The other day at the nursing home/retirement center where I work, I passed a group of the senior “girls” just finished with their morning exercise class. Among the group was Nora Jane Schmidt, who called to me “Hey Steve, have you seen the picture of my big fish?”
Now Nora Jane is no stranger to the business end of a fishing rod. She grew up southeast of Buhler, Kansas and remembers fishing in the Arkansas River as a little girl. She and her sisters would fish for carp with cane poles and dough balls her mom made for them. She doesn’t remember ever catching much, but the seeds were sown for her love of fishing. For years after she was grown and gone, she and her sisters still took their mom to the river to chase carp every chance they got. Mom liked to catch carp because they fought so hard. Nora Jane and her late husband Elmer fished in Canada every year they were married and made innumerable trips to Lake Texoma and to local reservoirs over the years.
To celebrate recent retirements among her kids, a Schmidt family fishing trip was organized for the first week of May at Beaver Lake, tucked into the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. The Schmidts are a competitive crew and have a Schmidt family pheasant hunt each year on opening day of pheasant season where prizes are awarded for things like the most birds killed and the longest tail feather. With that as the standard, the family got trophies for the first fish caught, the most fish caught and of course the biggest fish caught on the trip.
Two guides and two boats were reserved for each day, and the first morning everyone met the guides at the dock at six A.M., divided up four to each boat and headed out. It was a full hour boat ride to where they fished that first morning, and Nora Jane remembers thinking as they sped across the lake “I didn’t pay all this money just for a boat ride!” When they arrived at the guides chosen spot, two rods per person were baited with live shad, the rods put into rod holders that lined the sides of each boat, and the wait began.
During the next couple hours Nora Jane caught a nice seven pound striped bass and thought “My, that’s a big fish.” Around ten o’clock with only a couple more small fish caught by the group, a fish hammered the bait on one of Nora Jane’s rods. Their guide could tell immediately it was big and told everyone else in the boat to pull their lines to give her the entire boat to play the fish. With line zipping from the reel and the rod bent double until the tip nearly touched the water, she needed the guide’s help to even get the rod out of the holder so she could start reeling. She would gain line and pull the fish closer, then the reel would sing as the fish stripped line from it and headed for parts unknown. Back and forth they went as each tried to wear-down the other. Finally, twenty minutes later as she stood exhausted on the opposite back corner of the boat from where she first hooked the fish, the guide netted her monstrous twenty-five pound striped bass!
As the Schmidt family fishing trip came to an end, Nora Jane, the eighty-eight year old matriarch of the Schmidt family took home the trophies for both the biggest fish and for the most fish caught on the trip. We spend lots of time and energy attempting to get and keep today’s youth interested in the outdoors, and rightly so. But sometimes I fear we forget about our elders who instilled in us the love of fishing, hunting and the outdoors that we have today. Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be reached by email at [email protected]