By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, August 6, 1938
Anyway, it was Greg’s own fault. He should have helped Jimmy catch frogs
“Will you help me,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “catch frogs?”
“I will not,” I informed him emphatically.
“You’re a lot closer to the ground than I am,” complained Jim. “I don’t see why you wouldn’t help a friend catch a frog or two.”
“I object to it,” I stated, “on all grounds. I can’t think of even one reason why I should help you catch those poor little devils that after all look more like human beings than even monkeys do.”
“We could go fishing sooner,” proposed Jim. “That’s one good reason for helping me catch them. It takes me an hour to catch 10 frogs.”
“Why don’t you give up bait fishing,” I asked, “and take up casting artificial lures, like plugs or spoons? It’s far more effective and 10 times the fun.”
“I do cast,” protested Jimmie indignantly.
“Yah,” I said, “Side-swiping. You don’t call that casting.”
“I get the line out,” declared Jim.
“You side-swipe,” I informed him. “You side-swipe. You grab the rod and take a swing any old way and hope for the best. You endanger the lives of everybody around you, in boat or on wharf. And no man living, much less you, can tell where the bait is going.”
“I’ve caught plenty of fish casting,” stated Jim.
“If you,” I said, “can catch plenty of fish side-swiping and flummoxing the plug around, how many more fish could you catch if you would only make an honest effort to learn how to cast properly, over your head?”
“I like fishing with a frog,” pleaded Jimmie. “It’s the old-fashioned way. Bass love frogs. I hate to fool a bass with a hunk of painted wood.”
“You hypocrite,” I hissed.
“Well, anyway,” said Jim, “I give him an even break. I toss him a frog. If he gets the frog off the hook, he at least has got something for his trouble. But what do you cast him? Just a hunk of painted wood or a little blade of brass or copper. And if he does succeed in taking that off you, what good is it to him?”
“You quibbler,” I grated.
“Fishing,” said Jim, “is like religion. If you don’t do it the way I do, you’re wrong. Why not let me fish my way and you fish your way and we’ll all have fun?”
“Fine,” I agreed. “But don’t expect me to go creeping and pouncing through the long grass, chasing poor little green frogs for you.”
“I only suggested that you help me, to save time,” said Jim. “And anyway, you’re good at catching frogs. Back in the old days, before you went high brow and started bait casting, you used to be able to catch more frogs than all the rest of us put together.”
“I have too many frogs on my conscience now,” I muttered. “I don’t want to add to the burden on my soul. Thousands of frogs. Baby frogs. I feel like King Herod.”
The Right Way Is So Easy
“Aw, a frog has no feelings,” said Jim. “Hardly any. Nature made frogs to feed herons, fish, snakes and people like that. If they were made for food, it stands to reason nature didn’t equip them with much feelings. The more rarely a creature is eaten, the higher are its sensibilities. That’s true, isn’t it?”
“It is true,” I admitted. “But I am not thinking so much of feelings as of life itself. Life is just as dear to that little frog as it is to us. We may have a little deeper feeling for life, but a frog is just as full of that feeling as we are, in proportion. I hate to take a frog’s life.”
“How about taking a fish’s life?” cried Jim.
“That’s different,” I guarded. “To take frog’s life in order to take a fish’s life, that seems to me doubly damned.”
“You have taken thousands of lives from fish,” said Jim. “Do you feel no compunction about that? Doesn’t it ever twinge your conscience?”
“Not in the least,” I defended. “In taking a fish’s life, I am relieving it from a very miserable, wet and slimy existence. Think of the life a fish must lead, forever down in that cold, dark chasm of the water. Beset by enemies of every kind, including his own kind. A fish lives in terror every hour of its life, from the minute it is hatched from the egg, a tiny helpless wriggler, until it ends at last the victim of my lure, deceitful, clever and skilled.”
“I imagine fish get used to living in the water,” said Jim. “Anybody can get used to his environment in time.”
“No, sir,” I said. “A frog, especially a bright green frog with gold markings on him lives a happy life in the shining grass alongside a lovely sandy beach. Amid sunlight and pretty flies iridescent in the sun, he dwells, and whenever he feels like it, he hops down and goes for a swim in the cool, lilied water. But a fish lives in shadow and gloom, in weeds and slime and cold. Beset with terrors, he slinks his way to maturity, and when he reaches maturity, what has he got? Does he escape from his lowly element? Like aquatic insects, does he emerge from the water, a slimy thing, and shed his skin, to become a light and airy dancer in the evening sunlight for a day? No. He grows old and scaly and scabby and mouldy and dies. Unless. …”
“Ah, unless,” said Jim.
