By the summer of 1946, WW II had ended the previous August and gas rationing had gone away. We celebrated these events by taking a trip to visit my Aunt Lenora and Uncle Pete and their two kids in Temple, Texas. I was excited to see the family, but really excited because Uncle Pete told me that he was going to take me fishing in his boat. Never having fished from a real boat I was wound up tight for the visit.
At the time, Uncle Pete, A.J. Peters, had a Texaco Service Station in Temple and I remember he had a trophy in the station for having the number one Texaco Station in the country. How could a station in Temple be number one? Easy, Ft Hood, with about 50,000 troops stationed there, was about thirty miles away and anyone leaving the post heading east would stop at his station and gas up for around $.15 per gallon, get their tires checked and their windshield washed, all for no charge. Everyone smiled and spoke English then.
The fishing day dawned, but then I learned that Uncle Pete had to work until noon and we would go fishing after that. Eating a quick lunch we, Uncle Pete, my Dad and I loaded up the car and headed out to, I thought, the Temple Country Club Lake, but before we went fishing, I was to encounter another first. We had to go seine some bait and Uncle Pete said the Leon River, southwest of town would be the best place.
Having never seined for bait, or anything else, I assumed I would get to watch, but as we unloaded the net, Uncle Pete told me to wade out into the water for about two feet and try to push the pole into the bottom of the river and hold it there and that he and my Dad would take the other end and make a sweep into the river and when they came even with me I should slide the net up onto the bank.
Following orders to the letter and sliding the net up on the bank, I looked down and the net was teaming with small fish and minnows. Drying off and putting a copious amount of bait into the bait can, we loaded into the car and headed to the Country Club Lake.
Uncle Pete’s boat was in a boathouse and the twelve foot wooden boat looked huge to me. I was assigned to the middle seat by the bait well and was delighted to be going fishing, but as we pushed out, my Dad said, “Boy, put those oars into the sockets and start rowing across the lake toward those trees down in the water.” Another first for me as Uncle Pete nodded his concurrence and I huffed across the lake.
We anchored just out from the trees down in the water and I was handed a five foot metal casting rod with a Shakespeare Criterion reel attached. I knew how to cast and bait up so I was soon fishing and my cork went straight down toward the bottom! Rearing back for all I was worth, while holding my thumb against the spool (no drag on this reel), the hook pulled out and went flying above us, and, hook, line and sinker, settled down on my shoulders.
“Boy, watch what you’re doing. Don’t horse these fish,” my Dad exclaimed and Uncle Pete said, “Here son, let me show you how to set the hook on these fish.” My Dad and Uncle Pete then explained to me that the White Perch, or “Crappie”, we were fishing for had “soft” mouths and just to exert a firm upward pressure on the rod and the fish would hook himself. A lesson learned for me that I have followed all my life!
We probably caught a dozen, nice Crappie and as we called it a day, I “got” to row back across the lake. We took the fish to a cleaning table and Uncle Pete handed me a de-scaling tool and said, “Son, get to scraping the fish and I will gut them.” Another first.
When we got home the grease was hot and the fish were quickly fried, some were done extra crisp for Uncle Pete and he made short order of them. My Dad asked him, “A.J. how can you eat bones, fins and all?” He answered, smiling at my Dad, “Fry ‘em crisp and they go down easy!”
Not a bad day for me, four firsts and a life long lesson learned.