The Snag Hole
The slow, circling dance between fish and skiff continued. Randy as choreographer on the pole, drew us agonizingly ever closer while deftly managing to maintain an excellent casting angle.
About 50 feet away the fish tailed again, producing another huge mud. I cast about six feet in front of the mud, and as the permit swam out along the contour line, as I knew it must, it saw the crab suspended in mid-water and started toward it. As I started my retrieve the fish swung slowly in pursuit until it came straight at the boat, 90 degrees from its former course. Leisurely it came, flickering straight down the pale gray arrow of the fly line, as if supremely confident that there was no way this slow-moving creature could possibly escape. Closer.
I was on my knees trying hard to make myself invisible when suddenly the fish seemed to show a slight acceleration, perhaps only imagined; the pale mouth opened almost languidly and then closed again. I felt nothing but somehow I knew this had to be it, so I struck, and there it was, a pulsating vibrant life arching the rod relentlessly as it moved slowly away. The fish seemed reluctant to break off our three-way dance. And the line strewn on the deck took an eternity to float its way back to the reel.
Spear Crab permit fly tied by Kimberly Spear
The fly was a barbless size 4 Spear Crab and it was attached to an 8 pound tippet. Care was the name of the game if this dance was to have a successful denouement. Fighting a big fish is almost always anticlimactic; the strike is the thing, the instantaneous justification for all the time, effort, money, assimilation of skills, and whatever else goes into preparing for that magic moment. But this fight was different for I wanted this permit as much as the first and the realization that I could lose it at any time kept my nerves on edge, my adrenaline pumping as the fish dragged us inexorably off that flat and into the deeper water.
With its nose in the turtle grass, the fish was impossible for me to move for what seemed like minutes. It was a great bulldog of a fish straining to break the tie that bound us.
Soon, however, the unyielding pressure of the big Winston rod had the fish on its side at the boat just as it had done with the first fish. But this fish looked easily twice as big – the first one had weighed 24 pounds. It was enormous. The second permit I had ever cast to with even a ghost of a chance for success. And as it lay in the bottom of the skiff, its great, dark eye seeming to suggest some unimaginable, unfathomable rapport, I wondered what unearthly combination of moon and stars, of wind and tide had led the fish onto this particular unimposing flat to this rendezvous and this particular destiny. Bemused, I wondered the same thing about myself.
I don't really know how big that permit was – 32 pounds by Randy's rusty Chatillon. I think it was bigger, but it doesn't really matter, for it and its kind have me hooked. I'll go back next year and the next, for as the Bard said, "It's better to be lucky than good anytime", and perhaps well meet again."
George Kelly released this great fish alive to swim another day...photos by Jo Kelly.
When I was a skinny Ohio high school kid I would take a week off from the golf course or from my pursuit of becoming a juvenile delinquent and head up to Canada each summer for some "muskie fishin". Now a lot of people have heard about muskellunge, maskalonge, muskallonge depending on where you come from, but most folks have never even seen one let along caught one. Not me, I'm a muskie fishin expert...I've caught not one, but TWO muskies in my entire, long, checkered, up and down (mostly down) muskie fishin career.
My first muskie...Pigeon Lake...Bobcaygen, Ontario, Canada
The guy who taught me how to muskie fish was a hard core, obsessive muskie fisherman named Perry Cragg who ate, slept and drank (bourbon whiskey) muskellunge fishing. Muskie fishing lies somewhere between watching paint dry and/or grass grow. Get in the little twelve foot rowboat, fire up the old Evinrude after 20 or 30 pulls, putt putt out there, slow down to trolling speed, chuck out the muskie lures, and start trolling...and trolling...and trolling. Now Pigeon Lake in Bobcaygen, Ontario is one big piece of water, typical endless Canadian shoreline...fir trees, rocky points, bald eagles, the works. The old guy kept telling me there were "big muskies in here" but I had my doubts. After a couple of hours of nothing all I could think about was getting back to the cabin so I could sneak a cigarette or maybe a beer (I was seventeen, what the heck).
