Fishin’ and Fellowship
by Ron Presley
Me and Mr. Hayes
A lot of people have heard this story before, but it bears repeating. It is a story of simple caring, comradery, companionship and catfishing. It is a story of how two people that never knew each other before a chance meeting, one unplanned night, at a boat ramp, became friends. It would never have happened without one angler presenting another angler an offer he could not refuse. The chance encounter was then memorialized by a fish of a lifetime.
The evening started out as a normal Friday evening. Catfish angler Clint Gesling decided to go fishing. His mind was on the last rays of sun from a cool October day.
“After the sun settles the dusk seems to linger over the fly-over states,” reflected Gesling. “The colors of the Missouri sunset are vibrant and uplifting. There’s no better example of paradise than the dwindling hours of dusk along the banks of the Missouri River.”
“The ramp I fish, near the Miami Bridge, is only about 9 miles from my house,” said Gesling. “I go fishing quite often. On this particular evening I decided to go fishing to relax and unwind from the stress of the work week. Little did I know on my departure what an epic night it would be.”
It was on the bank of the Missouri River bank that Gesling spotted Mr. Kevin Hayes. Feeling captivated by his little slice of paradise Gesling thought back on the Missouri River and days gone by.
“I found Mr. Hayes on the river bank,” recalled Gesling. “I spotted his silhouette breaking up the outline of the Missouri River which was reflecting the early moments of a Friday night sunset. He was hunched over with one elbow on his knee. The silhouette conjured up an image of Rodin’s statue—The Thinker. As I drew closer to the ramp where Mr. Hayes set in thought, I was drawn back to the fascination the Missouri River brings to me through all of it’s speed and might and the undeniable treachery it brought to early steamboat captains. Yet, it brings an unexplainable gentleness in song, similar to those Siren ladies of Greek mythology singing men to a watery fate.”
“Miami was one of the earliest ports on the central Missouri span of the river,” offered Gesling. “The rocks, fashioned vertically near the eastward facing limestone bluffs, still give record of the port that originated back before the civil war era. After the river was channelized through the years the port was left on dry ground and a new ramp was placed on that new channel bank in an effort to aid in the building of the Miami Bridge. That night I left the truck in park on the updated concrete ramp as I readied a newer model of ship to set sail.”
“As I cornered the last bend of gravel drive down the face of the steep aforementioned bluff I was able to get a closer look at the gentleman I had spotted,” explained Gelsing. “I exited the truck at a tender pace to get the boat on the water as the sun started to slowly fade. That is the moment in time, I eased toward the gentleman’s location.”
“As I approached the ramp I could see the eddy he was fishing,” continued Gesling. “I gave a quick acknowledgement of the beautiful evening and asked if he would like to join me on a quick troll downriver. His face brightened and mine followed as he smiled and nodded. He started to ready his gear as I prepared the boat for departure. I helped the older gentlemen aboard and we eased away from port.”
“Aboard the craft, he seemed rather uneasy,” observed Gesling. “But, as we spoke about the beautiful setting we were in, and the incredible fall evening, his uncomfortableness started to fade. Soon after, we gave each other an endearing handshake and started trading stories of the fascination of the river and the fondness we both had of fishing.”
Noticing his passenger’s eyes searching around the boat, Gesling calmed his nerves by showing him the stowaway where the life vests were stowed. He nodded his head in acknowledgement as the new-found friends continued toward their destination.
“I noticed his eyes fixed upon the fishfinders on the dash,” said Gesling. “He didn’t have much experience with this latest technology, so I tried to give a quick tutorial of what they were and what I was looking at.”
According to Gesling, Mr. Hayes showed interest in the boat and the technology, but his overwhelming state of appreciation of just being aboard took precedent over his inquisitive nature. The first stars of the evening were showing as the new friends idled along talking about catfishing.
“He had surely come to the river to catfish,” said Gesling. “And it was upon that foundation I asked him what his biggest fish was. He didn’t give a definitive answer, but merely stated that any fish we would catch that evening would be beyond enjoyable.”
Gesling slowed the boat near the ledge of the old river channel and asked for Mr. Hayes’ patience as the anchor was eased over the bow. The boat slowly drifted back in the heavy current until the desired spot was reached and the anchor rope tied off to stop the drift.