“Unless I,” I said, “or some other humane soul comes along and rescues him from his unhappy lot.”
“With a painted plug,” said Jim.
“Or a good copper casting spoon,” I suggested, since I had decided to use a spoon fishing today.
“O.K.,” said Jim. “I’ll cast.”
“Not side-swiping?” I protested.
“You cast your way, I’ll cast my way,” said Jim.
“My dear boy,” I said, “it is so easy to learn to cast a plug overhead. The correct way. It is like throwing an apple off a pointed stick.”
“I never could get on to it,” said Jim.
“Look,” I said. “Rest your thumb firmly on the spooled line, see? That holds the plug dangling six inches from the tip of the rod. Point the rod in the direction you wish to cast. Then, with a short, smart upward movement, not forceful but swinging, cut an arc over your right shoulder, straight back to a little past the vertical.”
“I see it, so far,” agreed Jim. “Now what?”
“Not now what,” I protested vehemently. “It isn’t two motions. It is one continuous motion, back and forward.”
“That’s where I go wrong,” agreed Jim.
One Continuous Motion
“It is where nearly everybody goes wrong who can’t cast,” I informed him. “They make two distinct motions of the cast. They lay the rod back over their shoulder. They stop. Then they make a chuck forward. That isn’t it at all. It is one continuous motion, that throwing of the rod back and flinging it forward.”
“Let me see?” said Jim, taking my rod, with the spoon already on it for casting.
“You sort of bounce the plug forward,” I explained. “You use the spring of the rod. It is all very gentle and simple. No force. No chucking. You just swing the rod in an arc, over your shoulder, and instantly forward again, gently relaxing, but NOT releasing, the pressure of your thumb on the spooled line.”
“Ah, you don’t let go of the line?” cried Jim.
“Never,” I assured him. “That is what causes backlashes, or snarls. You just relax the pressure of your thumb enough to let the plug fly high and smooth through the air. You watch it sail out, feeling, gently, with your thumb the dwindling spool of line under it.”
“I think I’ve got it,” said Jim.
And standing forth and taking a deep breath, he swung the rod a few times back and forward and then, with a sudden effort, slashed forward with the rod. The spoon jerked wildly through the air for eight feet and then spanked ignominiously to earth. The reel was just a bird’s nest, just a great tumbled tangle of line.
“I must have let go my thumb,” muttered Jim.
“You didn’t,” I informed him. “You put enough energy into that forward cast to throw a cat over a barn. I tell you, make one continuous motion of the back and forward throw of the rod, and the plug bounces, without effort, really, straight and smooth through the air.”
“I’ll try again,” said Jim, picking at the backlash. He got it cleared up and rewound evenly on the spool. He tried a few more practice swings and then, the same as before, hurled all his muscles, from the balls of his feet to the back of his neck, into a violent forward shoot.
The spoon streaked forward in a blur of speed, curved back like a yo-yo ball, then dangled to a stop around the rod.
“Tch, tch,” I said. “You’ve done the same thing all over again!”
“Here,” rasped Jim. “Take your rod. I’ll do it my way. I can get it out as slick as syrup from a bottle my way. Your way is just fancy. Just a fishing refinement.”
“It is not a refinement,” I stated. “It is the only way to cast not only for the safety of others, but for accuracy. You don’t know where your lure is going if you chuck it sideways.”
“Fish are likely to be any place,” argued Jim. “Just as likely in the place my plug lands as in the place I try to land it.”
“We will go in separate boats,” I ordained.
“Let’s go together,” pleaded Jim. “so that I can watch you and perhaps profit by observation.”