Perry Cragg...muskie fisherman extraordinaire
"Try a jointed pikie minnow...I like the wounded sucker plugs but sometimes the pikie works when things get slow".
" When things get slow"...that was a good one...to me, muskie fishing was ALWAYS slow. So I tied on the pikie and chucked it back behind the prop wash and waited...and waited...and...POW!
The impact of the strike woke me up from semi-slumber...the big fish jumped and slashed and dove and throbbed. The old metal casting rod was bent almost double but pretty soon there it was...my first muskie next to the boat. We scooped the fish up in the net and after much thrashing "subdued" it with multiple thumps from a homemade billy club. I took it back to the cabin as proud as punch. Who cares that the fish was barely legal, around eleven pounds? Not me.
So I went on to capture one more muskie that summer...that one was undersized and we let it go...one of my early "catch and release" moments. I would catch lots of bass and walleyes, perch, bluegills, trout, salmon, tuna, sailfish, marlin, steelhead, bonefish, tarpon, permit over the years but somehow that first muskie has stayed with me.
I guess it was a pretty exciting time for a skinny young kid.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1960s you could have been a preppie, a greaser, a jock, collegiate, dago, hillbilly, Jew, Polak, Slovak, black, white, etc, etc, etc...but everybody had one thing in common...music. In Cleveland in the 60s, the place to be for live music...the showroom...the ultimate spot for the stars...was Leo's Casino at 75th & Euclid Ave. Run by a flashy Jewish guy who wore shiny mohair suites and lots of gold jewelry named Leo Frank and his buddy Jules Berger, Leo's Casino was red hot...featuring all the top acts...a new headliner every week.
The success story of Leo's is almost inseparable from the success story of a booming radio station that blasted the hits all day and all night into Cleveland...the 50,000 watt monster that ate up the Midwest was CKLW, Detroit, Michigan, "The Big 8"...800 on your AM radio dial. Except CKLW wasn't in Detroit, it was five miles over (The Ambassador Bridge) or under (Windsor Tunnel) the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Located over the border in Canada, The Big 8 didn't worry about power restrictions or toning it down...they just let 'er rip...and most of the heavy ripping was coming from "Hitsville USA", the studios of Motown Records.
All day and all night CKLW pounded Cleveland with an endless string of Motown hits...The Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops...the great "Funk Bros." studio tracks on all the big Motown 45s, featuring relentless bass lines from James Jamerson, pulse pounding drum licks from Benny Benjamin and rockin' piano from Earl Van Dyke...hit after smash hit blowing the mono speakers out of your car radio.
Leo Frank heard all this, of course, and he wasted no time booking in all the hottest Motown acts into Leo's Casino.
Ronnie White, Bobby Rogers, Me, Smokey, Pete Moore
"YOU BETTER SHOP AROUND"! ...and Smokey Robinson with his Miracles did another 360 twirl in unison, fancy steppin', smooth movin'...they glided across the tiny stage at Leo's. You sat so close you could see them sweat. "OOH, BABY BABY"...you could hear a pin drop until one of the chicks in the back of the room couldn't take it anymore and screamed "Smokeeeey!" He threw his dew-rag into the crowd and a full scale riot broke out!
"I KNOW YOU WANT TO LEAVE ME"...David Ruffin was a bad ass in black horn-rim glasses...when the Temptations came on stage it was high voltage sexual excitement...a blur of sharkskin, patent leather, ruffle shirts and bow ties..."BUT I REFUSE TO LET YOU GO"...Eddie Kendricks was the pencil-thin male model with a high tenor that could shatter a champagne glass...the five Tempts moved as one...like some kind of soul-brother drill team...never out of step...every move a picture..."IF I HAVE TO BEG AND PLEAD FOR YOUR SYMPATHY"...more screaming from the back...women all lathered up wanting a piece of David right now! "I DON'T MIND CAUSE YOU MEAN THAT MUCH TO ME". Nobody ever wanted the Temptations set to end.