“We traded conversation of life,” revealed Gesling. “He volunteered the fruits of his life, discussing his daughter and son that were already in their adulthood. Mr. Kevin was all smiles as we finalized our setup. As conversation continued, I learned that he was quite the chef and enjoyed cooking anything from fried chicken to pecan pies. Unfortunately, I had to tell him of my first tragic attempt at cooking chicken and dumplings. He laughed and clarified the err in my ways as he explained the correct method of cooking chicken and dumplings.”
“Amidst thoughts of perfecting my cooking skills we finally had a pole lean forward and ease drag out of a Penn reel,” recalled Gesling. “Then, the sound of the drag abruptly quit and the pole came to rest with a loose line. The boat had gone silent for the moment as the sound of the drag took precedence over our activities. My shoulders sunk as the rod returned to its static state and quickly resettled into its original position. We pulled anchor and eased further into the darkness of the river valley. We arrived at a new location that featured extremely heavy current.”
The anchor was set again and the boat settled about 120 feet above the targeted mark. Having seen the baiting ritual unfold one time before, Mr. Hayes was first to rods and the fishing partners began to methodically set out six lines of hope.
“The back lights started to emit brighter as the night drew darker,” explained Gesling. “During discussions of politics and schools and poor nations in need, it dawned on me that Mr. Hayes was a man of the cloth. He assured me that he didn’t judge me by my choice of adjectives as we contemplated the topic of Bruce Jenner and the epitome of masculinity he once was. During these moments of exclusive reclusiveness over my lack of professional vocabulary the rod on his side of the boat bent about three eyes deep before complete chaos took over.”
“During the slight lean of the pole I rose to my feet with thoughts of approaching the rod,” acknowledged Gesling. “As I neared the pole, it torqued down until the tip was below the hood of the motor on the back of the boat. Thread started to unwind at an increasing speed as the loud clicking of a bait sounder turned into a steady loud hum. I removed the pole and gave it to Mr. Hayes as the battle ensued.”
Although, he was admittedly a river cat man novice, Mr. Hayes took command of the situation and continued to wear the fish down, which was undoubtedly something special. The situation unfolded in what Gesling described as “organized chaos” for nearly fifteen minutes.
“The final seconds of the situation are worth noting,” said Gesling. “Mr. Hayes observed the fish was wearing out as I stationed myself toward the back of the boat. I was ready with the dip net as he pulled the fish close. The drag began to spin out more line as the fish started upriver into the current. Mr. Hayes gave one big final pull.”
“As I stood on the back of the boat I could see a pale silhouette surface above me,” continued Gelsing. “The fish was coming boat side, floating toward me. Before passing the end of the boat it was netted. Quite younger than Mr. Hayes I tried to lift the fish from the river. Failing my attempt to boat the fish I was forced to ask an old man for help in persuading the fish aboard.”
Both men stood in amazement with the giant fish now resting in the boat. The two men took a quick seat for a short rest before retrieving the gear and dumping the fish into the livewell to be weighed.
“Embarrassingly, I admitted to Mr. Hayes that I didn’t have a working scale in the boat to weigh the giant blue catfish,” acknowledged Gesling. “In order to justify our inquisitiveness, I made a late evening phone call to Brian Saunders, a fellow catfisherman from further downriver. He came to help us in our time of need.”
Saunders arrived shortly before midnight. Saunders and Gesling lifted the superlative specimen of a blue cat as Saunders’ daughter, Morgan, watched the scale and read out the weight. Mr. Hayes took a vantage point behind Morgan and shook his head in disbelief as he read the scale at 91.6 pounds.
“Brian shook hands with the newest member of the 90-pound club,” noted Gesling. “Then he added to our excitement with his uplifting personality and congratulations. Morgan, stayed to help save the memories for the future by taking a few photos.”
“I eased out of the parking lot that night thinking it was just another night on the river,” concluded Gesling. “But it felt like it was entirely different for me. That same river that offered up treachery to so many steamships as they labored up the Missouri River, was also the mother of the biggest thrill of Mr. Hayes’ life.”