Back about 1973 or so Kansas opened a season for snagging Paddlefish, or Spoonbill as we call them, on the Neosho River. My Dad and I enjoyed many an outing to Chetopa to snag below the dam beginning with the 1973 season and on until his death. I remember going with some friends who also got the snagging bug and they were all good times. I still go occasionally and have had the pleasure of sharing the seasons with my three sons.
Sometime prior to that season Mom, Dad and I had taken a trip to the Ozarks and fished at Roaring River State Park for Rainbow trout. This is where I got the trout bug. I guess I just love that cold clear water. Well anyway, we also visited Silver Dollar City near Branson, Missouri.
This was a great place for a thirteen year old kid and my Dad loved it too. Mom wouldn’t ride the rides much but Dad and I rode the Fire in the hole roller coaster so many times I lost count. And that brings me to the rest of my story.
During the following Spoonbill season my Dad still had that “Fire in the Hole” saying rattling around in his head and whenever a spoonbill was snagged and the battle had begun he would yell “Fire in the Hole” at the top of his lungs. Well it caught on real fast and before long it was the thing to say when a heavy surf rod bent double and the drag began to sing.
Through the years we laughed when we heard it and talked about how it got started. And we sort of forgot about it. Mom and Dad are in heaven now and my kids all have kids and occasionally I still get the itch to file some treble hooks and make a load of sinkers and go snagging in the spring. This year was no exception.
The water came up and the fish soon followed and I ventured south with my twenty-eight year old snagging rod in the back of the truck. I stood on the bank and surveyed the river remembering the holes and the best place to stand. I began that endless backhand cast followed by two or three quick yanks on the rod and repeat sequence and soon I hit one. My drag began to sing and I clamped down on it and began moving him toward the backwater where I would have the advantage. It was then that someone up on the bank saw me fighting a fish and yelled FIRE IN THE HOLE. I laughed out loud and said this one’s for you Dad.
I caught several that day as did a number of other old river rats and I must have heard “FIRE IN THE HOLE” three dozen times. I even uttered it myself, of course. I chatted with an old timer from up north about “spoonbillin” and we talked about the times we had on the river and it was almost as if my Dad was there.
I went a couple more times and caught some more ‘bills and each time I heard someone yell that saying I thought about what an indelible mark certain people leave on our lives from the closest family members to those we meet only once. I reminisced about the times my Dad and I fished that river and the times my boys fished it with us. I am grateful my Dad taught me to fish and even more so I am thrilled at hearing a simple saying like fire in the hole yelled by an excited fisherman and see the joy it brings to others as well as myself for a totally different reason.