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The Great American Fish Trap (part 1)

As a kid I loved to fish. I still do. Now I have a fancy fly rod and a pond in my back yard and I fish almost every day. When I was a kid in Morgan County Ohio, there was nothing fancy in the whole county, particularly if it had to do with fishing. I had a cane pole and an inexpensive casting rod. I spent many a fine morning proving that you didn’t have to have fine fishing tackle to not catch fish. You could not catch fish with the cheap stuff as well.

My two best fishing buddies were Lamar Snipes and Kelsey Puckett. Kelsey was mostly known as “Lurch.” Lurch’s eyes didn’t aim in the same direction. When he ambled along this wasn’t much of a problem. However, when he got in a hurry, he would take three or four steps in the general direction his right eye was aiming. Then his feet would suddenly strike off in the direction of his left eye. This sudden change of direction was disconcerting at first and people would say, “Look at that lurch”. The name stuck.

Lamar, Lurch, and I felt it our patriotic duty to fish as much as possible. Often when we were too sick to go to school, we fished and it seemed to help whatever ailed us. We fished in farm ponds within bike riding range. Sometimes we fished in the Muskingum River. This was back in the time that the river would not ignite even if you threw a lighted match directly on it. Sometimes we caught fish but mostly we didn’t.

One day in late August we were fishing below the dam that spanned the river between McConnelsville and Malta. We were having a little better luck than usual, i.e. we had caught one catfish among the three of us. When fishing slowed down, Lurch began reminiscing about our experiences trapping small animals the previous winter. (We actually trapped two, a weasel and a skunk.)

Lurch went into great detail about the traps we had constructed. One was a pit trap, which consisted of a hole in the ground about 6 feet deep. Thin branches were laid over the hole and a dead catfish was laid on the branches as bait. That’s how we caught the weasel. Although Lurch was the mastermind behind animal trap construction, he was not good at seeing the big picture. For example, neither Lurch nor Lamar nor I had given any thought about getting an animal out of the pit trap, probably because deep down in our hearts we hadn’t really expected to catch anything in the first place given our experience fishing. Much to our surprise we now had a weasel in the pit. After about 3 to 4 hours of debate and planning, we decided the best way to get the weasel out was for one of us to climb down a rope and throw a blanket over the weasel and bring him (or her) up the rope. We voted to see who would have the honor of climbing down the rope. Lurch was elected.

We tied the rope to a stout tree and Lurch began the descent into the pit with the blanket wrapped around his neck. Just before Lurch’s feet touched the bottom of the pit, the weasel, feeling that the pit was getting far too crowded, decided to leave. The most expeditious way out involved Lurch’s leg and his loose fitting overalls. The weasel jumped onto Lurch’s shoe and ran up his leg inside his overalls. At first Lurch thought this tickled, then he remembered that the weasel would have to pass right by a really sensitive area. This thought motivated Lurch to reverse his direction and ascend the rope at approximately the same speed that the weasel was ascending Lurch. It was a dead heat. Lurch and the weasel got to the top of the pit at the same time. Just as Lurch was reaching for the last handhold on the top of the rope, the weasel popped out of the bib of his overalls and climbed up his face and left the scene. Lurch, unaccustomed to having weasels run up his face, tried to protect it (the face—the other sensitive “it” mentioned earlier was unscathed) by covering it with both hands. Gravity responded and Lurch ended up at the bottom of the pit on one of the sharp fins of the bait catfish. Although Lurch had a nasty looking puncture wound, he did not require the hospitalization or bone setting that resulted from some of our other outings.

The skunk was caught in a completely different kind of trap constructed of an old barrel with some of the staves missing and others deliberately removed. The skunk adventure that led eventually to the great American fish trap deserves a whole column by itself and it will have one next week. Stay tuned.