“In that case,” I agreed. So we went together in the same punt, and proceeded with the pleasurable sport of bait casting. It is a comparatively new sport. It has the fascination of golf, in that there is the test of where you want them. But happily, unlike golf, you do not have to walk hopelessly after your shots, you merely reel them back into you, sitting. The art of bait casting from a multiplying reel and short rod was developed in Kentucky by the bass fishermen of the 90’s. At first, they cast their metal spoons, live minnows, frogs and other baits, weighting them to about three-quarters of an ounce, to make a nice weight to fling. About 1900, the wooden minnow or “plug” began to appear and today, there are hundreds of patterns, brilliantly painted creations, with three sets of treble gang hooks. They wobble in the water as they are being reeled in, and whether a fish takes them for food or merely out of curiosity, like the angler who bought them in the store, nobody knows, because I get most of my fish on the plugs that look the least like anything. The less it looks like something, the better it is.
I gave Jim the whole of the boat except the stern. I took the stern seat and huddled down in it, so that Jim, with his sideswiping, could have the whole world to himself.
“Now watch,” he said, rising to stand unsteadily in the punt.
And with a vicious looping side cut, he lashed his rod horizontally through the air, the plug flying savagely over the water to land, much to Jim’s astonishment, 30 feet to the left of where he intended it to go.
“Good,” he said. “That’s a better spot than the one I intended.”
And slowly he reeled the plug home, watching intently for the strike of the fish.
But no fish struck, as indeed, is usually the case, and rightly so. If fish came easy, who would fish except fish dealers? It is the casting that is the fun, saved from monotony now and then at long intervals by the sudden and wholly unexpected interruption of a fish. I suppose the average man casts 500 times for one fish landed. Perhaps a thousand.
Without ostentation, I did my overhead casting steadily and slowly and with intense pleasure. I laid my spoon precisely where I wanted it, or nearly so; along rock and ledge, stump and lily pad, as slick and trim as Ivanhoe ever laid his arrows, or nearly so. And with a whooshing sound and a fury of bodily effort, Jim swung and swiped and startled the great open spaces of water with the plunging arrival of his gaudy wooden plug. Once it snarled and the plug leaped back into the boat narrowly missing my leg.
“Let me out,” I said, “at the next point. I’ll be safer on land.”
But just then from a cottage veranda a young lad hailed us.
“There’s a nice bass hanging around our boat house,” he called. “See if you can catch it.”
And Jim, hastily reversing his stance, turned to face the boat house, side-swiped with power and his plug hit my hat and lifted it from my head and flung it 12 feet away in the water.
“Gee, I’m sorry,” said Jimmie.
“You’d be a funny one if you weren’t,” I said thinly.
“I never did that before,” said Jim, reeling my hat back into the boat.
“You never will again,” I informed him, “not the same person, anyway. Row ashore.”
“Listen, cast and get that bass,” begged Jim.
“Row ashore,” I commanded, in a Basil Rathbone sort of a voice.
So Jim rowed ashore, looking very flushed.
“Now, my friend,” I announced, as we stepped ashore, “take off one of your socks.”
“What for?” demanded Jim.
“For a frog bag,” I advised crisply.
So Jim removed one of his socks and we went frog hunting. It is not a knack. It is rather a comprehension. You see your little frog. You transfix it with a trance-like gaze. You stoop slowly to a squatting posture. All in the same lithe, effortless motion, your right arm is extended. It is a continuous motion. Your right hand reaches out in the air over the little creature, whose tiny intelligence seems to be paralyzed by the slow, rhythmic motions. In the same instant, your hand suddenly halts. The frog seems to tense. Then you dart your open hand straight down, not to where the frog was, but to where he is, in mid-air, about four inches straight ahead of where he was sitting when the manoeuvre began.
We got eight frogs between us. We returned to the boat and Jim rigged his rod with a sinker, to trail frogs over the side and I sat in reasonable security in the midst of the punt, casting.
And Jimmie caught one bass, four pike, one perch and nine rock bass with his frogs, and I got nothing with my spoon.
Which only goes to prove that it is every man to his own method.
Editor’s Notes: The colour illustration is from the cover of Greg Clark & Jimmie Frise Outdoors (1979), where this story also appears. The scanned image from the microfilm at the end shows a bit more of the artwork. I’ve also started to make some format changes. I will no longer include scanned title in the stories, as it is redundant since the title appears at the top. I’m also transliterating the captions that appear with the images. The idea is to focus more on the art, and not the text. As such, I will also be crediting both Greg and Jim with the date of publication. I’m also going to add new tags for common themes.
Basil Rathbone was an actor, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes at the time.