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Friday, 29 June 2012
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Of Leopard Frogs and Fathers
                              OF LEOPARD FROGS AND FATHERS
It doesn’t happen very often in life but when it does, you sense someone familiar is talking to you from a time long ago and a world far away.  For a brief instance it feels like you are there, and when you return, you’re filled with vivid memories. This experience can be triggered by any manner of things, but in my case it was a sign on the side of a highway.

Bobby had invited me up to his secret hideaway to do some hardcore Muskie fishing.  On our way up we passed by a bait shop with a large sign out front. After passing by it I said to Bobby, “Wait a minute, that sign said ‘Leopard Frogs’.  I thought you couldn’t use them anymore”.  His laconic reply was something along the lines of, “Well, yes --but at least you can still buy them”.  At that moment two thoughts hit simultaneously.  First, I was hoping that Bobby’s peculiar sense of logic was going to completely baffle the Lunkers we were after.  Second, and more importantly, I was transported back in time to our family cottage, my father and his Leopard Frogs.

This would be in the early 60’s when our lake was healthy and the fishing excellent, especially for pickerel, large and smallmouth bass and perch. Even the occasional Muskie was landed.

Dad had for years fished for bass with worms, crayfish and the occasional mepps thrown in for good measure.  To be sure, he’d had some success over the years with these methods, but the day he met Uncle Charlie he was about to move to an entirely different level.  Uncle Charlie was a very good family friend of the people whose cottage was two boathouses down from our boat slip.  Charlie would come up and stay for a few weeks to fish and fix.  He was never married and after getting to know him, one was given little cause to wonder why.  That aside, if there was something you needed fixed, or you wanted to get up early and catch some bass, he was your man.  Dad was hooked.

Charlie introduced my Dad to the level wind with a free release, the concept of structure and the deadliest bait for bass that exists, the leopard frog.  Off they would go to his favourite spot over by Grand Island which my father would eventually refer to as “Hippo Pool” because of a large rock on the shore that reminded him of a hippo’s behind. Although there were no fish finders in those days, Charlie instinctively knew that the structure was perfect for bass.  From the shoreline, a gentle drop off with a bottom carpeted with a mix of rounded stone and flat rock came to a point where, depending on how you were lined up with the hippo, there was a sudden and dramatic change in depth. That’s where Charlie wanted to be, that’s where Dad dropped the anchor and that’s where these two caught many a good sized bass.

Now Dad, being who he was, submitted to Charlie that his ordinary galvanised bait can normally used for minnows was completely unsuitable for his collection of intrepid amphibians and would Charlie mind applying his considerable skills to come up with a better housing arrangement.  Presto, Dad now had a wonderful wooden bait box replete with carrying handle, trap door with lock and wire mesh window for viewing and inspection. It was perfect-- at least for the time being.

There were occasions when, watching the line start to spool out and out and out, you just couldn’t take it any more, so you’d crank the reel, set the hook and realise you should have waited for a few more “outs”.  When this occurred, Charlie would more often than not look at my Dad and say, “Jack, the bass aren’t in any hurry to come on board. You got to learn to be patient”.   So Dad would reel in and inspect his frog for damage.  In cases where only a portion of the frog’s pants were removed, Dad would return it to the box to recuperate in the hope that it would live to produce another day.  The problem was that after a while Dad began to notice that the undamaged frogs or “freshmen” as he called them were behaving very strangely and frankly not producing the same results.   His conclusion was that having both damaged and freshmen frogs in the same box were creating severe psychological problems, primarily on the latter.  Talking this over with Charlie they decided that another box would have to be made.  Presto, the “Infirmary” was born.  From that day on, all frogs that looked like they might be able to swim a few lengths another day were interned in the infirmary.  This had an immediate effect on the freshman frogs and success rates returned to their normal level. 

One summer Charlie stopped coming up to the lake.  I never found out the reason why other than he had not passed on.  I think Dad missed him regardless of his cantankerous nature.  Not to worry though, Dad still had those two handcrafted mobile homes for his leopard frogs to serve as a permanent reminder of his mornings with Charlie over at “Hippo Pool”.

Dad and I fished quite a lot together over those summers.  We would take the leopard frogs over to Grand Island and try our luck.  We never talked that much but then again neither did Uncle Charlie when he was fishing-- or otherwise.  One morning I took a fly rod and between my “popper” and his frogs we caught 13 bass in a half an hour.  That day we talked quite a bit and laughed a lot.

In the months ahead I may forget all about leopard frogs and fathers but I’m content. This October Bobby and I will again pass that sign and thoughts and visions of Dad, Charlie and the infirmary will bring a smile to my face and mist to my eyes.

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