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Old Jake the king of catfish

Last week I told you about trying to catch the monstrous sized catfish, locally dubbed “Old Jake,” out of Rastus Clodfelter’s pond using about 100 pound test line and a Clorox jug as a float. You will recall that we actually hooked old Jake and he was swimming around the pond still attached to the Clorox jug. The only boat in sight had sunk and we were faced with a dilemma—how do we get old Jake out of the water and home for the fish fry?

Our solution would have made a Texan proud: we decided to lasso the fish. Well, you can’t actually lasso a fish that is under water, but you can lasso the Clorox jug that is swimming around on the surface. We found a length of rope that Rastus had been using to hold his still together. It was about 50 feet long and sturdy. We deemed the rope adequate for our purpose. The Clorox jug was about 25 feet out in the pond and just sitting there. Old Jake had either managed to escape or he was resting.

Just about the time we were ready to execute our plan, Rastus showed up. He had been evaluating the fruits of his labor. He was a firm believer in doing frequent quality control checks on his product.

Rastus—“Whatcha doin’ boys?”
Lamar—“We is fixin to lasso us a Clorox jug.”
Rastus—“Thet seems like a danged fool thang to do. Why do you want to do thet anyway?”
Lurch—“We thought it might be fun.”
Rastus—“Ya might be right. Here, let me show you how to do it. I used to lasso cows in the rodeo, ya know.”

I was a bit surprised to hear that. I knew that Rastus had been a fighter pilot in the big war, and a racecar driver, and a spy, and a lion tamer in the circus, and an Olympic swimming champion, but I hadn’t heard about the rodeo.

Rastus grabbed the rope, screwed his face up into a scary looking grimace, and hurled the lasso toward the Clorox jug. He was several feet short and quite a ways off to the left. His functioning seemed to be considerably impaired. Maybe he was sick or something. He tried again. This time he was closer but off to the right. The third time he backed up about 10 yards and took a stumbling run toward the pond and just as he hurled the lasso he tripped and fell flat in the water. In spite of his personal predicament, he was successful in getting the loop over the Clorox jug. The commotion woke up old Jake and he decided it was time to leave. Oh! I just remembered that we had neglected to mention old Jake to Rastus. If old Jake was surprised by all the in-pond activity, Rastus was even more surprised by the sudden departure of the Clorox jug. To his credit, Rastus hung onto the rope and dug his toes into the pond mud. Try as he would old Jake could drag Rastus only 4 or 5 feet out into the pond. The two furrows Rastus dug with his toes didn’t fill back in for almost 2 years.

Lurch, Lamar, and I learned a few new words that day—and it wasn’t just the individual words, but the exquisite combinations and their haunting rhythm. Rastus was a virtuoso when it came to using words, particularly the kind that got little boys’ mouths washed out with Lifebuoy soap when we used them.

We three boys grabbed the rope and proceeded to help drag old Jake to the bank. When we got him to shallow water we began to get a bit scared. Old Jake was huge and very mean looking. His head was mostly mouth and appeared to be about 2-feet wide. Rastus estimated his weight at close to 300 pounds. In hindsight I recognize these were very generous estimates. We actually did measure old Jake. He was 63 inches long.

Although we had old Jake on dry land, we weren’t quite sure what to do with him. Rastus was of no help. He was cold and wet and went to lie down by the fire under the still. He was asleep in 2 minutes.

We obviously had to get the fish home—about 2-miles away, but downhill all the way. We tried to tie the fish onto the back of one of the bicycles. It didn’t work. There was no way to tie the fish on and still balance the bike. It was a really big, heavy fish with most of the weight in the front half of the body. Lamar, the smart one of us, came up with a brilliant idea. “We’ll tie the fish across the back of 2 bikes—head on one bike and tail on the other,” he said. We got the fish securely tied onto the back of the two bicycles. It took most of the 50-foot rope. The plan was that Lurch and I would be riding about 3 or 4 feet apart with a huge fish stretched out between us. It ought to work. It did work after a fashion. Once we got our peddling coordinated it was rather like flying two airplanes in formation.

The only planning element we had neglected was how to get past the McKibben farm, which was about half way down the last hill, just before the big curve above Malta. The McKibbens had a very big German Shepherd dog named Thor. Thor hated bicycles, or so it seemed. He would try to kill all cyclists that passed the farm. We all knew about Thor and normally would have developed a strategy to thwart his best efforts. This wasn’t difficult because Thor was one of the stupidest dogs in the county. Unfortunately, in our excitement we forgot all about Thor and had no strategy. We had developed a considerable head of steam by the time we approached the McKibben farm. Thor was lying in wait. Lurch and I saw the dog about the same time—too late do any thing about him. He was in a crouch, muscles rippling. You could almost hear him thinking, “Oh boy! Two for the price of one.” That thought was probably what saved us. Thor, not a quick decision maker, had a very quick decision to make. Would he kill Lurch or me? Unable to resolve the dilemma in time he made a flying leap and split the distance between the 2 bicycles perfectly. His long teeth sunk deeply into the catfish and he hung on. He was still hanging on when we passed through the intersection at Main Street in Malta, trailing out behind the catfish, his long tail flying like a black and tan banner.

Since we were headed for the Muskingum River, only a block away, I yelled at Lurch to slam on his brakes. He and I hit the brakes in perfect synchrony, like at exactly the same time. Our bikes skidded to a stop, while Thor continued in the same direction, in a straight line, at the same velocity. He was faced with another dilemma, turn loose of the fish or lose all his teeth. He chose right this time. He landed on his back, tail first and skidded at least 10 feet before he stopped. He was stove up, but he lived to tell about it. He never chased another bicycle as long as he lived.