"SUGAR PIE HONEY BUNCH"...once you heard Levi Stubbs in person you never forgot him. The Four Tops were good, really good...Lawrence Payton and Obie Benson put on a show...Adul "Duke" Fakir looked like an Arab sheik....but Levi Stubbs was the centerpiece. "YOU KNOW THAT I LOVE YOU". Blessed with a voice so powerful and soulful it made your jaw drop, Levi could take the crowd on a roller coaster ride...a soul express...we would listen in awe, then go back to the East Side with our little white-boy beer bar band, The Twilighters, and try to sound like Levi...we came up short. "CAN'T HELP MYSELF, I LOVE YOU AND NOBODY ELSE". Nobody could top the Four Tops.
So all day and into the night CKLW jocks, led by Tom Shannon and Scott Regen and Dave Shafer and Charlie Van Dyke and Duke Windsor (Larry Morrow) would keep the Motown Sound alive. And Leo Frank would keep packing in the SRO crowds at Leo's Casino. He even had a "Breakfast Show" on weekends that started around 1AM. I went to catch Ray Charles one night and somehow Ray packed himself and a FULL ORCHESTRA on to that little stage. When they cranked it up they blew the roof off the sucker! Leo's was a little room, with tables and chairs crammed together so tight you had to be careful not to drink the wrong cocktail. Like a mini-Vegas showroom, greasing the maitre d' was not only a good idea it was mandatory.
The Miracles on stage at Leo's Casino
One time I went with my guitar player pal Glenn Schwartz to catch B.B. King at the Breakfast Show. Glenn says "let's go see B.B., we are friends". I said "why not?" just to humor Glenn. I figured he was hallucinating again...until after the show when we went back to B. B.'s dressing room and spent a half hour in there...just me, Glenn and B. B. King. They talked like long lost brothers while I sat there hanging on every word. I never forgot the ring B.B. was wearing...two giant diamond-encrusted letters "BB" ...what a night.
I think back how lucky I was...to be in the right place at the right time...to have Leo's Casino where black folks and white folks sat right together having a good time...watching Smokey and Levi and the Temptations...the rest of the world really did not exist.
update: 3/1/13...CNN)-- Bobby Rogers, an original member of Motown staple The Miracles, has died, the group's longtime front man Smokey Robinson announced Sunday.
Rogers was 73.
"Another soldier in my life has fallen," Robinson said in a statement. "Bobby Rogers was my brother and a really good friend. He and I were born on the exact same day in the same hospital in Detroit. I am really going to miss him. I loved him very much."
I remember it like it was yesterday...well, not everything. But most of it. That November, 1963 I was walking from a class in Franklin Hall...or was it McGilvrey?...headed to the Hub for a snack. Life was pretty good. After scuffling around after high school I ended up a Freshman at Kent State University...paying my own way through...playing drums in a rock n roll band...making grades...being somebody. The number one record was "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs...the Beatles hadn't landed yet but they were hovering.
Walking across campus that gray day something was different...students looked different...concern, confusion...the vibes were not good. I heard some kids talking..."he got shot...Kennedy got shot". I asked around... "what happened?...
By the time I got to the Hub we all knew...President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
I went back to the dorm and hit the tv room. It was already full of young men from Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York...all staring at the single black & white set in the corner of the room. My roomate was there...John James from Appleton, Wis. So was our next door neighbor, Norman Firsenbaum from Brooklyn, NY. Walter Cronkite was on tv...the rest is history.
Two days later, Oswald got his...from Jack Ruby...with his Colt Cobra snub-nose .38 Special revolver...caught on tape...the first Reality TV Show in history. But this one was real...no script, no set-up, no fooling around. To see a perp in handcuffs take a bullet to the gut on worldwide tv was a jolt, shocking, unbelieveable. Today, fifty years later...it seems like just another cop show, another CSI episode, another version of Criminal Minds. But this was no Dirty Harry movie...it was happening in real time, with real people and real tragedy. And I was right there to watch.