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The Great American Fish Trap (part 3)

Last week I told you about our adventures with the skunk trap. The discussion of the skunk trap started when Lamar, Lurch, and I were fishing in the Muskingum River, right below the dam between Malta and McConnelsville. Our reminiscing about our success trapping animals led to a discussion of the possibility of trapping big Muskingum River catfish. Lurch allowed as how he could build a catfish trap out of the old barrel we had used as a skunk trap. We figured that the river current might dissipate the residual odor from the skunk episode. Even if it didn’t, catfish like stinky stuff anyway.

We retrieved the skunk trap and began its fish-trap modifications. We first made a funnel looking affair with chicken wire and mounted it in the front of the barrel. The small end of the funnel was inside the trap and the big end securely fastened to the front of the barrel in such a way that the barrel was completely closed except for the fairly small opening in the funnel. In theory, fish would swim into the trap through the funnel and then couldn’t get out because they were too stupid to find the little hole in the funnel, which was the only exit.

Lurch, our trap engineer then hit on an ingenious way to check on the contents of a submerged fish-trap without unsubmerging it. Lamar appropriated a metal milk bucket from Mr. Snipe’s barn, which we then wired (the bucket not the barn) to the side of the barrel. We cut a small hole in the top of the bucket (actually the bottom, the top of a bucket is all hole anyway) and forced a piece of 2- inch pipe about 5 feet long down through the hole into the trap. We now had a large barrel with an upside down bucket mounted on its topside with a piece of pipe sticking out of the bucket. We could submerge the trap in about 7 feet of water, with the end of the pipe sticking up just above the water level. When it came time to check the trap, we would just look down through the pipe to see if we had caught our monster catfish yet. I told you it was ingenious.

We found a perfect spot to set our trap. There was a rocky sand bar that extended out into the river just below the dam. At one point there was a sharp drop-off to about 7 feet. This particular spot was very popular with the weekend nighttime fishermen who were also interested in catching the monster Muskingum-River catfish.

On a Thursday night just about sunset we were ready to set the trap. We had to transport the trap to the river in a large wagon, which I pushed and Lurch and Lamar pulled. That trap was a heavy sucker. We finally reached the sand bar and unloaded the trap. After a mighty struggle we got the trap into the water just where we wanted it. We tethered the trap to large submerged rock so that nothing was visible except about 1 or 2 inches of pipe sticking up above the water. Nothing to do now but wait.

We checked the trap early Friday morning. Nothing. We planned to come back later and spend the night with the other weekend fishermen. We got back to the sand bar just about dark and found a small crowd already “wetting a hook,” as we fisherpersons say. Rastus Clodfelter, our local bootlegger was settled in and holding forth on the condition of the world according to Clodfelter. He had obviously been sampling the wares of his profession and sharing with the other fishermen.

The topic of conversation when we arrived was “the dirty stinking Russian communists” and how they are everywhere and they’re going to get us if we don’t watch out. Rastus was sure that the commies had infiltrated our cherished institutions and were on a daily basis were finding new ways to sneak in. Just as he reached a crescendo of rhetoric his rod twitched and he mightily set the hook. “Gol-durn if I ain’t got me a bigen,” he shouted. His rod was almost bent double as he hauled in his catch. “ Must be the biggest gol-durn catfish in the river.” We watched in some horror as our fish trap slowly emerged from the murky depths. First the pipe, then the bucket, and then the top of the barrel. “What the hell,” Rastus’ hair- all four of them- stood right up on end. “It’s a gol-darn Russian submarine,” he shouted. “Git the shotgun out of my truck. Them commies are commin up the river”. Rastus relaxed the pressure on the fishing rod and the “sub” began to sink back into the river. “Hurry” Rastus yelled. “They’re gittin away.” Rastus’ friend Slim scurried up the steep bank—all 380 pounds of him—to get the shotgun. “Scurrying” for Slim is no easy task, but he finally got to the truck and started back down the bank with Rastus’ double barrel 10 gauge shotgun in hand.

The trip back down the bank was much quicker than the trip up. Slim braced his foot on a small tree, which immediately up rooted itself. Slim’s vertical decent now became horizontal and he wiped out all the trees on the bank with a diameter of less than 3 inches. A sturdy poplar, however, refused to succumb to his advance. Slim stopped very suddenly at the poplar and when the shotgun slammed into a conviently located big rock, it fired off one barrel. Fortunately the load narrowly missed the whole crowd who were leaning over intently watching for the “sub” to reemerge. Rastus’ hat was not so lucky. Two or three pellets caught it and blew it into the river. “Them gol-durn commies are shootin at us. Gimmie that gun. I’ll show em they can’t mess with Americans”. I was personally a bit apprehensive about hanging around with a bunch of drunken fishermen defending our village with a 10-gauge shotgun, which appeared to be big enough to kill elephants. It also didn’t seem the appropriate time to mention the true origin of the “sub”. In fact, we never mentioned it again.

In his enthusiasm to deal a blow to communist aggression, Rastus jerked the gun out of Slim’s hand with a great deal more force than appropriate. The momentum of this maneuver propelled Rastus backward across the rocky sandbar, arms and legs moving in a random and uncoordinated manner. He looked like a runaway windmill would look if somehow windmills could run away. This situation was probably exacerbated by the copious consumption of his own homegrown booze. Rastus didn’t even slow down when he came to water’s edge. He went right in, arms and legs still flailing. He somehow managed to dislodge the rope that tethered our fish trap to the rock, causing it to be swept away by the current. Rastus was rescued by Herculean effort of his rather unsteady buddies. His shotgun was, however, lost.

The next day Rastus did two notable things. First he reported the attempted but thwarted Russian attack on Malta and McConnelsville to the local newspaper, the Morgan County Herald, which duly published the story the following Wednesday. He also formed the first brigade of the M & M militia to defend us from those gol-durn commies. Each night a small group of the militia armed with hunting rifles, shotguns, and warmed by Rastus’ moonshine, patrolled the sand bar ready to defend us from attack or infiltration by those gol-durn Russians. Lamar, Lurch, and I decided that using a trap fish was not a sporting way to catch fish and we never attempted it again.