KANSAS CITY, Mo. —When Ralph Benson tells you how long he has been fishing, you get a history lesson.
Consider the current events of 1920, the first time he headed to the fishing hole.
* Warren Harding was elected president.
* Babe Ruth was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees that year.
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* Radio was just coming into popularity, and you could buy an Austin Touring Car for $695.
Benson later fished through the days of the first "talkie" movies, the introduction of the television, the days when you could by a reel for under $5, and before reservoirs were even part of mid-America's landscape.
Get the idea? He's been around for a long time.
"Ninety years," Benson said. "That's how long I have been fishing."
And he's not done yet.
Benson recently celebrated his 100th birthday by making another trip to Melvern Lake in eastern Kansas.
There, he joined friends on a cold day in the heated dock at the marina and immediately began pursuing one of his life's passions, fishing for crappies.
"These guys joke around that I retired from the Pony Express," he said with a laugh. "And I guess they're not far off.
"There probably aren't too many people who have been fishing as long as I have."
Benson doesn't act his age.
He still gets around amazingly well, needs no help fishing, and has the patience to sit for hours waiting for the crappies to bite.
"About the only thing he needs help with is getting a ride down here," said Wayne Wagner of Independence, Mo., his designated driver these days. "We always tell him that he has gone through more drivers than Miss Daisy."
He has lived longer than many of his fishing buddies, including Aubrey Davis, who passed away six months ago.
"We fished together two times a week," Benson said. "It's hard to lose a friend like that.
"But he'd want me to go on; to keep fishing. So here I am."
Benson got his start at fishing in Arkansas, where he was born in a log cabin. There weren't reservoirs at the time, so he and his family would fish in creeks.
"We would fish for bluegills, sunfish, crappies, whatever would bite," he said. "We kept everything we caught.
"Times were tough, and we needed those fish to eat."
Benson left Arkansas in 1940, when he got a job in Rock Island, Ill. There, he regularly fished the backwaters off the Mississippi River and caught big crappies and bass.
When the plant he was working at was moved to Kansas City in 1950, Benson moved with it. And it didn't take him long to discover what Missouri and Kansas had to offer in the ways of fishing.
He started fishing for bass on farm ponds and in conservation areas. But as he grew older, he found it easier to use ultralight equipment, and he turned to crappie fishing.
He started off fishing in Missouri, but when the state went to restrictive limits (15-fish limits at most lakes), he turned his interests to Kansas, where regulations are more liberal.
In his younger days, he would either go out in a boat or fish from the bank at Melvern, Pomona, Perry and Clinton. And he and friends would make regular road trips to Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Texas-Louisiana state line.
"One year we went down there for my birthday," he said. "We drove all day to get there, then went out at night and fished with Coleman lanterns.
"I remember my friend taking one bite out of his sandwich and not getting back to it for two hours, the fish were biting so good."
"We each had a bucket full of big crappies by the time we were done. I had so many in there that I couldn't have fit another one in."
These days, Benson is more restricted. But he can still fish. And he can still catch 'em.
Not long after he dropped his jig into the brush in Melvern's heated dock, he felt a tap and he set the hook. Seconds later, he was unhooking a keeper crappie.
"Old Ralph is still a good fisherman," Wagner said. "When he asked if I would be his wheels down here, I told him that I would if he would teach me to fish."
When asked about the secret to his longevity, Benson joked, "I picked the right parents."
"I never did smoke, I drink very little, and I stay active," said Benson, whose wife passed away in 1989 and who now lives with his great granddaughter and her family. "I still try to walk two miles every day when the weather's OK.
"And I go fishing. That gives me something to look forward to."