I didn’t appreciate that my older cousins were kind enough to take me fishing with them. I sulked because they didn’t give me a new, shiny reel and rod.

My cousins, Dolores and Phyllis Fitzsimmons and Jack Powell, had arranged for the girls to come from their Janesville farm home to meet Jack at his parent’s farm, located on Brennan Road, a few miles south of Dodgeville. I hadn’t been in their plans until Mother dropped me off for Uncle Amanza and Aunt Berniece to take care of me that day. I was eight years old, but my cousins were much older. All three loved to trout fish, and they were experienced and usually quite successful.

Aunt Berniece approached them, urging them to take me along. I was just a little tagalong, and I’m sure they thought I was a brat when I whined for them to let me come with them. Although I’d never been trout fishing before, I told them I knew how to fish.

Although they objected at first, Aunt Berniece prevailed, and they loaded me into the back seat next to Cousin Phyllis, who didn’t seem overly thrilled by this turn of events.

a stream

Arriving at the stream, they pulled fly rod sections from the car’s trunk. Jack assembled two rods while I watched and waited for them to find one for me. After attaching the reels to the rods, Jack handed the two rods and reels to Dolores and Phyllis, and then assembled one for himself.

“Where’s mine?” I asked.

“We didn’t bring any more,” Phyllis said. “We didn’t know you’d be with us.”

“I can’t fish?” I screamed. “That’s not fair. You told Aunt Berniece I could fish with you.” I threw my cap down in disgust.

“I’ll make you a pole,” Jack said as he proceeded to cut a branch from a willow tree that overhung the stream.

“I only get a stick,” I screamed. “How can I catch anything with a stick?”

But that’s what I got—a stick with a string tied to it—and a hook with a worm on it tied to the end of the string.

I grabbed the stick-pole and headed upstream, the opposite direction from my cousins. Before I’d left, Jack handed me a Snickers candy bar. “Maybe this will help you feel better.” But it didn’t. I wanted to catch a fish.

Nevertheless, I munched on the candy while I sulked and shuffled along at the edge of the stream, feeling sorry for myself the whole time. After a while, I walked closer to the water that rushed by in the direction my cousins had gone. Then, I saw it—what I thought was a fish in the water, right next to an overhanging and partly submerged willow tree. I bent towards the water to look closer. I was disappointed when I saw that the fish was nothing but a leaf floating downstream.

I was about to disgustedly move away when the stick lurched in my arm and almost shot into the water. I’d placed the pole on my arm, and accidentally dropped the string and hook into the water while I was inspecting that leaf. I firmly clutched the pole and yanked hard, and wouldn’t you know, a ten-inch trout flew straight back at me, almost hitting me in the face.

I’d caught a fish with that stick and string, but I had no idea how to take it off the hook, so I raced back to where I’d last seen my cousins. Jack removed the fish, cleaned it, wetted it down, and placed it inside his creel.

We fished the rest of the afternoon, but no one caught another fish. When we arrived back home, I raced to tell Aunt Berniece, “I’m the best fisherman. I’m the only one who caught a fish today.”

I learned a lesson that day. Maybe a little luck brings more success fishing than all that fancy equipment.