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It's more than a clever tip, it's a hide-saving idea

  • Published Sunday, July 10, 2011, at 12:07 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, July 10, 2011, at 6:43 a.m.

Many years ago I watched possible bloodshed be avoided, thanks to a chain fishing stringer and some ingenuity.

The ingenuity belonged to someone who sent a tip on how to recover lost fishing gear to Field & Stream magazine.

The stringer that hot summer day was mine, as was the possible blood when my dad learned his favorite fishing rod was at the bottom of a lake.

I've snagged submerged fishing gear by way of a chain stringer with all clips opened several times. Last summer I rescued a $150 rod and reel.

Never, though, was more on the line than that day more than 30 years ago.

David Van Dyke, my main teen fishing buddy, rocked a canoe and my dad's rod and reel went into the drink.

It was a serious situation.

My dad placed a high value on things. That the sunken fishing rod was a gift from my mother added to its importance.

"Take care of it," he'd say when I asked to borrow the rod. It came in a tone that also meant "or else."

David knew the seriousness of the situation. His tail was on the line, too.

In the early 1970s, guilt by association was common in small-town Kansas. If one kid did something that warranted punishment, all with him at the time of the crime got it when they got home, too.

It was an honor thing among fathers, I guess.

And those were times of corporal punishment, though our fathers were so talented it sometimes felt like major or colonel punishment.

Our repeated attempts to dive for the fishing pole were in vain. Being caught on water without our mandatory life belts wasn't even discussed in our most rebellious moods.

Such a sin would probably have taken us to five-star general punishment. Worse, our fathers would ground us from fishing for at least the rest of that summer.

We had to be quite the sight, buoyed by the foam belts, legs in the air, trying to swim down into the lake.

David occasionally reached the bottom, thanks to an athletic body that made him an all-conference linebacker that fall.

I was an all-American geek. My height was about four years behind my age. What I lacked in height I made up for by being exceptionally thin and scrawny.

Thrashing around, bony legs flailing in the air, I must have looked like a heron drowning slowly.

I got the brilliant idea to have David push me to the bottom with his feet shoving on my shoulders.

I was hoping to feel the rod with a foot or maybe get a hook in one of my toes.

David nearly tent-pegged me into the gooey muck below on our first try.

All appeared lost. Our dads were due home at 4:30 and we expected to be memories by 4:35.

I don't know if my whole life flashed before my eyes as we gathered the rest of our gear, but somehow I remembered the Field & Stream tip.

On my first cast with a chain stringer on another line, it came up with a clip through the lost rod's smallest guide.

David coached me on reeling in the rod as if it was a 10-pound bass.

Eventually it was in his hands and we knew we would live to fish another day.

It's a been a good recovery tool, since. A chain stinger carries enough weight to stay firmly on the bottom.

With eight or nine open clips, it dredges an area well. Should it hook something solid, the clips have enough spring to be pulled free.

When last summer's rod went overboard, I noted the location and headed home to a deadline.

A few days later I returned and snagged the lost rod on my third drift.

I've wondered how many others read that long-ago magazine blip and used the knowledge to rescue rods. I wonder how many teenage lives may have been saved in the process.

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