"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Lost In The Sunshine 
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

It was my first fly rod, but it wasn’t a fly rod at all.
It was a willow pole (species unknown) that grew along the Vernon (West) Fork of the Muscatatuck River west of Crothersville, my old home hometown in good ol’ Jackson County.
As you may know, the Vernon Fork of the old Muscatatuck gets its start in west-central Ripley County. It flows a southwesterly course through Jennings County, then dips sharply to the south along the east boundary of Jackson County to pass some two miles west of Crothersville. Ultimately it joins the Muscatatuck River’s East Fork, which, in translation, meant “Peaceful Water” to our red-skinned predecessors.
The East Fork starts as Big and Little Graham Creeks, a bit southwest of Versailles. This river flows a gentle southwesterly course to become the Jackson-Scott county line about two miles south of Crothersville. The two forks converge about five miles north of Little York (Washington County), and the main stem of the river continues westward to a confluence with the East Fork of White River west of the town of Milport.
I offer the above to establish the fact that with the two forks of the Ol’ Muskytuck (as she was known to some) passing our sleepy little town some two miles to the east, south and west, and a scant 10 miles to the north, it was a pretty good place to grow up, the more-so for a kid who was bent in the direction of hunting and fishing.
One of my fond recollections of growing up at C-ville stems from the fact that during the 1937 flood, our town was said to be isolated by flood waters that covered even U.S. 31 and halted all arrivals and departures. I had a smug little feeling of self-reliance about that even though some of the town fathers were concerned that it the need should arise, we would be unable to get anyone to a hospital.
Shucks!” I thought. “Nobody wants to go to a hospital, anyhow (strong evidence that I was more concerned with those willow poles.)”
Whether or not the willows that grew at water’s edge along a half-mile stretch of the west fork (also known as the Big Dredge Ditch) were a species of their own, I could not say. My interest at the time centered on their great value as fishing poles.
I have looked for willows of their slender, whip-like characteristics every place I have found willows since. But no other willow--anyplace or anytime since--can measure up to them. They grew 10 to 12 feet tall, their big (butt) ends no greater in diameter than my thumb, and tapered, almost without limbs, to the thickness of a match stem at the tip.
In those days my fishing paraphernalia amounted to the hooks, wrap-on lead sinkers fashioned from flattened rifle bullets, and lengths of a black, braided fishing line done up it neat little individual skeins, some kitchen matches for starting fires, and small amounts of salt and pepper tightly wrapped in little packets of paper.
I preferred a pole about eight feet long because if they were longer they also were heavier. After all, I had to hold those poles a good part of my waking hours. I would tie a skein of line a foot or so loner than the pole to the pole’s tip, then tie a small wire hook (a hook with a gap of only a bit more than one-fourth inch) at the other end of the line.
A popular hook in those days was made of wire, had a gap of less than one-fourth inch, and a shank of about an inch. The shank and bend of this hook would hold a lot of bait. My rig was completed by wrapping a small strip of lead onto the line six inches or so above the hook, just enough to take my baits to the bottom of the swift water.

Two or three-hundred yards above the Dredge Ditch Bridge the river escaped a long hole of deep water and skirted large banks of water willow (a wild plant, not a tree) that grew in the shallows to provide great cover for a variety of fish, including red-belly sunfish (long-eared sunfish) as big as the hand, and largemouth bass.

Nearly half a mile downstream the fast water dropped again into a long, deep hole that stretched almost uninterrupted all the way to the Twin Bridges.

To further enhance my scenario of joy, construction of the old iron bridge had left some big (but moveable) rocks in the water, not to mention some riprap rocks that extended into the water to eliminate the threat of damage to the riverbanks or footings of the bridge.

Crayfish, hellgrammites (larval stage of the dobsonfly), and other insect larvae lived under and on the rocks to offer an endless supply of bait. Larval stages of the insects and whole craws (soft or hard and of varied sizes) or the white meat of their tails was as good a bait as a kid (or a fish) could want. Still, as summer and fall came on and terrestrial insects reached adult stage, they too were hot commodities for me.

Smoking tobacco for both pipes and “roll-your-own” cigarettes (Prince Albert, Half-And-Half, and other brands) came in flat little cans with hinged tops that fit neatly in a back or shirt pocket and the empties proved to be grade-a bait containers. They housed everything from night crawlers and garden worms to assortments of the others. At one point the Half-And-Half folks even sold their product in a telescoping can that echoed the company name. It was a popular bait box.

With my fenderless bicycle stashed in the roadside brush, my pole cut and rigged, and my bait caught (at least enough to start fishing), I would enter another world.

Standing knee-deep in the water on the shallow side, I would cast my offerings half fly rod, half pendulum style upstream and allow them to settle at the edge of the beds of water willow on the deep side. As the current swept my bait past the weeds, I would watch my line at the point where it entered the water. When my line paused, or started moving upstream, I would set the hook and my pole would become a buggy whip.    

I would be lost in the sunshine.

All columns are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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