wilson built. I used to go down that creek with a big stick all the time as a kid.

I would start off by stacking rocks on the downstream side of a shallow where I saw a fish, then I would spend half an hour thrashing around, smacking the water trying to get the fish. Finally, after my arms got tired I looked around for the fish and saw it swim into a hole between the rocks. I laid out on my belly on the rock over the hole and reached as far as i could but the hole kept going!

Luckily I had a trustworthy friend with me so I had him hold my legs as I leaned over the rock, my head halfway submerged in the water. I reached in up to my shoulder and could barely feel the fish with the tips of my fingers. I gently tickled the fish with the tips of my fingers until I got him into my hand. I held onto him firmly and pulled him out successfully.

That was the start to my hand fishing hobby, and I have gotten quite good at it, so when the fish aint biting I go in after them!

That fish was a 7 inch rainbow, alot of work for that fish but I sure was happy with it.

Ross Sherburn said...

Ernie, I also have some logging pictures from out Sprowl area,in about the time frame you mention. This would be about 1957-1959?
I'll try to scan&send them to ya!!!
That is,when i find them!!!!!!

BTW,i also have several time books with your dads name in them.

olmanriver said...

Thanks for starting my day with a good laugh Ernie... that episode would have made a fine home video.
You must have been proud!

Jonathan- you were 'noodling' before it was popular and on TV. I would definitely rather reach under a rock for a trout than stick my hand into a catfish mouth.

I have pictures of me struggling to hold big humpback salmon upright for a picture in Alaska. Going from a cane pole and bobber to catch 8" bluegill to snagging huge salmon with a Daredevil lure was a big leap for young boy. The salmon were so thick going into the streams from Cook inlet that you had as good a chance of snagging a fish as catching one.
The only risk I remember was standing far enough back on the slippery mudflats so as not to get pulled in by fish that weighed half as much a you did.

My grandfather was a devoted fisherman and when he came up to visit he was in heaven. I used to have a framed picture of him wading in a silty green stream that caught the exact moment of a fish striking, the sun reflecting off the splash in the water.

A few years back I was snorkeling in the Eel and noticed a number of little speckled trout in a rapids and got so excited... I didn't know any were left in the system.

Joe, good to hear from you, check the Joe writes home thread for my latest story from the Bull Creek area.

I hope everyone has much to be grateful for today... have a fine feast y'all!

Ben said...

Just bought some nice neoprene waders at Costco... I'm going to learn how to catch pikeminnow on the fly... Then I'm going to catch them all!

Ben said...

I just read a story telling how the State pike minnow eradication program had been discontinued after finding steelhead and salmon smolts in their gill nets. Gill nets??!!! These guys don't have much imagination. Why don't they try the Indian trick of stunning the fish, pool by pool, with saponins of some kind? Dose the pool, put out a couple of boats with hand nets to pick up the bad guys and let the good ones recover. Dang, Stimulus money! Oh well, I guess that's history. Somebody tell me why it won't work.

Blue Cross medical insurance said...

you really end up all your stories ironically.